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Margo Jefferson and the Art of Life

In her work, especially her new book Constructing a Nervous System, she transforms criticism into an experience one feels in the body, not just the mind.

  • Kelton Ellis
  • The Nation

Much has been made, since the days of the ancients, of art’s desire to imitate lived experience—an absurd expectation, as Plato would have it.

But for a seasoned critic, the inverse might also make for a truism: that the hours spent defining, investigating, and understanding the possibilities of artistic expression can incline you, for good or ill, to see life itself as a problem of creativity, form, and genre.

Margo Jefferson understands the stakes well. In her Pulitzer Prize–winning tenure as a critic at The…

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