The polysemy of the expression "the literary thing" draws our attention to an ambiguity and a tension at the heart of our conception of literature. Between its essence and its existence, its invocation of timeless ideals and its participation in worldly matters, its celebration of genius and its reliance on the minor writing that makes up the ordinary and continuous weft of literary production, literature is at least two things at once, between which we have not finished going uncertainly back and forth. The "literary thing" is the difficult cohabitation of these aspects, which seem to exclude one another yet are inseparable.