“Her exemplary effort to swallow the world”: Wasserman on Sontag, yesterday in Berlin

Cynthia Haven in The Book Haven:

ScreenHunter_969 Jan. 31 19.38My sole face-to-face encounter with Susan Sontag occurred at Stanford, when she was a visiting star sometime in the 1990s. She was dressed in the slightly dowdy “prison matron” threads that were her trademark, alleviated with a colorful scarf, another trademark. I had expected her to be physically towering; she was not. Obviously, that was the impression her books left on my psyche. I’m pretty certain she would say that had been the real encounter.

Steve Wasserman, editor at large for Yale University Press (and my former editor at the Los Angeles Times Book Review) got the double exposure of her books and her friendship. He recounted both yesterday in Berlin, in his keynote address, “Susan Sontag: Critic and Crusader” at a symposium at the Institute for Cultural Inquiry (Steve called it a “secular monastery”). He spoke to a standing-room-only crowd at the “Susan Sontag Revisited” symposium honoring the legendary cultural critic and author ten years after her death. He gave was a knockout address – one that should become the defining retrospective on the impact Susan Sontag has had on an entire generation.

His comments on her writing:

“Sontag’s style is her subject. For it is the way she thinks, how she goes about it, how she offers her readers the chance, as it were, to eavesdrop on a mind thinking as hard and as nimbly as it can that is most compelling about her work. Or, to put it another way, it is not so much her opinions that matter—though of course they do—but rather how she goes about arriving at them, how she renders them, the very warp and woof of her sentences.”

More here.