What comes to your mind when you decide to write a book about freedom? Should that also be about antacids and mouthpiece rejects? Or, in the American context, “protecting the unborn child and provoking the left and the right to bear arms”? Maggie Nelson says the pursuit of freedom is not something that comes naturally to a left-wing intellectual disembodied like her. However I worked for years In Freedom: Four Songs About Care and Constraintswhich is now translated as about freedom. On art, sex, drugs, and the climate†
In four thematic chapters, Nelson examines the “practices of freedom” (in reference to Michel Foucault). So there is no historical consideration of freedom like freedom. troubled history By Annelien De Dijn, there is no resume like successful people free By Lea Ypi, about a childhood in Albania. Above all, this book is read as an exercise in free thinking – not just about it, but presenting it in style and form.
This is familiar to Maggie Nelson (San Francisco, 1973). Around 2015, the American author hacked internationally Argonautsa novel about the diary Like me Maternity, psychoanalysis, art and much more. She has previously written poetry and a book on cruelty in art. Her career as an art critic and academic enters about freedom categorically in the foreground. Not because she speaks as an authority with harsh judgment or as a teacher who has all the answers. Nelson wants to “think out loud with others”. It allows you to look inside the head and bookshelf and the life of a private notebook that comes out of the boxes in everything you do.
This sometimes requires some mental gymnastics. The other Nelson always takes seriously his own exercise of freedom, never backs down on “how it ought to be”, but always puts off judgment. Only in this way, in a radical openness, can you understand freedom in all its aspects. The concept is already locked up on all sides in the moral sense, and the last thing Nelson wants is to replace her morality with it.
This is most evident in the chapter on sexual freedom – which is equally about gender inequality. Puritan ethics is always latent, even among those who fight for equality. Feminine desire, for example, is often questioned, also in discussions of consent or transgressive (male) behaviour. But by constantly emphasizing man’s uncontrollable strength and inclinations, women’s lust threatens to disappear from the picture. However, freedom also consists in being in control of what that freedom means to you, especially if it deviates from prevailing norms and values.
Nelson learned this lesson during the AIDS crisis and the protests and activist groups she was a part of. The struggle for equality must go hand in hand with the struggle for freedom:
It was about taking a stand against deeply prejudiced moralists who didn’t care about your life (many would have preferred that you die), and that you stand up for your right to your life energy and sexual expressions. , even if culture tells you that your wish is a death sentence and that you owe it to yourself if it causes your death.
Talking about freedom always requires a commitment to your personal life, says Nelson. You cannot judge other people’s freedom – or its limitations – without making your position clear. This is why she wrote in the chapter on drugs about her decision to say goodbye to alcohol. It wasn’t as independent as it seemed. Instead, she describes it as a realization that came down on her from the outside: I must stop. It shows how freedom and dependence can change, with humans as a field of play. What does that say about freedom? In any case, it cannot be absolute, and it can be given to you.
Where is my freedom? With self-destruction? In the freedom of the other? Definitely. But in practice, boundaries are subjective and change over time, as Nelson repeatedly demonstrates. Likewise in the chapter on art. (Good) art is layered and not aimed at simplistic judgments, its meaning remains open and multi-interpretation. This is exactly why free space is so important for art. According to Nelson, there are hardly any examples in which “repealing” is justified. Even though she knows it won’t make her popular with everyone, she continues to hold on to freedom.
In the final chapter, related to climate change, this grip loosens somewhat. Faced with the approaching apocalypse, complexity, openness, and an aversion to morality do not seem helpful. Nelson seems to realize this, too. Shouldn’t we suspend all liberties to save the planet? Are the limits of our behavior unnecessary? Should freedom be limited to the “free” option of never flying again? Or is this puritanical morals?
This ultimate test of freedom offers another advantage, which is… about freedom It can be distilled: freedom is always related to the other. “If the loss of life, species, and habitation is restricted to those who have consented to it, but unfortunately, our interconnectedness is limitless,” Nelson sighs. We have to do it together. Freedom is never just about the individual, and therefore requires an obsessive curiosity for the other. It is amazing how Nelson expresses such eloquent insight in the form of these articles.
A version of this article also appeared in NRC Handelsblad on April 1, 2022
A version of this article also appeared on NRC on the morning of April 1, 2022