Trending Topics

Writer Zadie Smith Finds Daily ‘Joy’ in Food, Simple Pleasures

Writers can be a saturnine bunch. While most are not as fatalistic as Bolaño — “I am among those who believe that man is doomed,” he once told an interviewer — the scars of poverty, political persecution, unrequited love, disillusionment, and/or exile (pick one!) are all over the canon as well as the cult classics.

After all, sadness is often what prompts writers to record their thoughts in the first place; otherwise, it’s as French novelist Henry de Montherlant said: “happiness writes white.”

So if the life of the writer — for whom writing offers the only solace from vicissitudes of life — is so miserable, how is Zadie Smith so happy?

In her essay “Joy” published in the January 10 issue of the New York Review of Books, Smith says she “experience[s] at least a little pleasure every day. I don’t think this is because so many wonderful things happen to me but rather that the small things go a long way.”

The pleasure she describes often comes from food — little treats that have the transcendent power to momentarily lift her from the stresses of life: “Even the great anxiety of writing can be stilled for the eight minutes it takes to eat a pineapple popsicle.”

These pleasures — which she distinguishes from “joy,” an intensified pleasure also fraught with terror (e.g. raising a child/doing ecstasy) — result from a lack of discernment, and Smith is aware of this.

“Whatever is put in front of me, food wise, will usually get a five-star review,” she writes. This comes with some cost, for “where there is no discernment there can be no awareness of expertise or gratitude for special effort.”

In her blissful, critical indifference, Smith recalls Julio Cortázar. In his essay “Only a Real Idiot,” (originally published in Spanish as “Hay que ser realmente idiota para…” and collected in Around the Day in Eighty Worlds), Cortázar reveals the ostensible secret to his contented existence: his stupidity.

By stupidity, Cortázar refers not to some sort of deficiency in his faculties, but rather his similar lack of discernment. Briefly, in the essay Cortázar relates a scene from the theater, where his more sophisticated friends inform him that the Czech mimes and Thai dancers he’s so enamored of aren’t exactly anything special — in fact, they’re highly unoriginal, poorly directed, and ordinarily outfitted.

And yet — “even though I understand perfectly how right they are and that the show was not as good as it had seemed to me. . . I was simply transported, idiot that I am.”

Read more: TheMillions

What people are saying

Leave a Reply

Back to top