Friday, April 06, 2012

Susan Sontag's self-assassination

A new volume of Susan Sontag’s journals, edited by her son, sheds new light on the critic’s work – but not always in ways that are flattering, discovers Leo Robson.

Susan Sontag, with her son David Rieff Photo: Everett Collection / Rex Feature

‘I must give up writing essays,” Susan Sontag wrote in 1980. “I have become the bearer of certainties that I don’t possess – am not near possessing.” It’s one of the last entries in this second selection of Sontag’s journals, and the parting shot in an act of serial assessment that amounts to a kind of assassination. Susan Sontag represents nothing if not intellectual confidence, and yet here she is, writing at the height of her reputation as a critic and expressing uncertainty, bafflement even. Readers who have always found her work precious or joyless can now support their scepticism with words from the horse’s mouth.
In an essay on Roland Barthes, Sontag praised the journal form as “that exemplary instrument in the career of consciousness”. Elsewhere, she wrote that in its “rawness”, the journal allows us to “encounter the ego behind the masks of ego in an author’s works”. The writer of the journal exists, she wrote in yet another essay, “solely as a perceiving, suffering, struggling being”.
And so it proves here. The Sontag who emerges from these pages is not the Sontag we know from her essays or novels or television appearances. Strident in public, in her journal she portrays herself as fearful and shrinking. We meet Sontag the damaged daughter and Sontag the devoted mother. “What a burden for him,” she writes of her son David Rieff, “all that admiration.”
Full story at The Telegraph

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