Reality and entertainment crowd our fields of vision with brutal imagery. The pervasiveness of images of torture, horror and war has all but demolished the twentieth-century hope that such imagery might shock us into a less alienated state or aid in the creation of a just social order. Maggie Nelson brilliantly navigates the contemporary predicament, with an eye to the question of whether or not focusing on representations of cruelty makes us cruel. In a journey through high and low culture (Kafka to reality TV), the visual to the verbal (Paul McCarthy to Brian Evenson), and the apolitical to the political (Francis Bacon to Kara Walker), Nelson 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.
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