The second part of Zadie Smith’s Guardian essay is up. Warning: There are references to Kierkegaard. But you knew there would be, didn’t you? This part is about the responsibilities and failures of the reader-critic.
Both the writer and the reader must undergo an ethical expansion – allow me to call it an expansion of the heart – in order to comprehend the human otherness that fiction confronts them with; both fail in varied, fascinating ways to complete this action as ideally it might be completed. But if it were ideal, if the translation from brain to page were perfect, then of course all idiosyncrasy, as Woolf suggests, would indeed be impoverished: the novel would not exist at all. There would be no act of communication, no process, no gift – we would simply be speaking to ourselves.
This essay, what I can understand of it, is heartening in its way: the failure of perfect translation from brain to page is so devastating that it often (usually) seems best not to try at all. Nothing I could actually write could ever be a good as the embryonic book in my mind. Even my dreams participate in my torment: I dream wonderful, imaginative, fully plotted stories that dissolve like mist when I awake. It helps a little knowing that even Zadie Smith has that problem; indeed, that problem is what literature is.