*Sontag: Her Life and Work*

That is the new biography by Benjamin Moser, along with Ingmar Bergman bios you can call this topic my soap opera equivalent.  Here are a few scattered bits:

“I’m only interested in people engaged in a project of self-transformation,” Susan wrote in 1971…she read about the University of Chicago, “which didn’t have a football team, where all people did was study, and where they talked about Plato and Aristotle and Aquinas day and night.  I thought, that’s for me.”


The connection between sex and pain was so natural for her — “All relationships are essentially masochistic,” she told Burch — that she could never imagine the loving partnership of equals that Freud had posited.  Her “profoundest experience,” of her mother’s giving and then withdrawing her love, was perpetually renewed.  Harriet dribbled out her affection by the scant thimbleful, which Susan gratefully slurped down: “I suppose, with my sore heart + unused body, it doesn’t take much to make me happy.”  A couple of weeks later, she described the “total collapse” of their relationship and “blindly walking through a forest of pain.”


Brodsky, after all, was the friend she dreamed of…the teacher she hoped to find in Philip Rieff; the companion she had sought all her life, an intellectual and artistic equal, and even a superior.  She never found another friend as congenial, and it was in these terms that she mourned his premature death, at fifty-five.  I’m all alone,” she told a friend.  There’s nobody with whom I can share my ideas, my thoughts.”

Recommended, for those who care.


Susan Sontag was a deeply disturbed individual. It’s hard to believe when there’s so much out there to read that anyone would spend precious free time to study her. Unfortunately, she produced nothing significant, so why are people fascinated with her, or Amun winehouse, or Thom Yorke? Sounds like a mild sadistic pleasure, getting your feels by studying a highly visible person who suffers their entire life.

What's up, after reading this amazing piece of writing
i am too happy to share my know-how here with friends.

Great piece by Sontag acolyte Terry Castle in the LRB:

That article is really funny.

"... she didn’t believe in ‘labels’ and that if anything she was bisexual"

Terry Castle is entertaining; I hope I can find that free online. But meantime I slid down a LRB chute about the biographer's previous subject, Clarice Lispector, and some literary magazine squabbling over translation and hipster claims to ownership of her legacy. Lady writers not much known during their lives sometimes become hot commodities after their deaths.

Lispector was striking, like Sontag. It got me wondering if there is a connection between the admiration lady writers of the 20th century command, and how well they moodily photographed in black-and-white. I'd extend it to poetesses but I don't feel like googling anymore today.

Maybe this is why Jonathan Franzen's effort to revive interest in Christina Stead didn't catch fire.

I can't say she became a favorite, but I'd see any of Lispector's or Sontag's outré scenes or pronouncements and raise Stead's of being asked in by a neighbor for some cake, and to drown some kittens for her.

"I hope I can find that free online"

It worked for me in a "private window".

I finally got in through the back door of pinterest, of all places.

I realize now I had read it before. It's got a bit of Florence King zing worth a re-read.

Regarding the curating of her house to please a never-visiting Sontag, I expect if I were a reader of lit crit, I would probably find Castle's books more worthy of show than Sontag's. I'll give that a test some time. (And the novels I really cannot do, in any case ...). I can't imagine stocking a bookshelf on the theme of lesbians and their cultural touchstones, but then, my shy offers to people to come by and examine my large collection of Texana, have resulted in no takers either.

Don't care, so not recommended for me.

It's appropriate that this blog post about Sontag precedes the blog post with a link to another review of Cowen's book praising Big Business. Pessimism and optimism aren't opposites but six degrees of the same thing. Greta Thunberg says we are sacrificing the planet for economic growth. Cowen says we can only save the planet if we are devoted to economic growth. I suppose the benefit of pessimism and optimism is that it shines a light on their mutual dependence: one cannot be pessimistic unless there's optimism to compare it to. Critics of Sontag say she was a hypocrite: against the market system while living in luxury. She was misunderstood. Wealth and fame don't guarantee happiness. I'd point out that some folks' happiness depends on the misery of others. No, not in the market exploitation sense, but the literal sense. Is that a mental defect? If so, humanity has a serious mental problem.

and what is the best ignmar bergman bio??

It just seems that if you have the insight to recognize that your toxic parents are poisoning your relationships, you could try to work on healing.

I chuckled at the part where she said she believed in self-transformation, then sought out an environment that had all of the things she was already interested in and none that she wasn't.

Truly and properly recommended, Marvin Mudrick's review of A Susan Sontag Reader, placed in Harper's in 1983. Richard Grenier's critique of her activities over the previous three decades was placed in The New Republic around that time.

The connection between sex and pain was so natural for her — “All relationships are essentially masochistic,” she told Burch

See Mudrick on this sort of statement, "what matters [to her] is 'style', or, getting away with it".

One of my favorite essayists, however, the bio looks iffy. I'll give it a shot.

Oh look, Tyler Cowen praising an anti-social Jew (redundant, I know).

All the open, virulent racism, misogyny, and anti-Semitism in the comment section that the hosts have no problem with. So edgy!

They censor the hell out of cuck jokes though.

Is there anything of Sontag's that is worth reading today by someone otherwise unacquainted with her work first hand? Not because of historical interest, but because of continuing relevance today? It seems that the books about her seem more popular then her works, does this mean that is her life that is interesting and not her works?

"Illness as Metaphor" is still timely. I've read that people in Hungary don't like to admit that they have cancer, and thus don't want to be tested for it, to the detriment of their health. There are thousands of other examples: dozens or hundreds of diseases in I'm guessing every culture in the world.

We perhaps have greater awareness nowadays of illness as metaphor, thanks to both AIDS as well as whatever it is that the xenophobes want to accuse the immigrants and refugees of bringing in. But many Americans are still unaware of the projections and associations that they are making with various diseases. And Sontag was the person who explicitly recognized this and brought it to light.

"On Photography" is still a classic, but is perhaps more of a starting point for thinking about the role of photography in culture, in memory, and in our lives.

Sontag paid her way with this, if nothing else:

''Imagine, if you will, someone who read only the Reader's Digest between 1950 and 1970, and someone in the same period who read only The Nation or The New Statesman. Which reader would have been better informed about the realities of Communism? The answer, I think, should give us pause. Can it be that our enemies were right?''

Context here:

It may be time for a revaluation of her former husband, Philip Rieff, whose work attacking the contemporary "deathworks" seems more prescient as time goes on.


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