The idea of writing it goes back to the time before I even started training in medicine, more than 25 years ago. I had been troubled by problems of the academic study of literature, which was my business at the time: why was it that the things we prized about the work of a great poet, for example, turned to a handful of dust when one tried to inspect them more closely? On analysis and explicit discussion, the uniqueness of the work, which lay in these very same much-valued qualities, seemed to consist only of imperfections. I began to think less well of perfection. The whole process of literary criticism seemed inevitably to involve making explicit what had to remain implicit (if it was not to be seriously disrupted), substituting general words and thoughts that one might have got almost anywhere else for the irreducible uniqueness of the work of art and

replacing the incarnate being before us with a series of abstractions – a coded message of which the author was unaware. We cerebralised what had to remain the “betweenness” of two living things. The result was a sort of superior knowingness that traduced the innocence of the work. Something often of undeniable interest emerged, but it nonetheless, subtly, missed the point altogether.