Posts Tagged ‘Susan Sontag’
December 12, 2011 | by David Zax
On a recent Sunday evening, in a lounge at the Jane Hotel in Manhattan, the writers Kurt Andersen and Anne Kreamer enacted before an audience the final pages of The Adventures of Mao on the Long March, a 1971 work of literary pastiche by the author Frederic Tuten. Andersen played the role of Chairman Mao, sitting for a fictitious interview. “Have you seen Godard’s La Chinoise?” asked Kreamer, playing his interlocutor. “Have you seen Dali’s Mao/Marilyn?” “Chairman Mao, perhaps I might ask your opinion on birth control.” Tuten himself, a septuagenarian in a black blazer, sat at the front of the room, beaming with happiness at the event held in his honor.
If you have not heard of The Adventures of Mao, you would not have been out of place at its marathon reading. Indeed, some of those who gathered to participate in the reading—a roster including Lydia Davis, Wallace Shawn, Walter Mosley, John Guare, and Edmund White—admitted to having had only a glancing familiarity with the novel or its author. Yet The Adventures of Mao, about, as the title suggests, the Chinese dictator’s rise to power, has always had its advocates; Susan Sontag called it “soda pop, a cold towel, or a shady spot under a tree for culture-clogged footsoldiers on the American long march.” In 1972, the book achieved that pinnacle of literary attention, the John Updike New Yorker review. Analyzing the novel’s five distinct modes—textbooklike history of the Long March; ample direct quotation from the likes of Hawthorne, Melville, and Fenimore Cooper; passages of literary parody of authors such as Kerouac and Malamud; “normal novelistic substance—imaginary encounters and conversations”; and, finally, that extended interview with Chairman Mao—Updike declared the resulting sum “an intelligent, taut, and entertaining change from conventional novels.”
Despite Mao’s champions over the decades—New Directions embalmed it as one of its classics in 2005—the event at the Jane Hotel was in some ways an unlikely one. It had all begun in the Strand Bookstore, where three men in their twenties stumbled upon the book and brought it to their book club. Read More »
October 14, 2011 | by The Paris Review
While I was in Los Angeles, I had the chance to see two very different—but very “California”—exhibits, both of which I’d recommend to anyone. The first, Robert Irwin’s “Way Out West” at L&M Arts, is a light installation that's visually engaging on its own terms, but even more so to those familiar with Irwin’s writing. More straightforward but just as interesting, LACMA’s “California Design, 1930–1965” is a colorful, exhilarating showcase of all things “modern,” from lobster-print swimsuits to Ray and Charles Eames’s living room (which is fully reassembled in the museum) to the original Barbie Dream House. It’s a survey not just of West Coast design, but of the crafting of the modern conception of California as we know it. —Sadie Stein
Sigrid Nunez’s Sempre Susan doesn’t just evoke Susan Sontag, the person, with hard-won sympathy, insight, and cool; it contains (in a very tiny space) material for an entire novel of idealism and disillusionment. This Sontag—who “often struck me as someone who wanted to be feeling ten times what she actually felt”—is a tragic figure, and this memoir captures the spirit of the spirit of her times. —Lorin Stein
I had, much to my shame, never read the fiction of Alan Hollinghurst until this last Indian summer weekend, when I found myself utterly absorbed in the world of The Stranger’s Child. Its prose is marvelously precise, its subjects both literary and sensual, and its general character inimitably English. —Deirdre Foley-Mendelssohn
Lisa Yuskavage’s ethereal paintings are on display at David Zwirner until November 5. —Jessica Calderon
Last spring, the culture guerrillas at Bidoun went to Cairo to check in on the revolution. They came back with their Summer issue (#25), which includes interviews with graffiti artists, tour guides, ex-members of the Muslim Brotherhood, and hard-core metal musicians. Also, dream narratives, photographs, and thumbnail sketches of the dozens of the new political parties. There is very little analysis and no claim to know what comes next. But, more than anything else I’ve read, it gives you a sense of life on the ground. —Robyn Creswell
I just discovered the blog Letters of Note and could not tear myself away. They’ve archived, photographed, and transcribed amazing correspondences: everything from a letter Kurt Vonnegut wrote to his family describing his capture in 1944, to a vintage rejection slip from Sub Pop records addressed to “Dear Loser.” —Artie Niederhoffer
Everyone I know has been sending me Kate Bolick’s fascinating piece on marriage, coupling through history, gender imbalances, and, well, as the title says, “All the Single Ladies.” —D. F. M.
October 10, 2011 | by David O'Neill
Johanna Fateman began her 1997 fanzine, Artaud-Mania, by professing, “Dear Diary, I am writing to you because confessional writing is the self-effacing form most suited to the abject position of the fan.” Until then, the twenty-two-year-old Fateman hadn’t confessed much in her work; her earlier zines (including the series Snarla, cowritten in the early nineties with fellow high school misfit Miranda July) never had the insular or solipsistic feel typical of many of that era’s photocopied missives. What’s more, the syphilitic and schizophrenic Artaud, an enfant terrible of French arts and letters, was an unlikely idol for the feminist punk scene that Fateman had been a part of and was reacting against—post–Riot Grrrl publications that rarely ventured beyond subjects like the DIY music scene, grassroots organizing, and personal politics. Her appreciation for Artaud came through artists and writers like Nancy Spero and Kathy Acker. Like them, she was inspired by his fierce articulation of what Spero once termed a “sense of victimhood”; Fateman put it more bluntly when she wrote approvingly that Artaud was a “crazy bitch with male authority.”
April 4, 2011 | by Thessaly La Force
In the spring of 1976, Sigrid Nunez went to the apartment of Susan Sontag, who was recovering from cancer surgery and needed someone to help answer her mail. Nunez had just gotten her M.F.A. from Columbia and lived nearby to Sontag’s apartment at 340 Riverside Drive. On her third visit, Nunez met Sontag’s son, David Rieff, and shortly thereafter the two began dating. It wasn’t long before Nunez moved in, beginning what would be a complicated relationship with both Sontag and her son. Her memoir, Sempre Susan, chronicles those few years she spent with Sontag and Rieff. We sat down for coffee not too long ago at the City Bakery on 18th Street to talk about the book.
I was really struck by the line in the book where you say, “Exceptionalism: Was it really a good idea for the three of us, Susan, her son, myself to share the same household?” Was it?
Well, as it turned out, it was a very bad idea. But at the time there were various reasons that made it less crazy than it might have seemed. First of all, Susan had just recently been diagnosed with stage IV cancer. She was also in the middle of breaking up with the woman who’d been her partner for several years. She’d always hated living alone, but now she was frankly terrified, and she made it clear that she’d be devastated if David were to move out. Also, David was still in school at the time, and he was financially dependent on Susan.
July 21, 2010 | by Robyn Creswell
Richard Poirier taught English at Rutgers for some forty years (he died last summer), and he often argued that teaching students how to read, as distinct from teaching them how to be good citizens, or political activists, is the only thing literature professors are really good for, or qualified to do. In an essay he wrote in 1970, he suggested that “literary study can...be made relevant to life not as a mere supplier of images or visions, but as an activity; it can create capacities through exercise with the language of literature that can then be applied to the language of politics and power, the language of daily life.”
To place literary study at the crossroads of politics, the everyday, and high art has become standard practice. It is what we call cultural criticism, and everyone does it. But Poirier was one of the first, and also one of the best. I was reminded just how good he was while reading the latest issue of Raritan, the quarterly he founded in 1981 and edited for two decades (it is now edited by the historian Jackson Lears).
The current issue includes essays by regular contributors like Leo Bersani and David Bromwich, as well as poems by Richard Howard and Frederick Seidel. It also includes a remarkable folio of six “Editor’s Notes,” republished here for the first time, which Poirier wrote during the early eighties. One of the “Notes” is a prospectus describing the new magazine; another is a rebuke to Susan Sontag (for glibly equating communism and fascism); a third, from the summer of ‘82, is about watching the nightly news during the Israeli bombardment of Beirut; the last pays homage to George Balanchine.
Poirier didn’t think of himself as a public intellectual. He thought of himself as a reader, and supposed that expertise in reading that gave him the credentials for commenting on everything else. He held that a serious interest in academic theory—deconstructionism, Marxism, discourse analysis—should go with an equally serious interest in popular culture and contemporary life. Raritan always resisted the pull toward specialization. It became a general interest quarterly where you could find Edward Said interviewing Daniel Barenboim, Anne Hollander writing on fashion, or poems by Gerard Malanga. No one was allowed to use footnotes. Read More »