Anakana Schofield – Author of Bina, Martin John and Malarky

Zadie Smith on failing and failing with ambition

The height of encouragement to see someone — Zadie Smith — born post 1971 forming cohesive thoughts on literature, even if I don’t concur with them entirely. I feel the focus of my generation (and I’ll be hitting the lack of a pension slightly before Mrs Smith) has been on career instead of work in literary matters. Explained maybe because we escaped the caning of a classical education and the Atari computer was only just putting in an appearence on our exits. We therefore plunged after Latin and before the ipod. 

 Here’s the link:http://books.guardian.co.uk/review/story/0,,1988887,00.html

The bit that tripped me up:

For writers have only one duty, as I see it: the duty to express accurately their way of being in the world. If that sounds woolly and imprecise, I apologise.

It’s neither the invocation of sheep nor imprecision that troubles me about that sentence it’s that it’s a depressing prospect since the notion that the writer would accurately express their way of being in the world feels very limited. (Case in point: the novel ‘Saturday’ — a reminder that chumped up, satisfied folk aren’t interesting. ) I’d hazard a guess that many writers barely have one foot in the world by virtue of the fact they’re stuck behind the curtains all day long. Perhaps I am not fathoming her drift, but in simple God’s ordinary people’s terms: I often long to read a novel about a man digging a hole and by her thesis I am very unlikely to ever read one unless a writer gets reincarnated. Beckett was probably my best hope. 

 I am thinking in particular of a novel like John Berger’s The Foot of Clive, which pushed me over the cliff mentally with the possibilities it held up to me when I read it. It’s just hard to be certain that book represents his way of being in the world. But perhaps infact it does, if one is to include his imagination to be him, and his imagination rambled off down the lane and plucked and rendered those people to his page.

In anycase I appear to have argued my way around to agreeing with her since I have neither sufficient science nor intellect to discredit it.  I have an affection for her work, (despite there being a certain amount of old guff in it) as Queens Park was the first grown-up place I lived and I bought my first significant poetry book in a bookshop on the Kilburn High Road when I was supposed to be buying a warm coat. I lived in a flat with a woman who was a former Bay City Rollers groupie, who had the snaps to prove it.. And a Keep Fit fanatic in the days of the leotard, star jump version of Keep Fit and a girl from Monaghan, who I’d go up the Kilburn High Road to get ‘messages’ (shopping) with. Nostalgic digression there: cue the theme music from The Wombles and shaking of head as that last paragraph is the equiv. of saying well I like Flaubert on account of being French. A most pointless of paragraphs.)

I did like the idea of accepting as a writer one is unlikely to get it right. There’s something very liberating about it. Though it’s another dart on the board for recommending being a good reader over a poor writer. If one could have enough sense to choose such a thing.

The Guardian will need to update their author page (daft concept clearly) on her since Mrs Smith is quoted at the top of it:

“Novels are not about expressing yourself, they’re about something beautiful, funny, clever and organic… Go and ring a bell in a yard if you want to express yourself.

On reflection I think there’s far more to be gained by reading Flaubert’s correspondence than the above linked piece. It reflects the uncompromising and near enough stigmata approach necessary to fail better. He may have been a flawed individual in his intolerant attitudes, but his relentless dedication to the written word is infectious. (see Flaubert’s Take entry for the link). This is an age of clicking and agreeing and nodding, while someone else has done the reading. But will impressionable minds actually go and read the writers she’s talking about. Unlikely perhaps.

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