Losin’ susan

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Last updated on March 6th, 2018 at 12:30 am

To some minds, Peter Craven may seem to slightly overstate Susan Sontag’s luminous supergreatness:

In the face of both art and life – call it politics if you like – she brought a quality of seriousness, a stringency of attention, that was the opposite of trivialising: it made people feel that watching a movie or listening to a pop song, reading a poem or a novel was what the world rested on; it was a momentous thing like the politics we had to endure … Liberal anger – and the truth-telling that went with it – was wired into this woman.

Craven’s idea of Sontag’s “truth telling” is her condemnation of Australia for sending troops “to this hideous war. Not even Canada did that.” Kevin Myers takes an opposing view:

A brilliant intellect can often be the companion to a truly asinine personality – so step forward, Susan Sontag, and take a bow. Admittedly, the vainglorious silliness that was her most salient characteristic did not lead her to embrace the Marxism of so many similarly silly Cambridge intellectuals. But it did cause her to emulate within American public life the role of “intellectuals” in France: insufferably self-important and posturing creatures like Barthes, Foucault, Derrida. They were best characterised in the immortal words of that truly great English philosopher, Terry-Thomas: “What an absolute sharr.”

But wretched, credulous, self-hating American academia wanted to fawn on an intellectual whom popular culture could celebrate, and it chose Sontag and her vapid aphorisms. “The camera makes everyone a tourist in other people’s reality, and eventually in one’s own;” or: “What pornography is really about, ultimately, isn’t sex but death;” or: “Sanity is a cosy lie;” or: “Good health is the passing delusion of the doomed.”

Well, actually, the last one is mine. We can all do this kind of poser-cleverness, but we’ll never find our way into any dictionaries of quotation because one has to have a certain academic status before one’s pseudo-sage declarations come to be exalted as “sayings”. Yet Susan Sontag, the ridiculous heroine of US campus culture, couldn’t even count to three: “The two pioneering forces of modern sensibility are Jewish seriousness and homosexual aestheticism and irony.”

Read the whole thing. The headline should win awards.

Posted by Tim B. on 01/03/2005 at 01:13 AM
    1. The three pioneering forces of modern sensibility are Jewish seriousness, homosexual aestheticism, irony, and an almost fanatical devotion to the Pope.

      Posted by Paul Zrimsek on 01/03 at 02:00 AM • permalink


    1. Right, Paul—just before that Myers said “the ridiculous heroine of US campus culture, couldn’t even count to three.”

      What, though, is “sharr”? Did he mean “sham”? A typesetting error?

      Posted by Andrea Harris on 01/03 at 02:31 AM • permalink


    1. I must protest, though, in the comparison of Oscar Wilde to Susan Sontag. When it came to clever epigrams Wilde left Sontag behind in the dust; next to him she sounds like Dorothy Parker’s characterization of herself: “just a little Jewish girl, trying to be cute.” (Ms. Parker also knew she could never hope to equal Oscar Wilde—she had a little poem to that effect:

      If, with the literate, I am
      Impelled to try an epigram,
      I never seek to take the credit;
      We all assume that Oscar said it.)

      Anyway, Mr. Wilde also had a sense of humor, which Susan Sontag never seemed to have shown evidence of possessing.

      Posted by Andrea Harris on 01/03 at 02:39 AM • permalink


    1. ACTRESS: What do you believe in, then?

      KEVIN COSTNER: The small of a woman’s back, the hanging curve ball, high fiber, good scotch, but the novel’s of Susan Sontag are self-indulgent, overrated crap.

      – “Bull Durham”

      Posted by Aaron – Free Will on 01/03 at 03:54 AM • permalink


    1. There are only two things we REALLY need to know in life.

      The first is never to tell anyone everything you know.

      Posted by jlchydro on 01/03 at 04:11 AM • permalink


    1. “What, though, is “sharr”? “

      It is ‘shower’ pronounced in Terry Thomas’s accent which is sort of an exageratted English upper class drawl.

      Posted by Ross on 01/03 at 04:14 AM • permalink


    1. My vapid aphorism:

      Great intellect is a dull sword.

      Posted by rinardman on 01/03 at 04:46 AM • permalink


    1. In the face of both art and life – call it politics if you like

      Thanks, but no, most ordinary people don’t particularly feel like equating art and life with politics. What is it with lefties’ urge to politicize everything?

      Posted by PW on 01/03 at 06:10 AM • permalink


    1. “I wish I had kicked Susan Sontag”…

      me too.

      Posted by Emily on 01/03 at 06:18 AM • permalink


    1. Nick Nolte’s character in the movie The Prince of Tides also said that Susan Sontag’s novels were crap.  I wanted to see if Pat Conroy wrote that in his novel, but I lost my copy.  Could it be there are subversives hiding among the artistic/entertainment community?

      Posted by RebeccaH on 01/03 at 06:24 AM • permalink


    1. At last! Kevin Myers is finally introduced to the readers of Spleenville. To the uninitiated, Myers is arguably the finest journalist in the world (and this is not just hyperbole). He has a column in The Irish Times four days a week (Tuesday to Friday under the heading An Irishman’s Diary), and a column in Britain’s Sunday Telegraph. He is fearless, writes like a dream, and is essential reading for anyone who hates bullshit. Declan.

      Posted by Declan on 01/03 at 06:29 AM • permalink


    1. Isn’t the case, though, that Sontag hadn’t actually written any novels when either of those comments would have been made?  On the other hand, no one seems to remember that she directed four art films of, apparently, such titanic pretentiousness that they’ve vanished completely from the memory of mankind.  (Check the IMDB.)

      Posted by Mike G on 01/03 at 08:54 AM • permalink


    1. Mike G,

      Titanic pretentiousness? Worse than Peter Greenaway? Unpossible!

      intelligence is a meaningless quality without modest common sense

      Truer words were never spoken, a cluebat to whack Chomsky, Zinn and their fellow phony neo-Marxists with.

      Posted by Spiny Norman on 01/03 at 12:36 PM • permalink


    1. “The two pioneering forces of modern sensibility are Jewish seriousness and homosexual aestheticism and irony.”

      There are three types of people in this world: those who are good at math, and those who aren’t.

      Posted by Steve Skubinna on 01/03 at 01:12 PM • permalink


    1. You couldn’t make it up!

      “Liberal anger – and the truth-telling that went with it – was wired into this woman.”

      What a pity she didn’t give a shit about the lives and liberty of flesh and blood human beings who suffered under leftwing regimes around the world.

      Truly the truth is stranger than fiction.

      Posted by Rafe on 01/03 at 02:19 PM • permalink


    1. And my mournful epitaph for SS:

      Conception initiatiates an invariably fatal process.

      Posted by deepthought on 01/03 at 02:25 PM • permalink


    1. “initiatiates”?

      Posted by Andrea Harris on 01/03 at 04:19 PM • permalink


    1. Don’t ya hate it when that happens.

      Posted by Spiny Norman on 01/03 at 04:25 PM • permalink


    1. Was’nt that the start of a Monty Python sketch?:
      “The two pioneering forces of modern sensibility are Jewish seriousness and homosexual aestheticism and irony. Er.. the three pioneering forces, seriousness,humour,aestheticism and irony … excuse me the FOUR pioneering forces …

      Posted by blogstrop on 01/03 at 06:46 PM • permalink


    1. (Sontag quotes from here.)

      Sontag: “Interpretation is the revenge of the intellectual upon art.”

      If by “interpretation” she refers to applying deconstructionist fantasies to the meaning of art as some apply them to the US Constitution, I’d replace the word “revenge” with the word “vandalism.” (A word which, coincidentally, I once used to describe the art of Jackson Pollack.)

      Sontag: “The best emotions to write out of are anger and fear or dread.”

      I know some bloggers like that 🙂

      Sontag: “The ideology of capitalism makes us all into connoisseurs of liberty – of the indefinite expansion of possibility.”

      Not exactly the sentiments of the crowd she hung out with.

      Posted by Alan K. Henderson on 01/03 at 09:05 PM • permalink


  1. Oops, that’s “Pollock.” My spelling looks cooler, though 🙂 Sydney Pollack would agree.

    Posted by Alan K. Henderson on 01/03 at 10:51 PM • permalink