THE OLD-FASHIONED READER IN THE NET
The understanding of this short essay is that the old-fashioned reader is most often a professional man of letters, normally analyzer of belles lettres, maybe of lyric works of art. Moreover, like the characteristic type of philosophers who develop and elaborate in different directions the same powerful ideas that they cherish from the years of their youth, this man of letters reads the same works of art again and again and tries to find new meanings in them. Similar or rather contrasting in verse and subject matter literary works are attracted and re-grouped - like aura - around these texts that hold forever his attention, then the configuration disintegrates and thus leaves the important texts again solitary, luminous, presumably enriched in meaning.
With all his wandering around other worlds of art, with his temporary passions, fallings in love, enchantments, spiritual betrayals, the old-fashioned reader regards the significant works as constituting his vague dream, looming mirage. Sometimes they remain so distant that they seem to be lost forever - as attainability of meaning and emotion. Until they stand with their whole power again - sudden, unmotivated - in the focus of the penetrating, sensitive understanding (he enters them comprehensiblement again).
And now the basic question that I am interested in today: Does the birth and development of the net present a powerful problematic situation for this old-fashioned reader?
But before I try to answer this question that seems reasonable to me - few more features and modifications of this biographically real old-fashioned reader - man of letters...
Obviously, this old-fashioned reader of mine can read also novels and then subject temporally to the described by Prof. Wolfgang Izer mechanism of impact on the intrinsic for the work construction of the Implied Reader. But what I insist on as a basic feature of this practically biographic reader is the continuous recovery of these lyric works in his conscience, even not as a mental form, but as some sort of a sensuous Gestalt (if it possible not to separate them, but at least to put the stresses). In this manner his consciousness can sound all the time fragments of novels, monologues of stage plays, phrases from essays. And very often these fragmented texts are not obligatory his object of critics. His personal strategies include their non-engagement within his sight of analyzer, he frees them from such a rationalization and unfolding - just not to debase or substantiate them in some way, despite of the fact that he is a professional reader, interpreter. Actually, these games that involve happily obsessive eternally valid works or fragments are much more complicated, tempting, they have different shapes throughout the respective biographical periods.
The category of the old-fashioned reader can witness the poet (in fact, most of the real poets) whose own lyrical works clearly trace the ever-alarming or ever-radiating poetic phraseologisms, metaphors of some of the predecessors or the dialogically involving him contemporary. These reveries or attempt to pass through foreign worlds - this is the manner in which Tzvetaeva reads and re-reads Blok and Rilke, this is the powerful dependency of the Bulgarian poet Iavorov on Botev, this is the dialogue between the two poems - "The sun set down" and "Hadzhi Dimitar" and not only between them, of course. None the less, this reading-again-and-again is quite often related to the printed form of a specific book that in it constitutes something more than a simple reproduction - it is highly axiologically marked.
I shall make one more analogy, as I recall an old idea of mine. There are a few dozens of works belonging to the world literary canon that every literary epoch feels obliged to read using its own prisms, to produce their prestigious perusals complying with its literary tastes and other kinds of norms, to consider the specific work according to its own aspects. I reckon the romantic, positivistic, modernistic, etc. Hamlet. I reckon the cultural fate of "Don Quixote" (including the battles of supporters of Quixote and Servantes), of "Gargantua and Pantagruelle", "Gulliver’s Travels", "Dead Souls", in Bulgaria - "Bai Ganyo", etc. Coming back to my old thesis, these uniform perusals, which often are fixed via the authority of a significant for the epoch critic or are simply a product of the fashion, stick all over the literary work. They contradict each other radically. They are incompatible in meaning, but somehow exist mechanistically together. Thus the work of art becomes at a certain point, following these multiple sticking, packing of uniform readings, somehow unclear, illegible - but, on the other hand, possesses the absolute authority of the eternal classics. A necessity arises for these readings to clash in terms of logic, to undergo a peculiar "theoretical" reading, to turn back to the original polysemy of that work.
Similar dramas evolve in the consciousness of our old-fashioned reader too. The long contemplative and tragic contact with the important, ever-valid pieces of text, the recollection of overtaking enlightenment related to these particular works in specifically determined significant biographic moments, also become important single perusals. But exactly here maybe the work that acquires more and more vague sense due to this long dependency makes it even more substantial.
The time has come to make a material reservation: it is not compulsory, and most often it is not possible, for the today’s old-fashioned reader (obviously this is only a conventional definition) to ignore the net, to choose not to be in Internet. That is why the above stated question whether the Net presents a radical problematic situation for that old-fashioned reader should find its answer. His world of secret literary dependencies disappears - provoked, attacked, drawn into the net. Something more: does the Net allow - already well woven, covering the whole cultural space, does it allow the formation, appearance, existing, even today, of new old-fashioned readers or of that type or readers - the so cursorily described old-fashioned reader, could be only an elder man of letters who had realized that he had been involved, infatuated, obsessed with his works of art in the time before the Net developed? I.e., whether this old-fashioned reader is not a representative of a disappearing species?
Naturally, nothing special will happen to the old and the eventual new old-fashioned reader. He will continue to be mysterious, to hide from everyone his secret perusals-loves and their signs, traces in the texts that he produces himself will continue to be rather specific. Because, basically, he is an exception, a peculiar case and his own differing perusals had been actually an alternative.
Still, his nervousness cannot stop rising. For isn’t the net a constant, uninterrupted media upgrade of the Other, isn’t it a complete inability to get concentration. Doesn’t the Net provide us with an imposed, non-selected, ever-present interlocutor, who does not allow or at least impedes the isolation with the living deep in us, existentially important texts? Doesn’t our nostalgia for the endangered spiritual homeland inside us increase? Aren’t we constantly taken out of the solitude of the unique sensuous co-experiencing, of the innermost penetration in the meaning. Isn’t this radical piercing of the invisible sight of the non-chosen Other placing in danger all of us, transforming us into spiritual exhibitionists who will unnoticeably make public even what we had not included until now as experience in the world of our professional dealings as men of literature. It is not possible to simply switch off the computer, because even when your monitor is off, you are actually entirely tied to the Net. It is just that the secret games, the secret strategies, the secret interdependencies will become more and more complicated.
Of course, the old-fashioned reader will not reside constantly in the Net, he will use it very wary and selectively. In the same way in which he always rejected the reading for certain periods of time, left a place for the silence, dropped into the pauses - in order to start the dreaming, the amorous recollection, to make possible the expectation of the overwhelming and not always achievable enlightenment. Nevertheless, in some sense the most old-fashioned reader is a reader of only one book, maybe the Bible, of the book that forms the foundation of his culture. I will quote the highly specific word used by Levinas - this reader is REACTIONARY. His consciousness cannot be overfilled with the myth of the Net, with its demonizing totalization. His myths are too intimate.
And if we really leave aside the Net for a moment, we would say that our old-fashioned reader is in fact rather obstinate, resisting the reading of non-belonging to him, ordinary from the point of view of his infatuation texts. It is highly probable that he will stubbornly support his personal presence, resist as much as he can the power of the suggestions offered to him by means of the inner construction of the implied reader. The reading of neutral pieces of art could fascinate him with the play of vagueness, unclearness, and emptiness. He does not hasten to the final concretisation. For him it is better to leave it as long as possible eventually not filled with sense and thus mysteriously-fascinating for a longer time. Nonetheless, the question could be about too easy, almost elementary works, resembling a final and distinguishably typical substantiation. But even they would not interest my old-fashioned reader at all, unless he attributes them with something own, unless he re-transforms them semantically, unless he starts to play. And the most complicated games give birth to works like "Zow of Letters of Love" of Victor Shklovski and "The Parrot of Flobert" of Giulian Barns, the poems of the modern Bulgarian poets Ani Ilkov and Georgi Gospodinov.
Two more things alarm the old-fashioned reader. First, he regards his native language as his genuine spiritual fatherland; he is embarrassed with the Esperanto of the Net that makes problematic the intimacy of the life. He is forever questioning himself until what degree the theory of literature corresponds to his literature, whether it is its homologue in some forms. Second, this always valid anonymous partner of the Net, this Other - is he immediately transformed into He without being a true He.
But the Net, the Net. It really cannot go on without and out of it. Even such an isolated case as me, who allows himself to be identified with the old-fashioned reader, with the character of this essay. Because even I ordered in December in California the two books of Prof.Izer: "The Implied Reader" and "The Act of Reading" at amazon.com and they reached me two and a half days later in New York where I had gone meanwhile.
© Mihail Nedelchev, 2000