Source, penultimate para: 'Readability Is a Myth' by Noah Berlatsky, The Atlantic, 2015 Jan 2

"I'll be grateful," Megan Stephan writes at Public Books, "when the back-and-forth chatter about whether our reading should make us feel guilty fades to a silence that allows me to hear the sound of pages turning." That's a widely held sentiment. In our poptimist era, "guilty pleasures" have been so thoroughly recuperated that it sometimes feels like the only thing about which you're allowed to feel guilty is feeling guilty. But despite this broad validation of reading enjoyment, or perhaps because of it, displeasure continues to be viewed with unease.

My guess of the bolded: The prevalence of poptimism supports 'guilty pleasures', and so helps people recover from guilt due to 'guilty' pleasures. So now, no actual guilt exists, excepting the feeling of guilt.

1. Yet I doubt my guess, because the only thing about which you're allowed to feel guilty implies something still causing the feeling of guilt? I thought that poptimism eliminated this completely? Please explain the bolded sentence which seems abstract?

2. What are some formal terms describing the bolded italicised phrase? Am I right in denoting it 'the subject of the second independent clause'?

  • 1
    Uh-oh - Urban Dictionary rears its head. Given that it has six total votes, five of them negative, I don't know if you should be relying on that definition of poptimism.
    – Adam
    Feb 27, 2015 at 23:57
  • From what I can tell, Poptimism has more to do with whether all art in a field should be judged on the same standards. As in - does it make sense to criticize Taylor Swift for not having the poetic complexity of Bob Dylan. That makes the "poptimist era" one in which we don't dismiss art as "too lowbrow" and we don't feel guilty about art just because other generations might have called it unsophisticated. See articles like markrichardson.org/post/54080433902/are-you-a-poptimist and AND noisey.vice.com/blog/the-new-york-times-sucks-poptimism
    – Adam
    Feb 28, 2015 at 0:03
  • @Adam Thank you for your worthy criticism of that urbandictionary.com. I've thus removed it from my OP.
    – user8712
    Feb 28, 2015 at 16:01

2 Answers 2


So now, no actual guilt exists, excepting the feeling of guilt. What the writer was trying to say is, due to poptimism one is made to feel guilty only when they feel culpable as a result of their guilty pleasures. That is, poptimism allows readers to dismiss any guilt from their guilty pleasures.


Tajana Lionel's answer is correct, but I thought I'd try for a more detailed response to your question #1.

The philosopher Bertrand Russell wrote about the Barber Paradox (ca. 1901) http://plus.maths.org/content/mathematical-mysteries-barbers-paradox, which goes

In Seville there is a barber (a man). The barber shaves everyone who cannot shave himself, and no one else.

Question: who shaves the barber?

The key to resolving the paradox is to recognize (and avoid) the mixing the elements of a set and the set itself.

At the outset of WWII, Winston Churchill famously stated, "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself", which clearly references the Barber Paradox.

In turn Berlatsky's quote is clearly referencing Churchill, suggesting that (in the poptimist view) the only thing we have to feel guilty about is feeling guilty.

And, just to add my two cent's worth, I've never encountered the usage "has been recuperated", and while it clearly has become used in the last 30 or so years, it's one of those phrases which stands the original meaning of the verb on its head. When used in the sense of "recover or regain (something lost or taken)", the phrase "guilty pleasures have been recuperated" would seem to mean that it is guilty pleasures which were lost and have been regained.

Oh woe is us. The language is being degraded.

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