Monday, December 29, 2014

Susan Sontag Remembered

Ten years ago the American writer Susan Sontag died of cancer at the way too early age of 71.

Sometimes called "The Dark Lady of American Letters", she was, in fact, a modern day Renaissance Woman. Besides writing cultural and political criticism as well as novels and plays, Sontag also directed experimental films and directed theater productions -- for example, in wartime Sarajevo in the 1990s. Unlike many other writers and artists who live in metaphorical ivory towers, writing knowledgeably about the world while having actual little contact with it, Sontag embraced life with vigor. She pursued her talents across a wide variety of media and dived into the controversies of late 20th century, early 21st century America. She lived her art, engaged her world, and thrust herself into the world that she wished to criticize and save. She also had a very colorful person life which, one might consider, another part of her art.
Sontag was a polemicist. She took radical positions and issued strident opinions -- for example, bemoaning the wars and evils that the "white race" had inflicted upon the world. After 9/11, she challenged American to examine its Mid-East policies and see how they had contributed to the attacks -- a view that was not, to say the least, a popular one at the time. But she never apologized and never backed down from her positions. She was tough.

Sontag was an original -- sometimes right, sometimes wrong, always interesting. It's a shame that she died before Twitter became a thing -- she would have had a doozy of a feed.

In the mid-1960s, Songtag shot to fame with an essay she published called "Notes on Camp" where she posits that "camp" -- low brow cultural and trivial things -- in fact, have great societal and cultural value. It's a brilliant, revolutionary piece of writing and, in many ways, it changed the very culture she was observing. Sontag bridged high and low culture, the crass with the beautiful, and saw the goodness in both. I'm sure that, in 2014, if she were still alive, Sontag would have been a fan of both "Masterpiece" and the Kardashians.

Recently on HBO, there was a new documentary called "Regarding Susan Sontag" that's both very good and "warts and all", like the woman herself. It's worth a look.

If only we still had Susan Sontag today, the world might make a little bit more sense. 

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