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Constructing a Nervous System
Click for more information  Ebook
2022
Brief Descriptions

"Stunning for her daring originality, the author of Negroland gives us what she calls "a temperamental autobiography," comprised of visceral, intimate fragments that fuse criticism and memoir. Margo Jefferson constructs a nervous system with pieces of different lengths and tone, conjoining arts writing (poem, song, performance) with life writing (history, psychology). The book's structure is determined by signal moments of her life, those that trouble her as well as those that thrill and restore. In thisnervous system: The sounds of a black spinning disc of a 1950's jazz LP as intimate and instructive as a parent's voice. The muscles and movements of a ballerina, spliced with those of an Olympic runner: template for what a female body could be. Harriet Beecher Stowe's Topsy finds her way into the art of Kara Walker and the songs of Câecile McLorin Salvant. Bing Crosby and Ike Turner become alter egos. W.E.B. DuBois and George Eliot meet illicitly, as he appropriates lines from her story "The Hidden Veil" to write his famous "behind the veil" passages in The Souls of Black Folk. The words of multiple others (writers, singers, film characters, friends, family) act as prompts and as dialogue. The fragments of this brilliant book, while not neglecting family, race, and class, are informed by a kind of aesthetic drive: longing, ecstasy, or even acute ambivalence. Constructing a nervous system is Jefferson's relentlessly galvanizing mis en scene for unconventional storytelling as well as a platform for unexpected dramatis personae"-- - (Baker & Taylor)

The author of Negroland offers an unconventional “temperamental autobiography,” splicing together important moments of her life featuring poems, songs and writings about history and psychology as seen through the lens of family, race and class. - (Baker & Taylor)

A NEW YORKER BEST BOOK OF THE YEAR From "one of our most nuanced thinkers on the intersections of race, class, and feminism (Cathy Park Hong, New York Times bestselling author of Minor Feelings) comes a memoir "as electric as the title suggests" (Maggie Nelson, author of On Freedom).

The Pulitzer Prize-winning critic and memoirist Margo Jefferson has lived in the thrall of a cast of others—her parents and maternal grandmother, jazz luminaries, writers, artists, athletes, and stars. These are the figures who thrill and trouble her, and who have made up her sense of self as a person and as a writer. In her much-anticipated follow-up to Negroland, Jefferson brings these figures to life in a memoir of stunning originality, a performance of the elements that comprise and occupy the mind of one of our foremost critics.

In Constructing a Nervous System, Jefferson shatters her self into pieces and recombines them into a new and vital apparatus on the page, fusing the criticism that she is known for, fragments of the family members she grieves for, and signal moments from her life, as well as the words of those who have peopled her past and accompanied her in her solitude, dramatized here like never before. Bing Crosby and Ike Turner are among the author’s alter egos. The sounds of a jazz LP emerge as the intimate and instructive sounds of a parent’s voice. W. E. B. Du Bois and George Eliot meet illicitly. The muscles and movements of a ballerina are spliced with those of an Olympic runner, becoming a template for what a black female body can be.

The result is a wildly innovative work of depth and stirring beauty. It is defined by fractures and dissonance, longing and ecstasy, and a persistent searching. Jefferson interrogates her own self as well as the act of writing memoir, and probes the fissures at the center of American cultural life. - (Random House, Inc.)

Author Biography

MARGO JEFFERSON lives in New York City. - (Random House, Inc.)

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Reviews Via Publishers Weekly

Publishers Weekly Reviews

Pulitzer Prize–winning critic and memoirist Jefferson (Negroland) refashions her nervous system into a "structure of recombinant thoughts, memories, feelings, sensations and words" in this bold and roving work. As most people refine their adult selves, she posits, they become calcified and set in their ways. To resist that—and instead "become a person of complex and stirring character"—Jefferson plunges deep into her "raw intimacies," memories, and the histories of Black artists who have nurtured her creative and critical self throughout her life. Reflecting on her early love of jazz singer Ella Fitzgerald and pianist Bud Powell—whose chords "blaze and blast through unsanctioned states of mind"—she ruminates on the ways their brilliance came up against society's "firm constraints." When contemplating Hattie McDaniel's 1940 Oscar ("the first Academy Award nomination for our race") for her role in Gone with the Wind, she wonders whether it was an "advance or setback" (settling on "both"). Most intriguing, though, is Jefferson's self-aware refusal to write from a critic's remove: when a discussion of Willa Cather's writing tempts her to launch into lofty analysis, she interjects "STOP! Collect yourself, Professor Jefferson." By inviting readers backstage, she creates a dance of memory and incisive cultural commentary that's deeply and refreshingly personal. This gorgeous memoir elevates the form to new heights. (Apr.)

Copyright 2022 Publishers Weekly.

Publishers Weekly Reviews

Pulitzer Prize–winning critic and memoirist Jefferson (Negroland) refashions her nervous system into a "structure of recombinant thoughts, memories, feelings, sensations and words" in this bold and roving work. As most people refine their adult selves, she posits, they become calcified and set in their ways. To resist that—and instead "become a person of complex and stirring character"—Jefferson plunges deep into her "raw intimacies," memories, and the histories of Black artists who have nurtured her creative and critical self throughout her life. Reflecting on her early love of jazz singer Ella Fitzgerald and pianist Bud Powell—whose chords "blaze and blast through unsanctioned states of mind"—she ruminates on the ways their brilliance came up against society's "firm constraints." When contemplating Hattie McDaniel's 1940 Oscar ("the first Academy Award nomination for our race") for her role in Gone with the Wind, she wonders whether it was an "advance or setback" (settling on "both"). Most intriguing, though, is Jefferson's self-aware refusal to write from a critic's remove: when a discussion of Willa Cather's writing tempts her to launch into lofty analysis, she interjects "STOP! Collect yourself, Professor Jefferson." By inviting readers backstage, she creates a dance of memory and incisive cultural commentary that's deeply and refreshingly personal. This gorgeous memoir elevates the form to new heights. (Apr.)

Copyright 2022 Publishers Weekly.

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