Friday, April 10, 2009

Sontag contra Sontag

Daniel Mendelsohn has a long, excellent appreciation of Susan Sontag in TNR, apropos of her published journals but really an overall consideration, from which I could quote entirely too much. Let's jump to the conclusion:
Sontag's was, essentially, the eighteenth-century sensibility that she so brilliantly evoked in the character of Hamilton, whom she ends by damning. An aesthete and an accumulator of experience, she nonetheless yearned all her life--because she was so taught by the kind of novels that she ingested but could not, in the end, ever write--to inhabit the century to which her son touchingly assigns her, the nineteenth, with its grand passions and its Romantic energies. Emotionally, she thought she was the one; intellectually, she was the other. This confusion helps to account for so much about her life and her work: the strange analytical coldness about normal human passions--that desire to make sex "cognitive"--and the remarkably hot passion for the stimulation of books, theater, films; the initial embrace of the importance of the daringly new, the avant garde, the louche and outre, followed by the retreat into the conventional (the historical novel!), the canonical, the established, the "great"; the wobbly relationship between the criticism, which was her calling, and the fiction, which was not.
A thoughtful, sympathetic, objective piece, very much worth reading.

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