Fuel for the Fire: February 19th

This week’s fuel comes from Zadie’s Smith’s newest collection of Essays, Feel Free:

“As the departing president well understood, in this world there is only incremental progress. Only the willfully blind can ignore that the history of human existence is simultaneously the history of pain, of brutality, murder, mass extinction, every form of venality and cyclical horror. No land is free of it; no people are without their bloodstain; no tribe entirely innocent. But there is still this redeeming matter of incremental progress. It might look small to those with apocalyptic perspectives, but to she who not so long ago could not vote, or drink from the same water fountain as her fellow citizens, or marry the person she chose, or live in a certain neighborhood, such incremental change feels enormous.

Meanwhile the dream of time travel–for new presidents, literary journalists and writers alike–is just that: a dream. And one that only makes sense if the rights and privileges you are accorded currently were accorded to you back then, too. If some white men are more sentimental about history than anyone else right now, it’s no big surprise: their rights and privileges stretch a long way back. For a black woman the expanse of livable history is so much shorter. What would I have been and what would I have done–or more to the point, what would have been done to me–in 1360, in 1760, in 1860, in 1960? I do not say this to claim some pedestal of perfect victimhood or historical innocence. I know very well how my West African ancestors sold and ensalved their tribal cousins and neighbors. I don’t believe in any poltical or personal identity of pure innocence and absolute rectitude.

But neither do I believe in time travel. I believe in human limitation, not out of any sense of fatalism but out of a learned caution, gleaned from both recent and distant history. We will never be perfect: that is our limitation. But we can have, and have had, moments in which we can take genuine pride. I took pride in my neighborhood, in my childhood, back in 1999. It was not perfect but it was filled with possibility.”

from “On Optimism and Despair”

Additionally, some recent non-book fuel:

Happy beach dog.
Potato Torta (Smitten Kitchen Every Day)

Here’s to another week of reading and resistance.

2 thoughts on “Fuel for the Fire: February 19th

Add yours

  1. She is an incredible writer. I have only read White Teeth and usually am not drawn to essay compilations but this drew me in! My to-read list is growing rapidly since I started following you!


    1. Ha, that’s the danger of the bookish internet! White Teeth is my favorite of her books (although I haven’t read Swing Time yet). I’m almost done with this collection now. I’ve really enjoyed it, although some essays more than others. There are a lot of cirques of books, art, music, dance in here, and I really enjoy the ones where she connects these works to a broader idea or theme, but a few of them are a bit too insular for me. I’m not usually into essays either, but I seem to have read (and liked) a lot of them this year.

      Liked by 1 person

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