WR 507: Tin House Seminar: Maggie Nelson
Portland State University
Office: NH 451-T
Office hrs: By appointment
Make no mistake: this is not about more intellectual sophistication. What I am looking for … is an introduction to living, a guide to life (ethical project): I want to live according to nuance. Now there is a teacher of nuance, literature; try to live according to the nuances that literature teaches me.
—Roland Barthes, The Neutral
This book does not shrink from expressing strong opinions, from “taking sides,” when it feels the need to do so. But at the end of the day, its greater aspiration is Barthes’s: to live according to nuance. By definition, there is no master sketch for what such a thing might look like. It can only be an experiment.
—Maggie Nelson, The Art of Cruelty
Maggie Nelson’s virtuosic body of work is splendidly difficult to categorize. It includes a study of cruelty in art and culture, a memoir about her aunt’s murder, a critical monograph on the New York School poets, a lyric meditation on the color blue, and several books of poetry. In this seminar we’ll read as much of her writing as a 10-week term allows, as well as interviews, reviews, and affiliated texts. Nelson’s oeuvre raises rich questions about genre, cross-pollination, intertextuality, experiment, research, and literary hybridity, and these questions will animate our work together. Writing assignments will be based on the gambits, pursuits, formations, and deformations we find in her texts.
Nelson will visit Portland on May 31 for a public reading and Q&A, co-hosted by our seminar and Tin House.
4 writing exercises (1-3 pages each)
Final project (10-12 pages, creative or critical)
Facilitate discussion on one book (includes contribution to seminar website)
Devise a question each week, to build an array for the staged Q&A
Help orchestrate May 31 event
Texts (available at PSU Bookstore and elsewhere)
Jane: A Murder
Something Bright, Then Holes
The Art of Cruelty
The Latest Winter
The Red Parts: A Memoir
Women, the New York School, and Other True Abstractions
Most of the supplementary materials—reviews, interviews, essays, audio clips, etc.—can be accessed on the seminar website. This site is a work in progress that you, the course members, will help to create. Each week’s facilitators will add content to the site, such as links, images, PDFs, and/or posts related to that week’s text(s). By June, we will have a robust digital index of Nelson’s work and various responses to it. For the duration of the class, the Tin House blog will feature a weekly post connecting its readers to our site; these readers—and whoever else stumbles upon it—may build the site further with their comments.
April 4 Maggie Nelson, “A Sort of Leaning Against,” from The Writer’s Notebook II: Craft Essays from Tin House, 2012
Bring in a sentence or two from possible “ghost book” text from The Public Domain Review
April 11 Bluets
William Gass, selection from On Being Blue
April 18 Bluets cont’d
Writing exercise #1: Ghost book narrative
April 25 Jane: A Murder
May 2 The Red Parts: A Memoir
Writing exercise #2: Documentary piece
Writing exercise #3: Poem(s)
May 23 Selections from The Art of Cruelty: A Reckoning: “Styles of Imprisonment” (3-14), “Everything Is Nice” (66-90), “Inflicted” (205-226), “Rarer and Better Things” (262-269)
May 30 Selections from Women, the New York School, and Other True Abstractions: “Tales in andout of School: An Introduction” (xiii-xxvii), “Abstract Practices: The Art of Joan Mitchell, Barbara Guest, and Their Others” (3-48); “Afterword” (209-221)
Writing exercise #4: TBA
June 13 Final projects due in Leni’s department mailbox by 12 p.m.