A Coined Quarantine Read: Zadie Smith’s Intimations

All kinds of “intimations” were forced upon us during the global epidemic, Zadie Smith collects them, ponders them, delves into them. I suppose “intimation” could only be enjoyable while it is voluntary, certainly not the case in Quarantine.

2020 has forged a reality for us, a reality that everyone wishes for a difference. Zadie Smith starts with the familiar reality that a writer coins every time he or she writes —

Writing is control.

We try to adapt, to learn, to accommodate, sometimes resisting, other times submitting to, whatever confronts us. But Writers go further: they take this largely shapeless bewilderment and pour it into a mould of their own devising.

Writing is all resistance.

As we read further, Zadie Smith quotes the POTUS, casts doubt to those sentences, perhaps said on Twitter, but in her words, “Trump” was replaced by “he/him”. What a special time, if we could count the word “war” mentioned by media during this epidemic, we could forge another reality. Or maybe, another quantitative social linguistic research project for academics, who’s eligible for tenure. “He” almost convinced me that he was waiting for this “war time” to pour him a glass of victory champagne, speech already written.

But half way, our realities and efforts of understanding privileges collide with others’ suffering. Zadie Smith compares them, distinguishes them —

Suffering is not relative; it is absolute. Suffering has an absolute relation to the suffering individual– it cannot be easily mediated by a third term like ‘privilege’.

From individual, the most absolute isolation, the ultimate trap of one’s body, we witnessed the abjection of a man who was kneeled by the neck and couldn’t breathe. “A man called George.” Quarantine means isolation, “segregation”, but suddenly, a collective anger was triggered. A “virus” out broke. I like when Zadie Smith creates the analogy of virus, a metaphor that is too real since we all are participants.

Even it is pamphlet of six essays, we got to meet Zadie Smith’s people, those who are [under]represented by the phrase of “lack of capital”. They are of various race, beliefs, but more or less one Class. Their intimations tangled with worries, time to fill and rent to pay. And there are the youth, where she mentions Susan Sontag and her words on “Style”. That’s all what the young people got, and all were taken away. Suddenly, we are as empty as the streets, or aren’t we?

Author’s royalties go to charity:

The Equal Justice Initiative

The Covid-19 Emergency Relief Fund for New York