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Notes Towards Day 13 (Tuesday, 10/22): Playing with NW

mlord's picture

I. Welcome back! What happened...?
any experiences of play? critical play?
any other interesting tales...?!?

II. (til 12:20) we're going to spend all of today's class discussing NW.
on Thursday we'll continue w/ the novel, discuss your next paper,
and also your mid-semester evaluations.  I'll talk about the paper--
and the first steps toward it I want you to take--in a few minutes;
your reading for Thursday is everyone else's self-evaluations:
what patterns do you see in them? what is working/not working,
from the larger perspective of us all?

write for 5 minutes:
what was your experience of reading the book?
what are your after-thoughts now?
what are you curious about (re: this book)?
what would you like to understand better?
how/where would you like to begin our conversation?
what question would you start with?

III. multiple possible ways in....
section titles: Visitation/Guest/Host/Crossing
What are the tools that we have to go to work on this?
What tools do we wish we had? Can we invent them?
Cultural references
Heatful moments
What is the grid? What is the play?
Mapping all the sites
Researching all the culturally specific info
Connect this story to what was happening in central London at the same time...or in our lives/world...
What is the narration? Whose voice are we reading (and when)? How many voices?
If this book was set on another planet, how would we describe that planet?
What are its rules, mores, social orders?
What is totally mysterious to you? How do you read to try to relate to that mystery?
Race. Sex. Reproduction.
Are the social truths of this world also true in our world?
What is broken here? What is whole? Consider as mosaic...
What changes during the course of our reading? In the NW world? In us?

IV. On Thursday we will continue to discuss the novel.
By midnight on Wednesday,
post a paragraph on-line describing something Zadie Smith has made you curious about:
what section/dimension of her novel might you write about,
in order to explore what interests you...?
what questions do you have....?
how might you go about answering them...?
[in class, you will self-organize into writing groups, based on your areas of interest/curiosity...]

V. 12:20--as a model for this: let's read together p. 401, the final page of the novel
(which, as you know, interests/puzzles me!):
what's happening? why is it happening? how do you make sense of it?

from The World According to Zadie Smith, The London Evening Standard (June 28, 2013):
NW was her attempt to write an ‘existential novel’, to channel her reading of Albert Camus and Jean-Paul Sartre into a modern, black, female setting. ‘Women often have a great need to portray themselves as sympathetic and pleasing, but we’re also dark people with dark thoughts. I wanted to have that on the page, as horrible as it might seem,’ she says.

Her father Harvey died in 2006, prompting what she describes as a long bout of reflection. ‘My family’s very noisy but my father was the quiet part of it. I miss that quietness.’ Then, in 2009, she became a mother for the first time, which informed the book’s ‘subconscious’ theme of fertility as well as its more overt concern with mortality. ‘There’s suddenly no one between you and death. My father’s dead, so there’s a direct route now. A few days ago, my three-year-old was messing around, saying, “One day I’ll be six and one day I’ll be seven and one day I’ll be 28.” I realised I would be 65. Me and Nick were like, “Oh my God.” This child is eating your life.’

…she would run a mile from politics. When I ask about Barack Obama, she shudders and expresses her horror at his drone strikes, and the ‘inhuman’ decisions that anyone who enters politics must make. ‘Any artist who aligns themselves with a politician is making a category error,’ she asserts, ‘because what politicians do is not on a human scale, it is on a geopolitical scale. Individual humans are being killed by anonymous planes in the air, and artists should be interested in individual humans. I would no more give support to Obama than I would to David Cameron — the decisions they have to make are not conceivable to me.’

and from Some Harsh Truths about Friendship, PBS Newshour (October 31, 2012):
In her latest novel, "NW," Smith explores the joys and problems of a modern friendship between two women in North London. Decidedly less radiant than some of her earlier works, "NW" delivers the reader some harsh truths about city living and growing older.

“I just wanted to write a book about contemporary life … I just wanted each character to have their story told in a form that was appropriate to them, basically. So I knew it was going to be different for each character, and I knew the book was going to be a lot about time and how time passes. I wanted to try and find a way that expressed how it actually feels to be in time, rather than the way we're used to seeing it parceled out in novels and films. So it was always a conscious decision to make it feel more real….

I'm always interested in the way people speak and move in their environment, in a very particular environment. I'm never interested in writing a kind of neutral, universal novel that could be set anywhere. To me, the novel is a local thing. The way people live in London, that particular corner of London, is very particular so I was trying to recreate that feeling….it's not a place that I would want to escape from…it's a really nice area. It's just about the idea that people aren't given an equality of opportunity. It's not that the neighborhood is some cursed place. All over the world at the moment, if you're born in a certain situation and with a certain amount of money, the odds are stacked against you, and that's interesting wherever you live.

…I'm just interested in women's friendships generally. It always seems to me, and this is just my pet theory, that women are kind of at the sharp end of capitalism one way or another. Mainly because they buy everything. In a practical sense, women buy most things. They buy most things for the house. The amount of money a man spends on his hair compared to the amount a woman spends on her hair. Something about the logic of that comparison, constantly shopping for the best thing, I think it's also in women's lives. They're always comparing -- to friends, to famous people, to other people. An obsessive act of comparison. I wanted to write about that.

…It's easy to be friends when everyone's 18. It gets harder the older you get, as you make different life choices, as people say in America. A lot of women's friendships begin to founder. I was interested in why that was, why it's not possible for a woman to see her friend living differently and just think, "Oh, she lives differently" ….women's desire operates through people… it's a very socialized kind of desire. It's not actually directed at the person it's meant to be directed at. It's directed at the other woman.

[talk a little bit about what you were thinking about pregnancy…]
It was really just from 10 years of sitting around listening to women. In every country I went to, living in America, living in England, they're incredibly anxious about that topic, in a way that I didn't think they had been 50 years ago....This thing that was about to happen to them was so utterly alien and shocking. And when it did happen, it seemed to them like it was a miracle above all other miracles. And yet people have been doing it for [a long] time and more."

VI. reminder re: homework--
post a paragraph describing what you are curious about in NW/
what you might write about/how you might focus this in the text;
read all the self-evals, come w/ a sense of the larger picture (not just your own)