Zadie Smith, English novelist, essayist and all-round literary bad-ass wrote a brilliant essay that was recently published din the New York Times. Called “Find Your Beach” this relatively short essay is, according to Brian Pickings, “about Manhattan, about our modern compulsions, about the artist and the anguish of the American Dream.”
Now, I’ve lived in South Africa my entire life and have never been to Manhattan ever, or to England (which she references in juxtaposition to America) yet I find her words surprisingly easy to relate to. Any wordsmith can identify with what Smith says on the supposed need for self-actualization and how that need is a delicately constructed ‘want’, or how the Self reigns Queen in a society that prioritizes the individual over the communal, without authentic integration with the Self..
The society we live in is paradoxical and nonsensical – for many writers, including myself, we write to make sense of it all. This essay succinctly highlights those dichotomies and weaves in the narrative of the good life to boot.
Social media platforms are saturated with content with Buzzfeed and I hate it (Although as this video shows, I’m not the only one who hates it). Buzzfeed propagates and disseminates some of the most useless and annoyingly shallow information I have ever had the displeasure of reading. This article about Kim Kardashian’s supposed Blackberry hoarding is just the tip of the iceberg (of bad writing).
Buzzfeed never proclaims to be a bastion of journalistic integrity but seeing as they use words to peddle their wares, I take offence at how poorly constructed most of their content is. Buzzfeed is the popular kid who doesn’t have innate talent or skill – popularity for popularity’s sake.
So in true Buzzfeed style, I present you with a list of reasons why Buzzfeed isn’t actually journalism, nor good writing.
- Many articles function as teasers to other media, which isn’t multimedia journalism. It’s more like a goodie bag of disparate forms of media.
- Many stories deal with celebrity inanities – unproblematised and without any sense of nuance.
- Stories are packaged in a visually attractive way but the structure of writing renders the meaning and angle superfluous. This ties to my belief that words arranged beautifully and eloquently need less bells and whistles.
- Their relationship with the advertising world is quite sketchy. Objectivity and neutrality cannot be sustained in such environments.
- Valourisation of popular culture does nothing for the collective internet intellect. Good writing isn’t boring or dull.
4. Any items that illuminate your day, your understanding, your relationship with the world, your life as a writer
Under this missive, I present to you A Sea of Quotes. This clunky looking website contains a plethora of beautifully and skillfully arranged words that re-inspire me to write and read as much as humanely possible. A Sea of Quotes consists of extracts from books and quotes from poems. This website is a compendium of reader’s favourite passages and lines.
This is from Neruda’s poem “Clenched Soul”. A Sea of Quotes consists of pages and pages of the best pieces of writing and poetry in the English language.
The gems I find on this website usually lead to me writing my own prose, so take a look and it may cure your writer’s block 🙂
Constantly Risking Absurdity (#15) by Lawrence Ferlinghetti
I was exposed to this poem in my last year of high school by my inspirational bare-footed English teacher. At first I looked at the free form poem with disdain. Poetry is nice to describe nature. And love. But I never took poetry seriously as an art form outside those two spheres. It could never describe or explain anything else without sounding overwrought (or so I thought).
Lawrence Ferlinghetti, credited as one of the architects of Beat poetry, wrote this poem in ‘classic’ beat style – no noticeable form, rhythmic structure or decorative words. Its straightforward meaning is conveyed through typographic gymnastics on the page. As with all good poetry, the scaffolding of the poem is pivotal to the meaning it contains.
Ferlinghetti owned the famous City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco which catapulted many Beat Generation writers into the literature world.
Ferlinghetti presents insight into the performance of the poet. The poet is likened to an acrobat, teetering on a tight-rope of her own making, juggling perspectives, trying to entertain an audience whilst still trying to hold onto Beauty and Truth. She constantly risks absurdity in trying to convince others of her vocation. The job is a dangerous and public one. Ferlinghetti speaks about the conflicted position of the poet, but I believe his words resonate with all creators of written word.
When I was still young enough to believe in mystique of the circus, Brian Boswell’s performing troupe pulled up to an empty lot in the small farming town I grew up in. It was widely advertised in my primary school and I nagged my parents until they relented.
My childhood ideas of circus acrobats was a little bit like this image.
The acrobats were my favourite – I was going for gymnastics lessons at the time (and had been for around 3 years) and my mom encouraged me to pursue gymnastics so I could become like one of the wildly swinging women I saw at the circus.
In a way I have.
If you would like to find out which Beat Generation poet you would have been, take this hilarious quiz.
At the end of the day the threat of class struggle is just too dangerous to handle. The neat binary categories of white and black or male and female are not there when it comes to class. – bell hooks
bell hooks is an author I’ve recently (read: this year) started reading in more depth. Her approach to intersectional feminism is thoroughly analytically and simultaneously lyrical. Her book Where We Stand: Class Matters, is a slight departure from what she’s usually known for – exposing uncomfortable truths and ingrained lies about race and gender.
In the Chapter entitled “Money Hungry” hooks explains her childhood household situation with child-like simplicity. Big ideas and concepts are whittled down to their essence by hooks’ writing.
This is an excerpt from the above-mentioned chapter.
This is not the style of writing you’d expect from someone with a doctorate. It’s incisive and marries psychology, gender relations and power hierarchies in a subtle and nuanced way. You are invited by hooks to enter into dialogue in a language that is easily understood by many – in a language that is your own. That is why her work is revolutionary. She not only writes about an inclusive and non-oppressive world, but she creates one by her accessible writing style.
Here is a pdf of Where We Stand: Class Matters to devour!
It’s hard for me to speak, whether in English or Afrikaans. The reason I write is because I cannot speak. I feel blunt. – Antjie Krog
My history with writing is borne from a peculiar context. At the age of 8 my mother gave me a journal, with a lock and key – for all thoughts I wasn’t telling her. For the waves of emotions that only a child feels as keenly. So began a habit I’ve carried with me my entire life. I think I’ve filled more than 36 notebooks with my words and doodles. Writing was always presented to me as a pressure release valve and reading as a form of escape and nothing about that has changed. There is a comfort from a familiar book that no-one else can give to me.
These two actions – writing and reading – have sustained me. Even though Virginia Woolf may not think of journaling as writing, per say, I do. Diaries, are by nature, very personal. No-one reads mine, unless I decide to share an excerpt with someone else. This has been the longest I’ve ever persisted with an action – besides basic biological ones. My relationship with writing is coloured blue because of it. I still childishly believe that the best writing presents itself when the writer is an observant, yet terribly sorrowful person.
Much love to this book.
I write to understand the world around me, too. The only means to understand a world as chaotic, upsetting and occasionally wonderful is to jot down thoughts and feelings on something tactile (never a computer!). As Joan Didion says in her piece entitled Why I write, when life presents her with questions, she looks to writing to understand these questions and find answers. Sometimes, aspects of life are only understood in the process of writing.
And looking back through my work, I see that it is invariably where I lacked a political purpose that I wrote lifeless books and was betrayed into purple passages, sentences without meaning, decorative adjectives and humbug generally. – George Orwell
Writing will always be an outlet for me. It will be a way to resolve my own emotions, as it has been in the past. As self-reflexive as my writing is, I seek it to speak out to other people. Things I write on this blog, for instance, may be rooted in my own singular experiences, but it does deal with issues that affect a multitude of people – issues of class, gender and race. The personal is definitely the political.
Written by the French writer and activist collective, Tiqqun, this little, bright pink book caught my attention immediately in the Rhodes University Library. It looked so innocuous and sweet, a “light” feminist read, if you will, that I decided to take it out even though I was beyond my human limit with coursework reading.
Preliminary materials for a Theory of the Young-Girl, in this case, means it is a “trash-theory” – a basic accumulation of quotes, book and chapter excerpts, newspaper headlines (any sort of written material) that highlighted characteristics of the Young-Girl theory. Different fonts were used for different extracts, cementing their meaning in my mind. The typographic aspect to the book was a definite plus – it made dense pieces more interesting to read and playing with the fonts played with my understanding of the actual text. And I love mental gymnastics,so this was up my alley.
That fluorescent pink cover was misleading. Yes, don’t tell me that old adage about books and judgment and covers. I learnt my lesson. This book was a bomb-shell and a very heavy read because of unwritten things (yes, this is just the preliminary theory – I shudder at the thought of a full-blown theory!) and my mind went on quite a few tangents.
An example, taken from the book. Hipsters are beside themselves because they’ve never heard of Tiqqun before.
I strongly recommend this tough read for those with ovaries of steel. It may not take too long to read, but it deals with big issues like hyper-sexualisation, eating disorders, self-love, consumerism and capitalism and trust me: one of those juicy, typographically interesting, nuggets will linger in your mind.