Saturday, January 3, 2009

Zadie Smith on "Speaking in Tongues"

While traveling on New Year's Day, I caught up on some podcasts. One I want to recommend is Zadie Smith's "Speaking in Tongues," the 2008 Robert B. Silvers Lecture, sponsored by the New York Public Library and posted on the New York Review of Book's website, especially if you would not have thought to compare Eliza Doolittle and Barack Obama on your own or appreciated what an Elizabethan Jesuit's treatise on equivocation can tell us about Macbeth and William Jefferson Clinton. A stunning performance, as well as a sobering illustration of the great expectations being freighted upon the president-elect.


Justin Hansford said...

Hey Prof. Ernst:

Thanks so much for recommending this lecture! I agree with Zadie Smith's assessment of the virtues of Aristotelian "temperance," or what she conceptualizes as Halifax's "equivocation." While Obama's rejection of ideological heroism is indeed a thorn in the side of many leftists, I agree wholeheartedly that it is a virtue generally, and very likely emerges from the ability to be "double voiced" that he illustrated in both "Dreams from my Father" and "The Audacity of Hope."
My challenge is this: acknowledging that this is a virtue in novelists, poets, and possibly presidents, is it also a virtue in lawyers, and does it follow that is it a virtue in legal scholars, judges, and law professors? Is it better to aspire to be "double voiced," than to aspire to be objective or to think that, through the use of the socratic method, a law professor can be voiceless in the classroom?
This thought leads me to a good natured challenge emerging from my experience when I took your section 3 property class in the spring of 2005. I don't buy that there wasn't time to fit in on the syllabus, for example, law articles, if not cases, on slavery and property, or the native american's interaction with property law in the 19th and 20th century. The narrative of a field of law is degraded when it is not presented as a conversation between different voices. And we are lucky in the law because, unlike Obama or Zadie Smith, we do not have to fully empathize with or recreate these voices for ourselves. All we need to do is research them, cite them, and in the classroom setting, all the professor has to do is put them on the syllabus next to the law and economics readings, and then let the students make judgments for themselves.
I hope the era of Obama is one where ideological heroism becomes passe and both conservatives and liberals can embrace double voicedness as a virtue!

Again, fantastic recommendation, and I plan to visit your blog again many times in the future!

Unknown said...

It appears her podcast has been taken down. Shucks. Fantastic blog.