January 10, 2005

Sontag: Essayist, novelist

As she must have known she would, Susan Sontag infuriated knee-jerk patriots in 2001 with her unassailably logical, implacably impolitic statement that whatever might be said of the 9/11 hijackers, “they were not cowards.” Neither was she. Sontag was an intellectual adventurer who championed both pop culture and the avant-garde, a leftist who denounced communism, an anti-fascist who defended (on esthetic grounds) the films of Leni Riefenstahl, a controversialist who argued even with her own earlier positions. She thought of herself primarly as a novelist, and won a National Book Award for her last novel, “In America.” But it was her dense, passionate essays –on camp, on photography, on illness and the language with which it’s describes- as well as, inevitably, her striking public persona that made her as close to a star as the world of ideas is ever likely to know again.