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Dancer and the Dance

Susan Sontag, 5 February 1987

... Lincoln Kirstein, the finest historian of the dance and one of its greatest ideologues, has observed that in the 19th century what the prestige of ballet really amounted to was the reputation of the dancer; and that even when there were great choreographers (notably Petipa) and great dance scores (from Adam, Delibes and Tchaikovsky), dance was still almost entirely identified for the large theatrical public with the personality and virtuosity of great dancers ...

Wagner’s Fluids

Susan Sontag, 10 December 1987

... Water, blood, healing balm, magic potions-fluids play a decisive role in this mythology. Wagner’s stories are often launched from a water-world. An arrival by water and a departure by water frame the plots of The Flying Dutchman and Lohengrin. The Ring saga begins literally in the water, below the river Rhine’s surface (to end, four operas later, with a cosmic duet of water and fire ...

A Double Destiny

Susan Sontag: Artemisia Gentileschi, and Anna Banti, 25 September 2003

... Non piangere.’ Don’t cry. These are the opening words of Anna Banti’s novel Artemisia. Who is talking? And when? The first-person voice – that of the author – writes ‘this August day’, omitting both the date and the year, but these are not hard to fill in: 4 August 1944. The Nazi occupation of Florence, following the collapse of the Mussolini Government, has taken its appalling, final turn ...

Still Superior

Mark Greif: Sex and Susan Sontag, 12 February 2009

Reborn: Early Diaries, 1947-64 
by Susan Sontag, edited by David Rieff.
Hamish Hamilton, 318 pp., £16.99, January 2009, 978 0 241 14431 2
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... One of the most appealing things about Susan Sontag was that she didn’t ask to be liked. Other postwar American writers who cut the same sort of public figure pleaded with you to love their outsized faults, embrace their dumb enthusiasms, and cast in your lot with theirs through recounted divorces, nervous breakdowns, lusts ...

Seriously Uncool

Jenny Diski: Susan Sontag, 22 March 2007

At the Same Time: Essays and Speeches 
edited by Paolo Dilonardo and Anne Jump, preface by David Rieff.
Hamish Hamilton, 235 pp., £18.99, April 2007, 978 0 241 14371 1
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A Photographer’s Life 1990-2005 
by Annie Leibovitz.
Cape, 480 pp., £60, October 2006, 0 224 08063 6
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... Susan Sontag intended something like the book which is now published as At the Same Time to be her final collection of essays. After that, says her son, David Rieff, in his foreword, she intended to get on with what she most valued, writing fiction. Edited by her, somewhat differently no doubt, this would, then, have been her next book ...

Desperately Seeking Susan

Terry Castle: Remembering Susan Sontag, 17 March 2005

... A few weeks ago I found myself scanning photographs of Susan Sontag into my screensaver file: a tiny head shot clipped from Newsweek; two that had appeared in the New York Times; another printed alongside Allan Gurganus’s obituary in the Advocate, a glossy American gay and lesbian mag usually devoted to pulchritudinous gym bunnies, gay sitcom stars and treatments for flesh-eating strep ...

All That Gab

James Wolcott: The Upsides of Sontag’s Downsides, 24 October 2019

SontagHer Life 
by Benjamin Moser.
Allen Lane, 832 pp., £30, September 2019, 978 0 241 00348 0
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... Benjamin​ Moser begins his biography with a bang: ‘SusanSontag was America’s last great literary star.’ In my gaudier moments I prefer to think of Sontag as American literature’s first and last great screen star. Transcending staid text, she was projected into the avid imaginations of legions of onlookers who didn’t know Walter Benjamin from Walter Brennan ...

Elitism

Linda Colley, 3 December 1992

The Volcano Lover: A Romance 
by Susan Sontag.
Cape, 419 pp., £14.99, September 1992, 0 224 02912 6
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... Why did Susan Sontag write this book? Essayist and cultural critic, interpreter of Aids, cancer, the cinema, Fascism and pornography, recipient of Jonathan Miller’s burdensome accolade ‘probably the most intelligent woman in America’, why should she want to attempt a historical novel? It’s been a success of course ...

Diary

Mary-Kay Wilmers: Putting in the Commas, 15 September 1988

... In December 1947 the American writer Susan Sontag was invited to have tea with Thomas Mann. She was 14, a high-minded schoolgirl full of literature and the seriousness of life. She had one friend, and this boy, her disciple, had written to Thomas Mann, who was then living in California, telling him that they had been reading his books and admired them above all others ...

Humanitarian Art

Jeremy Harding: Susan Sontag, 21 August 2003

Regarding the Pain of Others 
by Susan Sontag.
Hamish Hamilton, 117 pp., £12.99, August 2003, 0 241 14207 5
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Between the Eyes: Essays on Photography and Politics 
by David Levi Strauss.
Aperture, 224 pp., £20, May 2003, 1 931788 10 3
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... Photographs, for Susan Sontag, are accessories to the act of remembering. Regarding the Pain of Others is as much about what we do and don’t remember as it is about representations of suffering – photographs of war and disaster, for the most part – and their value. The archives of ordinary individuals are stacked with visual index cards that trigger a range of private associations ...

Tio Sam

Christopher Hitchens, 20 December 1990

In the Time of the Tyrants: Panama 1968-89 
by R.M. Koster and Guillermo Sanchez Borbon.
Secker, 430 pp., £17.99, October 1990, 0 436 20016 3
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... exempted) thought anything of the sort. When the Army deposed the Party in Poland in 1981, Susan Sontag was quite right to say that a new stage of decadence had been reached, though her ironic formulation of ‘fascism with a human face’ was misleading. By that stage, Ceausescu and Kim Il Sung had taken the personality cult beyond the ...

The Big Show

David Blackbourn, 3 March 1983

‘Hitler’: A Film from Germany 
by Hans-Jürgen Syberberg, translated by Joachim Neugroschel, introduced by Susan Sontag.
Carcanet, 268 pp., £9.95, December 1982, 0 85635 405 8
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... their collective responsibility for Hitler, conceiving his art as a ‘work of mourning’. As Susan Sontag notes in her introduction to this book of the film, he is close to the position of Alexander and Margarethe Mitscherlich, who argued in The Inability to Mourn that the Germans remain the victims of a collective melancholia which follows from ...

At the Movies

Michael Wood: Bergman and Antonioni, 20 September 2007

... on the bandwagon now, and it wasn’t much of a bandwagon to start with. If cinephilia is dead, as Susan Sontag some time ago suggested it was, who cares about the simultaneous death of two cinéastes? Still, no reader of signs can resist a coincidence, the image of a meaning that can’t be there. Michelangelo Antonioni (born 1912) and Ingmar Bergman ...

The Divine Miss P.

Elaine Showalter, 11 February 1993

Sex, Art and American Culture 
by Camille Paglia.
Viking, 256 pp., £16.99, March 1993, 0 670 84612 0
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... Who is hotter than Mary McCarthy? Smarter than Susan Sontag? Funnier than Harold Bloom? Well, if you take her word for it, it’s Camille Paglia, come to set the world straight on the burning issues of our time: tenured radicals, date rape, the aesthetic evolution of Madonna. The self-styled genius and warrior woman seized public attention with her first book, Sexual Personae: Art and Decadence from Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson (1990), a sweeping, Strindbergian analysis of culture as the war of the sexes ...

At the Jeu de Paume

Brian Dillon: Peter Hujar, 19 December 2019

... photographs with portraits of Burroughs, Thek, John Ashbery, Divine, John Waters and others. Susan Sontag, whose reclining portrait is there too, wrote a preface for the book from her hospital bed, the night before her first surgery for breast cancer. They fell out after Sontag published On Photography the ...

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