"Deeply personal and powerfully moving, a short and timely series of reflective essays by one of the most clear-sighted and essential writers of our time Written during the early months of lockdown, Intimations explores ideas and questions prompted by an unprecedented situation. What does it mean to submit to a new reality--or to resist it? How do we compare relative sufferings? What is the relationship between time and work? In our isolation, what do other people mean to us? How do we think about them? What is the ratio of contempt to compassion in a crisis? When an unfamiliar world arrives, what does it reveal about the world that came before it? Suffused with a profound intimacy and tenderness in response to these extraordinary times, Intimations is a slim, suggestive volume with a wide scope, in which Zadie Smith clears a generous space for thought, open enough for each reader to reflect on what has happened--and what should come next"--
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ARC from Edelweiss.
A short, powerful book of essays written by someone who recognises their financially secure, educated status, but tries (successfully for me, another financially secure, educated person) to talk, sometimes obliquely, about life, Black Lives Matter
Dated 31 May 2020 and published in August.
The essays I cared for the most are: The American Exception with its masterful ironic reference to the "empty figurehead" in
I appreciated Suffering Like Mel Gibson because of Smith's explanation that the 'privilege' bubble can be burst by self-acknowledgement and determination to change, but the 'suffering' bubble cannot be pierced because suffering is its own personal, lonely hell. One who hasn't suffered can not understand someone who has suffered much. Smith's juxtaposing privilege and suffering wasn't clear to me at first, but after a bit, I understood she meant the reader to see the cause and effect relationship.
The essay I found most meaningful is P.S: Contempt As a Virus.I found it right on target. Its about many of those in power, and/or in wealth who often see those who are not in the same privileged class as contemptible, other, burdens, to be kept separated, watched over, and manipulated. The Haves are afraid of the Have Nots and feel they must beat them down!
When the high praise and glowing reviews started up for this slim paperback volume—under one hundred pages—I was sold on buying it. These six essays were products of our current pandemic, written by Smith during our planet’s lockdown.
If the widespread anxiety and massive depression doesn’t stifle our writers’ minds, we could see a wide array of literature generated by writers of all stripes, as they found themselves forced into sheltering-in-place. The popular and romantic image of writers self-quarantining in their book-lined rooms, constantly writing away, seems to dominate our minds. But remember, writers are people too, and just because there’s an opportunity to do something, doesn’t mean there’s the motivation for it.
My thought is that this worldwide virus that forces so many to stay in their homes, kills millions, closes down economies for months, eliminates countless livelihoods, shutters our favorite businesses, will redefined who the “essential” workers are—for a little while. Then, we’ll adjust. We will still want to pay rock-bottom prices, and thus we’ll pull back on the bonuses that those formerly essential workers received … oh yeah, bargain-hunters will want us to "get real."
Allowing mega-big-box retail outlets to always be selling, while closing or curtailing the independent stores and businesses was horrible. Seeing the billions of dollars of sales move from local businesses to computer screens for online giants is deadly. Maybe I’m just so jaded that I don’t see the improvements that will come of any of this. Come on world, prove me wrong.
I’ve worked in bookstores for many decades, married my best friend/lover/partner/wife in our own bookstore, and I’ve always believed that the people working in the book world are “essential.”
Oh, I wasn’t supposed to be on my soapbox here, I was writing about some great essays. Okay, okay, in short: they’re wonderful, intelligent, gluten-free, good for your head, and in a reasonably-priced paperback edition. Buy this book, damn it.
Of course there are some essays that I like more than others. But I think I wouldn’t want to have the whole without its many parts. Enjoy them each in their own way.
Review of the Penguin Books paperback edition (July, 2020)
This short book of essays was written early during the COVID pandemic of 2020-202? and issued to benefit Equal Justice and COVID Relief Charities. I especially enjoyed the observational character portraits of several
I used to think that there would one day be a vaccine: that if enough Black people named the virus, explained it, demonstrated how it operates, videoed its effect, protested it peacefully, revealed how widespread it really is, how the symptoms arise, how so many Americans keep giving it to each other, irresponsibly and shamefully, generation after generation, causing intolerable and unending damage both to individual bodies and to the body politic - I thought if that knowledge became as widespread as could possibly be managed or imagined that we might finally reach some kind of herd immunity. I don’t think that anymore.
The essays then take a different form and turn to the events in the US. How racial discrimination, economic disparity, and social hierarchy have become apparent, have been magnified by the pandemic. It has caused a fury of political unrest. All the more with the brutal death of George Floyd. And with millions of people without jobs, with limited to no financial aid from the government, the faults and cruelty of such a system are exposed. A country built from slavery shows how its gears still run on this same fuel of oppression. Smith's ultimate lamentation of healthcare as a right and not a privilege shouldn't be conditional. Among the essays of Smith, Contempt as a Virus, I think, deeply encompass the persistent racism, our inherent prejudice, and concern for privacy (in the name of big tech companies and their data collection) in the US.
Smith doesn't forget the alteration of our lives and other peoples' at present; how suffering is absolute, how time has become stagnant, an excess, how we try to manage and fill the time with anything to do. Yet mostly, I like how she argues without love, we're only doing time; that's love and all its façades (Something To Do essay). I think the pandemic has brought all of us a lot of questions and outcomes—mostly negative. But also space to contemplate about our lives, its shortness and incomprehensibility. It could get lonely out there. More so when most of us are stuck at home, living day by day in similar successions, and painstakingly trying our best to survive. What we needed most is empathy. On the funny side, everyone has turned into a gardener or a baker. So there are things to do. There are things to love. It suffices to remind and comfort one's self that everything is impermanent; that time passes.
Many useful moments. I wished for more. (Not a criticism.)