Leland Poague, ed.Conversations with Susan Sontag
University Press of Mississippi, 1995
Sometimes I feel that, in the end, all I am really defending—but then I say all is everything—is the idea of seriousness, of true seriousness. What strikes me is how unambitious and superficial most American literature is. 245
I write to be part of literature, not for other people. 262
Reading these interviews, I was reminded how clueless I was as a Bellarmine graduate. It was my senior week, 1982, no classes, and I was sitting in the cafeteria waiting to lunch with James Petrick and Paul Fleitz, and prof and poet and Merton intimate Ron Seitz sat beside me and asked me what I wanted to do now. I mumbled something to him, and he offered me a wry smile as he said, “So you want to be an intellectual, don’t you?” Yes, Ron, I did, but had precious few models.
I became keenly interested in the work of Susan Sontag quite late, 2003, in fact, while reading her speech for an award in which she linked the witnesses of Oscar Romero and Rachel Corrie, the latter who had been bulldozed to death by an IDF soldier while serving as a volunteer wit the International Solidarity Movement. Later that year, I and friends from St. Louis went to Palestine and gave time with the same organization. I read many of her essays which were posted at Znet in the following years. A “gluttonous reader,” Sontag reminded me of Edward Said and George Steiner, whom I began reading in the 1990s.
The following excerpts spoke to me: first, what some of her interviewers made of Sontag, and, second, some of her reflections on themes important to me over the years….
Bellamy: No one could have been more charming and cooperative. 35
Raddatz: If I had to apply the word “intellectual” to a single person, only she would come to mind. She has a lightening-like joy, an inexhaustible curiosity about events and processes even of the most remote type… 88
Lesser: Her own tone, however, is one of eminent rationality. If she is the modern version of the nineteenth-century sage, then she is certainly a toned-down Ruskin, a sane Nietzsche—and in fact a great part of her appeal as a stylist lies in that reasonable tone of certainty, that restrained assertiveness, that assurance of her own well-groundedness. 92 Read the rest of this entry »