Roundup #3

Some ideas about the self

For this week’s roundup I’m doing things a little differently. I read Zadie Smith’s novel NW and it made me think about an episode on The Partially Examined Life podcast about Soren Kierkegaard’s notion of the self in “The Sickness Unto Death” so this roundup is centered on this theme. The Partially Examined Life podcast/website is an amazing resource if you are interested in philosophy, if you are wanting more philosophy in your life, look no further!


Book Review

  •   NW by Zadie Smith   Review
    This is the only Smith novel that I have read and I loved it. For most books, there is not a huge difference between reading or listening  but I think in this case there are some major differences. I listened to it but checked out the physical book and was quite surprised to see bizarre/inventive text formatting that I had no idea were part of the book. The excellent narrators did speak in sections in a rhythm that suggested that there was some interpretation of the text happening, but I had no idea the extent. I can’t decide if the audio book is actually superior to the written book; certainly Smith wrote/formatted it in a specific way but I wonder if the distraction of the formatting made it less comprehensible? After listening to the Slate Audio Book Clubs discussion, I think I might fall on the “listen to it” side of the debate. At any rate, this is an excellent novel which tells three stories, two of which are related and one which is almost stands alone. The book takes place mostly in the NW area of London. It is about how place forms you, about family, and most importantly, friendship. It is inventively written, switching between first and third person, and Smith’s use of language is simply captivating. Here is where the audio book really shines, the inflection of INNIT (isn’t it) as an all purpose exclamation is done to perfection by the narrator Karen Bryson. While it is difficult to summarize this complex novel, the most interesting theme for me was identity and sense of self. I sometimes feel like I don’t have a strong point of view, that I process experiences as if I don’t have a rigid framework and am open to many interpretations. I could identify with Leah and Keisha in their existential struggles though maybe I am more comfortable in the “not knowing” or as Keats called it, Negative Capability – “capable of being in uncertainties. Mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason.” It is possible to hold onto the self while being open, and this novel reinforced this way of trying to stay in experience for me. The character of Felix is especially likable/relatable in this regard, he has his own struggles but unlike Leah and Keisha, he revels in his ability to move through the city, people watching and imagining their various realities, constructing narratives around what he observes. I found his story the most satisfying and that section of the novel almost reads as a separate book although it is tangentially linked to the other stories.  

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