The Art of Cruelty: A Reckoning by Maggie Nelson, Paperback | Barnes & Noble
The Art of Cruelty: A Reckoning

The Art of Cruelty: A Reckoning

by Maggie Nelson
     
 

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“This is criticism at its best.”—Carolyn Kellogg, Los Angeles TimesWriting 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

Overview

“This is criticism at its best.”—Carolyn Kellogg, Los Angeles TimesWriting 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.

Editorial Reviews

Laura Kipnis - New York Times Book Review
“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.”
Troy Jollimore - Boston Globe
“[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.”
Rachel Syme - NPR Books
“A lean-forward experience, and in its most transcendent moments, reading it can feel like having the best conversation of your life.”
Susie Linfield - New Republic
“I hope that critics, and aspiring critics, and those who are interested in the relationship between art and ethics, read [The Art of Cruelty].”
Laura Kipnis
This is an important and frequently surprising book. By reframing the history of the avant-garde in terms of cruelty…Nelson is taking on modernism's (and postmodernism's) most cherished tenets. After all, aesthetic shock has under­written most of our cultural innovation for over a century. So this book could be read as the foundation for a post-avant-garde aesthetics…Nelson's opinions can be quirky and hard to square with one another, but they never fail to be interesting, quite some accomplishment in what could have been a free-form ramble through the mires of someone else's aesthetic preoccupations.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
The gory, brutal images that swamp modern culture are stupefying and dehumanizing —or maybe not, argues this richly ambivalent study. Poet Nelson (Bluets) surveys cruel art, lowbrow and high, flitting among Hollywood torture-porn and sadistic reality shows, avant-garde films and performance pieces, poetry and literary fiction, and photographs of abused Abu Ghraib prisoners. She repeatedly circles back to a few cruelty auteurs like the painter Francis Bacon and the poet Sylvia Plath. This panorama provokes strong reactions in her, but no dogmas. Nelson rejects the modernist claim that brutality in art provokes cathartic reactions that shock us out of alienation and into social justice, but rejects also the notion that cruel art makes people cruel; she wearies of the entertainment industry's cynical assaults on taste and sensibility—"‘neither I nor the world will be a better place if I ingest a particular cruelty'"—while celebrating provocations that she believes have an undeniable artistic power. Nelson's erudition and wide fluency in artistic and philosophical traditions yield many subtle, insightful readings (her meditation on "brutal honesty" is especially good). But her view of her lurid subject is sometimes too nuanced and unsatisfying. (July)

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780393343144
Publisher:
Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
Publication date:
08/13/2012
Pages:
304
Sales rank:
113,736
Product dimensions:
5.60(w) x 8.30(h) x 0.80(d)

Meet the Author

Maggie Nelson is the author of several books of poetry, autobiography, and criticism. She teaches at CalArts and lives in Los Angeles, California.

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