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Author Topic: Susan Sontag dies at 71
Babbler # 478

posted 30 December 2004 11:32 AM      Profile for skdadl     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Here is the very good AP overview of her life that appeared in many sources earlier this week.

She was a great woman, sometimes an inspired critic, and a great public intellectual.

Ignore the novels. Read the essays.

Gore Vidal, as usual, was acute in this early observation:

"Unfortunately, Miss Sontag's intelligence is still greater than her talent," Gore Vidal wrote in a 1967 review of "Death Kit."

"Yet ... once she has freed herself of literature, she will have the power to make it, and there are not many American writers one can say that of."

I always thought it was a shame that she should spend any of her time and energies trying to be a novelist. Not all literary talent needs to be directed to story-telling, and she was peculiarly unsuited to tale-spinning.

And yet she was literary to her bones, a great essayist, and that is no second prize at all. She was something of a moralizer, and yet her respect for the rigours of aesthetics kept her honest and inspiring.

The world has yet to catch up to "Illness as Metaphor," such a powerful statement.

I admired her so much. In literary history she has certainly earned the stature of, eg, a Matthew Arnold.

In a little more than a year, we have lost Edward Said (September 2003), Jaques Derrida (this summer), and Sontag, all passionate but wise champions of a genuinely humane and humanist civilization. We must live in faith that they will have heirs worthy of them.

From: gone | Registered: May 2001  |  IP: Logged
jeff house
Babbler # 518

posted 30 December 2004 12:41 PM      Profile for jeff house     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
I agree with Skdadl that the books on disease are extremely interesting. Also, I really liked "Under the Sign of Saturn", which has the famous essay on fascist aesthetics.

The AP obituary, above, seems to me to underemphasize Sontag's disgust with the progress of American society. Her comments on 9-11 are a recent example, but there are many more. Choosing her support for Rushdie as an example of her "human rights" commitments seems to me to choose the one case most likely to be non-controversial within the USA. She was also a champion of political prisoners in Chile, in Guatemala, and in other places where the US was on the side of repression.

I know obituaries are supposeed to be kind; but this one uses an airbrush to reconfigure her life to some extent.

From: toronto | Registered: May 2001  |  IP: Logged
Babbler # 478

posted 30 December 2004 01:02 PM      Profile for skdadl     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Fair enough, jeff house. Well, it's AP, y'know, and I was in elevated obit mode. But you're right -- Sontag was never into sentimental platitudes, and we shouldn't do that to her now.

The essay on fascism: I read it first in the NY Review of Books, and remember being bothered by how far she was extending the analysis. It began as an essay on Riefenstahl's photography of the Nuba, yes? (Or have I got the wrong essay here?)

While I followed her reading of Riefenstahl and was grateful for it, I began to wonder about the way she spun it out to encompass a great deal of North American popular culture.

No question that, in that culture -- as, actually, in any popular culture -- there is potential for fascism. But she seemed willing to include any enthusiastic or transcendent impulse in her analysis (I'm using the word "enthusiastic" in its C18 sense, as first applied to Methodists).

It was when she tossed Janis Joplin in, eg, that I dug in my heels and thought, maybe this is getting just too overgeneral.

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Willowdale Wizard
Babbler # 3674

posted 30 December 2004 08:37 PM      Profile for Willowdale Wizard   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Her comments on 9-11 are a recent example

from the new yorker on the 24th september, 2001:

Our leaders are bent on convincing us that everything is O.K. America is not afraid. Our spirit is unbroken, although this was a day that will live in infamy and America is now at war. But everything is not O.K. And this was not Pearl Harbor. We have a robotic President who assures us that America still stands tall. A wide spectrum of public figures, in and out of office, who are strongly opposed to the policies being pursued abroad by this Administration apparently feel free to say nothing more than that they stand united behind President Bush. A lot of thinking needs to be done, and perhaps is being done in Washington and elsewhere, about the ineptitude of American intelligence and counter-intelligence, about options available to American foreign policy, particularly in the Middle East, and about what constitutes a smart program of military defense. But the public is not being asked to bear much of the burden of reality. The unanimously applauded, self-congratulatory bromides of a Soviet Party Congress seemed contemptible. The unanimity of the sanctimonious, reality-concealing rhetoric spouted by American officials and media commentators in recent days seems, well, unworthy of a mature democracy.

and a few more memories of her from "the guardian" today ...

I've spent my life interviewing smart, famous people, but interviewing Susan was something else again. We were doing Night Waves for [BBC] Radio 3, there was a problem with the studio, I remember, and we had to wait outside. She arrived, sat down next to me and started talking. I don't know how it happened, but within minutes the fear had dribbled away. Somehow we (she?) got on to the study of consciousness and how far, by understanding the human brain, we might understand the need for the idea of God. I was just so busy thinking, and having so much fun doing it, that there was no time to be in awe. Her whole being vibrated with the pleasure of thought. She was so infectiously "interested" that you couldn't help but join in.

From: england (hometown of toronto) | Registered: Jan 2003  |  IP: Logged
Babbler # 478

posted 23 February 2005 12:43 PM      Profile for skdadl     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Did anyone else read Sontag's most recently published essay, a review of a translation of Under the Glacier by the Icelandic novelist and Nobel laureate Halldor Laxness in this last weekend's NY Times Book Review?

A Report on the Journey

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The essay is stunningly well done. If you want a model for how to write a book review, how to stop minds almost as completely as would the original novel except in a completely different way, in the way of an essayist, study this piece.

She has certainly convinced me to read Laxness, but I am saving that review as well. Word for word, it is hard and clear as diamonds.

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