Culture Wars/Current Controversies

Naomis Klein and Wolf: A Modern Detective Story

Beginning a decade or so ago, Naomi Klein began to notice a pattern: People kept confusing her with the increasingly unhinged Naomi Wolf and associating her with Wolf’s often conspiratorial statements and writings. The first time this happened, she was in the bathroom: She heard two women several stalls over complaining about something she, Naomi Klein, had said—except it wasn’t something she said; it was something Naomi Wolf had said. From then on, wherever Klein went, she would bump into people who would confuse her for her double. Online and in person, in grocery store lines and at conferences, Klein was asked over and over again to explain the statements she (or rather the other Naomi) had made. For many, the disorienting effects of having a double moving around the world could be dispiriting, to say the least, but for Klein it was a good reason to write a book. As Laura Kipnis writes in our Fall Books issue, “Klein uses the ego-rattling effects of acquiring a weird shadow self as her launching pad for a compelling and far-reaching political detective story.” What does Klein finds through all of her detection? That in our increasingly polarized world all of us have our share of political doppelgängers, haunting our thoughts and expressing even more extreme versions of our views. “Tracking the other Naomi’s transformation from liberal feminist media darling to inflamed anti-vaxxer and mascot of the far right,” Kipnis writes, allows Klein to do something far more than just recount a case of mistaken identity: It lets her tell the “story of a country in the midst of its own identity crisis.” Her “doppelgänger problem,” Kipnis concludes, ends up being “a portal to some of the most catastrophic issues currently facing us: the international rise of the authoritarian right, the uncertain future of American democracy, the social schisms accelerated by Covid, and the nature of identity itself under digital capitalism’s designer jackboot.” Read “Naomi Klein’s Quest to Understand Her Double”→
Over the last two decades, Teju Cole has established himself as one of the leading practitioners of what critics have come to call “autofiction.” Full of autobiographical details and multiplying selves, these novels often take subjectivity itself as their subject matter, eschewing many of the narrative techniques and structures one has come to expect from a realist novel. His first novel, Open City, followed his protagonist as he wanders through New York City, pondering deep thoughts about art, history, and politics, much in the vein of a W.G. Sebald novel. His second novel (or, if you lived in Nigeria, his first), Every Day Is for the Thief, did much of the same, but was set in Lagos, turning a classic prodigal son’s return story into something far more philosophical and meditative. Now, in his new novel, Tremor, Cole’s focus is again an autofictional self, but this time, as Tope Folarin notes in his review for Fall Books, he goes even further in divesting literature from “the trappings of fiction.” Following a character named Tunde as he goes about his everyday life, the novel “is a high-wire act, beating its own, defiant path through the weightless air.” The theme is “middle age and its protagonist’s growing awareness of the inevitability of death,” but also the impossibilities of storytelling and how our own subjectivity can get in the way of narratives. “Even as Tunde recognizes the need for narratives—especially in the face of mortality—Cole continually resists them,” Folarin writes. “Tunde might desire a story that has a beginning, a middle, and an end, but Cole is far more interested in constructing a novel that rejects such structures. Just when a story in Tremor seems to be picking up steam, Cole diverts our attention elsewhere.” Read “Teju Cole and the Forking Paths of Autofiction”→
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