I’ve been reading about cruelty (and failing to find a way to write about it) for some time now, and this is one of the more engaging and provocative pieces I’ve come across. It doesn’t have the academic cast of Elaine Scarry’s The Body in Pain, or the austere continental tone of Susan Sontag’s Regarding the Pain of Others, and for me those are good things. Go ahead and call me middlebrow if you want, see if I care! Nelson isn’t here to make statements or devise systems. She gets it right in her subtitle: she’s simply (though this isn’t very simple) trying to reckon with her own idiosyncratic reactions to representations of cruelty in artworks, and she does so with a nice facility for associative thinking, an engaging and often humorous voice, and a vast number of fascinating examples, many of which were new to me. If you’re a producer or consumer of culture who’s wondered how or whether or why, in a world soaked with real violence, artists ought to re-present that violence in their works, you’ll find this a super smart and useful read.