Zadie Smith’s short stories

Zadie Smith interview

September 11

Escape from New York



Urban Myths

Zadie Smith on “Escape from New York”


Monsters By Zadie Smith


“Suddenly summoned to witness some thing great and horrendous, we keep fighting not to reduce it to our own smallness,” wrote John Updike ten years ago in these pages. He watched the towers fall with “the false intimacy of television,” from a tenth-floor apartment in Brooklyn Heights. Over in North West London, we were certainly very small and distant, but we still felt that false intimacy. We are a mixed community, including many Muslims, from Bangladesh, Pakistan, India, the United Arab Emirates, Africa. I grew up with girls who wore the head scarf, a fact that seemed no more remarkable to me at the time than Jewish boys wearing yarmulkes or Hindu kids with bindis on their foreheads. Different world. What enabled it? It helped that so many of the class disparities between us had been partially obscured. United in the same primary schools, we were neither mesmerized by, nor especially frightened of, our differences. Later, that sense of equality became difficult to maintain. Teen-agers are preoccupied with status and justice—they notice difference. Why do some have so much while others have nothing? Natural superiority? Hard work? Historical luck? Or exploitation? For some, the basic political insights of adolescence arrived with an extra jolt: your people over here were hurting your people over there; your home was attacking your home. Then came the cataclysm. The end of the world for nearly three thousand innocent people. The beginning of a different sort of world for the rest of us. From the epicenter in Manhattan, shock waves rippled across Europe. In North West London, a small but significant change: the stereotype of the Muslim boy was transformed. From quiet, sexless, studious child—sitting in the back of class and destined for an engineering degree—to Public Enemy No. 1.

In the ten years that followed, communities like mine became the focus of debate. In 2005, Shadow Home Secretary David Davis called for the end of a multicultural “policy” that permits “people of different cultures to settle without expecting them to integrate into society.” For Nick Griffin, the leader of the British National Party, the problem was not the segregation but the mix: “The whole world faces a big problem with people, so many different people from different ethnic groups mixing that we are losing all our separate cultures and identities, and I think that is a real problem.” We were urged to unite, yet the state continued to fund faith schools. We were urged to separate, but in the 2010 general election (despite a significant increase in their vote) the B.N.P. was unable to get a single M.P. in Parliament. When our own copycat outrage arrived, on 7/7, the “failures of multiculturalism” was again the focus, although a strong feeling of national identity is no obstacle to killing people in your nation, and the British-born bombers’ own stated target was not home affairs but foreign policy. A head scarf became a contested, subversive thing. Invested with this fresh power, the hijab enjoyed new levels of popularity, as much a symbol of cultural solidarity as a religious practice. If a few people placed SHARIA CONTROLLED ZONE posters around Newham, Muslims throughout the country had to suffer the consequences—a local version of asymmetrical warfare. Two months ago, as an unknown individual shot teen-agers on a Norwegian island, commentary converged on the central issue: Muslim fundamentalists or lone maniac?

“We’re monsters, I fear. What monsters we’re”—it’s a line from a recent Frederick Seidel poem, “Downtown,” about the Fourth of July, and the sadness of fireworks over the Hudson (“the flavorful floating shroud”) and the casual brutality of eating shad roe (“What a joy to eat the unborn”). It reminds me of this whole, unlovely decade, which started downtown, and made us all monstrous, me as much as anybody. I was for the war, at first. Later, I was pleased when President Obama promised to commit more troops to Afghanistan, not because I thought it would end that war but because I hoped it would win him the election. I sat at dinner parties and felt envious of people who had not supported the war, as if whether or not a lot of armchair intellectuals did or did not support a war was what the war was actually about. For a few Google-eyed hours, I thought that Sarah Palin was not Trig’s mother. The rise of the Internet dovetailed with this tribalism. You could pass a decade online without ever hearing from the “other.”

About one thing, though, we could all agree: everything had changed. Or had it? The 9/11 perpetrators wanted a world in which (their version of) religious belief trumped all other concerns. But in the real world our concerns are necessarily diverse: we must attend school and find work, provide for children, look after parents. And in these matters we cannot avoid one another for long. Of course, mixed communities are not without tensions—no such community exists. (Relative racial and cultural homogeneity—as Northern Ireland knows—is no guarantee of peace.) But we have many common causes and priorities. It’s to be noted that class meant little to the terrorists: they saw only two human categories, believer and heathen. Here on earth, poverty and privilege cross the religious and the cultural divide. Look a little closer at the recent CCTV footage, in London: we riot together, and together we clean the streets.

Last Christmas, standing in an apartment building in New York, I was struck by a hallway where papier-mâché Stars of David and holy crosses came together in a decorative seasonal theme. Here these “people of the book” (whose religious texts overlap and divide as deeply as either text with the Koran) lived peaceably in the same space, finding one another’s religions by turns amusing, irrational, beautiful, banal. What enabled it? It took generations; it passed through periods of unspeakable horror; sometimes people forgot, sometimes they forgave, and they did both these things imperfectly. Practical matters helped. General economic parity, difficult acts of good will on both sides, and a democratic country in which the apparently impossible has the freedom to happen. It is not a perfect relationship—there’s no such thing—and it took two thousand years to get this far. We forget: these things take time. “Let us realize the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice,” said Martin Luther King, Jr., who presided over another meeting of supposedly irreconcilable peoples. Not everyone is a monster.




July 4th fireworks exhale over the Hudson sadly.

It is beautiful that they have to disappear.

It’s like the time you said I love you madly.

That was an hour ago. It’s been a fervent year.

I don’t really love fireworks, not really, the flavorful floating shroud

In the nighttime sky above the river and the crowd.

This time, because of the distance upriver perhaps, they’re not loud,

Even the colors aren’t, the patterns getting pregnant and popping.

They get bigger and louder when they start stopping.

They try to rally

At the finale.

It’s the four-hundredth anniversary of Henry Hudson’s discovery—

Which is why the fireworks happen on this side of the island this year.

Shad are back, and we celebrate the Hudson’s Clean Water Act recovery.

What a joy to eat the unborn. We’re monsters, I fear. What monsters we’re.

We’ll binge on shad roe next spring in the delicious few minutes it’s here.






Postmodern Doris Lessing

I.- Interview to Doris Lessing

II.- A Postmodern Study of Doris Lessing‘s The Golden Notebook in the Light of Jean-Francois Lyotard ‘s Ideas, Shahram Kiaei. Relevant ideas.

A postmodern artist or writer is in the position of a philosopher: the text he writes, the work he produces are not in principle governed by pre-established rules ,and they cannot be judged according to a determining judgment ,by applying familiar categories to the text or to the work. Those rules and categories are what the work of art itself is looking for. The artist and the writer then are working without rules in order to formulate the rules of what will have been done (Lyotard, 1984, p.81).

The Golden Notebook is one of the best-loved and most influential of Lessing‘s novels that invites her readers to discover postmodern fragmented society. When Anna Wulf , the writer and the protagonist, in the beginning of the novel says ―everything is cracking up‖, it implies that the hope of referring to unity has almost disappeared and chaos has an opportunity to emerge. Also, Lessing mentions in the preface of The Golden Notebook; ―its theme is breakdown and fragmentation‖. Chaos and fragmentation are in agreement with the novel. Anna expresses that writing four notebooks instead of one notebook is just because of chaos1. She senses incoherent in both her life and personality. Given different colors for notebooks shows her fragmented personality in the society.

Through writing about the Communist Party Anna feels depressed. The rejection of being a communist is related to Lessing, too. Doris Lessing herself, in an interview with Hermione Lee mentions that ―she has just stopped being a communist and being on the extreme Left‖.2It becomes clear that Lessing was not really satisfied with joining the Communist Party.

She has said that she decided to leave the party a good time before I finally left it. I didn‘t leave it when I decided to, because there was a general exodus, much publicized, from the British Party then, and the journalists were waiting for yet another renegade to publish his, her complaints against the C.P. [Communist Party]. To quote another old communist: ―I find it nauseating when people who have been in the Party ten, twenty years, stagger out shouting and screaming as if they‘ve been raped against their will.‖ I left it because the gap between my own attitudes and those of the party widened all the time. There was no particular event or moment. The 20th Congress [in February, 1956, at which Khrushchev denounced Stalin] shocked me, not because of the ―revelations‖ but because I thought the ―revelations‖ were long overdue, pitifully and feebly put forth, and no one really tried to explain or understand what had happened (schlueter, 2003, p.37).


Postmodern novelists, like Lessing are interested in interpretations and pave the way for the plurality of possible interpretations. The freedom of the postmodern writers is like the freedom of the readers. The Golden Notebook, then, is a novel informing fragments which encourages the readers to grow discouraged with grand narratives; the Communist Party. The most important matter that Anna, the main character, expresses over and over again in her notebooks, specifically in the Red Notebook is the fragmentation and chaos. Also, the acceleration of fragmentation is all over her life. The Critical moment in her dream is the fragmentation. It shows that Anna cannot escape from fragmentation and chaos, even in her dream:

I had a dream for my last appointment. […].I opened the box and forced them to look. But instead of a beautiful thing, which I thought would be there, there was a mass of fragments, but bits and pieces from everywhere, all over the world—I recognized a lump of red earth, that I knew came from Africa, and then a bit of metal that came off a gun from Indo-China, and then everything was horrible, bits of flesh from people killed in the Korean War and a communist party badge off someone who died in a Soviet prison. This, looking at the mass of ugly fragments, was so painful that I couldn‘t look, and I shut the box (GN, pp.252- 253).

She frequently mediates on the difficulty of the Communist Party and regards it inadequate. The red Notebook is a record of a period of history; the Communist Party, but maybe the end of the Communist Party. Most of the characters in the novel, especially Anna realize that they may be at the end of history. They interrogate grand narratives-universal and totalizing stories that give direction to the historical process and legitimize statements of truth. Judith KeganGardiner’s valuable essay on Doris Lessing‘s The Golden Notebook perfectly describes little of internal communist maneuvering in the novel. In an attempt to leave the Communist Party, she often calls it into question. Gardiner (2007) says that most of the communists in the novel are deceived. Communism in The Golden Notebook thus becomes a set of false beliefs. The readers are motivated to discover whether Anna is interested in communism or not.

III.- Comparative analysis with Allen Ginsberg’s Kral Majales

And the Communists have nothing to offer but fat cheeks and eyeglasses and 
lying policemen 
and the Capitalists proffer Napalm and money in green suitcases to the 
and the Communists create heavy industry but the heart is also heavy 
and the beautiful engineers are all dead, the secret technicians conspire for 
their own glamour 
in the Future, in the Future, but now drink vodka and lament the Security 
and the Capitalists drink gin and whiskey on airplanes but let Indian brown 
millions starve 
and when Communist and Capitalist assholes tangle the Just man is arrested 
or robbed or has his head cut off, 
but not like Kabir, and the cigarette cough of the Just man above the clouds 
in the bright sunshine is a salute to the health of the blue sky. 
For I was arrested thrice in Prague, once for singing drunk on Narodni 
once knocked down on the midnight pavement by a mustached agent who 
screamed out BOUZERANT, 
once for losing my notebooks of unusual sex politics dream opinions, 
and I was sent from Havana by planes by detectives in green uniform, 
and I was sent from Prague by plane by detectives in Czechoslovakian 
business suits, 
Cardplayers out of Cezanne, the two strange dolls that entered Joseph K’s 
room at morn 
also entered mine and ate at my table, and examined my scribbles, 
and followed me night and morn from the houses of the lovers to the cafes of 
Centrum – 
And I am the King of May, which is the power of sexual youth, 
and I am the King of May, which is long hair of Adam and Beard of my 
own body 
and I am the King of May, which is Kral Majales in the Czechoslovakian 
and I am the King of May, which is old Human poesy, and 100,000 people 
chose my name, 
and I am the King of May, and in a few minutes I will land at London 
and I am the King of May, naturally, for I am of Slavic parentage and a 
Buddhist Jew 
who whorships the Sacred Heart of Christ the blue body of Krishna the 
straight back of Ram 
the beads of Chango the Nigerian singing Shiva Shiva in a manner which 
I have invented, 
and the King of May is a middleeuropean honor, mine in the XX century 
despite space ships and the Time Machine, because I have heard the voice of Blake 
in a vision 
and repeat that voice. And I am the King of May that sleeps with teenagers 
And I am the King of May, that I may be expelled from my Kingdom with 
Honor, as of old, 
To show the difference between Caesar’s Kingdom and the Kingdom of the 
May of Man – 
and I am the King of May because I touched my finger to my forehead 
a luminous heavy girl trembling hands who said ‘one moment Mr. Ginsberg’ 
before a fat young Plainclothesman stepped between our bodies – I was 
going to England – 
and I am the King of May, in a giant jetplane touching Albion’s airfield 
trembling in fear 
as the plane roars to a landing on the gray concrete, shakes & expels air, 
and rolls slowly to a stop under the clouds with part of blue heaven still 
And tho’ I am the King of May, the Marxists have beat me upon the street, 
kept me up all night in Police Station, followed me thru Springtime 
Prague, detained me in secret and deported me from our kingdom by 
This I have written this poem on a jet seat in mid Heaven. 

Allen Ginsberg

IV.- Doris Lessing’s short stories “A woman on a roof” & “Pleasure”


What is postmodernism?

To start… let’s watch this video…

Postmodern literature is a form of literature which is marked, both stylistically and ideologically, by a reliance on such literary conventions as fragmentation, paradox, unreliable narrators, often unrealistic and downright impossible plots, games, parody, paranoia, dark humor and authorial self-reference. Postmodern authors tend to reject outright meanings in their novels, stories and poems, and, instead, highlight and celebrate the possibility of multiple meanings, or a complete lack of meaning, within a single literary work.

Postmodern literature also often rejects the boundaries between ‘high’ and ‘low’ forms of art and literature, as well as the distinctions between different genres and forms of writing and storytelling. Here are some examples of stylistic techniques that are often used in postmodern literature:

  • Pastiche: The taking of various ideas from previous writings and literary styles and pasting them together to make new styles.
  • Intertextuality: The acknowledgment of previous literary works within another literary work.
  • Metafiction: The act of writing about writing or making readers aware of the fictional nature of the very fiction they’re reading (The continuity of parks, Cortázar; Poe Posthumous: or The Light-House/EDickinsonRepliLuxe, Oats).
  • Temporal Distortion: The use of non-linear timelines and narrative techniques in a story.
  • Minimalism: The use of characters and events which are decidedly common and non-exceptional characters.
  • Maximalism: Disorganized, lengthy, highly detailed writing.
  • Magical Realism: The introduction of impossible or unrealistic events into a narrative that is otherwise realistic (100 years of Solitud, García-Márquez).
  • Faction: The mixing of actual historical events with fictional events without clearly defining what is factual and what is fictional (The Kite Runner, Hosseini).
  • Reader Involvement: Often through direct address to the reader and the open acknowledgment of the fictional nature of the events being described.

Many critics and scholars find it best to define postmodern literature against the popular literary style that came before it: modernism. In many ways, postmodern literary styles and ideas serve to dispute, reverse, mock and reject the principles of modernist literature.

For example, instead of following the standard modernist literary quest for meaning in a chaotic world, postmodern literature tends to eschew (avoid), often playfully, the very possibility of meaning. The postmodern novel, story or poem is often presented as a parody of the modernist literary quest for meaning. Thomas Pynchon’s postmodern novel The Crying of Lot 49 is a perfect example of this. In this novel, the protagonist’s quest for knowledge and understanding results ultimately in confusion and the lack of any sort of clear understanding of the events that transpired.

Postmodern Philosophy

Postmodern literature serves as a reaction to the supposed stylistic and ideological limitations of modernist literature and the radical changes the world underwent after the end of World War II. While modernist literary writers often depicted the world as fragmented, troubled and on the edge of disaster, which is best displayed in the stories and novels of such modernist authors as Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, Albert Camus, Virginia Woolf and Thomas Mann, postmodern authors tend to depict the world as having already undergone countless disasters and being beyond redemption or understanding.

For many postmodern writers, the various disasters that occurred in the last half of the 20th century left a number of writers with a profound sense of paranoia. They also gave them an awareness of the possibility of utter disaster and apocalypse on the horizon. The notion of locating precise meanings and reasons behind any event became seen as impossible.

Postmodern literary writers have also been greatly influenced by various movements and ideas taken from postmodern philosophy. Postmodern philosophy tends to conceptualize the world as being impossible to strictly define or understand. Postmodern philosophy argues that knowledge and facts are always relative to particular situations and that it’s both futile (useless) and impossible to attempt to locate any precise meaning to any idea, concept or event.

Postmodern philosophy tends to renounce the possibility of ‘grand narratives’ and, instead, argues that all belief systems and ideologies are developed for the express purpose of controlling others and maintaining particular political and social systems. The postmodern philosophical perspective is pretty cynical and takes nothing that is presented at face value or as being legitimate.

Adapted from:

The continuity of parks, Julio Cortázar

HE HAD BEGUN TO READ THE NOVEL a few days before. He had put it aside because of some urgent business, opened it again on his way back to the estate by train; he allowed himself a slowly growing interest in the plot, in the drawing of characters. That afternoon, after writing a letter to his agent and discussing with the manager of his estate a matter of joint ownership, he returned to the book in the tranquility of his study which looked out upon the park with its oaks. Sprawled in his favorite armchair, with his back to the door, which would otherwise have bothered him as an irritating possibility for intrusions, he let his left hand caress once and again the green velvet upholstery and set to reading the final chapters. Without effort his memory retained the names and images of the protagonists; the illusion took hold of him almost at once. He tasted the almost perverse pleasure of disengaging himself line by line from all that surrounded him, and feeling at the same time that his head was relaxing comfortably against the green velvet of the armchair with its high back, that the cigarettes were still within reach of his hand, that beyond the great windows the afternoon air danced under the oak trees in the park. Word by word, immersed in the sordid dilemma of the hero and heroine, letting himself go toward where the images came together and took on color and movement, he was witness to the final encounter in the mountain cabin. The woman arrived first, apprehensive; now the lover came in, his face cut by the backlash of a branch. Admirably she stanched the blood with her kisses, but he rebuffed her caresses, he had not come to repeat the ceremonies of a secret passion, protected by a world of dry leaves and furtive paths through the forest. The dagger warmed itself against his chest, and underneath pounded liberty, ready to spring. A lustful, yearning dialogue raced down the pages like a rivulet of snakes, and one felt it had all been decided from eternity. Even those caresses which writhed about the lover’s body, as though wishing to keep him there, to dissuade him from it, sketched abominably the figure of that other body it was necessary to destroy. Nothing had been forgotten: alibis, unforeseen hazards, possible mistakes. From this hour on, each instant had its use minutely assigned. The cold-blooded, double re-examination of the details was barely interrupted for a hand to caress a cheek. It was beginning to get dark.
Without looking at each other now, rigidly fixed upon the task which awaited them, they separated at the cabin door. She was to follow the trail that led north. On the path leading in the opposite direction, he turned for a moment to watch her running with her hair let loose. He ran in turn, crouching among the trees and hedges until he could distinguish in the yellowish fog of dusk the avenue of trees leading up to the house. The dogs were not supposed to bark, and they did not bark. The estate manager would not be there at this hour, and he was not. He went up the three porch steps and entered. Through the blood galloping in his ears came the woman’s words: first a blue parlor, then a gallery, then a carpeted stairway. At the top, two doors. No one in the first bedroom, no one in the second. The door of the salon, and then the knife in his hand, the light from the great windows, the high back of an armchair covered in green velvet, the head of the man in the chair reading a novel.

Translation: David Page


Postmodernism and postmodernity, Introduction

The Cambridge Introduction to Postmodern Fiction – Bran Nicol

Postmodernism is a notoriously slippery and indefinable term. It was origi- nally coined in the 1940s to identify a reaction against the Modern movement in architecture

Theorists have tended to portray modernity (i.e. from early to mid-twentieth century) as increasingly industrialized, mechanized, urban, and bureaucratic, while postmodernity is the era of the ‘space age’, of consumerism, late capitalism, and, most recently, the dominance of the virtual and the digital. Such generalized portraits of modern and postmodern society have been paralleled by similar comparisons of the specific aesthetic styles which have dominated in these periods. Where modernist art forms privilege formalism, rationality, authenticity, depth, originality, etc., postmodernism, the argument goes, favours bricolage or pastiche to original production, the mixing of styles and genres, and the juxtaposition of ‘low’ with high culture. Where modernism is sincere or earnest, postmodernism is playful and ironic.
In the period following the Second World War, the first two stages of cap- italism, ‘market capitalism’ and ‘monopoly (or imperialist) capitalism’, were superseded by ‘postindustrial’ or ‘late’ capitalism. In effect late capitalism sees the accumulative logic of capitalism extend into every possible area of soci- ety, and into every corner of the globe, eliminating any remaining pockets of ‘precapitalism’. It means that areas of society which were previously unaf- fected by the logic of the market, such as the media, the arts, or education became subject to the laws of capitalism (i.e. requiring growth, profits, and business models) and the advance of what we now call the ‘globalization’ of consumerism. The result of this is a cultural eclecticism, as summarized in a much-quoted sentence from the philosopher Jean-Franc ̧ois Lyotard: ‘one lis- tens to reggae, watches a western, eats McDonald’s food for lunch and local cuisine for dinner, wears Paris perfume in Tokyo and “retro” clothes in Hong Kong’ (Lyotard, 1984, 76)
Technology has been crucial for the postmodern era. More than acquiring tangible objects, we have learnt to feel satisfied by the mere idea of possessing virtual images or symbolic representations of reality.