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Tough Enough


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About the Author

Deborah Nelson is associate professor of English at the University of Chicago. She is the author of Pursuing Privacy in Cold War America.


"Thanks to Nelson, we now know that these 'tough' women share the trait of unsentimentality, which is not a character defect, as their critics often claimed, but a principled commitment, even a style: austere, pitiless, clinical, unwavering. Frankly feminist, Tough Enough argues that while sentimentalism has earned enormous critical attention, the unsentimental has largely gone unprocessed by literary critics and theorists. This superb book about women, style, criticism, politics, and misogyny is the beginning of the end of that."--Bonnie Honig, author of Antigone, Interrupted
"Tough Enough is a brilliant defense of coldness. Nelson gathers together six extraordinarily well-known modern women who, one way or another, and often in deep--and sometimes conspicuous--concert, championed theological, philosophical, and political principles, as well as aesthetic practices, which together constitute an important school of the unsentimental. For those who are devoted to these six figures, who can't get enough of them, and who always knew that they somehow belonged together, this illuminating book will be welcomed as a revelation and confirmation."--Jeff Nunokawa, author of Note Book
"Deborah Nelson concedes that the six women whose careers are canvassed in her 2017 book Tough Enough: Arbus, Arendt, Didion, McCarthy, Sontag, Weil would definitely not appreciate being classed together, by gender or any other category. Thankfully for us, Nelson is undeterred: she boldly gathers Diane Arbus, Hannah Arendt, Joan Didion, Mary McCarthy, Susan Sontag, and Simone Weil into a common room to stage a wonderfully readable, engaging, provocative conversation about their similarities in style and outlook."--Lori Jo Marso - Los Angeles Review of Books
"Agree or disagree with the case for unsentimentality, Tough Enough is well worth the time: for Nelson's insights on some landmark works of the 20th (and for Joan Didion, the 21st) century, and for its considerations on how to face suffering. How to see it and wholly appreciate it without trying to inhabit its emotional space. And to wrest something meaningful from that."--WBUR, The ARTery
"Nelson is primarily interested in the aesthetic, political, and philosophical concerns guiding the work these women produced; thus, Tough Enough is light on biographical detail, heavy on fine-grained stylistic analysis. Anyone who already admires Weil, Arendt, McCarthy, Sontag, Didion, or Arbus will no doubt appreciate this approach, and Nelson -- obviously aware that most readers won't be familiar with all of her subjects -- provides some context for each of them."--Washington Independent Review of Books
"Her book contributes significantly to our understanding of these remarkable women--Simone Weil, Hannah Arendt, Mary McCarthy, Susan Sontag, Diane Arbus, and Joan Didion-- and immeasurably to our thinking about how we as critics understand representations of suffering."
--American Literary History Online Review
"Tough Enough is an important contribution to literary, gender, affect, and trauma studies, and an all-too-timely read in our current political climate, for academic and non-academic readers alike. At a time when the study of the humanities is under threat, Nelson proves, again and again, that analysis of evidence, critical thinking, and argumentation are vital tools for confronting brutal political realities. May we all be tough enough to approach the world as Weil, Arendt, McCarthy, Sontag, Arbus, and Didion."--Jacquelyn Ardam - Los Angeles Review of Books
"Unsurprisingly, her subjects' unsentimental attitudes toward human suffering frequently earned them scorn and derision from allies and enemies alike for supposedly being heartless or cruel. Nelson complicates this predominant view not only by examining the gendered presumptions that constrained women's public self-expression but also by illustrating how and why these women's tough-minded perspective is part of a profoundly ethical and deeply engaged response to the ample brutality of the contemporary world."
"Tough Enough is an important book not just because it insists on these six women's contributions to intellectual history but also because it proposes that these contributions might temper our contemporary enthusiasm for empathy as a cure-all for our politics and a salve for our consciences."--The Australian

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