“Novels are machines for falsely generating belief”… essay on fiction, by Zadie Smith in The New York Review of Books

Great essay on writing (and reading) fiction by Zadie Smith.

Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)

I’m sure I’m not the first novelist to dig up that old Whitman chestnut in defense of our indefensible art. And it would be easy enough at this point to march onward and write a triumphalist defense of fiction, ridiculing those who hold the very practice in suspicion—the type of reader who wonders how a man wrote Anna Karenina, or why Zora Neale Hurston once wrote a book with no black people in it, or why a gay woman like Patricia Highsmith spent so much time imagining herself into the life of an (ostensibly) straight white man called Ripley. But I don’t write fiction in a triumphalist spirit and I can’t defend it in that way either. Besides which, a counter-voice in my head detects, in Whitman’s lines, not a little entitlement. Containing multitudes sounds, just now, like an act of colonization. Who is this Whitman, and who does he think he is, containing anyone? Let Whitman speak for Whitman—I’ll speak for myself, thank you very much. How can Whitman—white, gay, American—possibly contain, say, a black polysexual British girl or a nonbinary Palestinian or a Republican Baptist from Atlanta?

Source: Fascinated to Presume: In Defense of Fiction | by Zadie Smith | The New York Review of Books

HT: Bill Sundstrom

About mkevane

Economist at Santa Clara University and Director of Friends of African Village Libraries.
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