Zadie Smith

Finding an Identity is Easy


"Stop worrying about your identity and concern yourself with the people you care about, ideas that matter to you, beliefs you can stand by, tickets you can run on. Intelligent humans make those choices with their brain and hearts and they make them alone. The world does not deliver meaning to you. You have to make it meaningful, and decide what you want and need and must do. It's a tough, unimaginably lonely and complicated way to be in the world. But that's the deal: you have to live; you can't live by slogans, dead ideas, clichés, or national flags. Finding an identity is easy. It's the easy way out."

~ Zadie Smith, from On Beauty

Very Little Pleasure in Joy

Excerpt from "Joy," by Zadie Smith, The New York Review of Books, Jan. 10, 2013: 

We were heading toward all that makes life intolerable, feeling the only thing that makes it worthwhile. That was joy. But it’s no good thinking about or discussing it. It has no place next to the furious argument about who cleaned the house or picked up the child. It is irrelevant when sitting peacefully, watching an old movie, or doing an impression of two old ladies in a shop, or as I eat a popsicle while you scowl at me, or when working on different floors of the library. It doesn’t fit with the everyday. The thing no one ever tells you about joy is that it has very little real pleasure in it. And yet if it hadn’t happened at all, at least once, how would we live?

. . .

The writer Julian Barnes, considering mourning, once said, "It hurts just as much as it is worth.". . . What an arrangement. Why would anyone accept such a crazy deal? Surely if we were sane and reasonable we would every time choose a pleasure over a joy, as animals themselves sensibly do. The end of a pleasure brings no great harm to anyone, after all, and can always be replaced with another of more or less equal worth.

Read entire essay...

A Kind of Prison

"When I was a child I was constantly being told that various habits of mine - I suppose including reading – made me less black than I should be. But the idea that you can be less authentic than you are is nonsense. There’s no such thing. And to struggle under that idea, to concern yourself constantly about your identity seems to me a kind of prison. And it’s one that white people don’t have to anything like to the same degree. They have a kind of existential freedom that they don’t even notice because it is what every human being should have and deserves to have and is natural. But if you don’t have it, if you‘re constantly wondering instead not what it is to be but what it is to be black, then you’re completely cornered. So I suppose that all my characters to some extent are looking for identities. Constantly when I’m in interviews I’m being told, 'Your books are all about the search for identity,' and I always think My gosh, my books are all about that search being entirely pointless.”

- Zadie Smith, discussing her novel, On Beauty, with Michael Silverblatt on KCRW's Bookworm.