In response to:
The Instrumentalist from the January 19, 2023 issue
To the Editors:
It is Gen X essayist Zadie Smith’s prerogative to preen about her generation and conceitedly credit it with owning modes of thought and attitude that seem to me rather more universal [“The Instrumentalist,” NYR, January 19]. But she can’t change time itself. If Gen X’s supposedly singular “commitment to emotional resilience” led some to reinvent themselves as art monsters, that may help explain Lydia Tár (b. 1973). But Madonna Ciccone and Prince Rogers Nelson (both born 1958)? Don’t think so.
Long Island City, New York
Zadie Smith replies:
I’m so sorry that you felt I was preening about my own generation, especially when the piece was conceived as a confession of generational failure! Which I absolutely don’t think of as unique. In fact, I think the whole point was to ask whether generational failure is indeed universal—and cyclical—even if the failure has a different flavor each time. I don’t believe and didn’t say that a “commitment to emotional resilience” is anything to be proud of, nor that it is a unique quality of Gen X—only a characteristic one. As for Madonna and Prince, they make a brief appearance as quintessential pop culture icons of my ridiculous generation, but not as members of it. I did however shamefully mis-generate some French philosophers. For though Derrida, Foucault, and Barthes were favorites of many a boomer professor in the Eighties and Nineties, they were of course themselves members of “The Greatest” crowd. Oh, and while I’m here, my friend the German novelist Daniel Kehlmann informs me that the person Schopenhauer pushed down the stairs was not a beloved but rather a (female) salesperson.