Apr 29, 2019
The University of Chicago Press has awarded the Gordon J. Laing Prize to Prof. Deborah Nelson for Tough Enough, her exploration of how six women faced pain with unsentimentality—and her argument for it as an alternative response to empathy or irony.
In Tough Enough, she traces the work of Diane Arbus, Hannah Arendt, Joan Didion, Mary McCarthy, Susan Sontag and Simone Weil—writers, critics and artists whose paths didn’t always intersect, but who all looked at “painful reality with directness and clarity and without consolation or compensation.”
For Nelson, that unsentimental approach not only shaped 20th-century culture, but remains relevant today in the face of specters like climate change, gun violence and racial prejudice.
“The problem is not that we do not know what is happening, but that we cannot bear to be changed by knowledge,” she writes in her introduction to Tough Enough. “The women I discuss in the following pages all insist that we should be changed, however much we give up in the process.”