There were several texts, but we started with Koira Jupczek’s Death Charts – one of my favourite contemporary European novels. We sat down in a café and Yile passed the book over to me. I opened it eagerly, like a hungry child unwrapping a chocolate bar. This was a good sign: oh that all literature might be approached like this – as if it were the most precious, delicious object in the world! Words are not turgid: they are not dusty, nor dull, staid nor sullen. So why do so many people open books whilst wearing such sad faces? One should open a book with the expectation of being thrilled to within an inch of your life; in the knowledge that what you hold in your hands is a whole new country of words: virgin soil awaiting an eager conqueror. Go forth into novels like a soldier rushes into battle, like a turtle scoops into the ocean, like a bat flies into the night. Don’t let the words come to you: you go to them.
At first, of course, I found it hard to concentrate on any one word, on any one sentence – on any one page. The pineapple juice had driven me into a state of sensual over-excitement. I wanted to read every word at once: to consume the novel in one big bite, as if it were a doughnut. I learned, at length, to control this appetite – the skill that every juice-drinker must master, as soon as possible. For great as it is to want to throw oneself into a book right off, one has to accept that some things are beyond the powers of the reader. Excited states of mind, in this sense, represent somewhat of a tease. They promise great things, giving the host the feeling that anything can be achieved, at any point in time, by anyone. At the same time they make it hard for this host to do anything: he/she ends up crippled by freedom: shaken to a blurry statue.
Tame the beast, however, and you will reap the rewards. When I did at last get around to devoting my overactive attention to a whole page of the book, I must confess that it was, all in all, a most enlightening experience. It is, again, most difficult to put into words, but I felt almost as if the story was lifting itself off the pages as I read. My eyes moved along the formal black and white print, marching across the usual lines; but what I felt was something far beyond this. Each word was like a blast of colour, or a small explosion of sound. The text was not text. It surrounded me. I was at the centre of a noisy rainbow of words; a sweet tornado of literary ideas and images. Jupczek’s prose came to glorious, multi-coloured, multi-dimensional life. I was engulfed. I was absorbed into the book – and the book into me. I was lost, so very beautifully lost.
How long did it last? Not long enough – and yet too long. Such things cannot go on forever. There is far too much to take in. The experience is, for all its advantages, an overwhelming one. More is crammed in a minute than normal existence can cram into an hour. This is both a good and a bad thing. It takes up less time, in itself, but it requires just as much time, if not more, for recovery and reflection. And these things, especially the latter, it most certainly needs. The moment is not enough on its own. The moment must be able to teach us something; it must allow us to take something back with us when we return to reality; to the world of ordinary perception.