Susan Sontag

Susan Sontag died in 2004.

‘Non piangere.’ Don’t cry. These are the opening words of Anna Banti’s novel Artemisia. Who is talking? And when? The first-person voice – that of the author – writes ‘this August day’, omitting both the date and the year, but these are not hard to fill in: 4 August 1944. The Nazi occupation of Florence, following the collapse of the Mussolini...

Wagner’s Fluids

Susan Sontag, 10 December 1987

Water, blood, healing balm, magic potions-fluids play a decisive role in this mythology.

Dancer and the Dance

Susan Sontag, 5 February 1987

Lincoln Kirstein, the finest historian of the dance and one of its greatest ideologues, has observed that in the 19th century what the prestige of ballet really amounted to was the reputation of the dancer; and that even when there were great choreographers (notably Petipa) and great dance scores (from Adam, Delibes and Tchaikovsky), dance was still almost entirely identified for the large theatrical public with the personality and virtuosity of great dancers. That triumphant mutation in dance taste and in the composition of dance audiences which occurred just before World War One, in response to the authoritative intensity and exoticism of the Ballets Russes, did not challenge the old imbalance of attention – not even with the subsequent invention by Diaghilev of dance as an ambitious collaboration, in which major innovative artists outside the dance world were brought in to enhance this theatre of astonishment. The score might be by Stravinsky, the decor by Picasso, the costumes by Chanel, the libretto by Cocteau. But the blow of the sublime was delivered by a Nijinsky or a Karsavina – by the dancer. According to Kirstein, it was only with the advent of a choreographer so complete in his gifts as to change dance for ever, George Balanchine, that the primacy of the choreographer over the performer, of dance over the dancer, finally came to be understood.

On campus everyone wore jeans but in the city everyone wore mink, Simone de Beauvoir observed when she visited Vassar College to give a talk in February 1947. The reason, she thought, was that...

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Still Superior: Sex and Susan Sontag

Mark Greif, 12 February 2009

One of the most appealing things about Susan Sontag was that she didn’t ask to be liked. Other postwar American writers who cut the same sort of public figure pleaded with you to love their...

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Seriously Uncool: Susan Sontag

Jenny Diski, 22 March 2007

Susan Sontag intended something like the book which is now published as At the Same Time to be her final collection of essays. After that, says her son, David Rieff, in his foreword, she intended...

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Humanitarian Art: Susan Sontag

Jeremy Harding, 21 August 2003

Photographs, for Susan Sontag, are accessories to the act of remembering. Regarding the Pain of Others is as much about what we do and don’t remember as it is about representations of...

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A Likely Story

Frank Kermode, 25 January 1996

Faced with such books as these it is hard not to regret the passing of an age when it seemed easy to write about painting and painters. The grapes of Zeuxis, as Pliny admiringly observed, were so...

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Linda Colley, 3 December 1992

Why did Susan Sontag write this book? Essayist and cultural critic, interpreter of Aids, cancer, the cinema, Fascism and pornography, recipient of Jonathan Miller’s burdensome accolade...

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Sickness and Salvation

Sylvia Lawson, 31 August 1989

Each of these polemical books considers health and illness in recent Western history. Each moves in to large areas of disputation and advertisement, involving sections of the medical and...

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The Meaninglessness of Meaning

Michael Wood, 9 October 1986

A diary, Roland Barthes suggested, provokes in its writer not the tragic question, ‘Who am I?’ but the comic question: ‘Am I?’ This elegant and amused remark goes some way...

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The Big Show

David Blackbourn, 3 March 1983

While Syberberg was making this film, over three thousand West German schoolchildren were asked to write an essay on the subject ‘What I have heard about Adolf Hitler’. The wording...

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