Monday, 16 March 2015

Writing and reading: two cases of crass infidelity

If we agree that the reader, in his distant majesty, is an unwelcomed guest (since invitation can only be extended to someone you knew beforehand), what can we say about the writer? In this landscape where the-one-who-comes-after reigns supreme, what is left to be said about the one-who-comes-before?


The reader, we say, is the great infidel of the text. His/her beliefs, his/her predetermined acceptance or refusal of texts, are issues all writers have to deal with, whether they do so consciously or not.

Two ends of a spectrum

So the central point is this commitment to the text. The text, this in-between, this only thing that matters, this only point of junction between a reader who misbehaves and a writer who should not expect anything better! This is the crux of the matter. And every approach to the text, whether from the readers' quarters or the writers' camp, will have to be situated in such a way as to ratify one of the two forms of fidelity.
Now, as I've intimated, the reader is not exactly a follower of the text. Or rather, the text formed in the reader's mind is not necessarily in conformity to the primary text.
The author, of course, stands at the other end of the spectrum of infidelities. While the reader is given to an excess of self-affirmation, he/she is one whose excess is in preparation.
The writer's table is full, and the meals are hearty and exceptionally sweet. That's because, not unlike a handler of fly-traps, the author partakes in the game so as to set a trap for readers; to bring them to the text and keep them glued there for as long as possible.

Source: Amy Wilson
In order for this feast to be acceptable the writer is required to set the table well before the encounter. The best dishes are, of course, those prepared so as to please the palate of virtual party-comers. The writer, as a chef, knowing full well that this is the case, will have to adapt their recipes so as to come as close as it gets to the dietary requirements of their paying customers, the readers.
There are secret ingredients, of course: things thrown into the pot to make the dish sweeter. Some of them are visible (and therefore easy to imitate), while others depend on downright guesswork. But the truth is one: they will have to feature on the plate. The writer will have to handle them properly, or else they’re lost in the footnotes of one’s reading list.

Generous or not: the writer’s choice

Quantities may differ, yes. At the end of the day writing is not the obstinate application of an identical recipe, since (among other things) we are not all eaters of French fries. Just by way of an example…
But if we take popularity as a measuring rod, it wouldn't be hard, would it, to recognize that the most appreciated texts are those most peppered with ingredients dear to the readers' palates. The more generous an author is in this department, the more they will reap the harvest of success. And let's not talk here about big names and pretend they have acquired their reputation by the shear value of their work. We know it's not like that. We know that popularity has to have taken place at some point along the way. Otherwise no Shakespeare would have ever shown up.
Proof? Yes. Who, outside of academic circles, has the vaguest memory of Thomas Kyd or Thomas Nashe? Would you know how to spell their names if you only heard them mentioned somewhere? Who finds it relevant to mention the names of those who collaborated with Big Will for the writing of some of his plays?

Source: WFPL News
But this may be beside the point. I was talking about writers who give generously to their readers. Parsimonious authors, on the contrary, are poorly read by others. Those who spend little time getting ready for the encounter with the reader won't fare too well; geniuses or not. As pointed out by Roland Barthes, who saw in the reader an anti-hero of misbehavior, in texts capable of generating pleasure the author is required to pay tribute to the reader's capacity to pay back in reading currency:
“The text you write must prove to me that it desires me.”
Now, don't think of the author as a slave who labors all day long to satisfy the appetite of a gourmand whose only business is to throw interminable tantrums. The author also has a life of their own, where the reader has no access. But the evidence is heavily one-sided. As Alberto Manguel says, just to set the record straight:
“Readers are bullies in schoolyards and in locker-rooms as much as in government offices and prisons.”
So there.

A tale of two egotists

The author is always on the ready for the coming of the reader, which is a premediated coming, an effort to lure. So saying that he's taken by surprise by the arrival of the boor who peruses their text is utter nonsense. The author does everything in his/her power to assure that the text is read, that there are readers to partake in the pleasure of this perusal. In other words, writers do all they can to make sure they are appreciated. Sounds narcissistic? It is. Because yes, when all chips are down the author will be minding their own game. Stuff the reader! They can do their own dance all they want; I'll have my own. This is what the thinking mind of the writer thinks. Although, perhaps, not too many will admit to it.
Thinking this way is not only honorable, it is also a very practical way of putting the problem. Because way down, in the remotest recesses of their consciousness, writers know that this is their only real chance, their only true shot. If they want to achieve immortality they need to impregnate their readers with it. So readers is what they need: delivering bodies, pregnant souls, wombs that hold the offspring of their otherwise-invisible talents.
Every writer must learn this truth of their dependence on reading, and they do so very early in their career. Hence the notion of implied audience. At the same time, readers grow accustomed to their special status as soon as they figure out their ways of reading a rebours. Hence the notion of reading as a creative gesture.

Source: Huffington Post
So you can see how terribly selfish both readers and writers are. They perform their acts while their minds fall back upon their own interest. Forever and ever. As a consequence, the success of any writing venture depends on how the two egotists merge to agree first and foremost on the relation that emerges between them at a given time. The merging point is where the parties meet and greet or meet and growl. Whatever the effect of the encounter, what becomes of real importance is the negotiation of this very slippery relationship that emerged at an uncalled-for moment, in the form of an uncalled-for address.