If novelists know anything it's that individual citizens are internally plural: they have within them the full range of behavioral possibilities. They are like complex musical scores from which certain melodies can be teased out and others ignored or suppressed, depending, at least in part, on who is doing the conducting. At this moment, all over the world--and most recently in America--the conductors standing in front of this human orchestra have only the meanest and most banal melodies in mind. Here in Germany you will remember these martial songs; they are not a very distant memory. But there is no place on earth where they have not been played at one time or another. Those of us who remember, too, a finer music must try now to play it, and encourage others, if we can, to sing along.
December 10, 2016
On Optimism and Despair
Zadie Smith spoke in Germany on November 10 on receiving the 2016 Welt literature Prize. Reading the transcript in The New York Review of Books (December 22, 2016) cheered me up. For a few minutes. Here's how it ends: