Empathy has been receiving a lot of attention recently, its importance urged not only in national politics but also in the workplace, schools, between friends, and among strangers.
But what if we are wrong? What if empathy isn’t what we need, but unsentimentality? This talk by Deborah Nelson describes the ethics and aesthetics of unsentimentality as practiced by some of the late 20th century’s most notable women artists and intellectuals: Susan Sontag, AB’51, Diane Arbus, Hannah Arendt, Joan Didion, Mary McCarthy, and Simone Weil. Drawing upon her recent book, Tough Enough (University of Chicago Press, 2017), Nelson will consider what it would mean to have an ethics without empathy even in the face of extreme suffering.
Deborah Nelson is a professor of English and chair of the English department at the University of Chicago, where she studies late 20th-century US culture and politics. Her book Tough Enough: Arbus, Arendt, Didion, McCarthy, Sontag, Weil, published in 2017 by the University of Chicago Press, focuses on six women whose work coheres in a style and philosophical viewpoint that challenges the preeminence of empathy as the ethical posture from which to examine pain. Nelson’s first book, Pursuing Privacy in Cold War America, examined the discourse of privacy beginning with its emergence as a topic of intense anxiety in the late 1950s.
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