Last Night at The Crippled Bee conversation turned, with all the style and swerve of a wind-scything swallow, to the subject of ‘sensory reading’.
Let me expand. You will have heard, no doubt, of the latest Scandinavian musical sensation: The Stockholm based Nose Explosion Project – a forty-nine piece brass ensemble whose main aim is (and I quote) ‘to make the noses of our audience explode’. As you’d expect, blaring, blasting and altogether bludgeoning trumpets, tubas and trombones are very much the order of all their raucous concerts, which are, I am told, both well attended and received. As it stands, however, not a single nose has exploded.
I wonder whether the violent melodies of the Nose Explosion Project (or NEP, for those in the nose) are quite to my discerning (i.e. somewhat traditional) musical tastes. Probably not. I am, nonetheless, a cautious admirer of their ambitions. Indeed, I rather wish that contemporary writers would take heed of this fantastic troop – or their ideas, at least. Too many present-day scribblers settle for the smallest sensory reaction from their readers. They want people to ‘like’ their books! To laugh, perhaps, or smile. To shed a solitary tear. To shiver. To frown. Otters above! Is that all?
There are, of course, notable exceptions. Think of Hoçe, for instance, of whom it was written: ‘rarely does a reviewer resort to issuing a public health warning, but on this occasion I feel it is an absolute necessity: if you are to read this book with the same level of serious intensity with which it was written, you will almost certainly die’ (see here). Or Pyetr Turgidovsky, who starts every sentence with the hope that ‘it may bring vomit to the mouth of my readers’. There are also positive reactions. Ciambhal O’Droningham, for instance, has remarked how, like the best erotic writers, he expects his readers to feel no less than ‘constant, knee-shaking arousal’ from the majority of his sentences – ‘and preferably more’.
These writers aim high – and I thank them for it. Others, however, need to step up to the sensory plate: to think seriously about chasing a much wider range of readerly responses. Think closely about all the possible physical reactions. How marvellous would it be to write a paragraph that gave every reader an itchy ear, a strange pain in the knee and/or eight tingling fingers? Better still, how about beating the NEP at their own game? I look forward to hearing about the first contemporary european writer to make a reader’s nose explode.