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Posts Tagged ‘Susan Sontag’

More Than Mere Brotherly Love, and Other News

September 9, 2014 | by

Bordelscene

Nicolaus Knüpfer, Bordeelscène, ca. 1650.

  • If you were a rake headed to Philly in the 1840s, you wanted to have this pocket guide with you—it lists all the brothels in town, with some helpful editorializing about each. “None but gentlemen visit this Paradise of Love,” one description says. Another: “Beware of this house, stranger, as you would the sting of a viper.”
  • A list of the one hundred most popular books on Facebook contains exactly zero surprises.
  • From a new documentary on Susan Sontag: “She sat me down on her bed … and ran through the argument of the Critique of Pure Reason, Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason. She must have been fifteen.”
  • “We all have bodies; we all wear clothes; we all have reflections that vex us; we all exist in dynamic relationship to our communities, and fashion is a medium for testing or strengthening those bonds … anyone who diminishes the significance of that is carrying water for the patriarchy, deferring reflexively to those thousands of years of human history when men got to decide what was frivolous or not. You know what's frivolous? Fantasy football.”
  • In 1932, Einstein endorsed a psychic. And she endorsed him: “Dr. Einstein is indeed the most remarkable personality I have ever contacted [sic]. And his aura is just sublime—pure blue electric sparks, instead of color. It was just like talking to God.” And so Einstein’s credibility as a scientist came under fire: “Now he is the tamest lion in the intellectual zoo. He goes everywhere. He attends picture openings with the regularity and aplomb of Clark Gable. He is at all the public dinners.”

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A Creator of Inwardness

January 16, 2014 | by

Photograph by Peter Hujar.

Photograph by Peter Hujar.

Susan Sontag was born today in 1933.

INTERVIEWER

Is it old-fashioned to think that the purpose of literature is to educate us about life?

SONTAG

Well, it does educate us about life. I wouldn’t be the person I am, I wouldn’t understand what I understand, were it not for certain books. I’m thinking of the great question of nineteenth-century Russian literature: how should one live? A novel worth reading is an education of the heart. It enlarges your sense of human possibility, of what human nature is, of what happens in the world. It’s a creator of inwardness.

—Susan Sontag, the Art of Fiction No. 143

 

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What We’re Loving: Psycho-Biddies, Illusions, MTV

July 19, 2013 | by

Psycho-Biddy-Paris-Review

It’s hard to read in a heat wave, but the July issue of Asymptote is so absorbing I hardly notice my sweat drops hitting the keyboard. Even more impressive than the diversity of things translated—book reviews in Urdu, fiction in Bengali, poetry in Faroese—is their quality. I’ve especially enjoyed the excerpt from Operation Massacre, a novela negra by the great Argentinian writer Rodolfo Walsh, and the interview with David Mitchell about his translation of a memoir by Naoki Higashida, an autistic Japanese thirteen-year-old. Here is Mitchell on the misery of translation: “As a writer I can be bad, but I can’t be wrong. A translator can be good, but can never be right.” —Robyn Creswell

I usually behave at museums, but last weekend, at “Ken Price Sculpture: A Retrospective,” currently at the Met, the guards were just waiting for my friend and me to leave. A number of the amorphous, neon, strangely suggestive ceramics for which Price is particularly known appeared to have small windows carved out of their exteriors to reveal dark, hollow interiors (see, for example, Price’s Pastel). But upon closer examination, it became difficult to tell whether the windows truly exposed new space, or whether they were simply painted on—perfectly executed optical illusions. Clearly, the only option was to get even closer. This is not allowed. Repeat offenses were unavoidable, though; I wanted an answer! The sculptures gleamed so! I felt taunted. A definitive answer could not be determined before we were ultimately shooed away. A partner exhibition of Price’s work, at the Drawing Center, which I hope to see this weekend, consists only of works on paper; it will be easier to be better there. —Clare Fentress Read More »

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Fortifications

June 10, 2013 | by

Book-House-600

“[T]o read was precisely to enter another world, which was not the reader’s own, and come back refreshed, ready to bear with equanimity the injustices and frustrations of this one. Reading was balm, amusement―not incitement.” —Susan Sontag, The Volcano Lover: A Romance

 

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What We Wish We Were: On Biopic-Mania

May 23, 2013 | by

Liberacelarge

Sometimes there are things you didn’t know you wanted to see.

Like Michael Douglas, spangled and rouged, arms out in a white ostrich-trimmed cape, prancing sideways across a Vegas stage. This is barely two seconds of the trailer for Steven Soderbergh’s Behind the Candelabra, about the relationship between Liberace and his younger lover, Scott Thorson, but those are two seconds I want to see over and over.

Usually I get cranky and snide about biopics. The last one I saw was Hitchcock. I went to have my prejudices against the genre affirmed, and they were. I kept watching Anthony Hopkins in his fat suit and thinking about his makeup, the boom just outside the frame, the camera rolling back on its track, the contrivance of the whole thing—and not in some provocative, Brechtian sense. I left full of scorn for the labored verisimilitude and regurgitated history—a petty way to go to the movies, but kind of satisfying, too, in the way that being petty can be.

Maybe it’s a good film if you weren’t aware Alfred Hitchcock had a thing for so-called icy blonds and that he got creepily obsessive when it came to his leading ladies. And if that’s not clear from watching Hopkins/Hitchcock skulk around dressing rooms, Jessica Biel/Vera Miles explains it to Scarlett Johansson/Janet Leigh and us in a scene that feels more like a DVD featurette about the “making of” than dialogue between two people. Read More »

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Shelf-Conscious

December 27, 2012 | by

Chris Killip, 'The Library of Chained Books,' Hereford Cathedral, Hereford, UK, 1992.

We’re out this week, but we’re re-posting some of our favorite pieces from 2012 while we’re away. We hope you enjoy—and have a happy New Year!

I knew a kid in college who wanted so desperately to produce a book that he couldn’t stand the sight of their spines. He stacked them—ten or so brown and black books, library hardcovers—in his dorm room, titles to the wall, lips facing forward. He didn’t really buy books, either—at least I don’t recall that he did—but he never passed a bookstore without entering to read. These same stores have since displayed his books in their windows.

“‘You can tell how serious people are by looking at their books,’” Susan Sontag told Sigrid Nunez, long ago when Nunez was dating Sontag’s son. “She meant not only what books they had on their shelves, but how the books were arranged,” Nunez explains. “Because of her, I arranged my own books by subject and in chronological rather than alphabetical order. I wanted to be serious.”

There are many varieties of nerd, but only two real species—the serious and the nonserious—and shelves are a pretty good indication of who is which. “To expose a bookshelf,” Harvard professor Leah Price writes in Unpacking My Library, a recent collection of interviews with writers about the books they own, “is to compose a self.” In Sontag’s case, a very rigorous self. And, of course, that’s just the sort of self someone anxious about his aspirations might shy away from. “A self without a shelf remains cryptic,” Price notes. It’s like the straight-A student who says he hasn’t studied for finals: if you haven’t confessed to caring, no one can consider you to have failed.

There’s not a lot of anxiety about keeping libraries in this collection, however, because the adults featured—Junot Diaz, Steven Pinker, Gary Shteyngart, James Wood, Claire Messud, to name a few—are all solidly successful. Price’s interviews are less about each writer’s affairs and encounters with individual books than his or her shepherding of the whole herd—what’s treasured, tossed, bought twice, allowed to be lent. The interesting questions focus on each writer’s feelings about intellectual signaling and methods of overall arrangement. In other words, the stars of the pictures aren’t the books but the shelves. Read More »

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