Monday, June 28, 2010

Changing My Mind

Zadie Smith’s essays in her recent book ‘Changing my Mind’ are insightful and erudite. Her good pieces review the art of writing under the prism of current literary theory. Some of the stuff I don’t understand for example her review of current books ‘Nether land’ by Thomas O’Neal  and ‘Remainder’  by Tim McCarthy.  Some of her work belongs in the high sophisticated salons of society. But most of her work is spot on and down to earth. Her piece on the art of writing is maybe the most useful that I have ever read. Her other essays have opened a whole new world and show that she is well-read and perhaps a good writer although I have not read any of her books.

I discovered new writers like Zora Neale Hurston and new insights on writers like E.M.Forster, Vladimir Nabokov and Franz Kafka. As a colored writer, her essay on Zora Neale is exceptional especially on the subject of her identity and roots as a writer. I was so intrigued about Hurston that I borrowed a video about her life. I have neglected to read about Afro-American writers and the discovery of Zora and Langston Hughes is an eye opener; especially the so-called Harlem Renaissance.  Zadie Smith is the offspring of these early writers as well as Toni Morrison and Alice Walker. But Zadie belongs to a higher level with her understanding of current literary theories. She brings a whole new insight that is powerful perhaps because of her roots as a black writer.

But this is stereotyping as she roughly writes in one of her essays. There is no such thing as a Jewish writer or a black writer and so on following the ideas of Roland Barthes – another subject I discovered in her work. According to Barthes, from his essay ‘Death of the Author’, critics should not assess a book with the author’s history or biography in mind. The author should not matter and in fact should herald the birth of the reader. The reader should interpret the novel based on her own understanding and whatever insights she may bring with her individual background or culture. According to Barthes, the author is just a mere scribe, writing down the common words expressed by his generation. It is the reader that matters and one should avoid any distraction that an author’s back ground may bring.

‘Changing my Mind’ offers this bewildering array of subjects that is intellectually rewarding but remain grounded despite its high minded subject. It avoids the snobbish tone that one associates with high society pretension especially when discussing about art and writing and so on. One looks forward to reading her novels to see how her essay on the craft of writing has played out. It’s a refreshing work after going over the dark pessimism of Chris Hedges in his book ‘Empire of Illusion’. Of course, Hedges’ book is a brilliant work that opens one’s eyes to current events and its deeper meaning. One could not help but lose confidence in the future. Luckily Zadie Smith and like minded writers are around to perk things up and further distract readers on the illusion of every day life.

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