REMEMBERING SONTAG: In all the horror of the Asia quake/tsunami, the death of Susan Sontag was sort of lost in the shuffle. She was a brilliant writer, a political activist and one of the best essayists...well, ever. She brought the concept of "camp" to the masses with her first noted essay, Notes On Camp, and the award-winning analysis On Photography, and later turned to fiction with the Volcano Lover and In America.

Of course, Sontag was controversial and pissed off the conservative, religious right who are always pissed off at someone who pulls the curtain back on their Oz. Sontag's quotes about Sept. 11 were taken totally out of context. She commented in a New Yorker piece that the terrorists who flew the planes were not "cowards," which is absolutely true. Anyone who can get behind the controls of a jet plane and fly it at high speed into a building is not a coward...a lunatic, yes, but not a coward. In her typical style, Sontag attempted to explain why Sept. 11 had occurred, but at the time, the country was still convulsing in grief and any comments that didn't fall into the lockstep, pro-America line were immediately denounced.

I was just at a conservative web forum where people were talking about her being a communist, traitor, fembot and someone wanting to know where she was buried so they could go piss on her grave. This is the kind of scary, hate speech Republicans and conservative religious nuts use when their hive is stirred up by someone like Sontag who was having none of their bullshit. She was fighting right up until the very end when cancer took her life at 71.

Cecilia Woloch sent out an email this morning with the text from Sontag's speech when she received her honorary degree from Vassar College in May 2003:

"Despise violence. Despise national vanity and self-love. Protect the territory of conscience. Try to imagine at least once a day that you are not an American. Go even further: try to imagine at least once a day that you belong to the vast, the overwhelming majority of people on this planet who don't have passports, don't live in dwellings equipped with both refrigerators and telephones, who have never even once flown in a plane.

Be extremely skeptical of all claims made by your government. Remember, it may not be the best thing for America or for the world for the president of the United States to be the president of the planet. Be just as skeptical of other governments, too.

It's hard not to be afraid. Be less afraid. It's good to laugh a lot, as long as it doesn't mean you're trying to kill your feelings.

Don't allow yourself to be patronized, condescended to -- which, if you are a woman, happens, and will continue to happen, all the time. Do stuff. Be clenched, curious. Not waiting for inspiration's shove or society's kiss on your forehead.

Pay attention. It's all about paying attention. It's all about taking in as much of what's out there as you can, and not letting the excuses and the dreariness of some of the obligations you'll soon be incurring narrow your lives. Attention is vitality. It connects you with others. It makes you eager. Stay eager.

You'll notice that I haven't talked about love. Or about happiness. I've talked about becoming -- or remaining --the person who can be happy, a lot of the time, without thinking that being happy is what it's all about. It's not. It's about becoming the largest, most inclusive, most responsive person you can be."

For a more balanced look at Sontag's life and work, read Gary Indiana's article in the Village Voice.


David Herrle said…
Well, the high-profile dead usually get some heavy slams , according to their affiliations. Reagan got a pretty harsh flogging, too. :)

I don't know enough about Sontag to make an assessment. , though.

Some of her excerpted quote is cool.
Collin Kelley said…
Touche!!! :)
David Herrle said…

If I ever REALLY swordfight, I'd rather use Nerf ones over steel. :)

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