Maggie Nelson’s The Art of Cruelty is one of my very favorite works of criticism, an incisive and wide-ranging consideration of the aestheticization of violence across a host of media. Nelson excels at finding intersections between genres you never thought bordered one another; between criticism, poetry, and memoir, for example. And while The Art of Cruelty is closer to pure criticism than some of her more experimental books, it shares the freewheeling style and adroit attention to language that mark her very best writing.
"This is criticism at its best." Carolyn Kellogg, Los Angeles Times
Writing in the tradition of Susan Sontag and Elaine Scarry, Maggie Nelson has emerged as one of our foremost cultural critics with this landmark work about representations of cruelty and violence in art. From Sylvia Plaths poetry to Francis Bacons paintings, from the Saw franchise to Yoko Onos performance art, Nelsons nuanced exploration across the artistic landscape ultimately offers a model of how one might balance strong ethical convictions with an equally strong appreciation for work that tests the limits of taste, taboo, and permissibility.
About the Author
Maggie Nelson, a MacArthur Fellowship recipient, is the author of several books of poetry, autobiography, and criticism. She teaches at CalArts and lives in Los Angeles, California.
An important and frequently surprising book could be read as the foundation for a post-avant-garde aesthetics Nelson, who is also a poet, is such a graceful writer that Ijust sat back and enjoyed the show. — Laura Kipnis - New York Times Book Review
[Nelsons] critiques of individual artists are delightfully fierce without being mean spirited Fascinating and bracingly intelligentThe Art of Crueltys prose is often gorgeous. — Troy Jollimore - Boston Globe
A lean-forward experience, and in its most transcendent moments, reading it can feel like having the best conversation of your life. — Rachel Syme - NPR Books
I hope that critics, and aspiring critics, and those who are interested in the relationship between art and ethics, read [The Art of Cruelty]. — Susie Linfield - New Republic
[Nelson] dexterously, and creatively, manages to hold a mirror to our cultures fascination with cruelty and invites us to reflect on our personal reasons for indulging it. — Eleni Theodoropoulos - Literary Hub