“I realize my somewhat ambivalent view of human selves is wholly out of fashion,” Zadie Smith writes apologetically in the introduction to her new essay collection, Feel Free.
Smith isn’t lying. Her way of thinking about the self — in a collection of essays that cover everything from Smith’s childhood to literary criticism to Justin Bieber — does feel oddly abstract and academic for 2018. But it’s also valuable.
Over the course of the book, Smith repeatedly describes the self as a malleable and porous construct with boundaries subject to change, in the post-modernist literary tradition — but now, she warns, that may no longer be a valid construct.
These essays were written during the Obama era, Smith explains, when the apparent triumph of cosmopolitanism made it possible to think of the self in that way. Post-Trump, post-Brexit, she writes, the idea of an unstable self appears to be an unimaginable luxury, as “millions of more or less amorphous selves will now necessarily find themselves solidifying into protesters, activists, marchers, voters, firebrands, impeachers, lobbyists, soldiers, champions, defenders, historians, experts, critics. You can’t fight fire with air.”
Smith offers up Feel Free as a reminder of a freedom she believes is now lost and must be fought for once again — namely, the freedom to not imagine yourself to be a wholly knowable and known being (I think therefore I am, I experience the world in a certain way and that experience is measurable and empirically true). She longs for the days when anyone could experience themselves as an unstable, subjective creature who has created a lot of very nice fictions about a fundamentally unknowable world in order to cope with it, and who may very well change those fictions at any given moment.
It’s that freedom that allows Smith to experience herself, variously, as a Moor in Venice (“A historically unprecedented Moor. A late-capitalism Moor. A tourist Moor.”), as a corpse (“We may be forever corpses — but once we were alive!”), and, most ecstatically, as the authors of the words she reads:
Not to take yourself as a natural, unquestionable entity can lead you in turn to become aware of the radical contingency of life in general, its supremely accidental nature. I am Philip, I am Colson, I am Jonathan, I am Rivka, I am Virginia, I am Sylvia, I am Zora, I am Chinua, I am Saul, I am Toni, I am Nathan, I am Vladimir, I am Leo, I am Albert, I am Chimamanda — but how easily I might have been somebody else, with their feelings and preoccupations, with their obsessions and flaws and virtues. This to me is the primary novelistic impulse: this leap into the possibility of another life.
That last passage comes from the most ambitious essay in Feel Free, titled “The I Who Is Not Me.” It’s this anthology’s answer to “Two Paths for the Novel,” the most celebrated essay in Smith’s previous collection Changing My Mind, and it examines the role of the autobiographical in fiction, particularly in first-person fiction.
Smith herself avoided the first-person perspective for most of her career, until she wrote her most recent novel, Swing Time. But Swing Time is explicitly ambivalent about its first-person-ness: The book’s unnamed, shadowy narrator deliberately avoids letting herself be intimately known to the reader, and she is given to trying to think about herself in the third-person, which she considers to be “a very elegant attitude.”
In Feel Free’s “The I Who Is Not Me,” Smith herself admits to a kind of “moral queasiness” around the first person, which she attributes her British upbringing. “The first-person voice,” she writes, tongue-in-cheek, “presents itself as a kind of indulgence, a narcissistic weakness, which the French and the Americans go in for, perhaps, but not the British, or not very often.”
She eventually chose to embrace the first-person anyway, she writes, because of its enormous immediacy, its ability to seamlessly create a fictional reality. “What a freedom I felt,” she writes, “constructing this entirely false autobiography which still, at every turn, sounded real, because I had allowed myself to write ‘I’ and in this way falsely insist on its truth. Quite a lot of the time as I wrote this book [Swing Time] I felt a little scandalous.”
By creating a first-person narrator, Smith argues, she has created another self, one who she experiences as an “I-who-is-not-me,” but who her readers might interpret as “I-whom-I-presume-is-you”; that is, as an avatar of Smith herself. And for Smith, the novel is the space in which those two I’s can reconcile themselves with one another, because “literature,” she writes, “is precisely the ambivalent space in which impossible identities are made possible, both for authors and their characters.”
In 2018, it can be tempting to react to Smith’s claims about the power of the novel to free us from ourselves with a cynically raised eyebrow: It’s all very well and good to mess around with make-believe people, we might say, but in the meantime, the world is ending, haven’t you heard? And Smith herself seems mildly embarrassed by the vaguely decadent idea of worrying about art and the boundaries of self when there is so much going wrong in the world.
But witnessing the freedom of Smith’s brilliant, erudite mind at work and at play makes its own argument. There is an immense aesthetic pleasure to be had in tagging along as she worries her way through a train of thought, whether that train of thought concerns Bernini’s Apollo and Daphne or the beer billboard across the street from her apartment or the way Justin Bieber illustrates philosopher Martin Buber’s I/thou relationship (those boundaries of self again!).
In contrast, the political essays she includes in Feel Free (they comprise four of the total 31 essays) can seem banal. They are more or less centrist liberal orthodoxy without new insight: public libraries and public schools are both good things, she argues, and fences — both metaphorical and liberal — are not. This is certainly a worthy idea, but it is not as exciting or original as Smith’s looping, contradictory ruminations on the role of the first-person voice in fiction.
If Smith had to turn away from her ideas about the self and the aesthetic and how literature works in order to write sad, flat essays about why Britain should not have Brexited, it would be an enormous loss. Nowhere is that truth more evident than in Feel Free’s celebration of the freedom to care about things that are not politics — art, philosophy, aesthetics — and its simultaneous argument in favor of that freedom.
What is a political essay? A political is just as the name suggests an essay based on politics or a political situation. Completing a political essay is impossible without the proper research to fully understand your subject. First, you should study the primary texts, to analyze its contents. You may take advantage of using reliable Internet sources, with available government reports and political parties' news. Scan through reputable newspapers and magazines to compile relevant data for your political essay.
Having a precisely selected topic of your political essay ensures its efficiency and effectiveness. Make the compass of your writing specific and goal oriented. Your paper should answer the implicit questions - "how" and "why", as it is an analytical work.
When you are presenting your political essay topic in the introduction, make it specific and informative. The reader should understand from your words that your topic is worth investigating. You can defend your subject stressing its political importance and your own preferences. Keep in mind that you can't guess the political views of the reader. That is why you have to get the reader interested and enthusiastic about what you are writing with your words and original arguments. Writing the introductory section you should ask yourself: "How will my essay contribute to existing facts?"
Each paragraph of the body includes the main point, the so-called topic sentence. You support your topic sentence with examples or specification or both. The transitions from one paragraph to the next must be smooth and logical. Sometimes you may remind the reader what the major point of your political essay is.
The final conclusion aims at summarizing the main argument and emphasizing its importance. Though you may consider going beyond the debated issue and leave the reader with a more challenging question to think over.
Follow the style of political essays. It suggests: minimal use of Passive Voice and avoiding redundant phrases, trendy words, cliches.
We want to remind you that social scientists often apply terms not covered by common dictionaries. Sometimes the same term can convey quite different meanings to different political groups. Be careful and accurate using political terms in your essay. One more thing you should remember is to choose precise and cautious stereotype words. They can encompass racist terminology, ethnicity terms, gender words, and occupational terms. Stay away from words with discriminatory connotation in your political essay. Give preference to using gender-neutral language. Your essay may be enriched with statistics and you will want to use tables, charts and figures. In this case you should not fail to interpret them in your political essay.
Occasionally you will support your argument with someone else's words. Be sure to mention the source of the information you are presenting. If you are still confused and are unsure how to write a political essay and need the help of a professional essay writerClick here.