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Wednesday, November 17, 2021

Losing Alice and a Lost Chapter: The Bad Reader

There's an Apple TV show I highly recommend: Losing Alice. It is an Israeli noir psychothriller about creativity, self., and truth. And it stars the fabulous Ayelet Zurer. In one of the later episodes, a character accuses Alice of being the bad reader. He pulls out from his bookshelf the Amos Oz, A Tale of Love and Darkness (I've reviewed another Amos Oz book on Prawfs here). He reads out loud. I went back to find the original, and discovered that the English translation omits this whole chapter about the bad reader. The bad reader is the reader that focuses on who is in fact Elena Ferante, obsessing about whether she has a real life brilliant friend.

The bad reader "pursues the secrets of the novelist rather than the secrets of the novel. The bad reader wants to know “the story behind the story.” If Dostoevsky gives us a man who robs and murders an old woman, the bad reader is sure that Dostoevsky himself must have been implicated, if only through private fantasies, in that sordid activity. If Nabokov gives us a pedophile, it is tantamount to a confession of pedophilia. And how, the bad reader wonders, could Sophocles possibly have manufactured such a vivid story of incest and patricide without the benefit of some personal experience along those lines?" “They come to take my message from me, dead or alive,” says Oz writes. "Invoking “the right of the public to know,” interviewers want him to identify the message, the moral and the political cargo his fiction conveys to the reader. Perhaps it is “The occupation corrupts,” or “Love triumphs,” or “The minorities are exploited.” Both the bad reader and the gasping interviewer share a “righteous puritanical hatred for creativity, for discovery, for obfuscation and exaggeration, for the games of courtship, for the ambiguous, the musical and the Muse, for the imagination itself."...Oz likens the bad reader to “a psychopathic lover” who strips off his victim’s skin, impatiently removes the flesh, dismantles her skeleton, “and at the end — when he is filleting her bones between his crude yellow teeth — only then does he finally attain his satisfaction: that’s that. Now I’m really, really inside. I’ve arrived.” The metaphor of “the psychopathic lover” forces us to consider the reader’s desire to control and possess a work of art, as if that were possible — as if anyone, even the artist, could enjoy such power. Oz sees a nihilistic urge at work in “the bad reader,” whose sole aim is to prove that, in the end, the characters in a story are no more than representations of the author and his relatives and friends and neighbors, doing the same mundane things that everyone else does — nothing extraordinary or mysterious — because in reality, “everyone is the same.” Bad readers convince themselves that any work of fiction will boil down to something utterly familiar, just as all the characters on a computer keyboard are reduced, in their little binary world, to a bunch of zeros and ones."

Incidentally, and tragically, Oz's family and private life has been the subject of a lot of pages after his death last year.

Watch the series, read the book, and, perhaps all we can do is try to be good watchers and readers.



Posted by Orly Lobel on November 17, 2021 at 11:27 AM | Permalink


Does anybody else enjoy Howard's post on preferred first speaker while closing comments (avoiding discussion) and deleting comments from people who don't meet his level of "polite" or "reasoned" discourse (i.e. putting the burden of civility on the responder)?

Posted by: thegreatdisappointment | Nov 28, 2021 4:21:36 PM


Yet, the post, has missed the utmost important apparent answer for that question of:

Who is a good reader then?

So, I quote from one of the related articles:

"Who, then, is the good reader? The good reader is the one who understands that the real distance to be covered is not the gap between the text and the writer, but the gap between the text and the reader. The question is not, how do I find Dostoevsky in Raskolnikov? It is, instead, how do I find myself in Raskolnikov? And when I seek myself there, I share something with other private voyagers, as Oz explains: “Raskolnikov might sweeten a little the shame and the loneliness of the inner dungeon to which all of us are confined throughout our lives.”

End of quotation:

But, it would be approximately the same. Why would one reader, find himself there, while denying the representation of the writer there ? It is more logical and reasonable, to find there the author (who wrote the book) over accidental reader.

This is unacceptable with all due respect.

It does derive or stems not necessarily from hating creativity or fictitious voyages as suggested(otherwise, how so many writers become so popular, or their books etc....) but rather:

Lack of intellectual and emotional skills, to travel in well disciplined and objective analysis of texts etc... It is a very demanding hell of work. It does demand very high emotional capacity (or rather emotional intelligence).

Lack of skills, lack of education. That's it.


Posted by: El Roam | Nov 17, 2021 12:53:20 PM

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