‘This may not be quite ‘towing the party line’ (contributors to ‘Underneath the Bunker’ have a habit of allowing fussy authors to have their wicked way when it comes to peculiar reading methods) but I am inclined to believe that my views correspond to a category of the purest common sense’ (Jinpes Terenk, in his review of Oa Aayorta’s The Endless Winter Night)
As the ragged warthog returns from an afternoon in the grasslands to an evening by the waterhole, so I return, time after time, to dip my hairy toes in the far from stagnant subject of the ‘active reader’. Absolutely no apologies to those who have heard this all before. The active reader is, by nature, a re-reader. He or she does not say ‘I have seen this before’. Not at all. They say: ‘that is what I saw last time, what will I see this time?’ They are no lackadaisical half-lemon-squeezers. There’s nothing tepid about their approach. The text is there for them to do battle with.
Jinpes Terenk might disagree, but I’m fed up with the idea of the reader as a passive reciever, slumped like drugged on a soft-as-soft chair, pillows propping every lazy limb, with creamy tea on the table beside and books for cookies. It shouldn’t have to be this way. Books ought to be grappled with. Reading is a hard slog: and may all the gods, beardless or otherwise, be blessed for this fact. An easy read is a meaningless read. If you don’t pull out any stops, the song will be a silent one.
There is, of course, much more to active reading than ‘allowing fussy authors to have their wicked way’. Of course, a reader has to put some trust in a writer. ‘Like small birds hopping between the jaws of alligators,’ is how someone once put it. Oh yes, it looks like a dangerous game to play. Trust a writer? Ha! But in truth it’s not all one-way. The real reader is not a submissive wife – the proverbial wet-blanket – just as our friends the alligator birds are not feather-brained gowks. Their own relationship (with the alligators) may look peculiar, but when you consider the details, it’s fair to say that they get their share.
Seen in context, Terenk’s words are not as bad as they seem. I agree, in part, that Oa Aayorta does have a tendency of asking too much of his reader. Terenk, however, is wrong to think that my concept of ‘active reading’ supports Aayorta’s methods. The active reader doesn’t play by anyone’s rules, regardless of whether or not those rules seem to rest beyond the safety zone. It’s a tussle between writer and reader: a boxing match, if you will, in which neither side should gain the ascendancy for too great a period of time. And the best thing about it is, if the fight is handled with honesty, both sides will probably end up winning.
More on this soon. And after that, still more.