Saturday, July 23, 2011

The Art of Cruelty

“’In every work of genius we recognize our own rejected thoughts: they come back to us with a certain alienated majesty,” wrote Emerson, providing a memorable phrase for the grand, surprising pleasure we feel when a work of art returns to restates our own thoughts and feelings to us, however obliquely. At other times, however, the news arrives more alien than majestic, generating the perpetual undergraduate grievance, “I just can’t relate.” It behooves us, I think, to develop an openness to the latter feeling as well as the former. If we’re lucky, this openness may eventually grow into a hunger.”

“’Brutal honesty’ is honesty that either aims to hurt someone or doesn’t care if it does…While the two words often arrive sutured together, I think it worthwhile to breathe some space between them, so that one might see “brutal honesty” not as a more forceful version of honesty itself, but as one possible use of honesty. One that doesn’t necessarily lay truth barer by dint of force, but that actually overlays something on top of it—something that can get its way. That something is cruelty.”

Two paragraphs from “The Brutality of Fact,” an excerpt from Maggie Nelson’s new book, “The Art of Cruelty,” published in the latest issue of Tin House, which confirms her as one of my favorite writers.

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