The Englewood Review of Books
Best Books of 2019
Advent / Christmas Calendar
Reflections on Self-Delusion
Hardback: Random House, 2019
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As a reader (and a fellow millennial), I could have done with more essays like “Ecstasy,” in which contradiction felt enriching, or generative, rather than imprisoning. I credit Tolentino for examining her complicity in the structures she critiques, but at times I wished she would go easier on herself, or that she’d keep working to transcend the contradictions she observes. I’m not sure that criticism is always a form of amplification, as Tolentino fears it is, or that the line between feminism-as-politics and feminism-as-branding is as “blurry” as she at one point suggests. She has realized that moral purity is a “fantasy,” but she might also acknowledge a more hopeful truth: Though the shearing forces in our lives inevitably compromise us, they need not paralyze us. “I am complicit no matter what I do” can be both a realization reached after rigorous self-reckoning and something like a dead end. Just because you can’t fix climate change with your own consumer choices doesn’t mean there’s nothing to be done.
With this in mind, Tolentino’s insistence that we move beyond the personal may be her most trenchant political insight. “Feminism that prioritizes the individual will always, at its core, be at odds with a feminism that prioritizes the collective,” she writes in her essay on scammers. Elsewhere, she underscores the importance of building solidarity among different social groups. What she likes about a drug like Ecstasy, she explains, is that it literally produces empathy. While on it, you care about more people than you would think possible: “It makes the user’s well-being feel inseparable from the well-being of the group.” Ecstasy expands our understanding of the collective. This is a productive self-delusion, the kind of fantasy that inspires rather than cripples. It is a personal experience that Tolentino gracefully politicizes — an ephemeral feeling that, if we take it seriously, we might use to bring about a better world.
- from Maggie Doherty’s review
in the NY TIMES [ READ the full review ]
WATCH an interview with the author about this book…
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