Fascinated to Presume: In Defense of Fiction

Zadie Smith at the NYRB:

Lynette Yiadom-Boakye: To Reason with Heathen at Harvest, 2017. An exhibition of Yiadom-Boakye’s work, curated by Hilton Als, is on view at the Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, September 12–December 15, 2019.

“Re-examine all you have been told,” Whitman tells us, “and dismiss whatever insults your own soul.” Full disclosure: what insults my soul is the idea—popular in the culture just now, and presented in widely variant degrees of complexity—that we can and should write only about people who are fundamentally “like” us: racially, sexually, genetically, nationally, politically, personally. That only an intimate authorial autobiographical connection with a character can be the rightful basis of a fiction. I do not believe that. I could not have written a single one of my books if I did. But I feel no sense of triumph in my apostasy. It might well be that we simply don’t want or need novels like mine anymore, or any of the kinds of fictions that, in order to exist, must fundamentally disagree with the new theory of “likeness.” It may be that the whole category of what we used to call fiction is becoming lost to us. And if enough people turn from the concept of fiction as it was once understood, then fighting this transformation will be like going to war against the neologism “impactful” or mourning the loss of the modal verb “shall.” As it is with language, so it goes with culture: what is not used or wanted dies. What is needed blooms and spreads.

more here.