No doubt there is a certain exhilaration in a cityscape of this nature, with its constant stimulation, its kaleidoscopic or hallucinatory variety, its energy, its ceaseless pullulation, its never-sleeping quality. But the exhilaration is superficial, like the buzz of a drug; it soon gives way to a kind of anxiety or agitation. In such a city, the present moment is all, and contact among people is inevitably superficial, because they cannot fully understand one another. A lifetime would hardly be enough to understand the cultures of both the woman in the black tent and the believer in Falun Gong. Who can read Polish, Turkish, and Arabic and thus understand the concerns of the Poles, Turks, and Arabs? No one is rooted anywhere, impermanence is universal, communication with many is by pidgin, if that, and the best that can be hoped for, but not necessarily expected, is mutual tolerance. Mutual incomprehension encloses people in mental and social ghettos because the effort of understanding so many different cultures is simply too great, especially as the amount of time and energy that anyone can devote to the task is so limited. Smith’s mention of the referee is telling because it implies the constant need for adjudication among people who don’t understand one another and whose interests and assumptions are not the same—and may even conflict.
In City Journal (h/t Jim S.) Dalrymple reviews the novel NW by Zadie Smith. A depiction of London’s multiculturalism and ubiquitous welfare state and their very different effects on two sisters, it seems tailor-made for much of this blog’s readership (which is both British-heavy and animated by these topics, judging by our comments section).
Dalrymple says the novel “offers much of psychological and social interest”, and he has this to say about a very engaging and provocative passage he quotes from the book: