Last November, the novelist Zadie Smith published a collection of non-fiction
essays and criticism called Changing My Mind. Smith, the author of White Teeth
and On Beauty, tends to take a highly personal approach to literary criticism, offering
anecdotes from her own evolution as a reader. This in turn invites a healthy
amount of Smith-centric psychoanalysis from other critics, who sometimes focus
less on Smith's substantive points and more on what she might be unintentionally
revealing about herself.
- She's Having a 'Half-Acknowledged Crisis of
Literary Confidence' In a sensitive review at The New Republic, Adam Kirsch
looks at the tension between Smith's stated position on lyrical, emotionally
evocative writing (outmoded! inauthentic!) and the kind of prose found in her
novels, which is... lyrical and emotionally evocative. Kirsch's conclusion?
Smith is "a writer engaged in a reconsideration, perhaps a refashioning, of her
own methods and values. She seems torn between her sense of what fiction ought
to be--up-to-the-minute, theoretically informed, self-consciously strenuous--and
what her own fiction actually is: traditional, popular, and affirmative, as well
as intelligent and literary."
- She Secretly Wants to Join the Academy
Shortly after the release of Changing My Mind, the anonymous university lecturer
behind the blog Ads
Without Products offered his or her own theory: Zadie Smith wishes she were
a professor. "She in fact wants to be one of us ... [It] suggests something very
promising about her, a sort of aspiration to gravitas that’s almost entirely
missing from the scene nowadays." But Smith is unsuited to the academy, the
blogger goes on to say, because she strives to keep self-vs.-other politics out
of her criticism, and no serious consideration of literature can ignore those
- She May Not Be a Big Joseph O'Neill Fan Writing in The Daily
Telegraph, Sameer Rahim zeroes in on Smith's complaint about Joseph O'Neill's
novel Netherlands. "Everything must be made literary... nothing escapes," says
Smith, put off by O'Neill's grab bag of metaphors and fanciful imagery. Yet
Rahim notes that Smith applauded those same qualities when writing about Nabokov
in an earlier piece. "Maybe she has changed her mind about the value of such
details," writes Rahim, "but I suspect she simply doesn’t like O’Neill’s
writing, in which case she didn’t need to elevate that judgment into a dismissal
of an entire tradition."
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