Written during the early months of lockdown, Intimations explores ideas, feelings 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 might come next.
I bought this book very recently after seeing it over on Instagram. 2020 is the year that is, the year that we will never forget, the global pandemic forefront in everyone’s minds but also the murder of George Floyd and the protests arising from this.
Smith reflects on all of this in this short (80 pages) collection of essays, this is a work of literary writing and while focusing on the events of this year the writing is often very abstract.
I preferred the more concrete aspects and I was particularly interested in the themes of contempt and the parallels the author drew between the actions of the UK Prime Minister’s Chief Adviser – Dominic Cummins and the white police officer who held his knee on George Floyd’s neck despite his protestations that he couldn’t breath. Exploring the idea of others as ‘lesser’, and a stark reflection on inequality globally. Touching on social media black outs but the lack of fully integrated schools and communities, Smith I think in this essay is spot on.
The strangeness of lock down is considered and while much is free flowing, there were aspects that resonated – our current primary communications via Zoom, leading to a new type of self consciousness as we see our reflection, mirrored back while we converse. And the need to fill time, with less structure so many can’t just be – we baked, we planted and we cleared out, some went for personal growth – learning. But there was a compulsion to fill the time, to show for it, for this lockdown not to be wasted.
Truthfully there were parts of this book that didn’t work for me, that were too vague and I found almost incoherent. But the parts that did work, worked so very well and will definitely be worthy of a revisit.
Smith is an academic and this collection of essays reflects that but will appeal to fans of her writing, fans of literary writing and actually has enough for anyone who wants to take some time, read her thoughts on this unprecedented year and use this book as a tool to reflect on their own experiences.
About the Author
Zadie Smith is the author of five novels, three collections of essays and a collection of short stories. She has won literary awards including the James Tait Black Memorial Prize, the Orange Prize for Fiction, the Whitbread First Novel Award and the Guardian First Book Award, and has been shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction. Zadie Smith is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the Royal Society of Literature. She is a regular contributor to the New Yorker and the New York Review of Books