Date

4-29-2020

Description

Zadie Smith explores the tension between the notions of identity based on essentialism and identity as fluid. Her novel NW (2012) follows the lives of Leah Hanwell and Natalie Blake in their respective struggles to forge their identities in post-multicultural London. I propose that Smith's characters fall on either side of the spectrum between stasis and becoming, and neither one can achieve the balance between the two extremes. In addition to exploring these ontological questions, Smith challenges the promise of self-sufficiency, individualism, and social mobility in contemporary London, categories which are immersed in neoliberal sensibilities that ostensibly celebrate autonomy, freedom of choice, and the idea that the person is solely responsible for their own existence and place in society, regardless of environment and circumstances. Both refuting neoliberal sensibilities and critiquing the glib celebration of multiculturalism, Smith shows that the self is a product of both the interior person and the exterior environment, highlighting the tension between static, essentialized being and the fluidity of becoming. Using the dialectical theory of the self and the other and the postcolonial theory of hybridity, I argue that Smith uses her characters to show the limiting power of both essentialized and purely fluid conceptions of identity, and that she shows that a synthesis of the two is necessary for self-awareness. In addition to close readings of Smith's fictional explorations, this paper draws on Smith's own essays and criticism of her works in order to situate these issues in the broader scope of post-multicultural scholarship.

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Apr 29th, 12:00 AM

"I Am the Sole Author": Challenging the Dictionary of the Social Self in Zadie Smith's NW

Zadie Smith explores the tension between the notions of identity based on essentialism and identity as fluid. Her novel NW (2012) follows the lives of Leah Hanwell and Natalie Blake in their respective struggles to forge their identities in post-multicultural London. I propose that Smith's characters fall on either side of the spectrum between stasis and becoming, and neither one can achieve the balance between the two extremes. In addition to exploring these ontological questions, Smith challenges the promise of self-sufficiency, individualism, and social mobility in contemporary London, categories which are immersed in neoliberal sensibilities that ostensibly celebrate autonomy, freedom of choice, and the idea that the person is solely responsible for their own existence and place in society, regardless of environment and circumstances. Both refuting neoliberal sensibilities and critiquing the glib celebration of multiculturalism, Smith shows that the self is a product of both the interior person and the exterior environment, highlighting the tension between static, essentialized being and the fluidity of becoming. Using the dialectical theory of the self and the other and the postcolonial theory of hybridity, I argue that Smith uses her characters to show the limiting power of both essentialized and purely fluid conceptions of identity, and that she shows that a synthesis of the two is necessary for self-awareness. In addition to close readings of Smith's fictional explorations, this paper draws on Smith's own essays and criticism of her works in order to situate these issues in the broader scope of post-multicultural scholarship.