Fair and Loathing – Jamie Byng

Fair and Loathing – Blog Jamie Byng
„How can I know what I think until I see what I say.“


Ever since first hearing this line, I’ve been intrigued by its paradoxical wisdom and multiple meanings. It’s rattled around my brain and helped me understand why, amongst other things, the written word is so important. The very act of writing, that moment of commitment, is what helps a person to organise and  structure the maelstrom of thoughts and impulses that surge through our synapses. Narrative is key to sanity. Without narrative it is easy to get lost. Which is not always a bad thing.


It was Alastair Reid, a wonderful Scottish poet and translator (of Borges and Neruda amongst others) who was a staff writer at the New Yorker for many years, who first told me this line. It has been attributed to both W.H. Auden and E. M. Forster but Alastair said that it was in fact Forster’s aunt who first came up with it! Respect to auntie Forster. I’m a real sucker for pithy lines.


One of my favourite definitions of publishing I heard at Frankfurt about ten years ago. Ivan Nabokov was making a very funny speech at the so-called Peter Mayer dinner and quoted his friend Daniel Keel who once said „Reason and rationality may be pursuing us but we are faster.“ This is another mantra that I live and breathe, just as I take Samuel Beckett’s statement, „Ever tried. Ever Failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better“ as a creed for living and publishing. I bore my colleagues at Canongate with it on a weekly basis!! Fail better.


A willingness and desire to take risks, innovate, follow one’s instincts and play around seems to me to be what publishing should really be about. Origination rather than imitation is the key to enjoying yourself as a publisher and without joy and passion it’s not worth doing.


I’ve got to go and finish this hurried blog. Nick Cave’s party is kicking off and I probably shouldn’t make the guest of honour too late for his own party. Nick says hello by the way!


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