Zadie Smith, who might as will have a regular column in the NYRB at this point, has published yet another essay in that journal. These pieces continue to be among the more interesting literary coverage the NYRB has recently published, although Smith’s latest offering can only be termed quasi-literary.
Smith starts off by considering how the use of different, socially imposed speaking voices fractured her identity growing up:
My own childhood had been the story of this and that combined, of the synthesis of disparate things. It never occurred to me that I was leaving the London district of Willesden for Cambridge. I thought I was adding Cambridge to Willesden, this new way of talking to that old way. Adding a new kind of knowledge to a different kind I already had. And for a while, that’s how it was: at home, during the holidays, I spoke with my old voice, and in the old voice seemed to feel and speak things that I couldn’t express in college, and vice versa. I felt a sort of wonder at the flexibility of the thing. Like being alive twice.
Such an introduction could go in a host of different directions, many of them highly literary in nature, but Smith here chooses to use this insight to dissect the phenomenon of Barack Obama. It’s an interesting piece, and we certainly are about due for a fresh take on the Obama phenomenon, but don’t judge me too harshly if I’ll look forward to Smith’s next literary essay for the NYRB.