Art of Cruelty

I’ve said this before here, or elsewhere, but Maggie Nelson is one of my favorite writers. I’m becoming convinced, with every book I read, that poets are the only good writers. The rest of us are just trying to imitate them. To take such esoteric and specific topics as avant-garde visual and performative art, and carry a lay reader through a full set of (often complex) arguments, is no easy task. Nelson sometimes succeeds and sometimes fails, but she never loses your attention.

Her ability to describe works of art, to situate them in cultural context, to provide criticism and exegesis while simultaneously carrying a set of arguments from beginning to end is a masterful accomplishment.

This book did not hit me as much as some of her other work, especially Bluets and the Argonauts. My current guess as to why, is that those books are much more rooted in her personal life. Her self-described “auto-theory” (a combination of autobiography and cultural theory) is what works the most on me. I look forward to more work from her in this vein.