Interesting people often appear in Vladivostok – but they just as often disappear. After our initial meeting, I saw very little of Yile. Things weren’t going well for him at the university and he left soon after. We promised to stay in touch, as you do, and I had half an idea that we would – Yile being the sort of man who takes promises seriously (almost as if they actually mattered). For a year, yet, nothing. Not a squeak. Then, one day, a letter from Edinburgh.
He had secured a tutoring job, he said, on top of which he was making strides in what he called his ‘personal research’. Everything was going very well, he said, but he required some volunteers. I wrote back: volunteers for what? (I was simply being curious; not setting myself up as a potential guinea pig). He replied: ‘The participant will be required to consume a large amount of pineapple juice, after which he/she will be expected to perform a series of simple tasks, from walking to reading’.
I thought about this for a while. I will confess, my interest was piqued. I wanted to let Yile go: him and all his crazy pineapple-ventures. But at the same time I couldn’t help but acknowledge that his research interests collided with my own. Drinking copious amounts of pineapple juice and then reading a book. What was that if not an experiment in Active Reading? Granted, a broad stripe of mild lunacy was painted across its pungently fruity chest. But how often can one say that? Johannes Speyer was often coming out with ideas that ballerined on the edge of reality – yet who could deny his genius? Could Yile’s excitement really be so misplaced? He was no amateur scientist, it seemed. He knew his stuff. And if he thought that large amounts of pineapple juice could transform the relationship between reader and text, it seemed churlish to dismiss him just like that.
But this wasn’t, of course, the only reason I volunteered. No – there’s more to it than that. Restless adventurer in the literary wilderness I may be, but as people have often pointed out, there is a smidgen of reluctance lodged deep within my reckless soul. I don’t always rush madly into new experiences. In this case, however, coincidence and convenience were on my side. I was due to be in Edinburgh later that month. I would have a little spare time. Why not take that time and give it over to a strange Belgian scientist? Why not present my young healthy body at his door and say ‘Here you are good sir, now fill me up with pineapple juice until I almost explode’.
Why the hell not?