July 15, 2006
On On Beauty

Zadie Smith discusses the writing of On Beauty:

I find myself occupied by someone else's quote during composition. For White Teeth it was cinematic and naive; Katie Hepburn saying: "The time to make up your mind about people is ... never!" For On Beauty the following quote from David Foster Wallace (he is talking about Kafka's work) sat deep in my book, and somehow upbraided me whenever I was tempted to lie or sell something short or go for the easy joke or ... well, a lot of things. I still did all those things, but I think I did them less than I would have if this quote hadn't been bugging me: "The horrific struggle to establish a human self results in a self whose humanity is inseparable from that horrific struggle [...] our endless and impossible journey toward home is in fact our home." In struggling to be more of a Muslim you show yourself to be, in fact, a Muslim. In your battle with the idea of femininity you prove yourself a woman. If the word "blackness" doesn't cover boys like Levi, then it is the word that is lacking, not the boy. On Beauty was my old-fashioned attempt to make tight words larger so that my characters (and I) can live in them comfortably. Not too comfortably - just enough to feel alive.

For all of Wallace's reputation for logorrhea, he has a wonderful facility for concision, I don't think you could get much better than 'our endless and impossible journey toward home is in fact our home'.

Posted by Bill Stilwell at July 15, 2006 07:52 AM