sontag creates herself


Sontag’s image of remote and disciplined rationality was altered by Swimming in a Sea of Death (2008), her son David Rieff’s painful and dismaying memoir of her frantic, self-deluded fight against the leukaemia that killed her. It will be further changed by the publication of three volumes of her private journals, meticulously, if reluctantly, edited by Rieff, who has explained in interviews that while he himself would have preferred not to publish the journals, Sontag sold them to UCLA without restriction, and he decided to do the editing job himself rather than leave it to a stranger. The first volume, Reborn, takes Sontag from adolescence to the beginnings of her ascendancy among the New York intellectuals of the 1960s. Relentlessly self-analytical, unsparingly honest and explicit, she describes her identity as a lesbian and an outsider, her unhappy marriage, her flight to Oxford and Paris, her experience of motherhood, her determination to survive alone, and, always, her ambitious self-formation as an artist and thinker. Sontag began to keep an intimate record of her thoughts and experiences in 1947, when she was a terrifyingly precocious girl of fourteen. As she later observed, she used her writing to try out new selves, and to construct her formidable persona. ‘In the journal I do not just express myself more openly than I could do to any person. I create myself.’

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