Zadie Smith on Nabokov on the author’s walls

In her collections of essays Changing My Mind: Occasional Essays (), Zadie Smith deals brilliantly with the collision of the liberation that comes from the death of the Author (as represented by Roland Barthes) and the demands of craft and control from the author (as represented by Vladimir Nabokov). Or as she puts it: “In my own reading life, I’ve been pulled first in one direction, then in the other. Reading has always been my passion, my pleasure, and I am constitutionally drawn to any thesis that gives power to readers, increasing their freedom of movement. But when I became a writer, writing became my discipline, my practice, and I felt the need to believe in it as an intentional, directional act, an expression of an individual consciousness.” (44)

What is great about this essay (which is titled simply “Rereading Barthes and Nabokov”) is that Smith is very insistent on wanting to be a reader and an author. Moreover she doesn’t dismiss the appeal of Barthes’ postmodern theories on authorial intention while at the same time she keenly illustrates why she can’t read Nabokov in the way that Barthes seems to want her to. But I’m not here to summarize the entire essay — you should read it for yourself (and the other essays as well, particularly the ones on Middlemarch and Kafka and Their Eyes Were Watching God). What I want to highlight is her summary of Nabokov’s theory of the two stages of “Inspiration”: Continue reading “Zadie Smith on Nabokov on the author’s walls”

Too much Romantic baggage

Richard Sennett’s The Craftsman contains the following paragraph near the end:

“An eagle-eyed reader will have noticed that the word creativity appears in this book as little as possible. This is because the word carries too much Romantic baggage — the mystery of inspiration, the claims of genius. I have sought to eliminate some of the mystery by showing how intuitive leaps happen, in the reflections people make on the actions of their own hands or in the use of tools. I have sough to draw craft and art together, because all techniques contain expressive implications. This is true of making a pot; it is also and equally true of raising a child.” (290).

I have railed against this Romantic baggage in various electronic forums over the years — most notably the AML List. I have also discussed the whole notion of artistic inspiration in light of LDS belief in the Holy Ghost. What I haven’t done very well is elaborate a positive description of how I think Mormons, especially believing Mormons, should approach artistic creation. Reading The Craftsman has brought me one step closer. I still don’t have anything fully formed, but two specific ideas from Sennett are currently bouncing around my head: the importance of repetition and the valuable effects of play.