rieff on sontag


All of us swim in the one sea all our lives, trying to stay afloat as best we can, clinging to such lifelines and preservers as we might draw about us: reason and science, faith and religious practice, art and music and imagination. And in the end, we all go “down, down, down” as Edna St. Vincent Millay wrote, “into the darkness,” although she did not approve and was not resigned. Some lie back, float calmly and then succumb, while others flail about furiously and go under all the same. Some work quietly through Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’ tidy, too hopeful stages; others “rage, rage” as Dylan Thomas told his father to. But all get to the “dying of the light.” Some see death as a transition while others see it as extinction. Sontag studied in this latter school and tutored her only son in its grim lessons. What is clear from his book — an expansion of an essay that first appeared in the New York Times Magazine a year after her 2004 death — is that while she battled cancer, she waged war on mortality. That we get sick was acceptable to her. That we die was not. Pain, suffering, the awful losses her disease exacted, were all endurable so long as her consciousness remained animate.

more from the LA Times here.