Detail from cover artwork by Christina Mowle ©

Mad Med and the Reader

Meanwhile, Reader has been getting more and more cross.
"That's very aggressive," he tells Medusa.
"What is?"
"There's something indefinably agressive about giving me a list of blank topics."
"But I was just filling them up for you."
"That's even worse."
"Okay, you fill them up." Mad Med is genuinely puzzled. "Building Babel is an ongoing project. Don't you see that "The Reader's Text" is required by aesthetic logic?"
"The Aesthetic Logic is fine," Reader growls. He wants Med to know that he can deal quite easily with that sort of thing.
"What's wrong is the balance between the sprawl of Babel and the space left to me. How much blank white space do I have? Only a few lines? And confined to the margins? Why don't I just look for the next bit of print, the next set of memes, full grown and visible? If you really want me to contribute to Babel, then plead with me, and make it genuinely possible for me. We're fighting the convention of Reader as passive; we're fighting me, my need to go on and find out what happens. Tourists just gawp, they're not supposed to do anything."
But it's Mad Med who is gawping. "Okay, what do you want me to do?"
Reader frowns. "I want you to tell me to do something. Something specific."
"An interactive text?" asks Med uncertainly. "For instance: " Now write down the main points. Do some exercises." Like that?"
Reader scowls. "Not like that. I'm not a beanbag. Don't stuff my head full of memes and beans!"
"Well, what about: Here's a diagram. Fill in the missing bits. Or here's a Crossword half done, do the rest. Or tests with right answers. Riddles? Game Book Texts? For example: Did the Cat kill the Queen? If yes, go to page such and such. (I'm afraid you'll have to write that page.) Would that be all right?"
Reader frowns still more deeply. "I want something that's more like a game show - with prizes. After all, what's in it for me? You're probably getting paid for this."
"Who me? I'm just a figment of your imagination."
"Well, I'm not. I've got to eat."
"I'll ask the publisher," replies Med uncertainly. "It's the publisher who decides. It's the publisher who puts the Capital into Culture. That's how it is."
"What's in it for you?" asks Reader suddenly. "What do you want?"
"I want you to understand that you are part of the process of Building Babel. And I want you to do it, and I want you to enjoy it."
"You're awfully zealous about wanting me to have an entertaining time," Reader says slyly.
"I'm not zealous. Well, I am zealous. Listen, I'll come clean. I want you to become a writer, to understand that in the act of reading you are writing."
"What if I refuse? What happens if I say I'm just not playing?"
"What happens to your garden if you just leave it?"
"Weeds." replies Reader darkly.
"And what are weeds?" Med's patience is running out. There's an edge to her voice.
Reader grins. "Other people's memes!"
In spite of herself Medusa smiles; then she gets off her own high horse. With all the charm she can muster, she cajoles Reader, "Dear Reader, Sweet Barbarian, don't you understand that you are complicit? In the act of reading you inevitably build."
She helps him dismount, and gravely offers a handful of sand. He lets the sand slide through his fingers. It makes a pattern. Publishers and princes, piglets and parakeets, it all holds together. They will do something. In time they will all do something. With tenative sticks they begin to scratch and sketch in the sand: Crone Kronos' face - what it looks like - over and over. It's their quest, their occupation, something to do, a whodunnit thriller, an ongoing opera, a myth, a story, a history ... They sing a few songs. They do what people have always done. They write a few poems. They praise, they grieve.

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