Deborah Nelson

Professor and Chair in the Department of English;

University of Chicago

My field is late twentieth-century U.S. culture and politics, what is known in shorthand as Post45 or Post War (to the confusion of many: which war?). I also am a founding member of the Post45 collective, which publishes an online journalPost45and a book series atStanford University Press. My interests in the field include American poetry, novels, essays, and plays; gender and sexuality studies; photography; autobiography and confessional writing; American ethnic literature; poetry and poetics; and Cold War history. I have been working recently on the immediate postwar moment, @1948, on which topic I and three colleagues ran a year-long, interdisciplinary Sawyer Seminar sponsored by the Mellon Foundation. My colleague Leela Gandhi and I co-edited a selection of papers presented in the seminar in a special issue of Critical Inquiry. In the fall of 2018, James Sparrow in the Department of History and I will curate an exhibit from the holdings of the Smart Museum on the @1948 moment.

This past spring my book, Tough Enough: Arbus, Arendt, Didion, McCarthy, Sontag, Weil, was published by the University of Chicago Press. Tough Enoughfocuses on these six women who are aligned with no single tradition but whose work coheres in a style and philosophical viewpoint that derives from a shared attitude toward suffering. What Mary McCarthy called a “cold eye” was not merely a personal aversion to displays of emotion: it was an unsentimental mode of attention that dictated both ethical positions and aesthetic approaches. Tough Enough challenges the pre-eminence of empathy as the ethical posture from which to examine pain. My first book, Pursuing Privacy in Cold War America, examined the discourse of privacy beginning with its emergence asa topic of intense anxiety in the late 1950s. Pairing landmark Supreme Court decisions on the right to privacy with the investigation of privacy and private life in the work of the confessional poets, the book takes up these two discourses for their particularly subtle investigation of the language of privacy as the concept evolved over the next decades.