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Hottentot in Jackboots

John Bayley: The Cockney School, 10 June 1999

Poetry and Politics in the Cockney School 
by Jeffrey Cox.
Cambridge, 287 pp., £37.50, January 1999, 0 521 63100 9
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... in some of which the nude figures were suitably draped. In her novel The Volcano Lover Susan Sontag imagined Hamilton’s horror at this endless reproduction of his beloved vase. ‘Everyone could have, should have, a Portland Vase’ – but who could really love a vase which had become a mere ‘notion’? An ironic paradox is that while the ...

On Robert Silvers

Andrew O’Hagan: Remembering Robert Silvers, 20 April 2017

... mean Frank Sinatra and Studio 54, it meant Alfred Kazin and Lionel Trilling, Lillian Hellman and Susan Sontag. I loved its papers, the swagger of the contributors, the New York intellectuals, with their neuroses, their arguments, their marriages, and their parties. Wilson’s disagreement with Nabokov, Lillian’s fight with Mary, and Norman’s fights ...

Men are just boys

Marina Warner: Boys’ Play, 6 May 2021

No Boys Play Here: A Story of Shakespeare and My Family’s Missing Men 
by Sally Bayley.
William Collins, 253 pp., £14.99, January, 978 0 00 831888 8
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... writers have expressed ‘selfness’, and is often caustic about the journals of, for instance, Susan Sontag and Sylvia Plath. Her own accounts deliberately avoid soul-searching and the quest for self-discovery. In Girl with Dove, the funnier, less bleak of the two books, she imagines her neighbours as characters from a murder mystery; in this ...

I’m here to be mad

Christopher Benfey: Robert Walser, 10 May 2018

Walks with Robert Walser 
by Carl Seelig, translated by Anne Posten.
New Directions, 127 pp., £11.99, May 2017, 978 0 8112 2139 9
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Girlfriends, Ghosts and Other Stories 
by Robert Walser, translated by Tom Whalen, Nicole Köngeter and Annette Wiesner.
NYRB, 181 pp., £9.99, October 2016, 978 1 68137 016 3
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... portrait of a literary figure who remains – despite the highest praise from W.G. Sebald and Susan Sontag, among other admirers – stubbornly elusive. It has not always been easy, for Anglophone readers in particular, to place Walser’s strange productions. Kafka, who admired Walser’s newspaper work, is the inevitable comparison. The Viennese ...

Who, me?

Philip Purser, 3 December 1992

The Sieve of Time: Memoirs 
by Leni Riefenstahl.
Quartet, 669 pp., £30, September 1992, 0 7043 7021 2
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... films 15 times. Nor, of course, does she lack detractors; the fiercest in recent years has been Susan Sontag, who traced a line of Fascist exaltation right through the oeuvre, from The Blue Light via Triumph of the Will to the photographic essays on the Nuba. Obsessed by these extremes of approval or censure, Riefenstahl seems unable to look back on ...

Performing Seals

Christopher Hitchens: The PR Crowd, 10 August 2000

Partisans: Marriage, Politics and Betrayal Among the New York Intellectuals 
by David Laskin.
Simon and Schuster, 319 pp., $26, January 2000, 0 684 81565 6
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... not Abelard and Héloïse and never mind Dorothea and Casaubon. No breath of scandal attaches to Susan Sontag, much admired and desired as she was and is. My old comrade Norman Birnbaum was once married to Edith Kurtzweil, who still helps to bring out the etiolated remnant of PR. As far as I know, theirs was a separation on principled grounds. Hannah ...

A Cosmos Indoors

Andrew O’Hagan: My Kingdom for a Mint Cracknel, 21 April 2022

Extinct: A Compendium of Obsolete Objects 
edited by Barbara Penner, Adrian Forty, Olivia Horsfall Turner and Miranda Critchley.
Reaktion, 390 pp., £23.99, October 2021, 978 1 78914 452 9
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... office, the way it would suddenly begin scrolling out possible futures. ‘Yes, why not?’ from Susan Sontag. A blast of rage from Harold Pinter. A request from Hitchens and a poem by Heaney. They’ve now got Seamus’s fax machine behind glass in his hometown museum in Bellaghy, and, when I saw it the other day, I recalled the squeal and purr it ...

Asking to Be Looked at

Wayne Koestenbaum, 25 January 1996

Mapplethorpe: A Biography 
by Patricia Morrisroe.
Macmillan, 461 pp., £20, September 1995, 9780333669419
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Playing with the Edge: The Photographic Achievement of Robert Mapplethorpe 
by Arthur Danto.
California, 206 pp., £20, October 1995, 0 520 20051 9
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... the corpus of Mapplethorpe, and the life under consideration, with a bias, a predilection for what Susan Sontag once baptised ‘the pornographic imagination’. And if photography – Mapplethorpe’s, at this moment – incites my regard, it is because some great specimens of that relatively new art are indistinguishable from pornography. I want to see ...

It’s Been a Lot of Fun

David Runciman: Hitchens’s Hitchens, 24 June 2010

Hitch-22: A Memoir 
by Christopher Hitchens.
Atlantic, 435 pp., £20, June 2010, 978 1 84354 921 5
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... an infinite extent and degree, lowering to the spirit.’ But some people rose to the occasion. Susan Sontag was absolutely superb. She stood up proudly where everyone could see her and denounced the hirelings of the ayatollah … Cowardice is horribly infectious, but in that abysmal week she showed that courage can be infectious too. I loved her. This ...

I want to be the baby

Kasia Boddy: Barthelme’s High Jinks, 18 August 2022

Collected Stories 
by Donald Barthelme, edited by Charles McGrath.
Library of America, 1004 pp., £40, July 2021, 978 1 59853 684 3
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... understand modernism as the kind of art that encourages ‘encrustations of interpretation’, as Susan Sontag put it a few months later. Like Sontag, Barthelme wanted his readers to accept ‘not-knowing’ and to ‘feel more’, not less.Both agreed, too, that the literary text should be considered ‘an object in ...

Against it

Ross McKibbin, 24 February 1994

For the Sake of Argument 
by Christopher Hitchens.
Verso, 353 pp., £19.95, May 1993, 0 86091 435 6
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... piece in praise of things which HM Government thinks very bad for your health. The price of what Susan Sontag has praised as Hitchens’s ‘high velocity’ can be the occasional slip: Disraeli did not ‘become’ prime minister in 1876, nor did Queen Victoria become Empress of India ‘within a few years’ (it was actually 1876); nor did Eden resign ...

You’ve got three minutes

J. Hoberman: Sitting for Warhol, 20 July 2006

Andy Warhol Screen Tests: The Films of Andy Warhol Catalogue Raisonné: Vol. I 
by Callie Angell.
Abrams, 319 pp., £35, April 2006, 0 8109 5539 3
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... student Mary Woronov and, most notably, the vivacious and tragic Edie Sedgwick. (The exception was Susan Sontag, intimidating subject of seven Screen Tests, but never cast in a Warhol feature.) A Screen Test was, literally, a test. Warhol documented his subjects simply having what a Hindu might call their being – that is, coping with the odd ...

Antigone on Your Knee

Terry Eagleton, 6 February 2020

A Cultural History of Tragedy: Vols I-VI 
edited by Rebecca Bushnell.
Bloomsbury Academic, 1302 pp., £395, November 2019, 978 1 4742 8814 9
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... while for others it is science, secularism, democracy, the death of God or the Holocaust. Susan Sontag thought the whole subject scarcely worth discussing, since in her view tragedy had never been central to Western theatre. Raymond Williams’s Modern Tragedy maintains that all the obituary notices are premature. The essays here on modern drama ...

Andy Paperbag

Hal Foster: Andy Warhol, 21 March 2002

Andy Warhol 
by Wayne Koestenbaum.
Weidenfeld, 196 pp., £12.99, November 2001, 0 297 64630 3
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... between the two spheres. Such customising of images is close to ‘camp’ as defined by Susan Sontag. Alert to the queer dimension of this sensibility (her celebrated 1964 essay reads in part like a field report on the gay underground of Warhol, the filmmaker Jack Smith and others), Sontag saw camp as ...

Sheer Enthusiasm

Thomas Chatterton Williams: Zadie Smith, 30 August 2018

Feel Free: Essays 
by Zadie Smith.
Hamish Hamilton, 464 pp., £20, February 2018, 978 0 241 14689 7
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... Several​ of the last century’s finest non-fiction writers – Joan Didion, Susan Sontag, James Baldwin – longed to be novelists. In interviews with the Paris Review, each touched on the tension and insecurity involved in their dual métier. Sontag wrote in surprisingly aspirational tones of ‘the novelist [I’d] finally given myself permission to be ...

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