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“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.
“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, New York Times Book Review
“[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, 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
Winner — New York Times Notable Selection, 2011