How to read

How to read

I realised recently that Internet has changed the way I read.
Before the internet (in the Middle Ages, in other words), discovering the individual behind the author of a book was detective work. It was necessary to follow  the release of his/her latest the book, which might or might not give rise to an article in a daily, weekly or monthly (which was not online), watch literary programs at a given time , which were not subsequently put on line, read literary magazines, consult books of all kinds in the library, have a good relationship with the bookshop owner,  in short, a lot of good will  and work was involved , and even then,  the promotional machine of the time did not reach the same  level of exposure and efficiency it has today, invading every bit of  the public and virtual space, sometimes ad nauseam. As a result, few authors were worth digging for information and fewer  were truly known. They tended to remain behind  their desk, with their paper,  pencils and mysteries. 

One of the authors  I wanted to know better before the Internet was  Kenneth White, a Scotsman of origin living  in France since the sixties. He writes essays, travel stories and poetry. Reading  his early  books has dramatically changed my way of thinking about poetry and writing in general. As an erudite, he spoke of his journey in his books, mentioning the authors he had found along the way, hence giving  me access to other authors, who subsequently inspired me a great deal. There was little talk about him and he was not part of the publishers’ promotional circuit, but I had some curiosity about the individual, which he revealed (I thought) in his essays and travel stories. Later, his writings made me feel a little uneasy, as  someone  who seemed to take himself more and more seriously, it seemed to me, and obsessively trying to define  the borders of what would later become his movement of thought, which he baptized « geopoetics », sometimes excluding very quickly   thinkers and writers from  his field of interest. I eventually stopped following his writings and started to chart my own literary route (I also learned that the early Kenneth White who  had the light pen that I had loved so much at the beginning of his career was actually a character created by he and his wife). Today, I am less interested in his poetry, although I still love his approach to poetry and writing in general, but   still feel the same discomfort at his desire to exclude,  sometimes condemn  the very same people who guided and inspired him on his journey. However, it took more than ten years before this discomfort was articulated in a somewhat more substantial way, thanks, above all, to a colleague who knew him well and spoke to me about him, as well as  a book published on the author (in the years 2000, I believe). Today, things would be very different. It would be enough for me to type his name in Google and I would find a site devoted to his geopoetics, numerous articles in French and English devoted to him, conferences  and interviews he gave. I found a similar  mixture of admiration (especially on the French side) and uneasiness (especially on the English side, which is hardly surprising, given that he dismissed the Anglo-Saxon culture in the sixties), although better documented. His quarrels with Deleuze, his assertion as to the invention of the  geopoetics neologism, whereas the term seems to have already been used by others (no one would have held it against him), a rather unnecessary clumsiness, given his great erudition and his obsession with  etymology. And his way (incomprehensible to me), in some of his lectures, to insist, for example, that even if he recognizes a certain affinity with, lets say, William Blake, he hates his painting (and why  does he have to say it four or five times ?).
In short,  I found almost intact  on the Internet what I had the intuition of when I read his books, and the  Internet has only made it possible to  deepen it and articulate better what I think.  Most of the time, it does not change the opinion I have of a book I have read. And this is true for most of the authors I read. I only like them a little more (Fay Weldon, Tim Winton), or a little less (Lionel Shriver, Elena Ferrante). 


5 réflexions sur « How to read »

  1. Very interesting essay. I often care very little about the writer, though I will remember a name and look for more books! People expect to see something of the writer’s essence in the writing, even when it is fiction. I keep hoping to hear a writer faced with the awful question « What in your life… » say « I made it up. That’s why it’s called fiction. » Partly, because it is art of course, which is not necessarily reflective of the day to day person, but filtered through something deeper. This is not to say I haven’t come across an author and thought « who IS this?? » and looked them up, often to be disappointed. And of course, the internet makes that so much easier. Though you knew what you would find no doubt, as a close and erudite reader, yes? I feel a need to look the guy up myself now, having read your essay!

  2. The risk of being disappointed is always high, which is why I wonder publishers push writers into doing more and more promotion, when writers, even the nice ones, do not seem to like promoting their books that much. But I also had pleasant surprises (when a writer is unassuming, articulated, down on earth, likeable, etc. ). What is fiction and what is not ? That is the question. Negative impact of the internet, I agree, is that it is easy now, so sometimes hard to resist, when I wonder about this or that, while I am reading … in the past I would have wondered and would have forgotten. Now, sometimes, I try to answer the question, and sometimes it is good and sometimes it is not.

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