Since I decided to begin doing Shout It Out Monday I am ever on the alert for an interesting quote. Now here’s the thing, and this would happen to me even before I decided to start sharing a weekly reading quote, I’ll save a quote that when I read it seemed so amazing and then a day or two later when I read it again it has lost its sparkle.
That’s what has happened this week. I was reading Claire Messud’s review of Zadie Smith’s Swing Time and came on this:
The novel form, capacious and elastic as it is, nevertheless requires that ideas and emotions—all abstractions, really— be pressed and transformed, passed through the fine sieve of the material world and made manifest in action, conversation, and concrete detail. Fiction is created out of T- shirts and tomato plants, oven fries, chalk dust and rainfall, out of snarky exchanges and subtle glances. Constructing a world out of these apparently random bits—“the nearest thing to life,” as George Eliot put it—is a matter of meticulous imagining and careful craft. Making this fictional world come alive is a matter, as Martha Graham put it, of the life force.
In the moment it made me warm and glowy inside, yes, oh yes so perfectly true! But now rereading it I feel differently. It is still a good quote but it implies that fiction is supposed to be realist. It doesn’t leave room for anything else. And that put out the warm and glowy because I recalled what Amitav Ghosh writes in The Great Derangement about how reproducing the world as it exists doesn’t need to be the project of fiction. That in fact, such an approach shuts down possibilities more often than not and limits scope and imagination. How about a Messed – Ghosh cage fight? Who do you think would win?
Messud is likely trying to make a point that it’s the little details that matter, those small and seemingly random bits are what give fiction life. But at the same time it seems she is singling out this fiction but not that fiction and that matters to me.
Perhaps I am reading more into it than there actually is. I am very sensitive to words these days and what might be hiding in and behind them.