Zadie Smith’s Scales of Injustice
This chapter follows Zadie Smith’s “root canals,” a metaphor and a narrative form she developed in her first novel White Teeth (2000), to describe the transnational historical networks obscured by nation-centered accounts of the past. It argues that Smith develops modernist literary forms of unboundedness like the root canal in order to entwine different groups’ collective memories; she then uses that strategy to address head on the topic of causality within a global framework. Smith asks what economic, political, and personal conditions bring migrants to Europe and the United Kingdom and, in turn, how residents in metropolitan countries might be implicated in stories of migration, distant violence, and global economic inequality that they see as irrelevant to their everyday lives. Focusing specifically on Smith’s northwest London fictions (“The Embassy of Cambodia” (2013) and NW (2012) in addition to White Teeth), I show how their strategies of formal division (sectioning, chapter construction, and unsynthesized narrative remainders) address the problem of drawing boundaries around accounts of both personal attention and structural inequality. Smith uses the dyads of form and matter, parts and wholes, in her fiction to bring ongoing (and sometimes competing) stories of uneven development within a globalized modernity to bear on tarnished dreams of upward mobility and leftist demands for collective resistance against neoliberal policies of privatization.
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