But the piece is really…good.
The moralizing tale that opens the story is an account of an over-intellectualized wannabe writer (“Clive”) who, in pursuit of his first novel, betrays his "self," or his ideas and intentions. Writing fiction, it turns out, is, well, hard: The conveyance of one’s mental notions (ideas) and experiences (material perceptions) necessitates a technical skill that Clive doesn’t have. Fumbling for a solution, he patches the suture between the grandiose concepts of his “platonic novel” and his literal abilities with theoretical pretenses—things like heavy handed symbolism. Nevertheless, the novel succeeds, Clive is “satisfied and vindicated,” and Smith implicates all players in the economy of artistic production—writer, publisher, and reader—as participants in the hypocrisy of literary success.
InZadie's eyes, “literary failure” isn’t produced by inauthenticity in the representational sense, or even in the ascription of genre—in lieu of contemporary culture’s obsession with the bounds between biography and fiction and non-fiction, this poses a fascinating challenge to the significance of such labels—but rather in writing that betrays the self. The “duty” she alludes to isn’t the need to entertain, to mimeograph reality, or to present complex or political ideas, but to “express accurately (the writer’s) way of being in the world.” Thus, the 8th grader who writes a shitty, emo poem about his feelings and posts it on myspace fails better than, say, the Houellebecqs of the world.
Which is not to say that literary valuations exist on a “free to be you and me” spectrum of textual relativism: Smith argues that the determination of this authenticity—the ability of the writer to earnestly convey his perceptions and thoughts, others’ existences, his own subjective truth—necessitates a reader attuned to ideational theatrics and true verbal brilliance. Herein, I believe, exists the transformative power of great literature: The earnest conveyance of a singular existence can fire up the sympathetic imagination, transmitting ideas and beliefs more successfully than any other form of representation. Now that's communication.