Monday, February 9, 2009

Susan Sontag, Reborn

I have been reading John Cheever's novel Falconer and Susan Sontag's Reborn, a collection of journals, and it took me about three days to read Reborn, which I finished this past Saturday.

Susan Sontag's Reborn: Journal and Notebooks, 1947-1963

Reborn (Farrar, Straus, 2008) is an edited presentation of Sontag's journals, documenting her early consciousness, work, and life: art, books, and education; family; love and sexuality. Edited by her son David Rieff, the journals contain genuine philosophical speculations as well as great personal candor, illuminating Sontag's precocious gifts and intellectual ambition, achieving a passionate intensity when she expresses love for broken relationships. Sontag was a private person, and though this book is a raw revelation of some of her intimacies, (on first reading) I don't think it destroys her dignity or value or authority. It may expand her accessibility and range--and, certainly, her discipline and accomplishment are more clear.

Excerpt from "Human Conflict, or the legacies of superfluous men: Hotel Rwanda, The Merchant of Venice, Bad Education, The Woodsman, and Notre Musique"

Susan Sontag, who liked Emerson and Poe, claimed as models Nietzsche, Kafka, and Van Gogh, and also Walter Benjamin and Roland Barthes. Sontag admired, as well, the two Simones, Weil and de Beauvoir. A cosmopolitan thinker, Susan Sontag grew up not in New York or Paris but in Arizona and California; and, an energetic child and an avid reader, she was excited by a biography of Madame Curie by Curie’s daughter and Les Miserables, before turning to Thomas Mann, James Joyce, Eliot, Kafka, and Gide. She graduated high school at fifteen. She attended the University of Chicago, where she studied with Kenneth Burke and Joseph Schwab. Sontag, who did graduate work in philosophy, literature, and theology at Harvard and Oxford, dreamed of writing essays that would be appreciated by informed readers; and that is what she spent her life doing. The philosopher Sartre said that freedom has no essence; and that there are descriptions that aim not at essence but at existence; and, with this in mind, I would say that Susan Sontag sought, found, and lived an exemplary freedom.

(c) DG