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Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Susan Sontag, R.I.P. 

Critic, novelist, filmmaker: dead at 71. NYT obit here; last major essay, "Regarding the Torture of Others," from May 2004, here. For a good time, read Sontag & Kael: Opposites Attract Me, by Craig Seligman.

(Link via our esteemed colleague Pinko Feminist Hellcat.)

UPDATE (courtesy of Zemblan patriot J.M.): Here's the complete text of the brief piece Sontag wrote for the New Yorker a few days after 9/11, for which she was roundly excoriated as a traitor, a moral monster, a fifth columnist, a collaborator with those who would destroy America. See how it reads today:
The disconnect between last Tuesday's monstrous dose of reality and the self-righteous drivel and outright deceptions being peddled by public figures and TV commentators is startling, depressing. The voices licensed to follow the event seem to have joined together in a campaign to infantilize the public. Where is the acknowledgment that this was not a "cowardly" attack on "civilization" or "liberty" or "humanity" or "the free world" but an attack on the world's self-proclaimed superpower, undertaken as a consequence of specific American alliances and actions? How many citizens are aware of the ongoing American bombing of Iraq? And if the word "cowardly" is to be used, it might be more aptly applied to those who kill from beyond the range of retaliation, high in the sky, than to those willing to die themselves in order to kill others. In the matter of courage (a morally neutral virtue): whatever may be said of the perpetrators of Tuesday's slaughter, they were not cowards.

Our leaders are bent on convincing us that everything is O.K. America is not afraid. Our spirit is unbroken, although this was a day that will live in infamy and America is now at war. But everything is not O.K. And this was not Pearl Harbor. We have a robotic President who assures us that America still stands tall. A wide spectrum of public figures, in and out of office, who are strongly opposed to the policies being pursued abroad by this Administration apparently feel free to say nothing more than that they stand united behind President Bush. A lot of thinking needs to be done, and perhaps is being done in Washington and elsewhere, about the ineptitude of American intelligence and counter-intelligence, about options available to American foreign policy, particularly in the Middle East, and about what constitutes a smart program of military defense. But the public is not being asked to bear much of the burden of reality. The unanimously applauded, self-congratulatory bromides of a Soviet Party Congress seemed contemptible. The unanimity of the sanctimonious, reality-concealing rhetoric spouted by American officials and media commentators in recent days seems, well, unworthy of a mature democracy.

Those in public office have let us know that they consider their task to be a manipulative one: confidence-building and grief management. Politics, the politics of a democracy—which entails disagreement, which promotes candor—has been replaced by psychotherapy. Let's by all means grieve together. But let's not be stupid together. A few shreds of historical awareness might help us understand what has just happened, and what may continue to happen. "Our country is strong," we are told again and again. I for one don't find this entirely consoling. Who doubts that America is strong? But that's not all America has to be.

Susan Sontag
UPDATE II: We would be remiss if we did not offer a link to Sontag's extended reply to critics of the above, in the form of an interview with David Talbot of Salon:
But I did not think for a moment my essay was radical or even particularly dissenting. It seemed very common sense. I have been amazed by the ferocity of how I've been attacked, and it goes on and on. One article in the New Republic, a magazine for which I have written, began: "What do Osama bin Laden, Saddam Hussein and Susan Sontag have in common?" I have to say my jaw dropped. Apparently we are all in favor of the dismantling of America. There's a kind of rhetorical overkill aimed at me that is astonishing. There has been a demonization which is ludicrous.

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