Sunday, November 19, 2006

"Reader as amateur musician"

Here's something that I gather Zadie Smith said recently:

The idea we’re given of reading is that the model of a reader is the person watching a film, or watching television. So the greatest principle is, "I should sit here and I should be entertained." And the more classical model, which has been completely taken away, is the idea of a reader as an amateur musician. An amateur musician who sits at the piano, has a piece of music, which is the work, made by somebody they don’t know, who they probably couldn’t comprehend entirely, and they have to use their skills to play this piece of music. The greater the skill, the greater the gift that you give the artist and that the artist gives you.

What I like about this is that contradicts the generally accepted the idea that certain forms (books) are less "interactive" than other forms (computer games, etc.). I would actually say that although Smith is using movie-watching as an negative example, you can actually watch a movie just as actively as you can read. Depending on the movie, depending on the book. I think of consumption of creative works as being fundamentally active, not passive at all. It always bugs me when people talk about the ability to literally control a character (or whatever) in a creative work is the only way you can be involved in it.

By the way, I say above that "I gather" Smith said this because I haven't listend to the radio interview that it came from -- I just saw this bit quoted on BoingBoing, which credits another blog, which credits another blog etc.

Anyway, I like Smith's point, and how she made it.