the unlikely icon


How odd it is that, long before she died of cancer in 2004, Susan Sontag should have become the intellectual icon of postwar America. Her saturnine looks were of course photographed more keenly and frequently than those of her peers – right up to her last moments. There was also something stentorian about her many public pronouncements: the impatient 1960s cultural radical who called for a new “erotics of art” and denounced the white race, after a visit to the war in Vietnam, as a “cancer”; who described communism in 1982 as “fascism with a human face”, staged Waiting for Godot in besieged Sarajevo in 1993 and then responded to 9/11 with a broadside against US politicians and opinion-makers and their apparently joint “campaign to infantilise the public”. Her reputation may still seem unearned. Alfred Kazin, whose recently published journals are a remarkable document of American intellectual life, was a much finer reader of individual texts. William F Buckley, Christopher Lasch and C Wright Mills had more influence on their contemporaries. Gore Vidal, Noam Chomsky, James Baldwin and Norman Mailer sold more books.

more from Pankaj Mishra at the FT here.