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300 Arguments
     

300 Arguments

by Sarah Manguso
 

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A brilliant and exhilarating sequence of aphorisms from one of our greatest essayists

There will come a time when people decide you’ve had enough of your grief, and they’ll try to take it away from you.

Bad art is from no one to no one.

Am I happy? Damned if I know, but give me a few

Overview

A brilliant and exhilarating sequence of aphorisms from one of our greatest essayists

There will come a time when people decide you’ve had enough of your grief, and they’ll try to take it away from you.

Bad art is from no one to no one.

Am I happy? Damned if I know, but give me a few minutes and I’ll tell you whether you are.

Thank heaven I don’t have my friends’ problems. But sometimes I notice an expression on one of their faces that I recognize as secret gratitude.

I read sad stories to inoculate myself against grief. I watch action movies to identify with the quick-witted heroes. Both the same fantasy: I’ll escape the worst of it.

—from 300 Arguments

A “Proustian minimalist on the order of Lydia Davis” (Kirkus Reviews), Sarah Manguso is one of the finest literary artists at work today. To read her work is to witness acrobatic acts of compression in the service of extraordinary psychological and spiritual insight.

300 Arguments, a foray into the frontier of contemporary nonfiction writing, is at first glance a group of unrelated aphorisms. But, as in the work of David Markson, the pieces reveal themselves as a masterful arrangement that steadily gathers power. Manguso’s arguments about desire, ambition, relationships, and failure are pithy, unsentimental, and defiant, and they add up to an unexpected and renegade wisdom literature.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
12/05/2016
Manguso (Ongoingness) continues her fragmentary approach to autobiography with this inventive book of aphorisms and memories. All of life’s great subjects are here—love, relationships, happiness, desire, and vulnerability on the personal side; effort, luck, envy, and success vs. failure on the professional side—in one- and two-sentence nuggets of compressed insight. Many of the sayings sound like updated versions of traditional proverbs (“Inner beauty can fade, too” and “Choose one: chronic disappointment or lowering your expectations”); their authoritativeness contrasts with the author’s professed uncertainty about how she’s doing as a wife, mother, and writer. Parallel constructions, contradictions, and mathematical propositions (“It takes x hours to write a book”) come closest to the title’s connotation of rhetorical arguments. Arguably, pretentiousness sometimes masquerades as profundity here, and, like a comedy set composed entirely of one-liners, the book contains almost too much to take in at once. The pithy format tricks readers into skimming quickly, but it will require multiple rereadings to absorb the book’s rewarding wisdom. Agent: P.J. Mark, Janklow & Nesbit. (Feb.)
From the Publisher

“This collection transcends any category to be something totally its own. . . . Manguso's captured the argumentative voice of a mindsifting through a problem, circling it, animated by sorting it out. . . . If this is poetry, it's the poems of quarrel. And if it's nonfiction,
it's not the nonfiction of fact. Instead, it's the nonfiction which maps us to our own thinking. We enter Manguso's mind - her puzzle,pleased to be puzzled, too.”—NPR “All Things Considered”

“[300 Arguments] reads like you've jumped into someone's mind.”—NPR “Weekend Edition”

“Sarah Manguso paints a mostly opaque, but at times penetratingly clear, self-portrait of a female writer at work. . . . The narrator’stemper is mercurial; economical sentences range in tone from pithy and sardonic to tender and deeply empathetic. . . . But by theflip of a page, this wise and compassionate narrator descends into punchy one-liners that are darkly funny and sharper around theedges.”Hazlitt

300 Arguments is the book of aphorisms that I’ve been waiting for: trenchant, witty, and sometimes absurd. . . . Perhaps that’s whyI’m so drawn to it: each nugget of wisdom is something I’m tempted to share on social media or email to a friend. Sometimesbrevity is exactly what we need to make sense of the complicated world we live in.”—Michele Filgate, Literary Hub

“Perspective-altering. . . . The accumulation of these entries has a certain difficult-to-deny power. . . . I wanted to gift it to everyone Iknow, read it aloud to strangers on the bus, and transcribe it by hand in its entirety like a holy text.” —Joshua James Amberson, Portland Mercury

“[300 Arguments] beckons the reader to return, to read a sentence, and put it down again. . . . Her arguments . . . are crystallineand often walloping. . . . There is ambition leaking out of every page.” New Republic

“Manguso resuscitates the aphorism from its descent into maxim, bringing it back as a spur to thought. . . . Manguso’s unsettlingarguments deliver the world back to the reader at 300 different, jarring angles.”Literary Hub

“A writer's life, solitary and complex, broken apart—not into shards but puzzle pieces. . . . A slim, poetic self-portrait that opens up as you read it and stays in the mind.”Kirkus Reviews

“Inventive. . . . All of life’s great subjects are here—love, relationships, happiness, desire, and vulnerability on the personal side; effort, luck, envy, and success vs. failure on the professional side—in one- and two-sentence nuggets of compressed insight. . . . It will require multiple rereadings to absorb the book’s rewarding wisdom.”Publishers Weekly

“Alternately insightful, humorous and thought-provoking, [Manguso’s] 300 Arguments offers enough variety, depth and substance torange from the deeply personal to the universally relatable. . . . 300 Arguments paints a vivid, intimately nuanced portrait of itsauthor in the way few long-form essays manage. . . . [It] should be required reading for all those experiencing crises of confidenceand the otherwise deleterious effects of the human condition.”Spectrum Culture

300 Arguments shook me. It’s dark, but the darkness comes from a refusal to look away. Its humor is wounded but present. Is it possibly a sort of novel? The writer says somewhere, ‘This book is the good sentences from the novel I didn’t write.’ The idea holds up when applied, and the attentive reader will intuit an encompassing narrative. Sarah Manguso deserves many such readers.”—John Jeremiah Sullivan

“A new book by Sarah Manguso is always a cause for celebration. She is a poet-philosopher of the highest order who combines a laser-sharp intellect with a lyric gift and a capacious, generous heart. She is one of my favorite writers, and with 300 Arguments she deepens her inquiry into the very essence of what it is to be human.”—Dani Shapiro

Kirkus Reviews
2016-10-05
A writer's life, solitary and complex, broken apart—not into shards but puzzle pieces.In Ongoingness: The End of a Diary (2015), poet and essayist Manguso assessed her life as a writer and mother with the greatest economy of means. In her latest, she goes a step further. "Think of this as a short book,” she advises, rather late in the book, “composed entirely of what I hoped would be a long book's quotable passages." At first glance, it seems like a collection of off-kilter “Thoughts for the Day.” There are pithy aphorisms: "Inner beauty can fade, too"; dark, reflective thoughts: “Preferable to accepting one’s insignificance is imagining the others hate you”; purely personal confessions of sexual despair: “There are people I wanted so much before I had them that the entire experience of having them was grief for my old hunger.” These seemingly random and casual assertions subtly form a kind of loose story, that of a writer, academic, and mother at midlife wondering how the win-loss record might add up—and on which side this particular book might fall. “I’ve written whole books to avoid writing other books,” she confesses at one point, suggesting a failure of ambition. Some pages later she seems to feel at a loss: “I wish someone would tell me what I should be doing instead of this, that he’d be right, and that I’d believe him.” Self-doubt becomes part of a larger, more evocative struggle—to keep going, keep writing, and leave evidence of having lived: “On the page, these might look like the stones of a ruin, strewn by time and weather, but I was here.” A slim, poetic self-portrait that opens up as you read it and stays in the mind.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781555977641
Publisher:
Graywolf Press
Publication date:
02/07/2017
Pages:
104
Sales rank:
47,315
Product dimensions:
4.80(w) x 6.20(h) x 0.40(d)

Meet the Author

Sarah Manguso is the author of three memoirs, Ongoingness, The Guardians, and The Two Kinds of Decay; a story collection; and two poetry collections. She lives in Los Angeles.

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