Feb 19, 2024


Zadie Smith:

What would our debates about fiction look like, I sometimes wonder, if our preferred verbal container for the phenomenon of writing about others was not “cultural appropriation” but rather “interpersonal voyeurism” or “profound-other-fascination” or even “cross-epidermal reanimation”? Our discussions would still be vibrant, perhaps even still furious — but I’m certain they would not be the same. Aren’t we a little too passive in the face of inherited concepts? We allow them to think for us, and to stand as place markers when we can’t be bothered to think. What she said. But surely the task of a writer is to think for herself! And immediately, within that bumptious exclamation mark, an internal voice notes the telltale whiff of baby boomer triumphalism, of Generation X moral irresponsibility…. I do believe a writer’s task is to think for herself, although this task, to me, signifies not a fixed state but a continual process: thinking things afresh, each time, in each new situation. This requires not a little mental flexibility. No piety of the culture — whether it be I think therefore I am, To be or not to be, You do you, or I contain multitudes —should or ever can be entirely fixed in place or protected from the currents of history. There is always the potential for radical change.