I am grateful for Zadie Smith and I suppose in saying that, I am grateful for the wisdom of Aristotle, though it was Zadie who steered me in the right direction.
Aristotle had some firm ideas on writing and how to present a valid argument to an audience of readers. The elements of Ethos, Pathos and Logos must be present in balance, according to Aristotle. Though Aristotle was born over two thousand years ago, his sense of a written argument holds up even to this day.
Ethos gives the writer credibility and he/she forms a trust with the reader. Pathos is the quality of writing that evokes sadness in the reader, speaks to the heart. Logos is Aristotle’s favourite element in writing and I would hazard a guess that Logos is the favourite of Spock, not Dr. Spock, but Spock the Federation ambassador on the USS Enterprise for you Trekkies. Logos, just as it sounds, uses logical argument supported by evidence.
I listened to Zadie Smith speak on CBC Radio recently as she discussed her writing. Zadie Smith is a British writer born of a Jamaican mother and English father. Smith now divides her time between New York and England. Her books enjoy a wide appeal, some of which are Feel Free and White Teeth and Stop What You Are Doing And Read This. She is a prolific writer.
Smith’s writing, personal in nature, challenges the reader to see the world through the eyes of others and to read or embrace aspects of life that we might decide we don’t like without ever having explored it. Aristotle said, “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” In essence, Aristotle would have considered Zadie Smith as having an educated mind.
Smith said she expects her writing to find balance among Aristotle’s three requirements of argumentative writing. She says these days that Pathos seems the only element of opinion that we seem to focus on, without any support from fact and evidence. Though she doesn’t buy into social media in regards to Face Book or Instagram and the like, she says “none of our lives are free of the influence of social media.” Great untruths can be spread like a disease without every providing any factual support and we seem more than willing to gobble it up.
Smith says she must uphold Aristotle’s standards because she has “very little faith in her feelings”, meaning she is not so arrogant as to assume she is in the right on all subjects and as such she requires evidence and fact before she forms an opinion, which requires venturing into areas that she might assume beforehand that she wouldn’t like.
I find her approach to writing and to life fascinating. So many of us stay within only that which we know we like, where we feel safe. I remember telling my children that if we didn’t try new things we would never learn to walk or ride a bike or learn to read and I do believe we are students of life right up to the very end. I like to think that when we cross the line to the other side everything makes sense and we utter an emphatic oh, I get it now. Very little of what we encounter on any given day makes sense as of late. Having listened to Zadie Smith I feel a little closer to the truth. Aristotle would be proud of her.