I was touched and suprised by Zadie Smith, an art-star, rising in the literature world, so disinterested in fame and self-image! Sitting in the balcony seats at the Rialto Theatre in Montreal, listening to her interview, I became enamoured by her calm, charisma and hilarious wit.
You can't talk about writing with out talking about the power of reading, right? How its a perfect way for individuals to develop intellectually and grow empathy for the world around them? Reading as both a transformative and progressive act? Not for Zadie Smith. Smith no longer gives literature and reading this power and glorification. She sighs: you read, develop empathy... and then nothing. happens. She looks at all the wasted capacity in America, whole neighbourhoods and populations, unseen and neglected. This is a real problem that could be addressed by giving equal funding to all schools! There would be a revolution when all people were given equal prospect. "Legislation has power" she says. To actually change things.
So what power does writing and reading hold then, you might ask? As a painter, I'm always wondering about this within my own work. What agency does art really hold for us, at this moment in time of fast and flickering attention spans and so much political work needing to be done. Her answer was surprising and multifold. Firstly: PLEASURE. It holds that power for both the reader and writer. And also clarity of thought and feelings. In a world so full of deception, it's a great power and pleasure to speak truth clearly. Pinning down a sensation. Through this act, she says, their can be a catharsis of connection: "Oh ok, I'm not the only one who feels this". Writing can also be a way of organizing. Organizing "an otherwise ragbag of chaos" of our thoughts and attitudes about art and life.
And finally, what seems closest to her heart, she describes the health of actually not being in the centre of it all. Smith claims: "In this culture, so oppressively full of somebodies I'm committed to nobodies." These nobodies as she calls them, living their lives in the present, exist as at least one character within each of her books. The internet has created a whole ocean of somebodies engaging in circular discussions about one's work/life/identity. I certainly relate to that pattern of justifying and restating and reiterating ourselves into being, in a constant conversation on social media platforms everywhere. Smith has a soft spot in her heart for a time when authors weren't quite as reachable and public - allowing artists more freedom to be inconsistent and uncertain. There is a present day fetishization of the consistent identity. Although she definitely identifies with a more pre-internet sensibility she acknowledges that its "for each generation to work out what they want to spend their lives at." A gentle call-to arms in my ears, reminding me to reconsider this formidable force on my own identity and motivations.