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Notes Towards Day 12 (Thursday, 10/10): Working-and-Playing with Zadie Smith!

mlord's picture

I. 11:25-12:15: who was/n't @ last night's event?  what happened?
take 5 minutes to write down what you saw/heard/thought about after...
let's go around and read these reflections aloud....

so: what did we learn from Zadie Smith?
(Tessa, Hanna: were you satisfied w/ the answers to your questions?)
(Abby's post about wanting her to talk about "failing better"-->
cf. her essay by that title:

I was once asked by a high-school student in an audience in Chennai: "Why, sir, are you so eager to please?" That's how I tend to define failure - work done for what Heidegger called "Das Mann", the indeterminate "They" who hang over your shoulder, warping your sense of judgment; what he (not me) would call your authenticity....when we account for our failings, as writers, the feeling that is strongest is a betrayal of one's deepest, authentic self...

what did she teach us about writing? thinking? working-and playing?
what was she DOING? why did she read us an essay about becoming corpses???
do you feel as if she threw down some sort of gauntlet for you?

some things she said (from Anne's notes, taken in the dark):

  • "I tried to identify with the corpse."
  • "clearly being a corpse is the end of all experience"
  • "being a corpse is my only guaranteed future"
  • "shun the corpse, celebrate the life!"
  • "there is an unequal distribution of corpses in the world...some of us live in death-dealing places"
  • "everybody should be able to imagine themselves as abject corpses"
  • [on the shocked viewers of Andy Warhol, the "king of corpse art"]
  • "the tragedy that banal, boring life ends in death"
  • "premature corpsification would bother us more, if we knew what it is to be fully human"
  • on the ability to be alone...


  • "I try to proceed very follow the way my mind organizes things
  • "I had no pressure [@ Cambridge] to be a rounded person
  • "to be a writer, you need an enormous capacity for being bored, alone"
  • "I'm listening [for different languages]; I'm not looking"
  • "I am a very slow sausage machine"
  • "most of the time I am reading"
  • [in response to Tessa's question about her intention being lost:]
    the writer's intent is irrelevant, in terms of the reader's experience--
    readers should have a lot of freedom, in terms of interpretation;
    "I was an aggressive reader, against the grain"
    writers are idiot savants: their writing is subconscious,
    instinctive; it's not the critical work of the reader"
  • on "going to war with the internet":
    her critique "comes from a place of personal experience":
    "this does not make me wildly happy"
  • rejection [of manuscripts] is a good/healthy thing/
    each essay is judged on its own merits, not her reputation
  • [in response to Hanna's question about the quote in the first paragraph,
    "I am the sole author of the dictionary that defines me..."]
    this was a found item, from a black actress/celebrity;
    it's both narcissistic and existentialist-->
    we make the world exist/we make it meaningful--
    are radically responsible for our own lives
  • how much of her self is in her writing?
    "I never feel much 'me-ness about me'"; I am inconsistent, a blank
  • on the need for more diversity in academia: this is
    a problem of economic disparity all the way down
  • essays are "a way out" from spending 7 years on a novel and no one cares:
    addictive feeling of getting a quick response
  • [in response to Christine's question about losing hope that all has already been said:]
    "originality is an American obsession"; "all art is a repetition of six ideas,
    a long echo chamber of writers, talking back and forth"--
    you bring your own soul/sensibility--that's your addition
  • Felix in NW is one of her favorite characters
  • "I used to have a very cynical approach: these were sentences in books, not people...."
  • [asked to read her essay]: "it would be a great benefit to image a corpse; but I can't do it--
    can only get small glimpses
  • "this idea is consistent with Buddhist nothingness"
  • "I am reminding American youth that they are going to die"

[this is all about playing hard--intellectually rigorously, but also adventurously, diving in deep,
asking the HARDEST questions, taking it to the ULTIMATE place, speaking to her most existential place
AND to her iPhone-abusing place, taking on her own life, the renaissance, Andy Warhol, global
misdistribution of wealth...]

How was her experience of college different from yours (so far)? Can you imagine writing a novel on top of everything else you do? (Hopw many hours are you on the internet?) What if you were writing all that time?

We asked you to think in terms of work and play:
How dare we distinguish?
(Did you? What WAS the difference? Should you have?)
Are you willing to WORK harder? Or play harder?
How could you have played harder in the city?
How might you play harder in your writing?
(Cf. your "tidy" essays w/ her more adventurous one....?
Cf. your "timid" essays w/ hers, focused on Very Big Questions....?)

offering some useful advice about reading all of Smith's big novel:
the playful work/work(wo)manlike play we are asking you to do over break?
drawing from The New Yorker interview:

  • "I was trying to think about how we experience time"
  • different depending on who I was dealing with: In Keisha's case [where there's]
    this belief that life is a meaningful progression towards some ultimate goal...
    the numbered sections [were] the obvious choice"
  • "writing in that single-voiced way...bores me"
  • "you can write so much more cleanly and stylishly when you didn't have to try and think yourself into many places at the same time...every time I write a sentence I'm thinking of..the people from my neighborhood...this is an advantage...these little varietals...are fundamentallyy significant.They're not just decorations on top of a life; they're the filter..."
  • "the book was written without a plan...I decided to let myself be led by whatever appeared in front of me as I was writing it....a collection of found items...I tried to pick up and integrate...letting the novel organize itself as I went along"

II. 12:15-12:35: split into writing groups (in Mark's room),
to take ownership of what Zadie Smith said:
discuss the work-and-play you see
(and have experienced, while reading)
one another's first paragraphs

V. 12:35-12:45: instructions for working-and-playing over fall break
A) read all of NW, asking yourself
what is this saying to YOU?
keep a (running) personal journal. Every time you finish reading,
write at least one sentence that says what you think about your situation
based on how you are thinking based on the reading.

You might also ask yourself/her some more general questions:
How does Smith represent the city throughout the novel?
How does London (so far) seem "like"/unlike Philly?
How much play is visible there
--both in her writing AND in what is being represented,
in how folks conduct themselves and relate to one another....?

B) 6th 3-pp. writing assignment due on-line by midnight Sunday, October 20th
(the day you return from break): your mid-semester course evaluation-->
imagine that this course is a city in which you've been playing:
what have you seen?
what have you done?
what's your interaction been
(with the city, with texts, with your classmates and profs)?
what are you hoping for?
think about form-and-content; how are you structuring this account?
how can you organize your essay so that it illustrates what you want to say?
what data have you to report, to illustrate your claims-and-ideas?

C) this is also your opportunity to catch up on missed posts:
by now, you should have 5 Sun. night web-events (incl a mosaic),
and six shorter Wed. night postings (incl. two sets each, of responses to your classmates' work)

Complete your SEPTA request form...(??)

C) if you haven't yet responded to our question about how to design your upcoming trips
(@ 8 this morning night there were only 9 responses...don't you care?!?)
you still have time before we meet @ 10 tomorrow morning...speak now or don't complain!