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 Plath’s poetry to Francis Bacon’s paintings, from the Saw franchise to Yoko Ono’s performance art, Nelson’s 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 I…just sat back and enjoyed the show. — Laura Kipnis
[Nelson’s] critiques of individual artists are delightfully fierce without being mean spirited… Fascinating and bracingly intelligent…The Art of Cruelty’s prose is often gorgeous.
— Troy Jollimore
A lean-forward experience, and in its most transcendent moments, reading it can feel like having the best conversation of your life. — Rachel Syme
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
[Nelson] dexterously, and creatively, manages to hold a mirror to our culture’s fascination with cruelty and invites us to reflect on our personal reasons for indulging it. — Eleni Theodoropoulos