Saturday, December 16, 2017 Text is available under the CC BY-SA 3.0 licence.

Susan Sontag (1933 – 2004)


American essayist, literary critic, cultural theorist, and political activist.
Susan Sontag
I'll take the American empire any day over the empire of what my pal Chris Hitchens calls "Islamic fascism." I'm not against fighting this enemy — it is an enemy and I'm not a pacifist.
I think what happened on Sept. 11 was an appalling crime, and I'm astonished that I even have to say that, to reassure people that I feel that way. But I do feel that the Gulf War revisited is not the way to fight this enemy.
Sontag quotes
The camera makes everyone a tourist in other people's reality, and eventually in one's own.
Sontag
"Old" and "new" are the perennial poles of all feeling and sense of orientation in the world. We cannot do without the old, because in what is old is invested all our past, our wisdom, our memories, our sadness, our sense of realism. We cannot do without faith in the new, because in what is new is invested all our energy, our capacity for optimism, our blind biological yearning, our ability to forget — the healing ability that makes reconciliation possible.




Sontag Susan quotes
I believe that courage is morally neutral. I can well imagine wicked people being brave and good people being timid or afraid. I don't consider it a moral virtue.
Sontag Susan
I envy paranoids; they actually feel people are paying attention to them.
Susan Sontag quotes
In contrast to the asexual chasteness of official communist art, Nazi art is both prurient and idealizing. A utopian aesthetics (physical perfection; identity as a biological given) implies an ideal eroticism: sexuality converted into the magnetism of leaders and the joy of followers. The fascist ideal is to transform sexual energy into a "spiritual" force, for the benefit of the community.
Susan Sontag
Americans are constantly extolling "traditions"; litanies to family values are at the center of every politician's discourse. And yet the culture of America is extremely corrosive of family life, indeed of all traditions except those redefined as "identities" that can be accepted as part of larger patterns of distinctiveness, cooperation, and openness to innovation.
Sontag Susan quotes
There is a peculiarly modern predilection for psychological explanations of disease, as of everything else. Psychologizing seems to provide control over the experiences and events (like grave illnesses) over which people have in fact little or no control. Psychological understanding undermines the "reality" of a disease. That reality has to be explained. (It really means; or is a symbol of; or must be interpreted so.) For those who live neither with religious consolations about death nor with a sense of death (or of anything else) as natural, death is the obscene mystery, the ultimate affront, the thing that cannot be controlled. It can only be denied. A large part of the popularity and persuasiveness of psychology comes from its being a sublimated spiritualism: a secular, ostensibly scientific way of affirming the primacy of "spirit" over matter.
Sontag
The tide of undecipherable signatures of mutinous adolescents which has washed over and bitten into the facades of monuments and the surface of public vehicles in the city where I live: graffiti as an assertion of disrespect, yes, but most of all simply an assertion... the powerless saying: I'm here, too.
Sontag Susan
The expression of satisfaction at the acts of torture one is inflicting on helpless, trussed, naked victims is only part of the story. There is the primal satisfaction of being photographed, to which one is more inclined to respond not with a stiff, direct gaze (as in former times) but with glee. The events are in part designed to be photographed. The grin is a grin for the camera. There would be something missing if, after stacking the naked men, you couldn't take a picture of them.
Susan Sontag
If within the last century art conceived as an autonomous activity has come to be invested with an unprecedented stature—the nearest thing to a sacramental human activity acknowledged by secular society—it is because one of the tasks art has assumed is making forays into and taking up positions on the frontiers of consciousness (often very dangerous to the artist as a person) and reporting back what’s there.




Susan Sontag quotes
Real art has the capacity to make us nervous. By reducing the work of art to its content and then interpreting that, one tames the work of art. Interpretation makes art manageable, conformable.
Susan Sontag
Sadomasochism has always been the furthest reach of the sexual experience: when sex becomes most purely sexual, that is, severed from personhood, from relationships, from love. It should not be surprising that it has become attached to Nazi symbolism in recent years. Never before was the relation of masters and slaves so consciously aestheticized. Sade had to make up his theater of punishment and delight from scratch, improvising the decor and costumes and blasphemous rites. Now there is a master scenario available to everyone. The color is black, the material is leather, the seduction is beauty, the justification is honesty, the aim is ecstasy, the fantasy is death.
Sontag quotes
The truth is that Mozart, Pascal, Boolean Algebra, Shakespeare, parliamentary government, baroque churches, Newton, the emancipation of women, Kant, Marx, and Balanchine ballets don't redeem what this particular civilization has wrought upon the world. The white race is the cancer of human history.
Sontag Susan
Yes, this is Europe. The Europe that did not respond to the Serb shelling of Dubrovnik. Or the three-year siege of Sarajevo. The Europe that let Bosnia die.
A new definition of Europe: the place where tragedies don't take place. Wars, genocides — that happened here once, but no longer. It's something that happens in Africa. (Or places in Europe that are not "really" Europe. That is, the Balkans.) Again, perhaps I exaggerate. But having spent a good part of three years, from 1993 to 1996, in Sarajevo, it does not seem to me like an exaggeration at all.
Sontag Susan quotes
The voices licensed to follow the event seem to have joined together in a campaign to infantilize the public. 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.
Susan Sontag
A writer, I think, is someone who pays attention to the world. That means trying to understand, take in, connect with, what wickedness human beings are capable of; and not be corrupted — made cynical, superficial — by this understanding.
Susan Sontag quotes
We live in a culture in which intelligence is denied relevance altogether, in a search for radical innocence, or is defended as an instrument of authority and repression. In my view, the only intelligence worth defending is critical, dialectical, skeptical, desimplifying.
Susan Sontag
To have access to literature, world literature, was to escape the prison of national vanity, of philistinism, of compulsory provincialism, of inane schooling, of imperfect destinies and bad luck. Literature was the passport to enter a larger life; that is, the zone of freedom.
Literature was freedom. Especially in a time in which the values of reading and inwardness are so strenuously challenged, literature is freedom.
Sontag Susan
The writer in me distrusts the good citizen, the "intellectual ambassador," the human rights activist — those roles which are mentioned in the citation for this prize, much as I am committed to them. The writer is more skeptical, more self-doubting, than the person who tries to do (and to support) the right thing.


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