Mirror Image

Jonathan Heggen

When reading Jia Tolentino’s debut collection of essays, Trick Mirror: Reflections on Self-Delusion (Random House), I was initially disappointed—for a book that promised to be an analysis of millennial angst and disillusionment, an area that does call for serious study, it offered little in terms of concrete resolution. I struggled with the inconclusiveness of her essays; I found myself scanning them for a thesis that I could cling to or contend with, but often what I found was only a careful extrapolation of a topic, with the occasional stinging sentiment directed at an easy target: Trump, hard-right politics, misogyny. But what eventually emerged after further consideration was, in fact, the conclusion I had been searching for, one that aptly describes the millennial’s struggle—between consumption and overconsumption, simplicity and oversaturation—to a tee. In Tolentino’s words: “In the end, the safest conclusions may not actually be conclusions. We are asked to understand our lives under such impossibly convoluted conditions.” I was reminded of a sentiment popularized by the Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek. When asked what method he’d use to upend capitalism, he replied, “Now is not the time for action. Now is the time to think.” Now, more than ever, the trick mirror is a demand for a sense of morality from a system that cannot offer it, that only offers delusion the longer it’s stared into. Our struggle is to carefully distinguish truth from fiction, and to avoid being drawn inside.

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