15x: Afterthoughts on Zadie Smith (John and Elizabeth)

Zadie Smith touched down at Brandeis because Swing Time was this year’s New Student Book Forum selection. It made for a busy day: on top of the podcast, she spoke to faculty and undergraduates at two different events. So, lots of material to discuss.

We do our best to unpack Zadie Smith’s take on sincerity, authenticity and human sacredness; the “golden ticket” dirty secret behind our hypocritical academic meritocracy; surveillance capitalism as the “biggest capital grab of human experience in history;” and her genealogy of the novel.

If we had to sum the day up with a few adjectives (and we do):  funny, provocative, resplendent, chill, generous, cantankerous.

Discussed (or gestured at) in this episode:

Tony Judt, Postwar

Richard Hoggart, The Uses of Literacy

Nicholas Lehmann, The Big Test

Elizabeth Strout, Olive Kitteridge

Doris Lessing The Fifth Child

Muriel Spark, The Girls of Slender Means

Stephen McCauley (with JP on RTB) Barbara Pym and the Comic Novel

Hilary Mantel, Beyond Black (and others…)

Joseph O’Neill, Netherland

J. P. Toussaint, The Bathroom

Virginia Woolf, The Common Reader, A Room of One’s Own, “Moments of Being”

Philip Roth, The Counterlife, Exit Ghost

Listen to the episode here:

You can read the transcript here:

P.S. Just before we hit Publish on this, Zadie Smith’s latest essay appeared in The New York Review of Books. It too focused on the arbitrary, contingent and altogether peripatetic nature of identity:

I could never shake the suspicion that everything about me was the consequence of a series of improbable accidents—not least of which was the 400 trillion–to-one accident of my birth. As I saw it, even my strongest feelings and convictions might easily be otherwise, had I been the child of the next family down the hall, or the child of another century, another country, another God. My mind wandered.

Author: plotznik

I teach English (mainly the novel and Victorian literature) at Brandeis University, and live in Brookline.

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