Link of the Day

Zadie Smith wrote a beautiful essay defending fiction from unimaginative, smug wokesters:

The question is: Do we know what fiction was? We think we know. In the process of turning from it, we’ve accused it of appropriation, colonization, delusion, vanity, naiveté, political and moral irresponsibility. We have found fiction wanting in myriad ways but rarely paused to wonder, or recall, what we once wanted from it—what theories of self-and-other it offered us, or why, for so long, those theories felt meaningful to so many. Embarrassed by the novel—and its mortifying habit of putting words into the mouths of others—many have moved swiftly on to what they perceive to be safer ground, namely, the supposedly unquestionable authenticity of personal experience.

The old—and never especially helpful—adage write what you know has morphed into something more like a threat: Stay in your lane. This principle permits the category of fiction, but really only to the extent that we acknowledge and confess that personal experience is inviolate and nontransferable. It concedes that personal experience may be displayed, very carefully, to the unlike-us, to the stranger, even to the enemy—but insists it can never truly be shared by them. This rule also pertains in the opposite direction: the experience of the unlike-us can never be co-opted, ventriloquized, or otherwise “stolen” by us. (As the philosopher Anthony Appiah has noted, these ideas of cultural ownership share some DNA with the late-capitalist concept of brand integrity.) Only those who are like us are like us. Only those who are like us can understand us—or should even try. Which entire philosophical edifice depends on visibility and legibility, that is, on the sense that we can be certain of who is and isn’t “like us” simply by looking at them and/or listening to what they have to say.

It’s a long essay but it proceeds to discuss surveillance capitalism later on, and it’s really fascinating. Partially incorrect but still very much worth reading.

13 thoughts on “Link of the Day”

  1. Loved the essay, especially the discussion of Walt Whitman’s containment vs Dickinson’s “fascination to presume” and Zadie defining fiction as showing interest in the other, even in cases when the other is ‘contained,’ stereotyped.

    You said it’s “partially incorrect” regarding surveillance capitalism. What have you disagreed with? Do you think, unlike Zadie Smith, that the technological monopolies do “care that you are woke or unwoke, patriot or activist” since the people in charge enjoy feeling morally superior, having power over others and modifying their behavior to increase profits?

    Still, Amazon (or other sites) will offer Trump fans favorable books about the President and the Conservative party, Make America Great Again bumper stickers and other paraphernalia of young or old Conservative. Does it care whether it sells MAGA hats for Trump rallies or pink hats for Women’s Marches as long as it’s making money? Zuckerberg as a person may have political preferences, but don’t large corporations have a ‘mind’ of their own, irrespective of their founders’ views? Have bought but haven’t read Zuboff’s book yet, thus the confusion probably. Are there other points you disagree with?

    What stood out to me was this statement:

    // Has fiction, over the centuries, been the creator of compassion or a vehicle for containment? I think we can make both cases. Fiction was often interested in the other but more often than not spoke for the other instead of actually publishing them. Fiction gave us Madame Bovary but also Uncle Tom. … But whether fiction’s curiosity about the other was compassionate or containing, one thing you could always say for it was that it was interested.

    Is this novel before me an attempt at compassion or an act of containment? Each reader will decide. //

    Aren’t all novels both? Zadie sees Madame Bovary as an attempt at compassion, while you once said it was an act of containment (in other words, of course). As for “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” I was moved by the book in my childhood in Ukraine, and my former professor described her grandmother – a new immigrant in Israel – retelling the novel to other kids who were touched by the narrative too. Iirc, the professor described it as creating an empathetic bond, a chain of tears among the readers which was Harriet Stowe’s declared political, abolitionist goal.

    So far, the previous paragraph suits Zadie’s “Each reader will decide” stance, but I wanted to say that each work of literature cannot help but contain by its own nature; good works of art simply contain some of the complexity too and thus may help create compassion.

    In a funny coincidence, I was feeling all excited about Zadie’s discussion of fiction’s potential to promote empathy and then went to my feed and … saw a poem by the Foreign Minister of Russia Lavrov which he published in a kids web-magazine “Russian Pioneer” (the first comment published a continuation written by others which clarified the poem quite a bit):


    1. Yeah… That’s not my experience, though. In the past year, I’ve bought around 30, I’d say, conservative books and zero liberal or progressive. All on Amazon. Facebook knows what I buy on Amazon. Still, I’ve never been offered any of the merchandise you mention by either website. Instead, I’m inundated by ads to donate to Pete Buttigieg and every ultra-progressive cause in existence. I don’t know if something is wrong with the algorithm or whatever but I do know that I could access every candidate’s website from FB except for Trump’s. I tried and tried but it never worked.

      I have no idea what else I need to do to get anything but ads for “The Wokiest Antifas for Buttigieg Unite to Force Everybody to List Pronouns and Build a Greta Altar” in my FB feed.


      1. \ In the past year, I’ve bought around 30, I’d say, conservative books and zero liberal or progressive. All on Amazon. Facebook knows …

        The algorithm is smarter than you assume it to be. Would a normal person not classify you as more likely to support Democrats than Trump after looking at your overall Internet activity? Than expect AI to be smart enough not to offer you a MAGA hat too.


        1. It’s no longer true, unfortunately. After seeing the current Congress, I don’t think I will ever vote for a Democrat for Congress again. What I’m seeing today is an absolute disgrace. They are not even trying to pass any legislation.

          As for MAGA, I had three people tell me completely separately from each other, “I’m stunned that I’m even saying this but I now hope Trump wins because the Democrats have gone insane.” These were people who cried when Trump was elected and posted angry rants on FB. And I don’t blame them for feeling this way because I can understand it.


          1. They are not even trying to pass any legislation.
            From July:
            Unfortunately, McConnell has vowed to make the Senate a “legislative graveyard” by refusing to take up popular legislation passed by the House. McConnell bragged about being the Grim Reaper for the progressive agenda.

            In May, McConnell had already blocked more than 100 pieces of House-passed legislation from coming to the Senate floor. Since then, the House has passed several major pieces of legislation that seem destined to die in McConnell’s graveyard.

            In late May, the House passed the Equality Act to update the Civil Rights Act and protect members of the LGBTQ community. In June, the House passed the Dream and Promise Act, a major piece of immigration legislation aimed at protecting Dreamers and other Americans who came to the United States at a young age. In July, the House voted to raise the minimum wage to $15 dollars per hour.

            When the Democrats controlled the Senate and the Republicans the House and Obama was president, the Republicans kept passing bills to repeal Obamacare. Those bills were promptly voted down in the Senate. Or vetoed. Would you say the Republicans were not “trying to pass legislation” then?

            Frankly, though, even when the Republicans had control of both chambers in the last session they didn’t pass much of anything (surprisingly). The “tax reform’s rollout was bad. I came across a lot of unhappy people, even those who got more back from the government than they did the previous year.
            All of this administration’s “legislative” achievements are pushing through federal judges, which has nothing to do with the House. Trump has vetoed five times and none of them have been overridden.

            This isn’t a president interested in passing legislation. You cannot be an unrepentant asshole who fucks over everyone 24-7, all your life, and then attempt to get through tons of legislation through 2 legislative bodies, even when your party controls both chambers. Further, if you’re in the “fuck you I’ve got mine and fuck everyone who looks like you party” you can’t expect a lot of bi-partisan cooperation on anything. And this guy leaned heavily into the “FYIGM, & FEWLLY” so I’m thrilled nothing much of anything is going on. I don’t think they have anything good in their platform and I think the overwhelming majority of it is going to make my life worse, not better.


            1. The Congress approval rate stands at 18%. This isn’t just me who’s unhappy with this Congress. And the bills in the quote are nothing but wokesterism. The quote is deeply dishonest in its assertion that transgender toilets and open borders are popular with the public. They are not. As for the minimum wage, it was raised in my state and I already described how it’s a total clusterfuck.

              But I do agree that the Tea Party Congress of 2010 was almost as pathetic as this one.


              1. The quote is deeply dishonest in its assertion that transgender toilets and open borders are popular with the public.
                See, there’s a difference between “not trying to pass legislation” and “not trying to pass legislation I like or want” Your original quote was “They are not even trying to pass any legislation.” I can’t say the Tea Party House wasn’t trying to pass any legislation; I didn’t like any of the legislation that passed that House.

                If a bill cannot pass both houses of Congress, one house can pass all the repeal Obamacare repeal and pronoun bills they want but it’s not going to go anywhere.

                The Congress approval rate stands at 18%.
                I don’t “approve” of Congress either. Congress approval rates have always been stinky. How many people approve of their individual representative and Senators though?


              2. It’s not legislation if it’s meant as an empty gesture.

                My state rep is a Republican and he hasn’t been nearly as pathetic as my Dem senators.


      2. “I have no idea what else I need to do to get anything but ads for “The Wokiest Antifas for Buttigieg Unite to Force Everybody to List Pronouns and Build a Greta Altar” in my FB feed.

        You’re not trying.

        Like the FaceBook pages of Donald Trump, his children, several members of the administration, Breitbart, the Federalist, Prager U, Tucker Carlson and whatever crazy ass Dinesh D’Souza book he’s peddling along with a healthy sprinkling of Jordan Peterson. Post pro-Brexit memes. Keep reposting spiked-online articles and Tucker Carlson videos where he “owns the libs”. Follow their pages. If Cliff Arroyo has a bunch of FaceBook likes, follow that. Maybe also like Project Veritas, Nigel Farage, Kevin MacDonald,, Telegram, and Rollo Tomassi. And repost their shit, approvingly and a lot.

        You can also fuck up your instagram, hard.

        Or you know, do what I do and install Social Fixer for FaceBook, AdBlock Plus and YouTube AdBlock in your browser.


        1. Well, I did get a million Buttigieg ads without liking or reposting a single wokie post. And I don’t think I even have any Buttigieg fans among my FB friends. Everybody I know on FB is either a Warrenite or a Kamalaist.

          Except for my priest. I have no idea whom he supports. Which means he’s a good priest. I’d stop going if the service were in any way politicized (like happened at my parents’ church in Montreal).


  2. It’s not legislation if it’s meant as an empty gesture.
    I really can’t think of any reasonable legislation that both parties, in their current configuration would support. I don’t like my new Republican senator (he was my horrible governor) or my other senator (thirsty dumb cites his parents). My current rep is a Democrat who used to be a Republican (he was pushed out of the party). If moderate Republicans existed anymore he’d still be a Republican, no doubt. His letters to constituents focus on legislation. He supports Biden.


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