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Still Superior

Mark Greif: Sex and Susan Sontag

12 February 2009
Reborn: Early Diaries, 1947-64 
by Susan Sontag, edited by David Rieff.
Hamish Hamilton, 318 pp., £16.99, January 2009, 978 0 241 14431 2
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... One of the most appealing things about SusanSontag 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 outsized faults, embrace their dumb enthusiasms, and cast ...

Seriously Uncool

Jenny Diski: Susan Sontag

22 March 2007
At the Same Time: Essays and Speeches 
edited by Paolo Dilonardo and Anne Jump, preface by David Rieff.
Hamish Hamilton, 235 pp., £18.99, April 2007, 978 0 241 14371 1
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A Photographer’s Life 1990-2005 
by Annie Leibovitz.
Cape, 480 pp., £60, October 2006, 0 224 08063 6
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... SusanSontag 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 to get on with ...

All That Gab

James Wolcott: The Upsides of Sontag’s Downsides

24 October 2019
SontagHer Life 
by Benjamin Moser.
Allen Lane, 832 pp., £30, September 2019, 978 0 241 00348 0
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... Benjamin​ Moser begins his biography with a bang: ‘SusanSontag was America’s last great literary star.’ In my gaudier moments I prefer to think of Sontag as American literature’s first and last great screen star. Transcending staid text, she was projected into the avid imaginations of legions of onlookers who didn’t know Walter Benjamin from ...

Desperately Seeking Susan

Terry Castle: Remembering Susan Sontag

17 March 2005
... A few weeks ago I found myself scanning photographs of SusanSontag into my screensaver file: a tiny head shot clipped from Newsweek; two that had appeared in the New York Times; another printed alongside Allan Gurganus’s obituary in the Advocate, a glossy American ...

Humanitarian Art

Jeremy Harding: Susan Sontag

21 August 2003
Regarding the Pain of Others 
by Susan Sontag.
Hamish Hamilton, 117 pp., £12.99, August 2003, 0 241 14207 5
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Between the Eyes: Essays on Photography and Politics 
by David Levi Strauss.
Aperture, 224 pp., £20, May 2003, 1 931788 10 3
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... Photographs, for SusanSontag, 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 suffering – photographs of war and ...

Elitism

Linda Colley

3 December 1992
The Volcano Lover: A Romance 
by Susan Sontag.
Cape, 419 pp., £14.99, September 1992, 0 224 02912 6
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... Why did SusanSontag write this book? Essayist and cultural critic, interpreter of Aids, cancer, the cinema, Fascism and pornography, recipient of Jonathan Miller’s burdensome accolade ‘probably the most intelligent ...

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 ...

Diary

Mary-Kay Wilmers: Putting in the Commas

15 September 1988
... In December 1947 the American writer SusanSontag was invited to have tea with Thomas Mann. She was 14, a high-minded schoolgirl full of literature and the seriousness of life. She had one friend, and this boy, her disciple, had written to Thomas ...

The Big Show

David Blackbourn

3 March 1983
‘Hitler’: A Film from Germany 
by Hans-Jürgen Syberberg, translated by Joachim Neugroschel, introduced by Susan Sontag.
Carcanet, 268 pp., £9.95, December 1982, 0 85635 405 8
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... it did Heine, quoted at the beginning and the end of the film. Syberberg wants to confront Germans with their collective responsibility for Hitler, conceiving his art as a ‘work of mourning’. As SusanSontag notes in her introduction to this book of the film, he is close to the position of Alexander and Margarethe Mitscherlich, who argued in The Inability to Mourn that the Germans remain the ...

At the Jeu de Paume

Brian Dillon: Peter Hujar

9 December 2019
... Warhol called him ‘the boy that never blinked’). In Portraits, Hujar intersperses 12 of the Palermo photographs with portraits of Burroughs, Thek, John Ashbery, Divine, John Waters and others. SusanSontag, whose reclining portrait is there too, wrote a preface for the book from her hospital bed, the night before her first surgery for breast cancer. They fell out after Sontag published On ...

It’s she, it’s she, it’s she

Joanna Biggs: Americans in Paris

2 August 2012
Dreaming in French: The Paris Years of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy, Susan Sontag​ and Angela Davis 
by Alice Kaplan.
Chicago, 289 pp., £17, May 2012, 978 0 226 42438 5
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As Consciousness Is Harnessed to Flesh: Diaries 1964-80 
by Susan Sontag.
Hamish Hamilton, 544 pp., £18.99, April 2012, 978 0 241 14517 3
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... much less servile.’ If being a young woman in postwar America was suffocating, why not try Paris? Alice Kaplan’s Dreaming in French tells the story of three college girls – Jacqueline Bouvier, SusanSontag and Angela Davis – who did. Kaplan, who wrote about her own year abroad in the memoir French Lessons, takes the three, who didn’t meet, as examples of mid-20th-century types: the (Catholic ...

A Likely Story

Frank Kermode

25 January 1996
Howard Hodgkin: Paintings 
by Michael Auping, John Elderfield and Susan Sontag, edited by Marla Price.
Thames and Hudson, 216 pp., £28, October 1995, 0 500 09256 7
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Howard Hodgkin 
by Andrew Graham-Dixon.
Thames and Hudson, 192 pp., £24.95, October 1994, 0 500 27769 9
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... a good few bear some resemblance to the male organ. To write as Auping does is perfectly reasonable in view of the sheer difficulty of finding anything really susceptible to being written about. As SusanSontag remarks, ‘the thoughtful – as distinct from the inarticulate – may have good reason to be wary, anxious, at a loss (for words).’ She endorses Valéry’s obiter dicta, ‘One must ...
31 August 1989
Aids and its Metaphors 
by Susan Sontag.
Allen Lane, 95 pp., £9.95, March 1989, 0 7139 9025 2
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The Whole Truth: The Myth of Alternative Health 
by Rosalind Coward.
Faber, 216 pp., £12.99, June 1989, 0 571 14114 5
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... as, centrally, a job of writing. The difference is crucial. Aids and its Metaphors is a short essay (90 pages), explicitly offered as a kind of sequel to Illness as Metaphor, written in 1976 when SusanSontag was herself a cancer patient. Both show clear lines of affinity with her work in quite different areas. Twenty-five years ago, in Against Interpretation, she argued for a criticism which ...

Tio Sam

Christopher Hitchens

20 December 1990
In the Time of the Tyrants: Panama 1968-89 
by R.M. Koster and Guillermo Sanchez Borbon.
Secker, 430 pp., £17.99, October 1990, 0 436 20016 3
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... Gierek or Milos Jakes or any of the other ‘Vodka-Cola’ general secretaries (Erich Honecker partially exempted) thought anything of the sort. When the Army deposed the Party in Poland in 1981, SusanSontag was quite right to say that a new stage of decadence had been reached, though her ironic formulation of ‘fascism with a human face’ was misleading. By that stage, Ceausescu and Kim Il Sung ...

At the Movies

Michael Wood: Bergman and Antonioni

20 September 2007
... It’s too late to climb on the bandwagon now, and it wasn’t much of a bandwagon to start with. If cinephilia is dead, as SusanSontag some time ago suggested it was, who cares about the simultaneous death of two cinéastes? Still, no reader of signs can resist a coincidence, the image of a meaning that can’t be there ...

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