Susan Sontag  

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It would be hard to find any reputable literary critic today who would care to be caught defending as an idea the old antithesis of style versus content. On this issue a pious consensus prevails. Everyone is quick to avow that style and content are indissoluble, that the strongly individual style of each important writer is an organic aspect of his work and never something merely "decorative." --"On Style", 1966, Susan Sontag

"One important consequence of the new sensibility [is] that the distinction between "high" and "low" culture seems less and less meaningful." --"One Culture and the New Sensibility", Susan Sontag, 1965.


"Susan Sontag, who could have been Jane Harrison's successor as a supreme woman scholar, had become synonymous with a shallow kind of hip posturing." -- Camille Paglia[1]

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Susan Sontag (January 16, 1933 – December 28, 2004)) was an American essayist, novelist, intellectual, filmmaker and activist.

She frequently wrote about the intersection of high culture and low culture. Her 1964 essay "Notes on Camp"" examined an alternative sensibility to seriousness and comedy: Camp. Sontag also gestured to the "so bad it's good" concept in popular culture for the first time.

Contents

Controversies

Sontag drew fire for writing that "Mozart, Pascal, Boolean algebra, Shakespeare, parliamentary government, baroque churches, Newton, the emancipation of women, Kant, Balanchine ballets, et al. don't redeem what this particular civilization has wrought upon the world. The white race is the cancer of human history." Sontag later offered an ironic apology for the remark, saying it was insensitive to cancer victims.

In a well-circulated essay entitled "Sontag, Bloody Sontag," Camille Paglia describes her initial admiration for Sontag and her subsequent disillusionment with the author. Paglia wrote,

Sontag's cool exile was a disaster for the American women's movement. Only a woman of her prestige could have performed the necessary critique and debunking of the first instant-canon feminist screeds, such as those of Kate Millett or Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar, whose middlebrow mediocrity crippled women's studies from the start. No patriarchal villains held Sontag back; her failures are her own.

Paglia proceeds to detail a series of criticisms of Sontag, including Harold Bloom's comment on Paglia's doctoral dissertation, of "Mere Sontagisme!". This "had become synonymous with a shallow kind of hip posturing." Paglia also describes Sontag as a "sanctimonious moralist of the old-guard literary world". She told of a visit by Sontag to Bennington, in which she arrived hours late, ignored the agreed upon topic of the event, and made an incessant series of ridiculous demands.

In 1968 Sontag was criticized for visiting Hanoi, the capital of North Vietnam, during the Vietnam War.

Ellen Lee accused Sontag of plagiarism when Lee discovered at least twelve passages in In America that were similar to passages in four other books about Helena Modjeska. Those books included a novel by Willa Cather. (Cather wrote: "When Oswald asked her to propose a toast, she put out her long arm, lifted her glass, and looking into the blur of the candlelight with a grave face, said: 'To my coun-n-try!'" Sontag wrote, "When asked to propose a toast, she put out her long arm, lifted her glass, and looking into the blur of the candlelight, crooned, 'To my new country!' " "Country," muttered Miss Collingridge. "Not 'coun-n-try.'") The quotations were presented without credit or attribution.

Sontag said about using the passages, ""All of us who deal with real characters in history transcribe and adopt original sources in the original domain. I've used these sources and I've completely transformed them. I have these books. I've looked at these books. There's a larger argument to be made that all of literature is a series of references and allusions."

Sontag sparked controversy for her remarks in The New Yorker (September 24, 2001) about the immediate aftermath of the September 11th, 2001 attacks. Sontag wrote:

"Where is the acknowledgment that this was not a 'cowardly' attack on 'civilization' or 'liberty' or 'humanity' or 'the free world' but an attack on the world's self-proclaimed superpower, undertaken as a consequence of specific American alliances and actions? How many citizens are aware of the ongoing American bombing of Iraq? And if the word "cowardly" is to be used, it might be more aptly applied to those who kill from beyond the range of retaliation, high in the sky, than to those willing to die themselves in order to kill others. In the matter of courage (a morally neutral virtue): Whatever may be said of the perpetrators of Tuesday's slaughter, they were not cowards."

Similar remarks were made by political commentator/comedian Bill Maher, and by British journalist and author Robert Fisk.

Perhaps the most well-known criticism of Sontag was in the film Bull Durham, written and directed by Ron Shelton. The character Crash Davis, played by Kevin Costner said, "I believe in the soul, the cock, the pussy, the small of a woman's back, the hanging curve ball, high fiber, good scotch, that the novels of Susan Sontag are self-indulgent, overrated crap..."

Sontag was criticized for her statement, "Communism is fascism with a human face."

Nonfiction

Collections of essays

Sontag also published nonfiction essays in The New Yorker, The New York Review of Books, Times Literary Supplement, The Nation, Granta, Partisan Review and the London Review of Books.

Monographs




Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Susan Sontag" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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