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Among the Writers

Joanna Biggs: In Beijing, 10 May 2012

... had been jailed for two weeks in 2000 for the ‘illegal publication’ of the journal Tendency. Susan Sontag, whom Bei had published, wrote about what happened in the New York Times, and a threatened ten-year sentence became exile. GAPP said that they would boycott the fair if Bei and other dissidents participated, and so they were uninvited. Bei spoke ...

On Robert Silvers

Andrew O’Hagan: Remembering Robert Silvers, 20 April 2017

... mean Frank Sinatra and Studio 54, it meant Alfred Kazin and Lionel Trilling, Lillian Hellman and Susan Sontag. I loved its papers, the swagger of the contributors, the New York intellectuals, with their neuroses, their arguments, their marriages, and their parties. Wilson’s disagreement with Nabokov, Lillian’s fight with Mary, and Norman’s fights ...

Men are just boys

Marina Warner: Boys’ Play, 6 May 2021

No Boys Play Here: A Story of Shakespeare and My Family’s Missing Men 
by Sally Bayley.
William Collins, 253 pp., £14.99, January, 978 0 00 831888 8
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... writers have expressed ‘selfness’, and is often caustic about the journals of, for instance, Susan Sontag and Sylvia Plath. Her own accounts deliberately avoid soul-searching and the quest for self-discovery. In Girl with Dove, the funnier, less bleak of the two books, she imagines her neighbours as characters from a murder mystery; in this ...

Under the Ustasha

Mark Mazower: Sarajevo, 1941-45, 6 October 2011

Sarajevo, 1941-45: Muslims, Christians and Jews in Hitler’s Europe 
by Emily Greble.
Cornell, 276 pp., £21.50, February 2011, 978 0 8014 4921 5
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... That the Serbs were not heroic defenders of Christian values but plotters of ethnic cleansing. Susan Sontag and Bernard-Henri Lévy felt it their duty to visit Sarajevo and publicise its plight. It was, as Sontag put it, the Spanish Civil War for her generation. Was this version any closer to reality than ...

Literary Friction

Jenny Turner: Kathy Acker’s Ashes, 19 October 2017

After Kathy Acker: A Literary Biography 
by Chris Kraus.
Allen Lane, 352 pp., £20, August 2017, 978 1 63590 006 4
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... body.’ Had she not read Illness as Metaphor, the great work of her fellow New York intellectual Susan Sontag? Reclaiming the meaning of one’s own life is one thing, but seeking succour in sympathetic magic is another. Was it perhaps that Acker had already used cancer so much as a metaphor in her writing that when she came to confront it as a material ...

Much to be endured

D.J. Enright, 27 June 1991

Samuel Johnson in the Medical World: The Doctor and the Patient 
by John Wiltshire.
Cambridge, 293 pp., £30, March 1991, 0 521 38326 9
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... disease) are finely felicitous at the opening of the Levet poem. In Illness as Metaphor Susan Sontag considers a degenerate usage: expressions like ‘the cancer of racism’ suggest that cancer sufferers are somehow affiliated with racists – ‘moral lepers’, you might (also hurtfully) say. Though peevishness is hardly a mortal ...

Who, me?

Philip Purser, 3 December 1992

The Sieve of Time: Memoirs 
by Leni Riefenstahl.
Quartet, 669 pp., £30, September 1992, 0 7043 7021 2
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... films 15 times. Nor, of course, does she lack detractors; the fiercest in recent years has been Susan Sontag, who traced a line of Fascist exaltation right through the oeuvre, from The Blue Light via Triumph of the Will to the photographic essays on the Nuba. Obsessed by these extremes of approval or censure, Riefenstahl seems unable to look back on ...

Against it

Ross McKibbin, 24 February 1994

For the Sake of Argument 
by Christopher Hitchens.
Verso, 353 pp., £19.95, May 1993, 0 86091 435 6
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... piece in praise of things which HM Government thinks very bad for your health. The price of what Susan Sontag has praised as Hitchens’s ‘high velocity’ can be the occasional slip: Disraeli did not ‘become’ prime minister in 1876, nor did Queen Victoria become Empress of India ‘within a few years’ (it was actually 1876); nor did Eden resign ...

Capital W, Capital W

Michael Wood: Women writers, 19 August 1999

Women Writers at Work 
edited by George Plimpton.
Harvill, 381 pp., £9.99, February 1999, 1 86046 586 2
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Just as I Thought 
by Grace Paley.
Virago, 332 pp., £8.99, August 1999, 1 86049 696 2
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... as a volume in 1988, and now expanded and updated to include Maya Angelou, Toni Morrison and Susan Sontag, Margaret Atwood remarks that the writers have been brought together ‘over what, in some cases, would be their dead bodies’. Dorothy Parker, for instance, says she is ‘a feminist, and God knows I’m loyal to my sex ... But when we paraded ...

Asking to Be Looked at

Wayne Koestenbaum, 25 January 1996

Mapplethorpe: A Biography 
by Patricia Morrisroe.
Macmillan, 461 pp., £20, September 1995, 9780333669419
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Playing with the Edge: The Photographic Achievement of Robert Mapplethorpe 
by Arthur Danto.
California, 206 pp., £20, October 1995, 0 520 20051 9
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... the corpus of Mapplethorpe, and the life under consideration, with a bias, a predilection for what Susan Sontag once baptised ‘the pornographic imagination’. And if photography – Mapplethorpe’s, at this moment – incites my regard, it is because some great specimens of that relatively new art are indistinguishable from pornography. I want to see ...

You’ve got three minutes

J. Hoberman: Sitting for Warhol, 20 July 2006

Andy Warhol Screen Tests: The Films of Andy Warhol Catalogue Raisonné: Vol. I 
by Callie Angell.
Abrams, 319 pp., £35, April 2006, 0 8109 5539 3
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... student Mary Woronov and, most notably, the vivacious and tragic Edie Sedgwick. (The exception was Susan Sontag, intimidating subject of seven Screen Tests, but never cast in a Warhol feature.) A Screen Test was, literally, a test. Warhol documented his subjects simply having what a Hindu might call their being – that is, coping with the odd ...

Taking Refuge in the Loo

Leland de la Durantaye: Peter Handke, 22 May 2014

Versuch über den Pilznarren: Eine Geschichte für sich 
by Peter Handke.
Suhrkamp, 217 pp., £14.70, September 2013, 978 3 518 42383 7
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Peter Handke im Gespräch, mit Hubert Patterer und Stefan Winkler 
Kleine Zeitung, 120 pp., £15.36, November 2012, 978 3 902819 14 7Show More
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... monster’. Salman Rushdie nominated him ‘International Moron of the Year’ for 1999. Susan Sontag said that there were many many people who would never pick up one of his books again. Presenting the matter in the starkest possible terms, the human rights worker and novelist Jonathan Littell remarked in 2008: When a family is sitting in its ...

Where Forty-Eight Avenue joins Petőfi Square

Jennifer Szalai: László Krasznahorkai, 26 April 2012

by László Krasznahorkai, translated by George Szirtes.
Atlantic, 320 pp., £12.99, May 2012, 978 1 84887 764 1
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... The Melancholy of Resistance ‘a book about a world into which the Leviathan has returned’, and Susan Sontag saw it as ‘both an anatomy of desolation, desolation at its most appalling, and a stirring manual of resistance to desolation – through inwardness’. Such endorsements have about them the ring of good intentions, as well as truth, but the ...

Mid-Century Male

Christopher Glazek: Edmund White, 19 July 2012

Jack Holmes and His Friend 
by Edmund White.
Bloomsbury, 390 pp., £18.99, January 2012, 978 1 4088 0579 4
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... artists’ – among them Jasper Johns, Cy Twombly, John Ashbery, Elizabeth Bishop, Susan Sontag, Harold Brodkey and Robert Wilson – who kept their sexuality hidden from public view, something White views with antipathy: ‘We openly gay artists had to deal with the dismissive or condescending judgments all around us – “Of course ...

Antigone on Your Knee

Terry Eagleton, 6 February 2020

A Cultural History of Tragedy: Vols I-VI 
edited by Rebecca Bushnell.
Bloomsbury Academic, 1302 pp., £395, November 2019, 978 1 4742 8814 9
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... while for others it is science, secularism, democracy, the death of God or the Holocaust. Susan Sontag thought the whole subject scarcely worth discussing, since in her view tragedy had never been central to Western theatre. Raymond Williams’s Modern Tragedy maintains that all the obituary notices are premature. The essays here on modern drama ...

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