Maggie Nelson | Credit: Tom Atwood

With people spending so much time speaking out against intellectual discourse, it’s refreshing to break away from shallow arguments and instead participate in genuine dialogue. Apart from the fear-mongering and the disclaimers, there’s still a robust community of scholars who get down to it. None more so than University of Southern California professor of English Maggie Nelson. Nelson, whose latest book is On Freedom: Four Songs of Care and Constraint, will appear on Thursday, March 31, at 5:30 p.m. in the Mary Craig Auditorium of the Santa Barbara Museum of Art as the latest guest in the museum’s Parallel Stories series. 

On Freedom sets out Nelson’s extremely learned opinions on art, sex, drugs, and climate change. Although each of these topics could be the subject of a thoughtful magazine feature story or a newspaper op-ed, that’s not Nelson’s approach. Instead, she wields the traditional apparatus of academic writing with alacrity, bringing dozens of lengthy footnotes and hundreds of works cited to unravel some of the new century’s most tangled ideological knots. In a world of incessant haste and oversimplification, these long and detailed arguments counter the tendency toward the glib and superficial.

If you yearn for discussions of queer culture, addiction, or campus censorship that take ideas seriously and refuse easy answers, check out On Freedom, or better yet, get to the SBMA and hear what Nelson sounds like in person. For tickets and information, visit

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