Maggie Nelson’s “On Freedom: Four Songs of Care and Constraint”

September 10, 2021

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Kate Wolf and Medaya Ocher are joined by Maggie Nelson to discuss her latest book, On Freedom: Four Songs of Care and Constraint. In 2015, Nelson’s bestselling, genre-defying The Argonauts won the National Book Critics Circle Award, and her other works of criticism, memoir, and poetry include The Art of Cruelty: A ReckoningWomen, The New York School, and Other True AbstractionsBluetsJane: A Murder; and The Red Parts: Autobiography of a Trial. She is the recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship, a Guggenheim Fellowship, an NEA Fellowship, and a Warhol Creative Capitol Arts Writing Grant, among other awards. Currently she is a professor of English at USC. Written in the wake of the 2016 election, On Freedom is an ambitious consideration of the complex knots of “sovereignty and self abandon, subjectivity and subjection, autonomy and dependency” that form under the blanket of liberation. Focusing on four topics — art, sex, drugs, and the climate crisis — the book challenges the notion of freedom as a utopian state toward which we might move untethered from our responsibilities to the planet and to one another. At the same time, Nelson carves out a notable amount of space within realms many would be quick to deem as uniquely unfree: caretaking, addiction, conflict, and negative affect, even the ticking time bomb of global warming that leaves so many of us feeling helpless. Here, we’re asked to consider what feeling free might have to do with feeling good — and what could be a better question than that?

Also, Rachel Greenwald Smith, author of On Compromise: Art, Politics, and the Fate of an American Ideal, returns to recommend Heather Berg’s Porn Work: Sex, Labor, and Late Capitalism.