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Interview with Maggie Nelson

Nothing, it seems, falls outside Maggie Nelson’s field of inquiry. The author of four books of poetry and five books of non-fiction, she extends the possibilities of both forms, refusing to settle for, or into, either. Unsettling definitions and reworking categories is not only the modus operandi of her writing, but also its subject matter. Bluets (2009) is a whole book of what might be called poetry, about the colour blue, which is also, of course, about other things: desire, heartbreak, loss. She has written two books about the murder of her aunt, Jane: A Murder (2005), which thinks through the trauma of the event, and The Red Parts (2007), a more documentary account of criminal and social justice, that accounts for new evidence that emerged while writing the first.

 

The Art of Cruelty (2011) is a study of the avant-garde that rethinks the boundaries between art and life that much of twentieth century art worked so hard to perform. By examining her own simultaneous attraction and repulsion to works of art that engage with cruelty, she makes a cogent case for both looking at, and turning away, from violence. It is this kind of response – a critical model that locates value not in argument, or in partisan positions, but in receptivity, sensitivity and tenderness, that Nelson gives us a new kind – the right kind – of language through which to think both the messiness of life and the possibilities of art.

 

Her most recent book, The Argonauts, is a love story, which is also a story about motherhood, about queerness and representation. It’s a story that exists in transitional space, in the possibilities of love, the inevitable failures of intimacy, the limits of identity, the paradoxes of queer futurity and in paradigms that are constantly undergoing revision as their context shifts. It explores not only what kinds of love we have to give, but what family-making (a word she hates) might mean and what good-enough mothering might entail. Most of all, it considers what kind of transgressions are worthy of thinking about, what kinds of freedom we need to fight for, and what privacy we need to protect.

 

I met Nelson in a cafe in Highland Park in Los Angeles on a rare, overcast morning. She had just come from reading The New York Times’ op-ed, ‘Love and Merit: Parenting in America is experiencing a silent epidemic of conditional love.’ In person, she is disarmingly generous, fiercely smart, exhilaratingly curious and tender, the hallmark qualities of her writing.

 

Q

The White Review

— The words ‘I love you’ come in the very first page of The Argonauts, an admission you let slip while in bed with your partner, Harry {the artist Harry Dodge}. That declaration immediately presents a problem before you’ve even set out: not only of how to write about your partner, and the inevitable failures of intimacy, but also about which pronoun to use. How do you write about the one you love?

A

Maggie Nelson

—  I think it’s very possible to write something that other people feel like is a real picture of love, and that you think is a real picture of love, but that a person close to you may not. You’re also creating a document that has an aspiration to exist somewhere else, so there’s this disjunct – on the one hand, you’re saying, ‘I’m just trying to tell you I love you,’ while you’re also serving this other god over here, on the page – which creates a natural issue. So I would say that, even though the book is an act of love, it would be a very thin love if that were its only outlet; there are a hundred kinds of love that you need to practise to be with someone intimately.

Q

The White Review

—  In The Art of Cruelty, you say that while you ‘do not think all autobiographical writing is essentially an act of betrayal, it does nearly always make someone feel betrayed.’ In writing this book, you were responding to Harry’s admonition that you hadn’t written about the queer part of your life. But the book seems principally concerned with defending his privacy, in avoiding or otherwise accounting for such acts of betrayal.

A

Maggie Nelson

—  I’m not, as you can probably tell, super into identifications per se. So it would be ridiculous to say this is a book of coming out as this particular identification, but I do think that Harry knows better than I do what it’s like to live a whole life whereby your body is always outing you as something, in a way that I don’t. So in some ways I think that the admonition about writing about the queer part of my life was kind of like, you haven’t stood up in your writing life in a very public fashion, in a way that might be analogous to what it feels like to have this kind of body everyday, and I think that sounds fair enough. But Harry’s a really private person – that’s the paradox. But, as I was saying to Harry, I can’t write about queerness in a vacuum; there’s going to be an act of representation that takes place.

Q

The White Review

—  How do you conceive of the difference between the performative acts of Harry’s art and your own writing?

A

Maggie Nelson

—  Harry performs, he’s been a life-long public figure, so it’s not like he’s a stranger to that. I think the performative aspect has been important to him, it means there’s not a total collapse between the performed body and the body body. I think my writing has been more interested in not having that performative element. I mean, all writing’s performative, but I’ve never cared very much about the feeling that ‘that’s not me’ on the page, because I know it’s not, it can’t technically be me – it’s words. A lot of people ask about this. I guess the implication is ‘how do you hold your head up high while writing about very intimate things?’ But that’s just never been my issue.

Q

The White Review

—  Your work seems to be concerned with putting theory into experiential, working contexts, rather than thinking it through on an abstract level. How important is this trial-and-error method to your writing?

A

Maggie Nelson

—  I just taught Against Interpretation last week and I love Sontag’s proclamations about what art should do. I’m not bothered by bossy writing. I think boss away; it’s up to me whether I’m going to read it. For me, it seems like there’s this great misunderstanding about subjective experience, as if to say that art could mean anything depending on who you are. You still have to play the role of the critic, by saying that they made this, or they intended this, and it has these certain effects. You don’t want, as an artist, to make a piece that literally is so multivalent that nobody ever gets it. You’re trying to create affect in some way, so I think the kind of subjectivity – trial and error – is important. I think being a critic is not some big, murky, subjective land; it’s about using yourself as a kind of seismograph. If someone asks me to write a review of an art show and I walk in and nothing happens to me, I would have to say no because I would be inventing intellectual response. To me, to have had some kind of legible, seismographic response is the condition of possibility of writing.

Q

The White Review

—  How have such seismographic responses fed into the writing of The Argonauts?

A

Maggie Nelson

—  Context for part of that subjective response is engaging the context in which the thing which you’re perceiving is falling. Take for example the conversations in The Argonauts surrounding homonormativity or heteronormativity, they’re falling in a particular way right now. In twenty years time, the concerns are going to have changed. We’re not going to be wondering how and if gay marriage across all fifty states is going to have changed anything. We’re going to be asking questions about if it has. So part of my interest in this book was to write something that I knew would be dated, so it was kind of an artefact of the moment. And since the field literally about gay marriage was shifting in California as I was writing, there would be days when I’d be like, depending on how this decision comes down, I’m going to have to totally rewrite this section, because I literally did not know what legal status Harry and I would end up having whenever I decided to turn the book in. Not that it matters, but just to show how the contextual is so relevant.

Q

The White Review

—  Your work engages with thinking through what freedom means, what kinds of privacy we need to protect, and at what cost. What freedoms would you say you were defending in this book?

A

Maggie Nelson

— When people talk about the personal, even taboo zones, I’m always thinking that’s not where the action around privacy is for me. Especially because privacy is a troubling political category: a lot of decisions like Roe v. Wade and Bowers v. Hardwick – decisions about American abortion rights, about whether gay sex was allowed in the privacy of your bedroom – even if they’re rightly or wrongly, progressively or bigotedly decided, when they hinge on privacy, then you’re always protecting the privatised individual in the public sphere – while black bodies are being killed at will. There are these certain kinds of privacy that are, to me, violated so much more often.

 

Yes, I think it’s important for women to feel free to write about their uterine events, or whatever the culture deems taboo, but to me those are not the deepest taboos. To me, it would be a deeper decision if Roe v. Wade weren’t about protecting a woman’s privacy about making decisions with her doctor, but about not having enforced child bearing in any setting. That would be a better discourse, I think. When it comes to conversations about autobiography, I think we’re asking the wrong questions, both aesthetically and politically, when we focus on a kind of exposure to concealment spectrum.

Q

The White Review

—  You’ve said that what you’re looking for in your work is ‘a poetry based on fact and feeling, or the fact of feeling, or the feeling of fact.’ What kind of honesty are you looking for in a work of art?

A

Maggie Nelson

— I’m not very interested in blurring fact and fiction – in that kind of strain right now that exists in American writing. I’m very interested in fact, not like in reported fact, but with dealing with things as they are – I guess that’s a Jimmy Schuyler phrase, right?

Q

The White Review

— How does the anecdote as a narrative unit function in the book?

A

Maggie Nelson

—  I was very interested in the unit. I don’t know if you’ve read Claudia Rankine’s book, Citizen. I know Claudia, and we were both talking about the way her microaggressions work in that book. There were more microaggressions in early drafts of my book, but I found I wasn’t really thinking in that way. She found a way to do something with them in that book that got way past the whole ‘listen to this fucked up thing someone just said to me’ kind of thing. But a lot of the time, the first version of my anecdotes, I would write down and find that they ended in a petty place. For me, that instrumental, dead-end use of anecdote is boring. More than that, it puts the writer in this self-righteous position of like, ‘I know that’s a messed-up thing to say.’ That’s a really boring subject position to me. So a lot of the anecdotes I wrote might have started petty, but I needed to get them to the next level. I had to be willing to let these anecdotes from life be as surprising as they sometimes are, instead of having the punch line to each one be like my or someone else’s ignorance.

 

I think critical race theory has been very smart at addressing the relationship between the micro and the macro. It would be unbelievably glib to think that if we could transmit better speech patterns between us that systematic racism and sexism and homophobia will die a swift death. On the other hand, there’s nothing wrong with writing something that tries to address these issues. Take for example Claudia’s book. I know for a lot of African American people they’re like, ‘Tell me something I don’t know, that I haven’t heard somebody say everyday.’ But I think a lot of white readers felt called to think through the opinions that they might unconsciously hold, because good intentions, for any us, don’t abolish unconscious racism. It’s just not the way it works. On the other hand, I think it’s a great thing for any work to engage people in self-examination.

Q

The White Review

—  The Argonauts rethinks what the family might mean and what functions it might perform. How might we start to talk about the word ‘family’ in more capacious terms?

A

Maggie Nelson

— I really hate the word ‘family’ so much, so it’s really weird to me that everyone keeps saying ‘Maggie Nelson wrote a book about family’, she’s ‘pushing its frontiers’ – I’m like, am I having a bad dream? But, there’s a website called beyondmarriage.org, which is kind of a response website to the marriage politics going on at the moment. There’s a really great thing on that site – a list of twenty-five examples of different households that have kinships that are not aided by a marital bond, and that include generational households, single-mother households, communes, people who live with friends.

 

 

My friend was joking about the heteronormative cup incident in the book – there are so many things in our family that are very normative. The book is all about this. The kind of game where people are trying to outfox each other by being more and more radical doesn’t make any sense to me, because why have a non-monogamous relationship if that’s not what you’re into? It’s hard enough to know what you want, but trying to endlessly make your life fit somebody else’s notion of what’s radical seems to me a really oppressive agenda.

 

I think queer family-making is not obvious, but I think that it should be obvious everywhere. I don’t know if you know Hortense Spillers essay, ‘Mama’s Baby, Papa’s Maybe’? That’s a whole discourse about the way that slavery basically destroyed both the matriarchal and the patriarchal position in a black family. How do we talk about family-making when these symbolic roles have basically undergone annihilation? There are so many questions like that. I’m sensitive to the question about mothering in a culture that makes a lot of presumptions about what body already counts as mothering.

Q

The White Review

—  In The Argonauts, you move beyond an idea of motherhood as associated with a cis-gendered female figure, to allow for a more capacious idea of motherhood as care, as dependence. Is the idea of the ‘many-gendered-mothers’ of your heart, as the poet Dana Ward writes, important to your sense of what a ‘good enough’ mother might be?

A

Maggie Nelson

—  Absolutely. Someone said to me recently, you didn’t say ‘the many-gendered-parents of my heart’ or ‘the many-gendered-fathers of my heart’, and I was like exactly, because that’s the whole point. Feminists are very, very used to seeing that when there’s a universal notion, the first thing that happens is that women’s experience falls out. So when we get universal about care-taking, parenting and codependence, how do you do that while not skipping over or paying homage to particular biological or gendered processes that may be unequally experienced by more women than others? Breastfeeding is a classic equality vs. difference thing. If you were to make things equal in childcare right after a baby is born, between two partners, one who is nursing, and one who is not, that equality would necessitate that the nursing person not nurse anymore, because nursing is not a fifty percent activity, nursing is a hundred percent activity, you know, so something has to give to difference, to equality, unless you just want to not do it. It’s a long way of saying that Donald Winnicott is weirdly good at both being able to talk about breast feeding and other things that might relate to female gendered motherhood, because he always had an eye on what kind of care people needed; he saw that you could get it good enough from a situation that was not an archetypal breastfeeding mother. That’s really important if you have two mums in the family, or if you have someone that doesn’t totally identify as a mum or a dad.

Q

The White Review

—  You and Harry marry in a rush in the final hours before Prop 8. ‘Poor marriage!’ you say. ‘Off we went to kill it (unforgivable). Or reinforce it (unforgivable).’ How do you reconcile the assimilationist bent of the mainstream LGBTQ movement with your own reservations about the desirability of entering into such institutions?

A

Maggie Nelson

— I’ve been thinking a lot about this recently. Some people might rabidly disagree with this – and maybe I will too in five minutes. But I guess what I kind of want to dramatise in the book is something similar to say what Naomi Klein is talking about with global warming – it matters if we got the to-go cup or this cup; but in some ways that conversation is not really going to change the tune of whether or not the planet is heating up. And I think with marriage, I really don’t think it’s really all that effective to shift the animus onto individual people who are choosing to get married and being seen as those assimilationists who are selling us down the river, as opposed to focusing on more structural things, like how did a social justice grassroots LGBT movement turn into a single-issue civil rights lobby? And how can we get back more democratic decision-making about what issues we should be moving forward with?

 

 

I really wish that critics of gay marriage were onto something more, which is basically like saying, ‘Wow, if these two people can get married, they can share health insurance.’ But what if they could marry four people and share their health insurance? Then America would finally start moving towards: ‘What if everyone just had healthcare – wouldn’t that be cool?’ It’s so weird to tether it to a marital bond. I know that critics of gay assimilation think that if more gay people will get married, they will be happy they got their health insurance share and their social security and they’ll continue to think that those institutions are good enough. I don’t personally see why it’s a better politics to have people not take financial moves that could help their life, while they also fight for social justice. I don’t see what Harry and I would gain by not having legal custody of both of our children, while we try and fight the good fight. I don’t know what the outcome of it all will be. I completely believe in abolishing marriage, and I also got married – it’s that kind of paradigm.

Q

The White Review

—  Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick said that, on the one hand, queer should be this big umbrella term that encompasses everything from ecology to immigration, while inevitably losing its focus on gender and sexuality; and on the other hand she says that if it ever loses that link, then it’s lost. How does this paradox stand for you?

A

Maggie Nelson

— I think that’s the question of the moment. There are a few people left who really believe that who you sleep with remains a revolutionary power, but I think most people in the crushing wheels of global capitalism are not totally convinced that who they go home with tonight holds that power. I’m not saying that there’s nothing in it, at all, I’m just saying that it’s not the defining factor. So I think it’s a hard moment right now, there’s a lot of melancholia in queer theory for when the centre of gravity was on sexuality and gender, and there’s also a lot of people – Dean Spade comes to mind – who are working hard to try and make arguments why prison abolition falls under an umbrella of something that could be called a queer movement. I don’t have an iron in the fire about whether the word queer is something that needs to stay or go.

 

 

What’s interesting about Sedgwick is that for her queer involves heterosexuality too, because Eve was married to a man and there was no paradox, for me, between that and her queer identification, so I don’t think that there is any reason why any kind of relationship can’t undergo a rethinking of the foundation of gender and sexuality. It’s not like it’s just queer people for whom gender and sexuality are an issue. Eve was a very inclusive thinker. She didn’t really have an exclusive bone in her body. She was very beautiful and articulate, I think, about the way that, even though she tended towards a very inclusive way of thinking, she always said that she’d learnt from separatist thinking.

Q

The White Review

—  You have always been very generous in acknowledging the thinkers and teachers that have influenced and shaped your thought process. I’m thinking particularly of Sedgwick and of Eileen Myles, but also of performance artists like Annie Sprinkle. How do you see your own pedagogical role?

A

Maggie Nelson

—  To stay fixated on pedagogy as an adult is seen as a shameful thing, so I think that some early readers of The Argonauts said, ‘You’ve got a lot of scenes in here about either being a teacher or about your teachers – and are you sure you want all this in there?’ I think it would be very strange if you are a teacher, and you spend a lot of your adult life in these relationships, that you would consider them better off repressed when it came to writing. People have asked me about the ethics of writing about your children, but for me, personally, the pedagogical relationship is the most ethically fraught thing. As a student, you wouldn’t necessarily think that if you were going to see a professor, you were going to be providing them with fodder for a story. That seems to me as worthy of thinking about as a transgression as other things, because I think that that relationship – not that it’s sacred – should feel like a place where professional bounds are providing a good-enough container to do the right work.

Q

The White Review

— Your work manages to keep one foot in the door of academia while also remaining defiantly outside it. Has working at CalArts influenced the direction your writing has taken?

A

Maggie Nelson

— Yes. Weirdly, in New York, where I was living before – partly because of my age at the time, but also because of the museum culture there – the art I was writing about, that I often saw, was retrospective. Most of my friends weren’t artists. I wasn’t on the opening circuit. It might have gone that way if I had stayed there. But out here, I joined a faculty that’s only working artists, and there’s no literature game in this town really, so most of the social events, even the occasions for readings, are art-driven. Maybe it’s more like New York was in the ’50s, the way Schuyler talked about it, that it’s nestled into the art world here, as opposed to them being two large competing industries.

 

I think that CalArts and Southern California’s relationship to work like Chris Burden or other people who have engaged in bodily risk as a major element of their work, has been really important, as has the people there that continue with that tradition in different ways. The first year I landed at CalArts someone did a performance piece where they had a fellow student slit them with a sharp object and that person had to go to the hospital and it was confusing as to whether or not the person who had done this to them could be charged, if they had done it upon being asked for an art piece. And then we had another guy who was doing a series of kidnapping pieces and trying to get people to sign waivers to be locked in the trunks of cars. My very first landing there, I was suddenly dealing with a certain form of work that probably led very directly into the ethical. I’ve always been interested in Artaud and violence in art, but I think that landing as a pedagogue in that environment had a lot of effect on me.

Q

The White Review

—  The Art of Cruelty was published in 2011. Do you see that book as not only responding to CalArts’ immediate art scene, but also to a particular crisis point in the representational power of the image?

A

Maggie Nelson

— I think the issue was always on the up, but the Abu Ghraib photos, and the discourse that it involved, then the Rodney King beating – I think there was a moment at which there was a kind of endgame discourse to this idea that the image would just save us by being a one-to-one representation. I think that was definitely a part of the book. There was also this internal agony I had about loving a lot of very rough avant-garde art, but not loving it for the reasons it describes of itself. The intent of much early twentieth century art is to shock the bourgeoisie into a new altered state of consciousness, but I found that was just not what it was doing. So I think I was interested in getting at what it is doing if it’s not that.

 

One of the big strains of art that goes in CalArts and beyond is Relational Aesthetics. In the introduction to The Art of Cruelty I say that I’m not writing about art that’s trying to make the world a better place per se. I don’t dislike a lot of that work, but I feel that something better is happening the further art dissolves into life.

Q

The White Review

—  I get the sense, reading your work, that you are not so much subverting form, as that you are somehow indifferent to it; that you quite simply – in the way that one might equally say of Anne Carson – refuse to be contained by the form you happen to be working in. Do you start a book thinking about the form it will take, or is it something that emerges as you write?

A

Maggie Nelson

— I’m thinking of writing something now, and I don’t know if this will hold, but I’m really transfixed by this idea of R. D. Laing’s Knots that I wrote about at the beginning of The Art of Cruelty. In that book, I talk about how these are going to be ‘cruelty knots’ or whatever; right now, I’ve been writing on a different subject, and I think I thought at first they’d be a kind of practice in that I could look at them and then make a coherent argument from them; but the more I write, the more I realise that probably their self-presentation as individual, crystalline paradoxes probably is the form. I don’t need to make a new thing after the form, and that has to do with the nature of the subject I’m thinking about. The questions about it are essentially unanswerable so that extra step of putting the unanswerable paradoxes into another form will probably never happen.

 

I think Anne Carson, as you mentioned, is so important because she pushes her formal experiments sometimes over the lip of intelligibility. Even if they don’t always make for the most cogent works – Autobiography of Red is a lot more cogent than say Red Doc – she always proves herself to me to be truly more interested in the experiment than in the career of it. She always says, ‘I don’t think of myself as a writer of anything, I just like to make things and I think that that kind of relationship, creating anew each time you go to make a project is very important.’

Q

The White Review

—  You’ve said that Annie Dillard once told you to ‘write a lot of short things & put them together.’ Bluets seems to me particularly aware of itself as a fragment – as a fetish, sample or leftover. Can you talk a little about what the ‘fragment’ means to you and how it plays out in your writing and thinking more generally?

A

Maggie Nelson

—  I think I just don’t know how to do anything else. I don’t know what else it would look like. And I think academic writing really labours to make very handholding links. Bluets had some of those, when I was trying to think from thing to thing, but the energy of juxtaposing comes when you take all those sentences out. The reader is forced to leap from thing to thing, to make the bridge, and so I guess in some way that lends itself to fragment because probably as a poet I’m very invested in what juxtaposition is as a tool. Prose has juxtaposition but it’s not always one of its main engine pulls.

Q

The White Review

— There is a central paradox that The Argonauts addresses – and overturns – the presumed opposition between queerness and procreation; you suggest that there is something inherently queer about pregnancy itself. Are these paradoxes important to the structure of the book?

A

Maggie Nelson

—  As a feminist, you always have an ear out to something when you’re like, ‘Interesting – but that excludes women.’ I think that’s just a natural thing, which then leads you into a lot of paradoxes. I’ve been trying to write something about addiction and a lot of the books about addiction don’t hold stories of people of colour, or women. Sometimes you can’t help but notice it, and then that question always becomes for me: if there are basically no books I can find about women and people of colour that are about that, then there’s something about this model over here about transcendence and freedom that must be specific to a certain kind of individual. So then you think: what do these books over here have to tell me that I didn’t hear over here? Those kind of paradoxes, they just exist everywhere.

Q

The White Review

—  Your titles often seem like cognitive maps that contain these paradoxes – I’m thinking particularly of Women, the New York School and Other True Abstractions. Can you talk a little bit about what abstraction means in that book?

A

Maggie Nelson

—  That title’s funny because whenever people introduce me, they generally always get it wrong, which is fine, because it’s really cumbersome, but it’s so exactly what I mean. To me, the title alone makes a proposition about literary schools and gender, with the double meaning of the word ‘true’, not to mention how complicated the word ‘abstract’ is. With that book, it was such a glaring, empty field to even address what women might have meant in the New York School, that I felt very much the conviction that it needed to exist.

Q

The White Review

—  Do you think that the ideas explored in the book continue to inform much of the contemporary debate about American poetry? Has the avant-garde got any more inclusive?

A

Maggie Nelson

— I don’t know. I’d be curious to know what you think. Cathy Hong wrote a great essay last year called ‘Delusions of Whiteness in the Avant-Garde’ and Junot Díaz wrote this piece, ‘MFA Vs. POC.’ Fred Moten, who I love, writes a lot about how, on the one hand, blackness is avant-garde and on the other, a black avant-garde might, in a historical sense, be a contradiction in terms if your standard is the white avant-garde canon. I think those questions have a very literal embodied basis. My friend Simone White wrote an essay about finally tackling what it feels like to always feel like you’re maybe the only person of colour in a room for a white poetry reading, and her thoughts while leaving that room. I don’t think any of those things have really changed a lot, but I do think that since a lot of the most exciting writing in what could be called an avant-garde tradition is being done by women and people of colour, it would be very difficult to keep that canon exclusive.

Q

The White Review

— In The Art of Cruelty, you touch on the uneasy relationship we currently have with self-pity and sentimentality, as if those were the things to be avoided at all costs. How do we bypass such reductive critical assessments, like accusations of narcissism in works of art?

A

Maggie Nelson

—  Coming from a generation that’s into reclamation, when people start making a bunch of disavowals, like ‘it’s not narcissistic, it’s actually really political’ I just think that’s not the thing. Part of the point of The Art of Cruelty was to say this work is sadistic to the viewer, and that is fine, that’s one of its natures. Francis Bacon said, ‘I perform injuries onto my subjects.’ He was owning that aspect, he wasn’t saying, ‘You think it’s injury, but I think it’s homage.’ Masochism, sadism, onanism, narcissism, selfishness – to me, those are elements of the work that one might do, those aren’t labels that then make it drop out of art. I did an interview a couple of days ago with someone who wanted to talk about the word ‘selfish’ in relation to having kids or not having kids because an anthology just came out. The word ‘selfishness’ feels like an import from a theological universe that’s landed down like a land mine. She asked, ‘What do you think of that word?’ I thought, ‘I don’t know, it looks like an alien. Why are we talking about selfishness?’ It’s just totally the wrong register for our conversation.

Q

The White Review

—  A register invariably applied to female writers?
A

Maggie Nelson

—  Did you read the long piece by Sally Mann in last week’s New York Times? It’s interesting. Because she took pictures of her kids naked, people in this country are trying to pair her with people like Robert Mapplethorpe, as if she were a child pornographer. She’d never written publicly that there had been stalkers of her children that had emanated from the notoriety she got – in a way, the people who were saying she was endangering her children were the ones that created the phenomenon. It was a weird piece because she was saying, ‘I guess I’m saying in some sense they were right, maybe I did endanger my children, and in another way, I’d do it again and this is what I live for.’ It’s so bumpy as a piece. I don’t think I would take the bait on questions about propriety or impropriety about representing. In mainstream circles, I see why writers like Rachel Cusk are dragged over the coals, but I don’t see people having the same conversation about Knausgaard and My Struggle. I just feel like until it’s not a double standard, wake me up when it’s over.
 


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