‘I never read my reviews. I re-read them, over and over: the good, the bad and the simply devastating. In fact, I read little else but my own reviews. They are just about the most fascinating documents I know of. They mess up my mind like no other thing. They knock me flat. They push me down. They stamp on my confidence like sugar-stoked toddlers on shallow puddles. They break me into small sharp pieces. They suck the life out of me. I love them.’ (Johannes Speyer)
It was true. Never has a review been as closely analysed as those of Speyer’s work. He wasn’t satisfied until he’d uncovered the background, context and probable motives of every critic. ‘The reviews of my books,’ he wrote elsewhere: ‘are my books’. He went on: ‘People say I am the author of my books. Not true. I write a text, people write about my text: that is the book. That’s where the book is born.’
Another interesting observation to be made about the quotation above lies in Speyer’s choice of simile. They stamp on my confidence like sugar-stoked toddlers on shallow puddles. Those with more than a passing knowledge of the late great writer will know of his fondness for surfing metaphors. Barely a page goes by in his books without Speyer making an allusion to the sand, the sea and the surf. Here, however, we find him riding on another wave entirely. It happened. The odd puddle-stamping toddler broke through the net every now and again.
Still, that’s not why I flagged this simile up. What struck me, in fact, was its similarity to the sort of turns of phrase used by yours truly. Again: not at all that surprising. I have never hid the fact that I owe a debt to Speyer. And yet I have noted, at several junctures, the ambiguity – the danger, even – of that debt. Which is to say (again) that Speyer, wonderful as he was, was far from a model critic.
Obscure similes and metaphors have been hanging around me for a while, rather like an old neighbourhood cat who refuses to die. And god knows I’m not about to kick that cat off my frontstep. Not whilst I’m so amused by its mews. Nevertheless, I accept that one has to be aware of the perils inherent in this practice. Take yesterday’s post, for instance. There I was, merrily musing over the ‘forests’ of my mind, only to find myself in a dark jungle of debate (see comments), revolving around complex metaphorical concepts such as this: ‘You can not make a cheese sandwich into a ploughman’s just by licking it, you know what I’m saying?’
Truth be told, I’m not sure I do know what this person is saying. But I fancy that this is not entirely their fault. After all, I’ve served up my fair share of weird analogies in my time and shouldn’t be picky (or is it picki?) when faced with the same. Once upon a time I used to tease Speyer for over-complicating matters with reference to a yet another surfing metaphor. I should hate to find myself standing on the same board.