‘I want to make a book sweat. Oh god yes. I want to make a book’s pores open wide, wide as hell’s mouth: fit for the flushing of all foul impurities. Who cares if the spine collapses – we must let those impurities out! Forget the sweet, fireplace-hugging cushion-noodling reader. My reader is an armed fighter. The book is there to be tortured. The book is a prisoner. The book is your chained-up plaything. So make that damn book sweat, I tell you – make it sweat!’ (Johannes Speyer, in conversation with Georgy Riecke, c.1978).
All true Speyer fans will probably be aware that a toned-down version of this argument appears in the penultimate chapter of what may be his greatest work: Riding the Crest of Culture. But having cast one’s eye over the above, who would ever care to peruse its gentle and pathetic partner?
I don’t know. Maybe there should be a space set aside for less histrionic styles. Speyer probably had good reason for never putting his thoughts forward (in print) in this exact manner. After all, as he admitted at the time, this particular line of thinking does lean, at times, into somewhat seedy territory. What’s more, the allusion to torture, though understandable in context (and undeniably striking) isn’t exactly managed with tact.
Still, I would stand by the basic message to this very day, without a single word altered. Make that damn book sweat, I tell you – make it sweat!