A Bad Writer Blames His Readers (Reprise)

The relationship between a writer and a reader is rarely a simple one. And yet some writers have approached it as if it were just that; as if they knew exactly who it was they were addressing all along. In the passage quoted in my previous post, the narrator of Macado de Assis’s Epitaph of a Small Winner directly confronts his readers, pretending to have anticipated their thoughts:  ‘You want to live fast, to get to the end, and the book ambles along slowly; you like straight, solid narrative and a smooth style, but this book and my style are like a pair of drunks…’. These are presumptuous musings, are they not? I, as a reader, may take offence at such an attack on my sensibility. On the contrary, I might reply, I desire nothing more than a style that lurches along like two drunks.

This is not to say that de Assis has made a grave error (he knows what he is doing, the old trickster), though writers have opted for similarly confrontational tactics, without the ironical trimmings. Oa Aayorta has often been criticised for chastising his readers, or attempting to herd them; a charge he has always been happy to accept. ‘I direct my readers, of course. Otherwise, who knows where they might lead themselves. A writer ought to treat his readers like bewildered sheep. It’s either that or chaos’. Carlos Magnificas, meanwhile, has ventured into far more specific realms, often addressing his readers in tones that some would call patronising. ‘My dear stupid reader’, starts one story, ‘I know just what you are thinking. And I can see how you got there. But to say you have missed the point would be to underestimate the gravity of your error’.

This is nothing, yet, compared to the ferocious approach of Ulyana Grinsky, who has a penchant for turning on her readers at unexpected moments. ‘This may be fiction’, she writes in Fox into Gloves, ‘but the thoughts behind are issued from a real beating heart. On this basis, I require readers who are willing to follow my words carefully. If there are any hypocrites among you, I advise you to drop the book now. To my remaining four readers, I have this to say: if you aren’t interested in reading this story properly, or if you lack the ability to perceive its meaning, there is little point in me going on. To my remaining reader: if you ever worked in the educational system, I do not care for you’. Later, in the same text, she berates her readers in a wonderfully hysterical passage: ‘As I come to the end of this section, it dawns on me that few – if any – of you nitwits have any idea what I am talking about. You couldn’t spot a symbol if it was staring you in the face, could you? Lazy bastards: what do you expect of me? Do you want to be spoon-fed or something? What a worthless bunch you are!’

For all that, Grinsky’s books sell surprisingly well. It seems we readers are gluttons for punishment (or else we are well beyond taking anything a writer says personally).

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