Monday, September 10, 2007

Fail Better

I decided to check up on Zadie Smith today, as I attempt to often with writers and musicians that I love, to see if there might be any new work coming out or any work that I might have missed. Of course with someone who is as well known as Zadie smith people usually know WAY in advance when a book is being published, but there are still many short stories and essays that go under the radar.

This led me to Fail Better Part one of an essay that was published in the Guardian, which quickly disappeared from the interweb. It took a lot of digging around and I finally came across the entire article on two different websites. Its Smith's definition of our jobs as writers, readers and critics.. I love writers writing about writing.

What unites those very different critics is the confidence with which they made the connection between personality and prose. To be clear: theirs was neither strictly biographical criticism nor prescriptively moral criticism, and nothing they wrote was reducible to the childish formulations "only good men write good books" or "one must know a man's life to understand his work". But neither did they think of a writer's personality as an irrelevance. They understood style precisely as an expression of personality, in its widest sense. A writer's personality is his manner of being in the world: his writing style is the unavoidable trace of that manner. When you understand style in these terms, you don't think of it as merely a matter of fanciful syntax, or as the flamboyant icing atop a plain literary cake, nor as the uncontrollable result of some mysterious velocity coiled within language itself. Rather, you see style as a personal necessity, as the only possible expression of a particular human consciousness. Style is a writer's way of telling the truth. Literary success or failure, by this measure, depends not only on the refinement of words on a page, but in the refinement of a consciousness, what Aristotle called the education of the emotions.
I've uploaded the whole article for
download for the next seven days or so.



At 9:29 PM, Blogger dqerwin said...

this applies also for style in the visual arts, something I've been struggling with... Is it necessary for writers, too, to experiment with and become fluent in (some might say imitate) different styles before you can figure out what your own is like?


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