Monday, 9 February 2015

'Coz reading and writing are not the same

Reading and writing are different – in case there was any suspicion they might be otherwise. One proof is the fact that different institutions have been erected to serve their corresponding purposes. There are libraries for readers and academies for writers. Readers need stockpiles of books, of finished texts, of texts that have been read and accepted. Writers don’t get so physical about things, although they rest on the same stockpiles of books. Academies are built on abstract ideas; they are institutions of the imagination. Whatever is physical in an academy is there only to support reading. Because yes, in order to be a writer you need to be a reader too.


Source: The Puzzle
It’s one thing to think like a writer, and attempt, at all costs, to break the ice, to make room for the unprecedented, to send to hell all formalities and good manners – and an altogether different thing to think like a reader. The reader, you see, is born out of conventions. A reader needs to see on the page what he/she already knows. Once a book is picked up, a string of words is expected; or, if the book is an album of photography, the reader expects those pages to contain the photos promised on the cover.
This is one level. Then there’s another level. It’s the one where readers expect the expected at the level of formulation.
‘A text must be readable’ is what I can say to generalize this idea. A text must have this thing about itself that makes readers feel comfortable inside it, that brings readers back to the page, back to the pleasures that characterizes the act of reading.
It’s because of this that Beckett (aware as he may have been of his transgressions) ended up being read almost exclusively by academics. And why Judith Butler was given the crown of bad prose.

Bowing to the mighty reader

You don’t just play games with the reader’s mind, because the reader is, ultimately, the one who sanctions the text you’ve produced. The reader is the checkpoint; the armed police, the censorship bureau.
This, of course, is not to say that Beckett is not enjoyable, that Butler doesn’t cause so many minds to think, that one cannot read their work without feeling whatever one feels when one is satisfied. But truth is this: most readers (if we don’t take the part of those exclusivist purists who believe that you can only be called a reader if you are capable of reading Beckett and Butler with the breakfast coffee and be amused by them), most readers, I say, are annoyed when the text fails the test of compliance with conventions. Ease of reading being, yes, but one of those conventions.
Source: Huffingtonpost
Why is that? Well, maybe because reading is a collective activity in a way that writing is not. Reading is taught in unison. When you learn how to read you start by sounding out the words. You make those words audible and understandable to the ears and minds of others. When the word is sounded out, the sounds are released into a space that is public in nature, a space that is shared by all the words of all the other utterers who happen to perform their own readings (their own putting-into-public-space).
The space of reading is virtually open to all readers and all reading practices, and so it cannot be but communal. We belong to reading communities, as someone like Stanley Fish would suggest – communities of intelligences, which have already agreed upon the terms in which your own reading is about to be performed.
We learn how to read as if there were always someone out there who might demand that we read the text to them without a lisp, without an excessive rolling of r’s, without wicked pronunciations. Reading the text to them, not for them. This is where the major difference appears to stand. Because writing is, indeed, writing for someone; as though the other were incapable of writing. The often-expressed excuse, the one we know too well, the I-don’t-have-the-talent-for-writing argument so many are willing the voice at the drop of a hat, proves that, at least at the level of personal beliefs (and it doesn’t matter whether these beliefs are sustainable or not), writing is not for all to enjoy. Not the writing that requires skill and elegance, that is; i.e. the artistic writing, if you pardon my cliché.

A literacy of surprise

The schools that teach you how to read and write don’t teach you to write creatively. That’s because creativity is goddamn hard to teach – I’d say impossible in many situations. Those schools only teach you how to read and write the common texts: the texts by means of which the language of power is disseminated, through which institutions assert their presence, through which the reader/writer admits of his/her disempowerment. Here, in such cases, writing too is a form of reading – in the sense that it must happen in a common space, under the sanction of a common law, with the strength of a common ability.
Being able to read the ticket you got for miss-parking your car is equivalent to being able to fill the payment slip. That’s why the two of them come together: the fine on one side, the payment slip on the other. The language of power and disempowerment make it clear as daylight that the two things are meant to be understood as one. You take what is given and give what is demanded. You read and write at the same time, since what you’re doing is called acknowledgement.
When you read you acknowledge the presence of the text. You enter a territory where the text has already been, waiting for you. It’s not the same with writing. When you write you bring the text with you. You populate the blank page with words that where not there in the first place.
So writing goes hand in hand with surprises, with events. The appearance of a sign on a page is equal to an explosion on a field covered by snow.
Wow! You didn’t know that sign, down there, was possible. You didn’t know the page was capable of containing, in its whiteness, in its blamelessness, a sign – any sign at all.

Source: The Gnomon Workshop
A writing literacy would require, as far as I can imagine it, familiarization with the idea of surprise. A writer must know how to build suspense, how to hold on to the silence of the page and use it to advance his cunning plan of catching the reader unaware. In order to learn to write one needs to learn how to cook up a storm, but also how to keep it in check till the right moment. Writing is, indeed, about finding the right moment. I don’t mean ‘the moment of inspiration’ (at least that cliché I can skip!) but the moment when what is written reaches a climax; when the text has an impact. Like an asteroid hitting a planet and transforming it forever. There’s no denying that a word on a blank page transforms the page. Leave a dot on that page, a full stop, nothing more – it is enough; the page is no longer what it used to be.
What the page becomes, once the sign has been placed there, depends on the sign itself. A musical score is different from a short story, and a blueprint is different from a drawing. Although the page was the same in the beginning (a territory of unblemished whiteness), its potentiality is limitless.

After the fact

There’s no surprise where reading comes from, since reading comes post festum. Things have already happened, the desserts have already been eaten by the time reading arrives at the table.
Reading relies on a fundamental anteriority: the anteriority of the text. While in the case of writing the text is invisible until it is inscribed on the page, in the case of reading the text must be there in the moment of inception. Even if we bring into discussion the various ways of reading, the various theories that one can use as support for one’s perusal, we need to admit that reading relies on the precedence of the text. Those theories are anterior to one’s employment of them. The game of reading is, therefore, a game of consciousness, of rational choices, of decision-making based on sight.
With writing, the possibility of liberation, of breaking free from the shackles of texts, and especially of pre-texts, is the key factor. At the end of the day, one can chose not to write; and when one does choose that, one leaves the page white – one doesn’t alter anything. In the case of reading, however, things aren’t that clear-cut. Yes, one may chose not to read a text, but one cannot chose to un-see the text; one cannot pretend there’s nothing there, when the text presents itself to the senses with the certainty of sensorial evidence.
Source: Life in La Ville Rose
The fact that there is a text is unavoidable when you are a reader. Even when the page is white, you can still read it; you can read its whiteness, its thickness, its texture – you can read its pageness. You can read the protest on a page unoccupied by text. But move your perspective a little and try to think with the mind of a writer. The white page is now nothing. A potential, no doubt, but still nothing yet. An unfulfilled potential, to be more precise.