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Trick Mirror: Reflections on Self-Delusion

Book presentation

Wednesday 5 October 2022, by siawi3


Trick Mirror: Reflections on Self-Delusion
collected essays

by Jia Tolentino


Rebecca Amsellem: Roe v Wade is likely to be overturn in the days to come - how come we didn’t see the rise of the religious conservative voices (it’s the same in France) when we were fighting for more right. Is it the backlash ? Or is it something else ?

Jia Tolentino In the past couple of weeks, I’ve been writing the obituary for abortion rights for The New Yorker, which will go up right when the decision drops. And it’s been very surreal to even as a writer, to write in the present tense in this new future, to say, now that abortion is illegal for half of 25 million women overnight. I have suspected that Roe v Wade was going to fall since around 2011, when conservative legislators were just basically making abortion impossible to get if not making it illegal, state by state. And then since Trump was elected, the writing was on the wall that this was going to happen . Since the Supreme Court in 2018, when Brett Kavanagh was appointed, it’s been guaranteed. I’ve had a long we’ve all known this was happening. People working in reproductive justice have all known that this was going to happen. Feminists in America have been on the watch for this sort of theocratic minority rule for a really long time, but there is still that part of me that can’t understand, they can’t accept that it’s really happening.
But I also think it’s entirely related to the strength of feminism in America in the last ten years. The reactionary repression, the growing impulse in conservative circles to kind of punish and suppress the agency poor people of minorities, of women. The abortion repeal is a stripping of civic agency from women and specifically poor minority women. That’s a really deliberate aim for the right religious right now.

Rebecca Amsellem :Did the conservative, and especially the religious conservative, put all their energy to attack some kind of a symbol for women’s rights to make them actually stop, or to make us stop as feminists and to stop our fight ?

Jia Tolentino It’s a reminder. Look, we can take away your personhood and autonomy by taking away because we can. It is enormously symbolic, and in a way, there is no more important freedom. It’s not only symbolic. If they take away this right, it is taking away a woman’s entire lifetime of autonomy and self determination.

Rebecca Amsellem: Do you think that if feminists had not fight as they did the past decade, Roe v. Wade would have not been overturned ?

Jia Tolentino I wouldn’t make a cause and effect quite like that but I think there’s a link. This is a goal that this movement in the States has been working towards since the 60s. They’re the same movement that is now extremely radicalized in America. We’re about to be in a situation where at least in twelve states, there will be no exceptions even for rape and incest. So they’re forcing fucking ten year old girls to be pregnant. This is the kind of cruelty that previous decades of this anti abortion movement, they would never go there. Now they’re all going there. But I do think there’s something in the air right now, right? There’s something in the atmosphere where I’m sure that it feels the same with reactionary forces in France, too. It feels like there’s an impulse on the conservative right to reassert that abortion is not in the Constitution, that abortion is not a settled foundational. And it felt like a reminder that actually America was founded. The premise of the country was one in which only white male property owners were full citizens. And it does feel like in the Trump era, that all this talk about returning America to what it once was, which was for a really long time a place where only white men were full citizens, it feels like that’s not even a subliminal goal. It’s a really overt goal.

Rebecca Amsellem: In your book, you mention Simone Weil, and I’m really glad that you’re quoting her and the concept of « Decreation » : « She uses it to refer to the process of evolution towards a love so pure that one comes to surrender “There is absolutely no other free act allowed to us” except to surrender to God. "Perfect joy excludes the very feeling of joy because in the soul filled with the object, no corner is available to say ’I’. Formulate this desire to disappear. More complicated as a writer: formulating the desire to disappear laughs at reiterating the self ». And it feels like in our society, all the values that have been set up are claiming the opposite. Is that the reason why you wanted to mention her?

Jia Tolentino We grew up in an era where capitalism and every economy of the Internet, the economy of the systems we spend our whole life on, they’re based around this monetized individual. It’s just this kind of an isolation of the person into their individual qualities that’s supposed to and it’s sold to us like, this is supposed to make us happy. This is supposed to make us fulfilled. It’s supposed to make us free. But it’s really mostly but it’s actually like a mechanism to just surveil and sell things. But in my life, it always seemed to me very clearly that the greatest sense of freedom, the greatest sense of pleasure, the greatest sense of meaning I ever had was in a loss of individuation. The moments where you feel the boundaries of yourself slipping away. You can be part of something, whether it’s a civic movement, whether it’s a party, like, whether it’s on a dance floor, whether it’s at a protest. Simone Weil encapsulated that so perfectly, that what that feeling is is a presence of love in yourself that is so big that she said it can cause the self to vanish. And it just seems so clear to me that those are the moments that I felt that I’ve felt most alive are the ones in which the boundaries of the self are disappearing. And it’s the exact opposite of what’s presented to us by every corporation, by every system, by every economic structure. I mean, I felt that during the pandemic and during the protests that were all over America in the summer of 2020. I felt like myself when I was in a huge crowd of other people, everyone wanting the same thing.

Rebecca Amsellem: I noticed that the religious conservative voices are using our tools that we built to make feminist voices louder, feminist hashtags for examples. Did you experience that?

Jia Tolentino This has been the strategy of the right. I will also say specifically with abortion, this goes back to the 60s. They use the language of civil rights. They’ve always used this language of, like, the unborn is a vulnerable class of people that deserve human rights. When someone would criticize a woman in the Trump administration for doing something, they would use the language of feminism to defend themselves. The anti vaccine movement in the United States has used the pro choice language. They say, my body, my choice. It’s in a constant cycle of the perversion of ideas and movements generated by the left. I’m not a big believer in trying to decrease polarization, because the democrats already are too far centered. I would much rather than polarize much further to the left.

Rebecca Amsellem: The last time you posted something on twitter was two years ago - is your mental health thanking you ?

Jia Tolentino I got off Twitter a couple of weeks before I was out to have a baby, and I was, « maybe I will become a creative genius with so many interesting new thoughts ». And actually I got dumber. It was very good for my mental health in terms of I knew I would be awake at odd hours and probably scrolling on my phone because you can’t read a book in the middle of the night when you’re nursing a baby.
That was great for a while. But the depressing part was that it didn’t change how much time I spent on my phone. I could never spend more than 45 minutes on Twitter a day or on social media per day, because I put things on my computer that would block it.
I got back on around the election. I got back on the Capitol riots in January. I got back on when the Ukraine war started. Anytime there was news that was making me extremely nervous, I would just get back on Twitter. The problem is Twitter, but the problem is also me. The problem is my addiction to stimulation, like my need to just continually have new input in my brain and my cognitive inability to just be still.

Rebecca Amsellem: Canadian researcher carla bergman, co-author of Joyful Militancy, says when rigidity and suspicion take over, joy dies out. And what’s problematic is that joy is the very feeling that we’re looking for to change the system around us. Have you experienced this type of rigidity within the feminist groups ?

Jia Tolentino I’m going to order this book as soon as we’re off this zoom. The truly radical material functions of hope and joy, like the commitment to both of those things as political practice rather than feelings, I’m sure that’s what this book is partly what it’s about. For so many people it’s such a common mistake to think of hope and joy and even optimism as emotions rather than philosophical and political standpoints. I always think of the Antonio Gramsci quote « having the pessimism of the intellect, and optimism of the will ». I’m sought out feminist spaces or movement spaces or volunteer spaces or political spaces where the energy is that of sort of messy collaboration and open disagreement, where you understand disagreement as necessary and actually as productive and not something to be afraid of.

Rebecca Amsellem I ask this last question to all the people I interview. If we did live in this inclusive feminist society that we’ve been craving for and it’s happening, and what’s the one detail that you see that makes you realize that we reach this?

Jia Tolentino A lot of feminism is about economic justice. One of the things that I find in America is egregious at the work that women do, care work at taking care of children, taking care of old people, cleaning houses, maintaining spaces. Essential labor is the fundamental work, it’s the most important work in the world, and it is the least value, it is the most poorly paid, and in fact, most women just do a lot of it for free. It’s not seen as beautiful. It’s not seen as creative. It’s not seen as difficult. It’s not seen as requiring, like, so much intelligence and dedication and so much skill. I think that would be the sign for me, is that I guess in the society, we would also have universal basic income, but that care work would be seen as valuable as, like, being a CEO or being a lawyer, being a doctor. That would feel like utopia.