It always interests me when the writer of a novel, creator of a song or the artist in general, reflects his thoughts on Arts itself. What is it to write? What is it to read or observe a painting? There are two quotations by J. M. Coetzee that indicate certain responses to these questions. I would like to refer to them in tandem because the function of writing and reading has, in my view, a lot to share and contextualize as far as books are concerned.
"...reading is being the arm and being the axe and being the skull; reading is giving youself up, not holding yourself at a distance and jeering."
~ J. M. Coetzee, The Master of Petersburg
The way Coetzee defines the role of a reader deserves more than a passing mention. That's because the idea of reading as not just another activity to while away time but to commit yourself to the act is something that gives to the writing (the kind Coetzee is concerned with) its first deserved worth. Each book we pick up and start reading, through the very act, builds upon a relationship where, if the book is responsible to us, then the reading is equally responsible to the book.
This is a special book from the author, in which the narrative, being the story that it is, is also a serious meditation on 'writing', 'reading' and creativity. I want to attend to another echo which is the dimension of the idea of giving up. Coetzee suggests:
"We do not write out of plenty, we write out of anguish, out of lack."
~ The Master of Petersburg
What interests me tremendously in this novel is that it captures and sets free a beautiful paradox. You ask how can one write something if he/she doesn't have anything. How can reading be giving yourself up more and more when the reader, supposedly, has to gain and achieve from the book?
I intend to let these questions be. I do not want them to be answered. What can be done though, is to befriend these lines and see them in tandem. And perhaps the most important thing is to "not holding yourself at a distance and jeering." Because in doing so, we not only extinguish the possibility of either gaining anything or giving ourselves up, but the very space of two of the most beautiful things we know of: reading and writing.