Trick mirror : reflections on self-delusion

by Jia Tolentino

Paper Book, 2019


Checked out


New York : Random House, [2019]


A breakout writer at The New Yorker examines the fractures at the center of contemporary culture with verve, deftness, and intellectual ferocity--for readers who've wondered what Susan Sontag would have been like if she had brain damage from the internet.

User reviews

LibraryThing member rivkat
Rambling (not necessarily a criticism) essays about millennial life and the ways in which existing systems, especially patriarchy, entrap us because even resistance constitutes engagement that might keep the old structures alive. (E.g., “as women have attempted to use #YesAllWomen and #MeToo to regain control of a narrative, these hashtags have at least partially reified the thing they’re trying to eradicate: the way that womanhood can feel like a story of loss of control. They have made feminist solidarity and shared vulnerability seem inextricable.”) A lot of the book is about the internet, which has allegedly heightened the risk that everything becomes personal/identity-based and not primarily political. Some of it is annoying to old folks like me (“In the five years since my graduation, feminism had become a dominant cultural perspective”—sure, fine, whatever), but many of the observations are sharp.

I was a fan of this bit, as part of a discussion of the effects of clothing on how we behave: “athleisure frames the female body as a financial asset: an object that requires an initial investment and is divisible into smaller assets—the breasts, the abs, the butt—all of which are expected to appreciate in value, to continually bring back investor returns. Brutally expensive, with its thick disciplinary straps and taut peekaboo exposures, athleisure can be viewed as a sort of late-capitalist fetishwear: it is what you buy when you are compulsively gratified by the prospect of increasing your body’s performance on the market.” Tolentino, discussing scammers from Fyre to Trump, admits that “my own career has depended to some significant extent on feminism being monetizable. As a result, I live very close to this scam category, perhaps even inside.” Much of the story she tells is, sadly, pretty relatable: thinking herself immune from sexism because she was young and talented, then later on realizing that her UVa campus was fucked up—among other things, she got roofied and considered herself lucky that it made her violently ill, and also every Valentine’s day “flyers blanketed the campus with Jefferson and his slave Sally Hemings depicted in cameo silhouette, and the cutesy slogan “TJ [heart]s Sally” below that.”

In an essay on difficult women, Tolentino discusses, among other things, the double bind of criticizing conservative women: sexism works on them too, and yet, “if you stripped away the sexism, you would still be left with Kellyanne Conway,” very worthy of condemnation. “Moreover, if you make the self-presentation of a White House spokesperson off-limits on principle, then you lose the ability to articulate the way she does her job.” Although it’s her job, she’s skeptical of “adjudicating inequality through cultural criticism,” which allows people like Ivanka Trump to claim feminist allyship (though not racial justice allyship, which seems important). It’s true that conservatives have learned to weaponize accusations of insufficient feminism, but I’m not sure that liberals did that (Tolentino thinks we taught them how) or that bad faith is avoidable in any particular way by progressives; it just has to be fought. Overall, a lot of wheat and a lot of chaff in here.
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LibraryThing member KWharton
So many spoilers in the "Pure Heroines" chapter! Don't read it if you don't like spoilers! There are spoilers about Madame Bovary, Anna Karenina, Twilight, The Virgin Suicides, and probably many others I can't remember.


Physical description

xi, 303 p.; 25 cm



Local notes

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