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Saturday, February 14, 2009

If you've got an hour, this could cheer you up

Today I heard a wonderful thing. It was a lecture called "Speaking In Tongues" given by Zadie Smith in New York. I'm too stupid to be able to capture any more than ten per cent of what she has to say but I found even that percentage inspiringly sane. She starts with what it was like to be a girl from Willesden who went to Cambridge and came out with a different voice and goes on through Eliza Doolittle's desire to get a new voice in order to work in a florist via Cary Grant's transformation from Archie Leach to Pauline Kael's "the man from Dream City" to a timely examination of Barack Obama's brilliant way of knowing how to adopt different voices to speak to different elements of America. (She could have added Bob Dylan's transformation from Jewish storekeeper's son to the eternal hobo outsider but that would have just been for me.)

In the second half she celebrates equivocation and looks at how our greatest poet, Shakespeare, was forever nipping back and forth over the frontiers of belief. (In this she credits Stephen Greenblatt's "Will In The World" which you should read if you have the slightest interest in, well, that kind of thing.) She wonders why we expect politicians to exhibit the very certainty which is our least appealing characteristic.

I don't know what the weather is going to do tomorrow but if it's anything like fine I think you should download this recording of her delivering this lecture, put it on your iPod and go for a walk long enough to listen to it. If you don't come back feeling slightly better about mankind, well, at least you'll have had some exercise.