Mhambi has been redeployed.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Mhambi blogs therefore he is

Zadie Smith
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Mhambi loves blogging. It leaves me strangely fulfilled. Look its Saturday night, and here I am typing away. Mhambi wondered why this might be so? And two weeks ago, Zadie Smith, the talented young London writer, provided a possible explanation.

Mhambi posts excerpts of Zadie telling us that when we write we must - Fail better.

Writers feel, for example, that what appear to be bad aesthetic choices very often have an ethical dimension...

Style is a writer's way of telling the truth...

...writers are in possession of "selfhood", and that the development or otherwise of self has some part to play in literary success or failure.

We were taught that authenticity was meaningless. How, then, to deal with the fact that when we account for our failings, as writers, the feeling that is strongest is a betrayal of one's deepest, authentic self?

When I write I am trying to express my way of being in the world. This is primarily a process of elimination: once you have removed all the dead language, the second-hand dogma, the truths that are not your own but other people's, the mottos, the slogans, the out-and-out lies of your nation, the myths of your historical moment - once you have removed all that warps experience into a shape you do not recognise and do not believe in - what you are left with is something approximating the truth of your own conception.

That sounds very grand: maybe it's better to start at the simplest denomination of literary betrayal, the critic's favourite, the cliche...

With a cliche you have pandered to a shared understanding, you have taken a short-cut, you have re-presented what was pleasing and familiar rather than risked what was true and strange. It is an aesthetic and an ethical failure: to put it very simply, you have not told the truth. When writers admit to failures they like to admit to the smallest ones - for example, in each of my novels somebody "rummages in their purse" for something because I was too lazy and thoughtless and unawake to separate "purse" from its old, persistent friend "rummage". To rummage through a purse is to sleepwalk through a sentence - a small enough betrayal of self, but a betrayal all the same. To speak personally, the very reason I write is so that I might not sleepwalk through my entire life.

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