Sunday, December 10, 2017

Susan Sontag, a New Yorker commentary

The December 11th "New Yorker", just off the newstands, has a "Critic at Large" article focused on the late Susan Sontag.  She was the often provocative cultural critic and observer, a full time intellectual in a time that did not view that as a negative characterization.  A writer of both fiction and non-fiction, Sontag's essays were the foundation of her public persona. Her reputation building years were in the 1960's when she was in her late twenties and early thirties.  She was integrated into the cultural left wing community and viewed as influential yet unpredictable, and to many of the intellectual aspirant wing of the youth counterculture at that time she was a hero.

The title of the New Yorker article is "Acts of Attention" and is written by a critic named Tobi Haslett.  Unknown here, this apparently young and ambitious critic's style was off putting at first.  It seemed to be a precocious display of literary knowledge that was meant to be less about the writer being examined than about the virtuosity of the writer, Haslett.  In fact, halfway through the article on Friday it could not be continued.  Yesterday afternoon it seemed that it should be tackled again given the interest in Sontag here and the feat was completed.  Haslett seems to be an admirer of Sontag who may want to be the Sontag avatar in this day and time.  Too over the top to be there but that's today.

The article reminded me of Sontag's role as  first hand participant in what she observed.  She spent time in Hanoi during the Vietnam War and time in Sarajevo during the siege by the Serbs during the Bosnian massacres.  Audaciously she staged and directed Beckett's "Waiting for Godot" there while the siege was underway.

Despite some personal effort with this "critic at large", reading this was a welcome reminder of Sontag.  Her essays were read with interest and her book length essays such as "On Photography" and "Illness as Metaphor" were debated among friends.  The concept of  "an intellectual" has become a narrow term over the years and now in Trumptime it is considered elitist and out of touch by many.  Not here.

Article recommended for the like-minded.


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