Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Several dozen ways of looking at the late Susan Sontag: "Over four decades, public response to Ms. Sontag remained irreconcilably divided. She was described, variously, as explosive, anticlimactic, original, trendy, iconoclastic, captivating, hollow, rhapsodic, naive, sophisticated, approachable, abrasive, aloof, attention-seeking, charming, condescending, populist, puritanical, sybaritic, sincere, posturing, ascetic, voluptuary, right-wing, left-wing, mannered, formidable, brilliant, profound, superficial, ardent, bloodless, dogmatic, challenging, ambivalent, accessible, lofty, erudite, lucid, inscrutable, solipsistic, intellectual, visceral, reasoned, pretentious, portentous, maddening, lyrical, abstract, narrative, acerbic, opportunistic, chilly, effusive, careerist, sober, gimmicky, relevant, passe, facile, illogical, ambivalent, polemical, didactic, tenacious, slippery, celebratory, banal, untenable, doctrinaire, ecstatic, melancholic, humorous, humorless, deadpan, rhapsodic, aloof, glib, cantankerous and clever. No one ever called her dull."

I was just thinking about her this morning. In fact, I often think of her, although I rarely read her. She's one of those public figures that haunt the mind, ones whose opinion you want to know for whatever reason. This morning I was thinking of all the reading I have to do, and I recalled her writing an essay somewhere in which she gave up reading for awhile in order to write. It was a very old essay. Anyway, I thought for awhile whether I could ever give up reading and decided I couldn't, although I often think it would be a good idea in the short term. It's a little like not breathing, isn't it?

Sontag wrote a staggeringly brilliant book one time called On Photography. I ordered it from the Literary Guild back in college, back when they were still a nominally bookish house. Not sure I ever finished it, but it still has pride of place on the shelves. I keep it within reach. I was 19 or 20 when I first tackled the book, I think maybe because I had seen her on The Dick Cavett Show. I hadn't taken philosophy yet and I think it was from Sontag that I first learned about "Plato's Cave," that famous old parable about the illusion of reality -- which, of course, suited her theme perfectly.

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