The Collector

Daniel Mendelsohn in The New Republic:

Reborn It is somehow appropriate that the voice of deep and anguished ambivalence that you hear at the beginning of Susan Sontag's early journals and notebooks does not belong to Susan Sontag. Self-doubt, after all, was not a quality you generally associated with her. From the moment she burst onto the literary scene nearly fifty years ago, with the publication of the essays subsequently collected as Against Interpretation–a cultural-critical Athena, armored with a vast erudition, bristling with epigrams–Sontag exhibited a preternatural self-assurance in matters of art and culture, an unwavering belief in her own judgments and tastes that, as these early private papers now make clear, she possessed already in her early teens. (The first of a projected three volumes of Sontag's journals, this one takes her to the age of thirty; fully one-third of it is a record of her teenaged years.)

The embarrassment with which Reborn begins belongs, rather, to her son, the writer David Rieff, who edited his mother's journals. In a moving preface, Rieff describes how he uneasily consented to publish this “raw” and “unvarnished” sampling of Sontag's adolescent effusions about life and early perceptions about art. Throughout his short introduction he shows a marked queasiness about “the literary dangers and moral hazards of such an enterprise. ” The anxiety stems from two sources, of which the first was ethical and, so to speak, generic: although his mother, in one of her final illnesses, was anxious for him to know where the journals were kept, there was no indication that Sontag would have wanted the contents of these papers to be made public. “The diaries,” Rieff notes, “were written solely for herself … She had never permitted a line from them to be published, nor, unlike some diarists, did she read from them to friends.”

More here.