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  • Published: 31 August 2021
  • ISBN: 9781787333741
  • Imprint: Jonathan Cape
  • Format: Trade Paperback
  • Pages: 304
  • RRP: $40.00

On Freedom

Four Songs of Care and Constraint

An expansive, exhilarating work of nonfiction on freedom, by one of the most significant writers of our day


'One of the most electrifying writers at work in America today, among the sharpest and most supple thinkers of her generation' - Olivia Laing

So often deployed as a jingoistic, even menacing rallying cry, or limited by a focus on passing moments of liberation, the rhetoric of freedom both rouses and repels. Does it remain key to our autonomy, justice, and well-being, or is freedom's long star turn coming to a close? Does a continued obsession with the term enliven and emancipate, or reflect a deepening nihilism (or both)? On Freedom examines such questions by tracing the concept's complexities in four distinct realms: art, sex, drugs, and climate.

Drawing on a vast range of material, from critical theory to pop culture to the intimacies and plain exchanges of daily life, Nelson explores how we might think, experience, or talk about freedom in ways responsive to the conditions of our day. Her abiding interest lies in ongoing "practices of freedom" by which we negotiate our interrelation with-indeed, our inseparability from-others, with all the care and constraint that relation entails, while accepting difference and conflict as integral to our communion.

For Nelson, thinking publicly through the knots in our culture-from recent art world debates to the turbulent legacies of sexual liberation, from the painful paradoxes of addiction to the lure of despair in the face of the climate crisis-is itself a practice of freedom, a means of forging fortitude, courage, and company. On Freedom is an invigorating, essential book for challenging times.

  • Published: 31 August 2021
  • ISBN: 9781787333741
  • Imprint: Jonathan Cape
  • Format: Trade Paperback
  • Pages: 304
  • RRP: $40.00

About the author

Maggie Nelson

Maggie Nelson is a poet, critic and the author of five books of non-fiction. Her books include The Red Parts: Autobiography of a Trial, The Art of Cruelty: A Reckoning (a New York Times Editor’s Choice) and The Argonauts (winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award), as well as four collections of poetry. In 2016 she was awarded the MacArthur Genius fellowship. She currently lives in Los Angeles.

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Praise for On Freedom

This account soars in its ability to find nuance in considering questions of enormous importance... Once again, Nelson proves herself a masterful thinker and an unparalleled prose stylist.

Starred Publishers Weekly Review

Maggie Nelson is an expert at distilling whatever topic she tackles into crystalline prose. She is the queen of the effortless jumping off point, catapulting her readers into the far reaches of Big Questions.

Lit Hub, 'Most Anticipated Books of 2021'

Maggie Nelson needs no genre. Reading her books... tends to make classification of any kind feel destructive, like it would slice through her writing's vital connective tissue... Reading Nelson is like watching a prima ballerina deliver the performance of a lifetime: athletic, graceful, and awe-inspiring.


A top cultural critic plucks the concept of freedom away from right-wing sloganeers and explores its operation in current artistic and political conversations. . . . The subtlety of Nelson's analysis and energy of her prose refresh the mind and spirit.

Kirkus Review

Profound . . . wide-ranging essays analyzing freedom as it relates to the arts, sexuality, addiction, and, perhaps surprisingly, climate change. . . . A heady mix of erudite analysis and personal revelation. . . . Nelson brings a critically nuanced appreciation of individual and societal freedom to her mapping of the minefields involved in simultaneously embracing liberty and jettisoning habits of control and paranoia that threaten liberation.


On Freedom proves that Nelson continues to do us a great service as a critic, which is to herself digest, and sometimes wrestle with, copious amounts of literature and theory . . . and to integrate this material into a relatively short book, in an accessible, felicitous voice all Nelson's own.

Boston Globe

Maggie Nelson's books crack your heart open on a marble countertop and piece it back together, but not before you've thought critically about your entire life. Her writing leaves you smarter, even if it sometimes contains truths that are hard to swallow. Her latest work is an essay collection that meditates on the concept of freedom, drawing on ideas from pop culture and critical theory, which is sure to explore your brain in the best way.


Nelson makes her case persuasively, marshalling a chorus of thinkers alongside her own experience. One model of freedom, On Freedom suggests, lies in choosing - and arguing for - one's definition of freedom itself.

Martin Herbert, ArtReview

Part of what makes [Nelson's] writing so compelling is a comfort with uncertainty... It is a delight to spend time with Nelson's erudite mind.

Mia Levitin, Times Literary Supplement

With insight and intellectual rigour Nelson wrestles the concept of "freedom" away from its contemporary political misuses and explores what it means in the context of art, sex, drugs and climate.

Katy Guest, Guardian

[Nelson's] books vary between an academic or lyrical register, but all revel in the recognition that feeling and thought aren't fixed... They encourage a slowing down, an absorbing... [and a] willingness for intellectual and linguistic exploration.

Rebecca Watson, Financial Times

You'll . . . find lots to keep you engaged-provocative ideas, thinkers you've never heard of and a vast encyclopedia of cultural references.

USA Today

The venerable Maggie Nelson weighs in with the long-awaited follow-up to her masterpiece The Argonauts. On Freedom is a characteristically thoughtful and expansive work of cultural criticism that digs into this fraught topic through the lens of art, sex, drugs, and climate.

Chicago Review of Books

Nelson is such a friend to her reader, such brilliant company. Her book is a nuanced, exhilarating rallying cry for all those who are tired of the drab norms of our tech-topia and who long for another conversation

Literary Review

Nelson is so outrageously gifted a writer and thinker.

Washington Post (The Argonauts)

Transcendent.... very inspiring. She's an amazing writer.

Lorde, Irish Times (Bluets)

A writer who plays with prose and remakes the genre.

Hilton Als, New Yorker (The Argonauts)

Maggie Nelson... She's so much better than anything I've read for a long, long time.

Karl Ove Knausgaard, (Blues

The book that changed my life... it's just brilliant.

Sophie Mackintosh, Gardian (Bluets)

Always beguiling, her writing is powerful, incisive and so singular that it defies categorization ... raw, honest and urgent... [Nelson] always prompt me to see some aspect of life very differently.

The Observer (Bluets)

What makes this book so exciting is precisely the balancing act that enables Nelson to tear everything up at the same time as she retains faith in the values (desire, artistic freedom, difficulty) that shaped her. Reading it, I had a visceral experience of seeing how this can be done in good faith, how we can think as Nelson does about sex and art while also believing in the necessity for a new order.

Lara Feigel, Guardian

On Freedom is brave, sprawling, more troublesome than trouble-shooting - and in the spirit of Donna Haraway's Staying with the Trouble, quoted here by Nelson, that's just as it should be.

Emily Watkins

Maggie Nelson writes with a luminosity that is, upon opening any one of her books, immediately enlivening.

Ellen Peirson-Hagger, New Statesman

One of the most electrifying writers at work in America today.

Olivia Laing, Guardian (The Argonauts)

Nelson is so outrageously gifted a writer and thinker.

Washington Post (The Argonauts)

A writer who plays with prose and remakes the genre.

Hilton Als, New Yorker (The Argonauts)

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