Another Side of Susan Sontag

Sunday, 12 November 2017, 12:36:15 AM. A newly released collection of her short fiction gives readers fresh insights into the late great critic.
The last collection of Susan Sontag’s short fiction was published in 1977, under the title I, etcetera. Now a new volume called Debriefing is coming out, which collects the eight stories from I, etcetera along with three more: “Pilgrimage,” “The Letter Scene,” and her most admired story, “The Way We Live Now,” first published in 1986. Sontag’s fiction is a smaller oeuvre than her nonfiction, which has taken on such an inflated role in the culture that it is difficult to see around it. Meanwhile, Sontag the personality has grown so large in death that it threatens to eclipse her work: She is remembered as a narcissist, a pugilist, the enemy of Camille Paglia, and a genius. This new collection may not offer anything strictly new, but it does allow us examine a side of Sontag that is often obscured by those two pillars of her legacy. Although Sontag never stuck to one line of thinking for long (The New Yorker’s obituary noted that, “as she saw it, she was entitled to frame bold opinions, and to change them as the world changed”), she defined American twentieth-century thought as much as Foucault or McLuhan. Notes on Camp (1964), Against Interpretation (1966), and On Photography (1977) are great and generous contributions to the project of criticism. Sontag wrote about politics and illness and mass media, and she did it properly. Recall that line in On Photography about why great industrial nations (Germany, Japan, America) produce tourists who take photographs while on holiday:...Read more
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