Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Trick Mirror: Reflections on Self-Deception by Jia Tolentino

I appreciate writers who have an ideology but are not ideologues; people who make no bones about their perspective and argue strongly from that perspective, but acknowledge that the world is more complicated than is explainable from only one viewpoint.  Jia Tolentino, who is writing from a feminist and anti-capitalist viewpoint does this with aplomb in this excellent collection of essays. Often with cultural criticism the author takes a pose of certainty in their pronouncements. The subtitle of Trick Mirror, Reflections on Self-Delusion, is a tip that Tolentino does not exempt herself from her own critical eye. The result is a bracing and thoughtful collection that, even where I disagreed with her on some specific point or another, forced me to think and to engage in my own self reflection.

The I In the Internet, a great opener, does a great job of talking through the nascent hope that the internet could be a force for good, and that writers on the internet could be, but how that has been somewhat wrecked by the current state of social media. Among other things, Tolentino grapples with her place as a person who writes on the internet for a living. I appreciated the tension that brought. While I enjoyed the entire collection, the other three standout essays for me were; Always Be Optimizing, which discusses the state of feminism in the context of the exercise industry specifically and under capitalism in general; The Story of a Generation in Seven Scams, which is on some level an anti-Trump essay, but contextualizes him in a much longer string of recent cons, which, to paraphrase a conversation with the friend who recommended the book to me, makes it palatable in a way many think pieces about Trump are not; and The Cult of the Difficult Woman which discusses the difficult woman trope, and the limits of that trope. Concerning that last essay, I am ill equipped to opine too strongly about feminism. Still, the essay is a masterclass in exploring the implications of an ideology, and the tricky waters you can find yourself in when your ideological arguments are used to prop up ideologies inimical to your own. 

I read a library copy of this, but once my non-book buying year is over, I will pick up my own, as I want to reread this or at least refer to several of the essays again. I love complexity and doubt in a writer. Even more, I appreciate when a writer admits their own foibles, shortcomings and is aware that they have blind spots. That only strengthens their arguments for my money. Tolentino is such a writer. 

Highly Recommended

Library Books And Everything Else 2020 36/35

*In one essay Tolentino calls CS Lewis the “weirdest and most literary” of Christian writers. I’d say that Frederick Buechner at least, among writers seen as “Christian writers," bests him on both counts. (I just wanted to say that, but didn’t really have a good place to drop it in.)

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