Containing multitudes

From a long reflection on what it means for a single writer, artist, president, to speak with multiple voices, accents, allegiances.

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.

from “Speaking in Tongues,” by Zadie Smith, The New York Review of Books, 26 February 2009

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