here please follow my intrusion to write the essay. 1.please write a thesis to answer the Question directly in the Introduction paragraph (which is the first paragraph) 2.please write 2 quotes which from each articles in every body paragraph and mark th

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1.please write a thesis to answer the Question directly in the Introduction paragraph (which is the first paragraph)

2.please write 2 quotes which from each articles in every body paragraph and mark the page number. And every quotes need analysis and please make connections between two quotes.

3. Do not summary the article, write your own ideas and analysis.

4. Every body paragraph needs a topic sentences and analysis.

Question: Kenji Yoshino describes the pressures placed on individuals, and society as a whole, due to the universality of the need to “cover” aspects of one’s identity in order to assimilate into the mainstream. Zadie Smith tells us that she “believe[s] that flexibility of voice leads to a flexibility in all things” (13). Using specific quotations, examples, and details from BOTH texts, write an essay that responds to the following question: How might the choice to cover or not and the choice to be multivocal or not be helpful or problematic in developing one’s personal identity and/or a pluralistic society?

The following questions may be helpful in formulating your argument, or in giving you some ideas about how to approach the essay. You are not required to respond directly to these questions in your essay.

§Yoshino notes that the United States has long been described as a “melting pot.” How is this ideal of assimilation complicated by the notion of covering?

§Are the pressures to cover similar to or different from the pressures to become univocal?

§How are “flexibility of voice” and “speaking simultaneous truths” related concepts in Smith’s article?

§Is there a relationship between pluralism and the ability to be multivocal?

  • Imagine a conversation between Smith and Yoshino. Would they agree with each other’s proposals? What might be an area of disagreement between them?

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Speaking in Tongues

Zadie Smith

The following is based on a lecture given at the New York Public Library in December

Hello. This voice I speak with these days, this English voice with its rounded vowels and
consonants in more or less the right place—this is not the voice of my childhood. I picked
it up in college, along with the unabridged Clarissa and a taste for port. Maybe this fact is
only what it seems to be—a case of bald social climbing—but at the time I genuinely
thought this was the voice of lettered people, and that if I didn’t have the voice of lettered
people I would never truly be lettered. A braver person, perhaps, would have stood firm,
teaching her peers a useful lesson by example: not all lettered people need be of the same
class, nor speak identically. I went the other way. Partly out of cowardice and a
constitutional eagerness to please, but also because I didn’t quite see it as a straight swap,
of this voice for that.

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.

But flexibility is something that requires work if it is to be maintained. Recently my double
voice has deserted me for a single one, reflecting the smaller world into which my work
has led me. Willesden was a big, colorful, working-class sea; Cambridge was a smaller,
posher pond, and almost univocal; the literary world is a puddle. This voice I picked up
along the way is no longer an exotic garment I put on like a college gown whenever


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Volume 56, Number 3 (2009-02-26)

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choose—now it is my only voice, whether I want it or not. I regret it; I should have kept
both voices alive in my mouth. They were both a part of me. But how the culture warns
against it! As George Bernard Shaw delicately put it in his preface to the play Pygmalion,
“many thousands of [British] men and women…have sloughed off their native dialects and
acquired a new tongue.”

Few, though, will admit to it. Voice adaptation is still the original British sin. Monitoring
and exposing such citizens is a national pastime, as popular as sex scandals and libel cases.
If you lean toward the Atlantic with your high-rising terminals you’re a sell-out; if you
pronounce borrowed European words in their original style—even if you try something as
innocent as parmigiano for “parmesan”—you’re a fraud. If you go (metaphorically
speaking) down the British class scale, you’ve gone from Cockney to “mockney,” and can
expect a public tar and feathering; to go the other way is to perform an unforgivable act of
class betrayal. Voices are meant to be unchanging and singular. There’s no quicker way to
insult an ex-pat Scotsman in London than to tell him he’s lost his accent. We feel that our
voices are who we are, and that to have more than one, or to use different versions of a
voice for different occasions, represents, at best, a Janus-faced duplicity, and at worst, the
loss of our very souls.

Whoever changes their voice takes on, in Britain, a queerly tragic dimension. They have
betrayed that puzzling dictum “To thine own self be true,” so often quoted approvingly as
if it represented the wisdom of Shakespeare rather than the hot air of Polonius. ” What’s to
become of me? What’s to become of me?” wails Eliza Doolittle, realizing her middling
dilemma. With a voice too posh for the flower girls and yet too redolent of the gutter for
the ladies in Mrs. Higgins’s drawing room.

ut Eliza—patron saint of the tragically double-voiced—is worthy of closer inspection.
The first thing to note is that both Eliza and Pygmalion are entirely didactic, as Shaw
meant them to be. “I delight,” he wrote,

in throwing [Pygmalion] at the heads of the wiseacres who repeat the parrot cry that
art should never be didactic. It goes to prove my contention that art should never be
anything else.

He was determined to tell the unambiguous tale of a girl who changes her voice and loses
her self. And so she arrives like this:

Don’t you be so saucy. You ain’t heard what I come for yet. Did you tell him I come
in a taxi?… Oh, we are proud! He ain’t above giving lessons, not him: I heard him
say so. Well, I ain’t come here to ask for any compliment; and if my moneys not good
enough I can go elsewhere…. Now you know, don’t you? I’m come to have lessons, I
am. And to pay for em too: make no mistake…. I want to be a lady in a flower shop

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stead of selling at the corner of Tottenham Court Road. But they wont take me unless
I can talk more genteel.

And she leaves like this:

I can’t. I could have done it once; but now I can’t go back to it. Last night, when I
was wandering about, a girl spoke to me; and I tried to get back into the old way with
her; but it was no use. You told me, you know, that when a child is brought to a
foreign country, it picks up the language in a few weeks, and forgets its own. Well, I
am a child in your country. I have forgotten my own language, and can speak nothing
but yours.

By the end of his experiment, Professor Higgins has made his Eliza an awkward, in-
between thing, neither flower girl nor lady, with one voice lost and another gained, at the
steep price of everything she was, and everything she knows. Almost as afterthought, he
sends Eliza’s father, Alfred Doolittle, to his doom, too, securing a three-thousand-a-year
living for the man on the condition that Doolittle lecture for the Wannafeller Moral Reform
World League up to six times a year. This burden brings the philosophical dustman into the
close, unwanted embrace of what he disdainfully calls “middle class morality.” By the time
the curtain goes down, both Doolittles find themselves stuck in the middle, which is, to
Shaw, a comi-tragic place to be, with the emphasis on the tragic. What are they fit for?
What will become of them?

How persistent this horror of the middling spot is, this dread of the interim place! It
extends through the specter of the tragic mulatto, to the plight of the transsexual, to our
present anxiety —disguised as genteel concern—for the contemporary immigrant,
tragically split, we are sure, between worlds, ideas, cultures, voices—whatever will
become of them? Something’s got to give—one voice must be sacrificed for the other.
What is double must be made singular.

But this, the apparent didactic moral of Eliza’s story, is undercut by the fact of the play
itself, which is an orchestra of many voices, simultaneously and perfectly rendered, with
no shade of color or tone sacrificed. Higgins’s Harley Street high-handedness is the equal
of Mrs. Pierce’s lower-middle-class gentility, Pickering’s kindhearted aristocratic
imprecision every bit as convincing as Arthur Doolittle’s Nietzschean Cockney-by-way-of-
Wales. Shaw had a wonderful ear, able to reproduce almost as many quirks of the English
language as Shakespeare’s. Shaw was in possession of a gift he wouldn’t, or couldn’t, give
Eliza: he spoke in tongues.

t gives me a strange sensation to turn from Shaw’s melancholy Pygmalion story to
another, infinitely more hopeful version, written by the new president of the United States
of America. Of course, his ear isn’t half bad either. In Dreams from My Father, the new

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president displays an enviable facility for dialogue, and puts it to good use, animating a
cast every bit as various as the one James Baldwin—an obvious influence—conjured for
his own many-voiced novel Another Country. Obama can do young Jewish male, black old
lady from the South Side, white woman from Kansas, Kenyan elders, white Harvard nerds,
black Columbia nerds, activist women, churchmen, security guards, bank tellers, and even
a British man called Mr. Wilkerson, who on a starry night on safari says credibly British
things like: “I believe that’s the Milky Way.” This new president doesn’t just speak for his
people. He can speak them. It is a disorienting talent in a president; we’re so unused to it. I
have to pinch myself to remember who wrote the following well-observed scene,
seemingly plucked from a comic novel:

“Man, I’m not going to any more of these bullshit Punahou parties.”

“Yeah, that’s what you said the last time….”

“I mean it this time…. These girls are A-1, USDA-certified racists. All of ’em. White
girls. Asian girls—shoot, these Asians worse than the whites. Think we got a disease
or something.”

“Maybe they’re looking at that big butt of yours. Man, I thought you were in

“Get your hands out of my fries. You ain’t my bitch, nigger…buy your own damn
fries. Now what was I talking about?”

“Just ’cause a girl don’t go out with you doesn’t make her a racist.”

This is the voice of Obama at seventeen, as remembered by Obama. He’s still recognizably
Obama; he already seeks to unpack and complicate apparently obvious things (“Just ’cause
a girl don’t go out with you doesn’t make her a racist”); he’s already gently cynical about
the impassioned dogma of other people (“Yeah, that’s what you said the last time”). And
he has a sense of humor (“Maybe they’re looking at that big butt of yours”). Only the voice
is different: he has made almost as large a leap as Eliza Doolittle. The conclusions Obama
draws from his own Pygmalion experience, however, are subtler than Shaw’s. The tale he
tells is not the old tragedy of gaining a new, false voice at the expense of a true one. The
tale he tells is all about addition. His is the story of a genuinely many-voiced man. If it has
a moral it is that each man must be true to his selves, plural.

For Obama, having more than one voice in your ear is not a burden, or not solely a burden
—it is also a gift. And the gift is of an interesting kind, not well served by that dull
publishing-house title Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance with its
suggestion of a simple linear inheritance, of paternal dreams and aspirations passed down
to a son, and fulfilled. Dreams from My Father would have been a fine title for John

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McCain’s book Faith of My Fathers, which concerns exactly this kind of linear masculine
inheritance, in his case from soldier to soldier. For Obama’s book, though, it’s wrong,
lopsided. He corrects its misperception early on, in the first chapter, while discussing the
failure of his parents’ relationship, characterized by their only son as the end of a dream.
“Even as that spell was broken,” he writes, “and the worlds that they thought they’d left
behind reclaimed each of them, I occupied the place where their dreams had been.”

To occupy a dream, to exist in a dreamed space (conjured by both father and mother), is
surely a quite different thing from simply inheriting a dream. It’s more interesting. What
did Pauline Kael call Cary Grant? ” The Man from Dream City.” When Bristolian
Archibald Leach became suave Cary Grant, the transformation happened in his voice,
which he subjected to a strange, indefinable manipulation, resulting in that heavenly sui
generis accent, neither west country nor posh, American nor English. It came from
nowhere, he came from nowhere. Grant seemed the product of a collective dream, dreamed
up by moviegoers in hard times, as it sometimes feels voters have dreamed up Obama in
hard times. Both men have a strange reflective quality, typical of the self-created man—we
see in them whatever we want to see. ” Everyone wants to be Cary Grant,” said Cary
Grant. ” Even I want to be Cary Grant.” It’s not hard to imagine Obama having that same
thought, backstage at Grant Park, hearing his own name chanted by the hopeful multitude.
Everyone wants to be Barack Obama. Even I want to be Barack Obama.

But I haven’t described Dream City. I’ll try to. It is a place of many voices, where the
unified singular self is an illusion. Naturally, Obama was born there. So was I. When your
personal multiplicity is printed on your face, in an almost too obviously thematic manner,
in your DNA, in your hair and in the neither this nor that beige of your skin—well, anyone
can see you come from Dream City. In Dream City everything is doubled, everything is
various. You have no choice but to cross borders and speak in tongues. That’s how you get
from your mother to your father, from talking to one set of folks who think you’re not
black enough to another who figure you insufficiently white. It’s the kind of town where
the wise man says “I” cautiously, because “I” feels like too straight and singular a
phoneme to represent the true multiplicity of his experience. Instead, citizens of Dream
City prefer to use the collective pronoun “we.”

Throughout his campaign Obama was careful always to say we. He was noticeably wary of
“I.” By speaking so, he wasn’t simply avoiding a singularity he didn’t feel, he was also
drawing us in with him. He had the audacity to suggest that, even if you can’t see it
stamped on their faces, most people come from Dream City, too. Most of us have
complicated back stories, messy histories, multiple narratives.

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It was a high-wire strategy, for Obama, this invocation of our collective human messiness.
His enemies latched on to its imprecision, emphasizing the exotic, un-American nature of
Dream City, this ill-defined place where you could be from Hawaii and Kenya, Kansas and
Indonesia all at the same time, where you could jive talk like a street hustler and orate like
a senator. What kind of a crazy place is that? But they underestimated how many people
come from Dream City, how many Americans, in their daily lives, conjure contrasting
voices and seek a synthesis between disparate things. Turns out, Dream City wasn’t so
strange to them.

Or did they never actually see it? We now know that Obama spoke of Main Street in Iowa
and of sweet potato pie in Northwest Philly, and it could be argued that he succeeded
because he so rarely misspoke, carefully tailoring his intonations to suit the sensibility of
his listeners. Sometimes he did this within one speech, within one line: “We worship an
awesome God in the blue states, and we don’t like federal agents poking around our
libraries in the red states.” Awesome God comes to you straight from the pews of a Georgia
church; poking around feels more at home at a kitchen table in South Bend, Indiana. The
balance was perfect, cunningly counterpoised and never accidental. It’s only now that it’s
over that we see him let his guard down a little, on 60 Minutes, say, dropping in that
culturally, casually black construction “Hey, I’m not stupid, man, that’s why I’m
president,” something it’s hard to imagine him doing even three weeks earlier. To a certain
kind of mind, it must have looked like the mask had slipped for a moment.

Which brings us to the single-voiced Obamanation crowd. They rage on in the blogs and
on the radio, waiting obsessively for the mask to slip. They have a great fear of what they
see as Obama’s doubling ways. “He says one thing but he means another”—this is the
essence of the fear campaign. He says he’s a capitalist, but he’ll spread your wealth. He
says he’s a Christian, but really he’s going to empower the Muslims. And so on and so
forth. These are fears that have their roots in an anxiety about voice. Who is he? people
kept asking. I mean, who is this guy, really? He says sweet potato pie in Philly and Main
Street in Iowa! When he talks to us, he sure sounds like us—but behind our backs he says
we’re clinging to our religion, to our guns. And when Jesse Jackson heard that Obama had
lectured a black church congregation about the epidemic of absent black fathers, he
experienced this, too, as a tonal betrayal; Obama was “talking down to black people.” In
both cases, there was the sense of a double-dealer, of someone who tailors his speech to fit
the audience, who is not of the people (because he is able to look at them objectively) but
always above them.

The Jackson gaffe, with its Oedipal violence (“I want to cut his nuts out”), is especially
poignant because it goes to the heart of a generational conflict in the black community,
concerning what we will say in public and what we say in private. For it has been a point
of honor, among the civil rights generation, that any criticism or negative analysis of our
community, expressed, as they often are by white politicians, without context, without real

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empathy or understanding, should not be repeated by a black politician when the white
community is listening, even if ( especially if) the criticism happens to be true (more than
half of all black American children live in single-parent households). Our business is our
business. Keep it in the family; don’t wash your dirty linen in public; stay unified. (Of
course, with his overheard gaffe, Jackson unwittingly broke his own rule.)

ntil Obama, black politicians had always adhered to these unwritten rules. In this way,
they defended themselves against those two bogeymen of black political life: the Uncle
Tom and the House Nigger. The black politician who played up to, or even simply echoed,
white fears, desires, and hopes for the black community was in danger of earning these
epithets—even Martin Luther King was not free from such suspicions. Then came Obama,
and the new world he had supposedly ushered in, the postracial world, in which what
mattered most was not blind racial allegiance but factual truth. It was felt that Jesse
Jackson was sadly out of step with this new postracial world: even his own son felt moved
to publicly repudiate his “ugly rhetoric.” But Jackson’s anger was not incomprehensible
nor his distrust unreasonable. Jackson lived through a bitter struggle, and bitter struggles
deform their participants in subtle, complicated ways. The idea that one should speak one’s
cultural allegiance first and the truth second (and that this is a sign of authenticity) is
precisely such a deformation.

Right up to the wire, Obama made many black men and women of Jackson’s generation
suspicious. How can the man who passes between culturally black and white voices with
such flexibility, with such ease, be an honest man? How will the man from Dream City
keep it real? Why won’t he speak with a clear and unified voice? These were genuine
questions for people born in real cities at a time when those cities were implacably divided,
when the black movement had to yell with a clear and unified voice, or risk not being
heard at all. And then he won. Watching Jesse Jackson in tears in Grant Park, pressed up
against the varicolored American public, it seemed like he, at least, had received the
answer he needed: only a many-voiced man could have spoken to that many people.

A clear and unified voice. In that context, this business of being biracial, of being half
black and half white, is awkward. In his memoir, Obama takes care to ridicule a certain
black girl called Joyce—a composite figure from his college days who happens also to be
part Italian and part French and part Native American and is inordinately fond of
mentioning these facts, and who likes to say:

I’m not black…I’m multiracial…. Why should I have to choose between them?… It’s
not white people who are making me choose…. No—it’s black people who always
have to make everything racial. They’re the ones making me choose. They’re the ones
who are telling me I can’t be who I am….

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Gabriel Pascal/Kobal Collection

Leslie Howard as Henry Higgins and Wendy Hiller as Eliza
Doolittle in Pygmalion, 1938

He has her voice down pat and so condemns her out of her own mouth. For she’s the third
bogeyman of black life, the tragic mulatto, who secretly wishes she “passed,” always keen
to let you know about her white heritage. It’s the fear of being mistaken for Joyce that has
always ensured that I ignore the box marked “biracial” and tick the box marked “black” on
any questionnaire I fill out, and call myself unequivocally a black writer and roll my eyes
at anyone who insists that Obama is not the first black president but the first biracial one.
But I also know in my heart that it’s an equivocation; I know that Obama has a double
consciousness, is black and, at the same time, white, as I am, unless we are suggesting that
one side of a person’s genetics and cultural heritage cancels out or trumps the other.

But to mention the double is to suggest shame at the singular. Joyce insists on her varied
heritage because she fears and is ashamed of the singular black. I suppose it’s possible that
subconsciously I am also a tragic mulatto, torn between pride and shame. In my conscious
life, though, I cannot honestly say I feel proud to be white and ashamed to be black or
proud to be black and ashamed to be white. I find it impossible to experience either pride
or shame over accidents of genetics in which I had no active part. I understand how those
words got into the racial discourse, but I can’t sign up to them. I’m not proud to be female
either. I am not even proud to be human—I only love to be so. As I love to be female and I
love to be black, and I love that I had a white father.

It’s telling that Joyce is one of the few
voices in Dreams from My Father that is
truly left out in the cold, outside of the
expansive sympathy of Obama’s narrative.
She is an entirely didactic being, a demon
Obama has to raise up, if only for a page,
so everyone can watch him slay her. I
know the feeling. When I was in college I
felt I’d rather run away with the Black
Panthers than be associated with the
Joyces I occasionally met. It’s the Joyces
of this world who “talk down to black
folks.” And so to avoid being Joyce, or
being seen to be Joyce, you unify, you
speak with one voice.

And the concept of a unified black voice is a potent one. It has filtered down, these past
forty years, into the black community at all levels, settling itself in that impossible
injunction “keep it real,” the original intention of which was unification. We were going to
unify the concept of Blackness in order to strengthen it. Instead we confined and restricted
it. To me, the instruction “keep it real” is a sort of prison cell, two feet by five. The fact is,
it’s too narrow. I just can’t live comfortably in there. ” Keep it real” replaced the blessed

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and solid genetic fact of Blackness with a flimsy imperative. It made Blackness a quality
each individual black person was constantly in danger of losing. And almost anything
could trigger the loss of one’s Blackness: attending certain universities, an impressive
variety of jobs, a fondness for opera, a white girlfriend, an interest in golf. And of course,
any change in the voice. There was a popular school of thought that maintained the voice
was at the very heart of the thing; fail to keep it real there and you’d never see your
Blackness again.

How absurd that all seems now. And not because we live in a postracial world—we don’t
—but because the reality of race has diversified. Black reality has diversified. It’s black
people who talk like me, and black people who talk like L’il Wayne. It’s black
conservatives and black liberals, black sportsmen and black lawyers, black computer
technicians and black ballet dancers and black truck drivers and black presidents. We’re all
black, and we all love to be black, and we all sing from our own hymn sheet. We’re all
surely black people, but we may be finally approaching a point of human history where
you can’t talk up or down to us anymore, but only to us. He’s talking down to white people
—how curious it sounds the other way round! In order to say such a thing one would have
to think collectively of white people, as a people of one mind who speak with one voice—
a thought experiment in which we have no practice. But it’s worth trying. It’s only when
you play the record backward that you hear the secret message.

For reasons that are obscure to me, those qualities we cherish in our artists we condemn in
our politicians. In our artists we look for the many-colored voice, the multiple sensibility.
The apogee of this is, of course, Shakespeare: even more than for his wordplay we cherish
him for his lack of allegiance. Our Shakespeare sees always both sides of a thing, he is
black and white, male and female—he is everyman. The giant lacunae in his biography are
merely a convenience; if any new facts of religious or political affiliation were ever to arise
we would dismiss them in our hearts anyway. Was he, for example, a man of Rome or not?
He has appeared, to generations of readers, not of one religion but of both, in truth, beyond
both. Born into the middle of Britain’s fierce Catholic–Protestant culture war, how could
the bloody absurdity of those years not impress upon him a strong sense of cultural

It was a war of ideas that began for Will—as it began for Barack—in the dreams of his
father. For we know that John Shakespeare, a civic officer in Protestant times, oversaw the
repainting of medieval frescoes and the destruction of the rood loft and altar in Stratford’s
own fine Guild Chapel, but we also know that in the rafters of the Shakespeare home John
hid a secret Catholic “Spiritual Testament,” a signed profession of allegiance to the old
faith. A strange experience, to watch one’s own father thus divided, professing one thing in

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public while practicing another in private. John Shakespeare was a kind of equivocator: it’s
what you do when you’re in a corner, when you can’t be a Catholic and a loyal Englishman
at the same time. When you can’t be both black and white. Sometimes in a country ripped
apart by dogma, those who wish to keep their heads—in both senses—must learn to split
themselves in two.

And this we still know, here, at a four-hundred-year distance. No one can hope to be
president of these United States without professing a committed and straightforward belief
in two things: the existence of God and the principle of American exceptionalism. But how
many of them equivocated, and who, in their shoes, would not equivocate, too?

Fortunately, Shakespeare was an artist and so had an outlet his father didn’t have—the
many-voiced theater. Shakespeare’s art, the very medium of it, allowed him to do what
civic officers and politicians can’t seem to: speak simultaneous truths. (Is it not, for
example, experientially true that one can both believe and not believe in God?) In his plays
he is woman, man, black, white, believer, heretic, Catholic, Protestant, Jew, Muslim. He
grew up in an atmosphere of equivocation, but he lived in freedom. And he offers us
freedom: to pin him down to a single identity would be an obvious diminishment, both for
Shakespeare and for us. Generations of critics have insisted on this irreducible multiplicity,
though they have each expressed it different ways, through the glass of their times. Here is
Keats’s famous attempt, in 1817, to give this quality a name:

At once it struck me, what quality went to form a Man of Achievement especially in
Literature and which Shakespeare possessed so enormously—I mean Negative
Capability, that is when man is capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts,
without any irritable reaching after fact and reason.

And here is Stephen Greenblatt doing the same, in 2004:

There are many forms of heroism in Shakespeare, but ideological heroism—the
fierce, self-immolating embrace of an idea or institution—is not one of them.

For Keats, Shakespeare’s many voices are quasi-mystical as suited the Romantic thrust of
Keats’s age. For Greenblatt, Shakespeare’s negative capability is sociopolitical at root. Will
had seen too many wild-eyed martyrs, too many executed terrorists, too many wars on the
Catholic terror. He had watched men rage absurdly at rood screens and write treatises in
praise of tables. He had seen men disemboweled while still alive, their entrails burned
before their eyes, and all for the preference of a Latin Mass over a common prayer or vice
versa. He understood what fierce, singular certainty creates and what it destroys. In
response, he made himself a diffuse, uncertain thing, a mass of contradictory, irresolvable
voices that speak truth plurally. Through the glass of 2009, “negative capability” looks like
the perfect antidote to “ideological heroism.”

8/22/2018 Speaking in Tongues | by Zadie Smith | The New York Review of Books 11/14

From our politicians, though, we still look for ideological heroism, despite everything. We
consider pragmatists to be weak. We call men of balance naive fools. In England, we once
had an insulting name for such people: trimmers. In the mid-1600s, a trimmer was any
politician who attempted to straddle the reviled middle ground between Cavalier and
Roundhead, Parliament and the Crown; to call a man a trimmer was to accuse him of being
insufficiently committed to an ideology. But in telling us of these times, the nineteenth-
century English historian Thomas Macaulay draws our attention to Halifax, great
statesman of the Privy Council, set up to mediate between Parliament and Crown as
London burned. Halifax proudly called himself a trimmer, assuming it, Macaulay explains,

a title of honour, and vindicat[ing], with great vivacity, the dignity of the appellation.
Everything good, he said, trims between extremes. The temperate zone trims between
the climate in which men are roasted and the climate in which they are frozen. The
English Church trims between the Anabaptist madness and the Papist lethargy. The
English constitution trims between the Turkish despotism and Polish anarchy. Virtue
is nothing but a just temper between propensities any one of which, if indulged to
excess, becomes vice.

Which all sounds eminently reasonable and Aristotelian. And Macaulay’s description of
Halifax’s character is equally attractive:

His intellect was fertile, subtle, and capacious. His polished, luminous, and animated
eloquence…was the delight of the House of Lords…. His political tracts well deserve
to be studied for their literary merit.

In fact, Halifax is familiar—he sounds like the man from Dream City. This makes
Macaulay’s caveat the more striking:

Yet he was less successful in politics than many who enjoyed smaller advantages.
Indeed, those intellectual peculiarities which make his writings valuable frequently
impeded him in the contests of active life. For he always saw passing events, not in
the point of view in which they commonly appear to one who bears a part in them,
but in the point of view in which, after the lapse of many years, they appear to the
philosophic historian.

To me, this is a doleful conclusion. It is exactly men with such intellectual peculiarities that
I have always hoped to see in politics. But maybe Macaulay is correct: maybe the
Halifaxes of this world make, in the end, better writers than politicians. A lot rests on how
this president turns out—but that’s a debate for the future. Here I want instead to hazard a
little theory, concerning the evolution of a certain type of voice, typified by Halifax, by
Shakespeare, and very possibly the President. For the voice of what Macaulay called “the

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philosophic historian” is, to my mind, a valuable and particular one, and I think someone
should make a proper study of it. It’s a voice that develops in a man over time; my little
theory sketches four developmental stages.

The first stage in the evolution is contingent and cannot be contrived. In this first stage, the
voice, by no fault of its own, finds itself trapped between two poles, two competing belief
systems. And so this first stage necessitates the second: the voice learns to be flexible
between these two fixed points, even to the point of equivocation. Then the third stage: this
native flexibility leads to a sense of being able to “see a thing from both sides.” And then
the final stage, which I think of as the mark of a certain kind of genius: the voice
relinquishes ownership of itself, develops a creative sense of disassociation in which the
claims that are particular to it seem no stronger than anyone else’s. There it is, my little
theory—I’d rather call it a story. It is a story about a wonderful voice, occasionally used by
citizens, rarely by men of power. Amidst the din of the 2008 culture wars it proved
especially hard to hear.

n this lecture I have been seeking to tentatively suggest that the voice that speaks with
such freedom, thus unburdened by dogma and personal bias, thus flooded with empathy,
might make a good president. It’s only now that I realize that in all this utilitarianism I’ve
left joyfulness out of the account, and thus neglected a key constituency of my own people,
the poets! Being many-voiced may be a complicated gift for a president, but in poets it is a
pure delight in need of neither defense nor explanation. Plato banished them from his
uptight and annoying republic so long ago that they have lost all their anxiety. They are

“I am a Hittite in love with a horse,” writes Frank O’Hara.

I don’t know what blood’s
in me I feel like an African prince I am a girl walking downstairs
in a red pleated dress with heels I am a champion taking a fall
I am a jockey with a sprained ass-hole I am the light mist
in which a face appears
and it is another face of blonde I am a baboon eating a banana
I am a dictator looking at his wife I am a doctor eating a child
and the child’s mother smiling I am a Chinaman climbing a mountain
I am a child smelling his father ’s underwear I am an Indian
sleeping on a scalp
and my pony is stamping in
the birches,
and I’ve just caught sight of the
Niña, the Pinta and the Santa

8/22/2018 Speaking in Tongues | by Zadie Smith | The New York Review of Books 13/14

What land is this, so free?

Frank O’Hara’s republic is of the imagination, of course. It is the only land of perfect
freedom. Presidents, as a breed, tend to dismiss this land, thinking it has nothing to teach
them. If this new president turns out to be different, then writers will count their blessings,
but with or without a president on board, writers should always count their blessings. A
line of O’Hara’s reminds us of this. It’s carved on his gravestone. It reads: “Grace to be
born and live as variously as possible.”

But to live variously cannot simply be a gift, endowed by an accident of birth; it has to be a
continual effort, continually renewed. I felt this with force the night of the election. I was
at a lovely New York party, full of lovely people, almost all of whom were white, liberal,
highly educated, and celebrating with one happy voice as the states turned blue. Just as
they called Iowa my phone rang and a strident German voice said: “Zadie! Come to
Harlem! It’s vild here. I’m in za middle of a crazy Reggae bar—it’s so vonderful! Vy not
come now!”

I mention he was German only so we don’t run away with the idea that flexibility comes
only to the beige, or gay, or otherwise marginalized. Flexibility is a choice, always open to
all of us. (He was a writer, however. Make of that what you will.)

But wait: all the way uptown? A crazy reggae bar? For a minute I hesitated, because I was
at a lovely party having a lovely time. Or was that it? There was something else. In truth I
thought: but I’ll be ludicrous, in my silly dress, with this silly posh English voice, in a
crowded bar of black New Yorkers celebrating. It’s amazing how many of our cross-
cultural and cross-class encounters are limited not by hate or pride or shame, but by
another equally insidious, less-discussed, emotion: embarrassment. A few minutes later, I
was in a taxi and heading uptown with my Northern Irish husband and our half-Indian,
half-English friend, but that initial hesitation was ominous; the first step on a typical
British journey. A hesitation in the face of difference, which leads to caution before
difference and ends in fear of it. Before long, the only voice you recognize, the only life
you can empathize with, is your own. You will think that a novelist’s screwy leap of logic.
Well, it’s my novelist credo and I believe it. I believe that flexibility of voice leads to a
flexibility in all things. My audacious hope in Obama is based, I’m afraid, on precisely
such flimsy premises.

It’s my audacious hope that a man born and raised between opposing dogmas, between
cultures, between voices, could not help but be aware of the extreme contingency of
culture. I further audaciously hope that such a man will not mistake the happy accident of
his own cultural sensibilities for a set of natural laws, suitable for general application. I
even hope that he will find himself in agreement with George Bernard Shaw when he

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declared, “Patriotism is, fundamentally, a conviction that a particular country is the best in
the world because you were born in it.” But that may be an audacious hope too far. We’ll
see if Obama’s lifelong vocal flexibility will enable him to say proudly with one voice “I
love my country” while saying with another voice “It is a country, like other countries.” I
hope so. He seems just the man to demonstrate that between those two voices there exists
no contradiction and no equivocation but rather a proper and decent human harmony.

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