Monday, 2 March 2015

The reader, my guest

Addressed in the second person, the reader is always a guest. But a guest who is given the freedom to mess up with the dishes and to turn tables upside-down.

A reader who behaves well is not a happy situation. A reader who respects the author too much and has perfect table manners every time he sits at the author's feast is an epigone, an imitator. He does everything for the author but nothing for the text. And in this equation that we're interested in it's the text that matters, because it's in the text that the author's survival can be hoped for. But it is also in the text that the author is at his most fragile. It's in the text that the author is most exposed. That is why readers find it so easy to impose themselves upon a text. Every reading is a different reading, as the saying goes.
So again, one needs to be rude to be a good reader. In fact, let's face it: the reader is a parasite. He or she feeds on the body of a text and the carcass of an author who has worked hard to produce that text. So we should know from the very beginning that nothing in the order of politeness can be expected from such a boor, from such a scavenger.
But the parasite, this one and only guest at the feast of an author who's given his all, is, funnily enough, the author's only ally. The reader, in his impoliteness, doesn't treat the text as a non-entity. That would be the job of a non-reader, if I’m allowed this simple thought. The text perused by the one who reads it is very much present in the reader's body. The body of work that makes up his or her ecosystem is a body that accumulates reading experiences. A reader is made up of all the texts they have read. Like Giuseppe Arcimboldo's bust of the Librarian, which is a conglomerate of carefully ordered books, the reader too is an atlas of texts. This means that every text is taken carefully. It is read with the intention of enlarging the collection. Of course, as in all collections, some pieces will be valued more, some will be valued less. But none of them will be disregarded. Not even those that have been disrespected, abused, desecrated, murdered. Those more than the highly valued ones, because in order for one to have high regard for an object one needs to have a perfect understanding of the objects of a lesser value. In order to parade with my estimation of haute cuisine I need to know what living on instant noodles is like. Otherwise I would have no point of reference. And so, when I happen upon a sample of haute cuisine I have no idea what miracle I have just encountered. The biblical saying "Do not throw your pearls to pigs" has its origins precisely in this phenomenon.

Source: Colour Music
So it's in the estimation of the marginal that we are to understand the strength of the essence.
The parasite, as an outsider, has this ability to articulate for the body everything that the body has been taking for granted. That's why the speaker of a foreign language can see the shortcomings of the new language, as well as its creative potential, more so than a native speaker of the same. The former comes to the new language as a parasite. He/she attempts to learn the language not by showing respect to it but by defiling it. They learn this language by doing violence to it. But it is in this violence that the language finds the way of moving on, of evolving into something it was not when approached by the native speaker (who is, in the strictest of senses, an epigone, a mere imitator). It is with the Barbarian, therefore, that the hidden potentials of language become apparent, because the Barbarian has no reason to pay homage to something that’s not his/her own. Derrida says this:
“When you introduce something into language, you have to do it in a refined manner, by respecting through disrespect its secret law. That's what might be called unfaithful fidelity: when I do violence to the French language, I do so with the refined respect of what I believe to be an injunction of this language, in its life and in its evolution.

The Barbarian who comes to the new language with the intention to spouse it does so with a clearly preconceived intention of being unfaithful.
The same happens to reading in general (if only for the fact that learning a new language is a way of reading). Reading makes room for the text to expand, to grow to a proportion never intended by the author.