the rigorous m

bits and bobs, quotes and catching up

quote: zadie smith on authenticity

Posted by rigorousm on July 10, 2011

An interesting thought is trying to reach us here, but the ghost of the literary burns it away, leaving only its remainder: a nicely constructed sentence, rich in sound and syntax, signifying (almost) nothing. Netherland doesn’t really want to know about misapprehension. It wants to offer us the authentic story of a self. But is this really what having a self feels like? Do selves always seek their good, in the end? Are they never perverse? Do they always want meaning? Do they not sometimes want its opposite? And is this how memory works? Do our childhoods often return to us in the form of coherent, lyrical reveries? Is this how time feels? Do the things of the world really come to us like this, embroidered in the verbal fancy of times past? Is this really Realism?

In the end what is impressive about Netherland is how precisely it knows the fears and weaknesses of its readers. What is disappointing is how much it indulges them.

Even those who are allergic to literary theory will recognize the literary sensibility…. The connection: a perverse acknowledgement of limitations. One does not seek the secret, authentic heart of things. One believes—as Naipaul had it—that the world is what it is, and, moreover, that all our relations with it are necessarily inauthentic. As a consequence, such an attitude is often mistaken for linguistic or philosophical nihilism, but its true strength comes from a rigorous attention to the damaged and the partial, the absent and the unspeakable.

– Zadie Smith, “Two Paths for the Novel” at nybooks.com

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