Zadie Smith on the urge "to be good. To be seen to be good."
September 18, 2020 5:47 AM   Subscribe

"Now More Than Ever" is a short absurdist story by Zadie Smith about shunning, denouncing, and philosophical stances and etiquette rules (The New Yorker, July 16, 2018 - available in text & audio). "I bumped into someone on Bleecker who was beyond the pale. I felt like talking to him so I did. As we talked I kept thinking, But you’re beyond the pale, yet instead of that stopping us from talking we started to talk more and more frantically..." Related: her October 2019 essay "Fascinated to Presume: In Defense of Fiction" (previously). "...we seek to shore up the act of writing with false defenses, like the dubious idea that one could ever be absolutely 'correct' when it comes to representing fictional human behavior."
posted by brainwane (7 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
From "Fascinated to Presume"
[Unlike] ... the technological monopolies that buy and sell your data....A book does not watch us reading it; it cannot morph itself, page by page, to suit our tastes, or deliver to us only depictions of people we already know and among whom we feel comfortable. It cannot note our reactions and then skew its stories to confirm our worldview or reinforce our prejudices. A book does not know when we pick it up and put it down; it cannot nudge us into the belief that we must look at it first thing upon waking and last thing at night, and though it may prove addictive, it will never know exactly how or why.
Only the algorithms can do all this—and so much more....Despite the confidence of the data harvesters, a self can never be known perfectly or in its entirety.
The intimate meeting between a book and its reader can’t be predetermined. To put it another way, a book can try to modify your behavior, but it has no way of knowing for sure that it has. In front of a book you are still free. Between reader and book, there is only the continual risk of wrongness, word by word, sentence by sentence. The Internet does not get to decide. Nor does the writer. Only the reader decides. So decide.
posted by otherchaz at 7:54 AM on September 18, 2020 [1 favorite]

"Fascinated to Presume" is the best thing that I have yet read on cultural appropriation in fiction and questions about who can and should write what.
posted by Jeanne at 8:57 AM on September 18, 2020 [2 favorites]

Mary left. Scout came by—a great improvement. Scout is so involved and active. She is on all platforms, and rarely becomes aware of anything much later than, say, the three-hundredth person. By way of comparison, the earliest I’ve ever been aware of anything was that time I was the ten-million-two-hundred-and-sixth person to see that thing.
I really like Zadie Smith, thank you.
posted by freebird at 9:37 AM on September 18, 2020

I had missed this one when it was published but it really resonates, so thanks for posting!
posted by The Minotaur at 9:43 AM on September 19, 2020

Good essay. Interesting ideas beautifully presented, as if she were sitting next to me.
posted by mule98J at 9:13 AM on September 20, 2020

Finally got around to reading this. I love her work and this was really intriguing for me, but I also found it too vague to really follow. I'll probably try again at some point, and I really appreciate you posting this.
posted by Mchelly at 12:14 PM on September 24, 2020

Also thank you for the link to "Fascinated to Presume". That really, really resonated with me.
posted by Mchelly at 4:33 PM on September 24, 2020

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