Susan Sontag (1933-2004)

News about Leonard Cohen and his work, press, radio & TV programs etc.
User avatar
tomsakic
Posts: 5247
Joined: Wed Jul 03, 2002 2:12 pm
Location: Zagreb, Croatia
Contact:

Susan Sontag (1933-2004)

Post by tomsakic » Wed Dec 29, 2004 11:01 am

She died yesterday at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York.

From YahooNews:
Susan Sontag, a leading intellectual and activist of the past half century who introduced the concept of "camp" to mainstream culture and also influenced the way many thought about art, illness and photography, died Tuesday. She was 71.
Esther Carver, a spokeswoman for Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in Manhattan. Her son, David Rieff, said the cause was complications of acute myelogenous leukemia, one of the deadliest forms of leukemia.
Sontag had suffered off and on from cancer since the 1970s. She was so ill last May that she did not attend the funeral of her longtime publisher, Roger Straus, co-founder of Farrar, Straus & Giroux.
"I knew Susan since 1962 and I know how much she suffered and how brave she was facing her illness," fellow author Carlos Fuentes told The Associated Press in Mexico City. Three times she had cancer. Last time I saw her in Montreal (in March 2004), we were together on the stage and she said, 'This is like baseball, three strikes and you're out.'"
Sontag called herself a "besotted aesthete," an "obsessed moralist" and a "zealot of seriousness." Tall and commanding, her very presence suggested grand, passionate drama: eyes the richest brown; thick, black hair accented by a bolt of white; the voice deep and assured; her expression a severe stare or a wry smile, as if amused by a joke only she could tell.
She wrote a best-selling historical novel, "The Volcano Lover," and in 2000 won the National Book Award for the historical novel "In America." But her greatest literary impact was as an essayist.
Her 1964 piece, "Notes on Camp," which established her as a major new writer, popularized the "so bad it's good" attitude toward popular culture, applicable to everything from "Swan Lake" to feather boas. In "Against Interpretation," this most analytical of writers worried that critical analysis interfered with art's "incantatory, magical" power.
She also wrote such influential works as "Illness as Metaphor," in which she examined how disease had been alternately romanticized and demonized, and "On Photography," in which she argued pictures sometimes distance viewers from the subject matter. "On Photography" received a National Book Critics Circle award in 1978. "Regarding the Pain of Others," a partial refutation of "On Photography," was an NBCC finalist in 2004.
Sontag had an insatiable passion for literature, with thousands of books — arranged by chronology and language — occupying, and defining, her New York apartment. In conversation, she comfortably used words such as "polyphonic" and "surreptitiously." She read writers from all over the world and is credited with introducing such European intellectuals as Roland Barthes and Elias Canetti to American readers.
Unlike many American authors, she was deeply involved in politics, even after the 1960s. From 1987-89, Sontag served as president of the American chapter of the writers organization PEN. When the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini called for Salman Rushdie's death because of the alleged blasphemy of Rushdie's "The Satanic Verses," Sontag helped lead protests in the literary community.
"She was a true friend in need," Rushdie said in a statement Tuesday. "Susan Sontag was a great literary artist, a fearless and original thinker, ever valiant for truth, and an indefatigable ally in many struggles."
She campaigned relentlessly for human rights and visited the unraveling Yugoslavia in the early 1990s, calling for international action against the growing civil war. In 1993, she went to Sarajevo and staged a production of "Waiting for Godot."
Fuentes, the Mexican novelist, praised Sontag's "devotion to literature, her courage, which she demonstrated once and again in political matters — Vietnam and Sarajevo — in the policies of the Bush administration, in her books on AIDS, on illness as a metaphor."
The daughter of a fur trader, Sontag was born Susan Rosenblatt in New York in 1933. She spent her early years in Tucson, Ariz., and Los Angeles. Her mother was an alcoholic; her father died when she was 5. Her mother later married an Army officer, Capt. Nathan Sontag.
Susan Sontag remembered her childhood as "one long prison sentence." She skipped three grades and graduated from high school at 15; the principal told her she was wasting her time there. Her mother, meanwhile, warned if she did not stop reading she would never marry.
Her mother was wrong. At the University of Chicago, she attended a lecture by Philip Rieff, a social psychologist and historian. They were married 10 days later. She was 17, he 28. "He was passionate, he was bookish, he was pure," Sontag later said of him.
Their son, David, was born in 1952. But by the mid-1960s, they were divorced, and Sontag had emerged in New York's literary society. She was known for her essays, but also wrote fiction, although not so successfully at first. "Death Kit" and "The Benefactor" were experimental novels few found worthy.
"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."
Sontag's fiction became more accessible. She wrote an acclaimed short story about AIDS, "The Way We Live Now," and a best-selling novel, "The Volcano Lover," about Lord Nelson and his mistress, Lady Hamilton.
In 2000, her novel, "In America," about 19th-century Polish actress Helena Modjeska, was a commercial disappointment and was criticized for the uncredited use of material from fiction and nonfiction sources. Nonetheless, Sontag won the National Book Award.
Sontag also wrote and directed the films "Duet for Cannibals," "Brother Carl" and "Promised Lands" and wrote the play "Alice in Bed," based on the life of Alice James, the ailing sister of Henry and William James. Sontag appeared as herself in Woody Allen (news)'s mock documentary, "Zelig."
In 1999, she wrote an essay for "Women," a compilation of portraits by her longtime companion, photographer Annie Leibovitz.
Sontag did not practice the art of restrained discourse. Writing in the 1960s about the Vietnam War she declared "the white race is the cancer of human history." Days after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, she criticized U.S. foreign policy and offered backhanded praise for the hijackers.
"Where is the acknowledgment that this was not a 'cowardly' attack on 'civilization' or 'liberty' or 'humanity' or 'the free world' but an attack on the world's self-proclaimed superpower, undertaken as a consequence of specific American alliances and actions?" she wrote in The New Yorker.
"In the matter of courage (a morally neutral virtue): whatever may be said of the perpetrators of Tuesday's slaughter, they were not cowards."
Even among sympathetic souls, she found reason to contend. At a 1998 dinner, she was one of three recipients of the Writers for Writers Award, given by Poets & Writers, Inc., a nonprofit literary organization, for contributions to others in the field. Sontag spoke after fellow guest of honor E.L. Doctorow, who urged writers to treat each other as "colleagues" and worried about the isolation of what he called "print culture."
"I agree with Mr. Doctorow that we are all colleagues, but there are perhaps too many of us," Sontag said.
"Nobody has to be a writer. Print culture may be under siege, but there has been an enormous inflation in the number of books printed, and very few of these could be considered part of literature. ... Unlike what has been said here before, for me the primary obligation is human solidarity."
Image

She was brave. And she told Peter Handke what he deserved also.
User avatar
lizzytysh
Posts: 25384
Joined: Thu Jun 27, 2002 8:57 pm
Location: Florida, U.S.A.

Post by lizzytysh » Wed Dec 29, 2004 9:05 pm

A phenomenal woman. I heard discussions of her/her death on the radio yesterday. Thanks for bringing this whole 'article' here, Tom.
User avatar
lightning
Posts: 1352
Joined: Fri Jul 19, 2002 4:54 am
Location: New York City
Contact:

Post by lightning » Thu Dec 30, 2004 6:50 am

I used to see her walking the streets of Soho New York with her companion Annie Leibowitz , the celebrated photographer. Each seemed to be absorbed in her own private world. Susan invariably had a cigarette in her mouth even after her breast cancer operation. "How could anyone so smart be so stupid," I asked myself on seeing the cigarette, and realized that intellectual "smart", though prized by the culture, does not go very far or deep.
User avatar
Dem
Posts: 1077
Joined: Sat Jun 29, 2002 3:05 am

Post by Dem » Sat Jan 01, 2005 10:04 pm

Tom, what did she say to Peter Handke?

And Lightning, what do you exactly mean whith your last sentence "...and realized that intellectual "smart", though prized by the culture, does not go very far or deep."
User avatar
lightning
Posts: 1352
Joined: Fri Jul 19, 2002 4:54 am
Location: New York City
Contact:

Post by lightning » Sun Jan 02, 2005 1:47 am

I meant that she didn't seem to have the sense to stop smoking even after a cancer operation, though she has written many books.
User avatar
Dem
Posts: 1077
Joined: Sat Jun 29, 2002 3:05 am

Post by Dem » Sun Jan 02, 2005 1:44 pm

Yes, but you don't really believe that it was a matter of "smartness", do you?
User avatar
lightning
Posts: 1352
Joined: Fri Jul 19, 2002 4:54 am
Location: New York City
Contact:

Post by lightning » Sun Jan 02, 2005 6:56 pm

I don't know what else to call it when one weighs the evidence against smoking, then , assuming one wants to live and be healthy, ends the addiction. When one acts against ones own self-interest we call it dumb or foolish. The brain is primarily an organ of survival, not that it can't be used for literature, philosphy and other diversions less important than survival of the whole body.
User avatar
Dem
Posts: 1077
Joined: Sat Jun 29, 2002 3:05 am

Post by Dem » Sun Jan 02, 2005 8:23 pm

Sigmund Freud would call it "the death instinct".

And Wilhelm Reich would have a lot more to say about what he called 'the cancer biopathy' and the character structure of the cancerous patient.

But that's another story and way out of the scope of this forum.

Demetris
User avatar
lightning
Posts: 1352
Joined: Fri Jul 19, 2002 4:54 am
Location: New York City
Contact:

Post by lightning » Mon Jan 03, 2005 2:45 am

You cite two largely discredited, though one time vogue-ish and interesting pseudo scientists. Freud himself died of a smoking cancer so it's appropriate to refer to him, but I'm not sure he fully cooperated with his painful death. Do you want to buy a genuine Reichian orgone box? A friend of mine rented it from Reich's Organon and it was declared illegal during his possesion of it so he couldn't return it. It lies in storage disassembled. It's bulky and did nothing.
User avatar
Dem
Posts: 1077
Joined: Sat Jun 29, 2002 3:05 am

Post by Dem » Mon Jan 03, 2005 4:27 am

From what you write I would guess that your friend's "orgone box" is a bit old and not in a very good condition. But if I am wrong, yes I am interested in buying it.
Actually it is called "orgone accumulator" and not "box".
And Reich's laboratory/house, turned to a museum now, in Rangeley Maine was called "Orgonon" and not Organon".

From the arrogance/ignorance of your reply I understand that you haven't read a single book by W.Reich much less duplicate any of his experiments so as to be able to judge for yourself and not to rely to what any friend tells you.

But in case that you have I would be very interested in discussing in detail the results you had.

As about Freud, no comment.
I demand some prerequisites from the other person in order to have a serious discussion on the subject.
User avatar
tom.d.stiller
Posts: 1207
Joined: Fri Mar 07, 2003 8:18 am
Location: ... between the lines ...

Post by tom.d.stiller » Mon Jan 03, 2005 10:00 am

The case file about smoking and cancer is, in terms of scientific methodology, as strong as the one about the monthly sales of winter clothing in london and the average temperature in Montreal.

Freud - apart from his being vogue-ish some time ago - is fundamentally wrong where he tries a simple biologism. Some of his insights, though, are worth more than thousands of pages published by those currently vogue-ish.

Reich errs where Freud erred. His work, I think, is torn between considerably insight into the psychosomatic structure of human being and oversimplified psycho-mechanics.

I don't want to start more wars on this forum, neither about smoking nor about the tenuous relationship between human being and what some consider it's scientific study. Therefore I wish I had a banjo...

Tom

PS: Did anyone ever wonder why it's always the rich people that have all the money?
User avatar
tomsakic
Posts: 5247
Joined: Wed Jul 03, 2002 2:12 pm
Location: Zagreb, Croatia
Contact:

Post by tomsakic » Mon Jan 03, 2005 11:52 am

Peter Handke was pretty controversial in his native Austria and actually everywhere, because he was the only intelectual supporting Serbian war (and he still supports Slobodan Milosevic in Hague). His own political beliefs (anti-American, antimodern( found in Serbia "the last chosen God nation" which will show the west that the path which civilization has taken is wrong, and that his prophet of that Serbian "divine mission". So he claimed that there were no crimes in Bosnia and mass graves, wrote dozen of essays and plays supporting Milosevic and his waretc etc. He still continues doing that, but he's mostly claimed as "insane" and "maniac" by most writes and intelectual circles. Now it's mostly the old story, but in 1991-93 when he was talking that around, it was big shock for PEN and all most of educated people and intelectuals (maybe because he was beloved and talented writer, he was leftist, he worked on films by Wim Wenders - let' say that he co-wrote one of my favorite movies Wings of Desire aka Himmel uber Berlin). Sontag was staging Godot in Sarajevo, and she was totally made about Handke. That was big issue in those years, but in the end Handke simply lost every kind of legitimacy as author at all, and Susan Sontag wrote him publicly that he's "finished in New York".
More here
User avatar
tomsakic
Posts: 5247
Joined: Wed Jul 03, 2002 2:12 pm
Location: Zagreb, Croatia
Contact:

Post by tomsakic » Mon Jan 03, 2005 11:59 am

"In the battle for the hotly contested title of International Moron of the Year, two heavyweight contenders stand out.
One is the Austrian writer Peter Handke, who has astonished even his work's most fervent admirers by a series of impassioned apologias for the genocidal regime of Slobodan Milosevic, and who, during a recent visit to Belgrade, received the Order of the Serbian Knight for his propaganda services.
Handke's previous idiocies include the suggestion that Sarajevo's Muslims regularly massacred themselves and then blamed the Serbs and his denial of the genocide carried out by Serbs at Srebrenica. Now he likens the NATO aerial bombardment to the alien invasion in the movie "Mars Attacks!'' And then, foolishly mixing his metaphors, he compares the Serbs' sufferings to the Holocaust."

from the article by Salman Rushdie

"Never mind that Handke is co-writer of that great movie 'Wings of Desire.'' Condemned as a 'monster' by Alain Finkielkraut and Hans Magnus Enzensberger, by the Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Zizek and the Serbian novelist Bora Cosic, he deserves to be, as Susan Sontag pithily puts it, 'finished.' "
User avatar
lightning
Posts: 1352
Joined: Fri Jul 19, 2002 4:54 am
Location: New York City
Contact:

Post by lightning » Mon Jan 03, 2005 5:26 pm

Dem,
I was joking about selling the Orgone Box ( or Accumulator) as it is actually contraband and would probably be a federal offense to ship it through the mail. An antique dealer who specializes in medical devices is most likely to wind up with it, but he wants to know if there are any markings on it indicating its origin. There aren't. As another former Reichian put it, Reich wasn't "into that." However, there are instructions on the net for building yourself one if you would like to have one.
As for your assumption that I never read any of Reich's books or even tried a Reichian therapist , you are incorrect, but that was close to 40 years ago. Like the Orgone box it didn't seem to do much for me, but at that time lots of people in New York believed in it like a religion.
User avatar
Dem
Posts: 1077
Joined: Sat Jun 29, 2002 3:05 am

Post by Dem » Tue Jan 04, 2005 5:43 pm

Strange thing that shipping a plain "box" made of wood and steel that does nothing to be a federal offense, isn't it?

Dem
Post Reply

Return to “News”