28 December 2004

Death as metaphor

Susan Sontag
1933 - 2004
American public intellectual

I feel hesitant, unqualified to comment on her, even though I'm a fan of her work in a small way — I started reading her latest book just last week, and I've linked and quoted her here on this blog.

But I've always felt that there was something inaccessible about her, because I'm from the wrong time. You read some essay published in 1974 referring to her and there's this whole subtext about what she meant to someone in 1974 — something that I can never really know. I come from an era where there's nothing surprising about a serious intellectual writing a serious essay of Notes on "Camp".

Most recently she's famous for her comments on the “War on Terror” — shortly after 9/11 in The New Yorker, then again later. She took a lot of fire for failing to stick to the simple script of "terrorists are bad and we're going to go beat 'em up." But she has never been in the simple business. She was typically quoted out of context, but the way she writes, anything less than the whole text is quoting out of context — she writes clearly and lucidly, but with an embrace of complexity that makes her impossible to summarize.

There's not enough of that going around these days. Nor has there ever been. We are diminished by the loss of her.

Update: Christopher Hitchens does a good obit for her at Slate, as does Gary Indiana at the Village Voice, and Patrick Giles at the National Catholic Reporter.

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