Susan Sontag: Critic and Crusader

Steve Wasserman in LARB:

HomepageSontagPhotoAnd yet and yet: the sound of Susan’s voice is still in my head. Her lust for life, her avidity, her pursuit of aesthetic bliss, her detestation of philistinism, her love of learning, her opposition to ethical and aesthetic shallowness, her insistence on being a grown-up, her passion for justice and capacity for outrage, and, always, her hatred of suffering and death are everywhere to be found in her sentences, in her essays, and in her stories. Her exemplary effort to swallow the world, as she concludes her revelatory short story “Unguided Tour,” tells the tale:

If I go this fast, I won’t see anything. If I slow down —

Everything. — then I won’t have seen everything before it disappears.

Everywhere. I’ve been everywhere. I haven’t been everywhere, but it’s on my list.

Land’s end. But there’s water, O my heart. And salt on my tongue.

The end of the world. This is not the end of the world.

I hear most of all her cri de coeur, given to the narrator of her story “Debriefing” — it could be her epitaph, her final aria, as she ends her story with the defiant throbbing declaration:

Sisyphus, I. I cling to my rock, you don’t have to chain me. Stand back! I roll it up — up, up. And… down we go. I knew that would happen. See, I’m on my feet again. See, I’m starting to roll it up again. Don’t try to talk me out of it. Nothing, nothing could tear me away from this rock.

More here.