The trouble with Naomi: How Naomi Klein tackled the other one

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Doppelganger: A Trip into the Mirror World
Naomi Klein
Allen Lane, $36.99

In the first chapter of Doppelganger, Naomi Klein quotes a viral tweet from October 2019, the original source of which is, naturally, lost to internet history: “If the Naomi be Klein/ you’re doing just fine./ If the Naomi be Wolf/ Oh, buddy. Ooooof.”

The timing of the tweet – which has since recirculated often, at various opportune moments – roughly coincides with the first intensification of what Klein refers to as “Naomi-confusion”. For the last decade, and with increasing frequency, Klein has been seeing herself, her works and ideas, regularly misattributed to another Naomi – Naomi Wolf, best known as the author of 1990 feminist bestseller, The Beauty Myth.

Naomi Klein is interested in precisely what fuelled Wolf’s rapid transformation into a darling of the alt-right.Credit: Getty

The problem with this, for Klein, and the reason she became fascinated with “Other Naomi” does not have to do with correct citation, unmanageable social media mentions, or even just vanity. The problem is that Wolf has, across this period, stopped writing about “the battles waged over women’s bodies” and moved instead to writing and speaking about conspiracies, spreading vaccine misinformation, toting firearms, and comparing COVID-related health measures to Nazism. (Oh, buddy. Ooooof.)

The problem is that Other Naomi, Klein’s doppelganger, is dangerous. And she is embroiled in – perhaps representative of – forces and issues much larger and more alarming: it is these that Klein is determined to understand and unpick.

There is a remarkable level of compassion and respect that Klein shows her mirror-figure in this book. She does not deal the low blows that would have been easy to land (and the opportunities for which are many), and while she does examine Wolf’s persona, work and life, she is never playing the woman.

Klein is interested in precisely what might have fuelled Wolf’s rapid transformation into a darling of the alt-right, and, by extension, why so many others have been drawn into what she calls the “mirror world” of extremist thinking. And much of her questioning circles around what encounters with the doppelganger – in literature and film, and in psychoanalysis – mean. They always signal trouble, of course, but they also force a reckoning with the self and all of its failures and suppressions.

Klein’s reckoning, in Doppelganger, is wide-ranging – it leads into explorations and analyses of social media and the public, commodified or branded self that they feed upon; into wellness culture and its ties with conspiracy theorists; big data and big tech; the destabilisation of long-told narratives about colonialism, nationhood and identity.

Naomi Wolf – aka Other Naomi in Naomi Klein’s book – now writes about conspiracies and other favourite tropes of the alt right. Credit: Getty

In each case, she is interested in understanding the very real fears associated with, or even at the heart of, the issue at hand – and how grappling with any or all of these might lead a person to look for answers in the mirror world. And in each case, Klein argues, the left has failed to address these fears properly, engage in debate, or offer viable, meaningful solutions – and so it is these failings, more than anything else, that the mirror world reflects.

Many of these inquiries build upon Klein’s earlier work – her critique of branding and marketing in No Logo, for example, informs her analysis of social media and influencer culture, and the idea of cultural shock and capitalising on disaster from The Shock Doctrine underpins her discussions of COVID backlash, anti-vaxxers and nationalism, all of which are rife in the mirror world. But Doppelganger is also a far more personal book, drawing on experiences and encounters from Klein’s life and family, and a more literary one as well.

This breadth of material is energising and often surprising in its deployment, and is one of the real pleasures of the book. Klein’s ability to make concrete and personal some of the biggest and most abstract ideas in her critique, too, make Doppelganger a very compelling read.

At times, the breadth of Klein’s research and sources becomes overwhelming, especially because it occasionally leads to some repetition, where each source is unpicked to a similar end. But this is also what makes her argument feel like an indictment: all of these seemingly disparate forces, phenomena and ideas are connected and important, and all are symptomatic of systemic ills and political failings.

There is, of course, no small measure of despair here: Klein admits to this emotion, and to a sense of destabilising “vertigo”, as being the impetus that drove her to “follow” Other Naomi “down her various rabbit holes” in the first place. But Klein is by no mean without hope – by coming to understand the mirror world, she argues, we can better understand our own fears and failings, and collectively move to address them as a result.

Fiona Wright’s most recent book, The World Was Whole, is published by Giramondo.

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