A NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: I've usually taken the high road when someone passes to the great beyond (just as Ms. Sontag did eight years ago today). However, it is hard not to be cynical in today's world. Some folks just rub me the wrong way. Susan Sontag is such a character.
Below you will find a little essay that leaked out of my pointy head just after the 911 crisis at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and western Pennsylvania. The catalyst was Ms. Sontag telling us it was our fault. There were all kinds of adoring OpEds in the media on this day when she passed on back in 2004. They paid tribute to, in my mind, a charlatan intelligentsia type. I found it easier to portray the truth. In the present, we are being governed by the Susan Sontags, and the Noam Chomskys of the world. So yeah...Susan Sontag is not dead enough.
I was never a fan of Susan Sontag in life. I am just as indifferent to her "importance" in death. But, now that she has assumed room temperature, I gather that I could be categorized as "mean spirited." I accept that...gladly and without reservation.
I’m With ‘Crash’ Davis, Ms. Sontag
November 13, 2001
One often wonders who is there to assist Susan Sontag in the event of a thunderstorm. There is always that risk in the undertaking of self-righteous nose raising that she may drown in the downpour. Be comforted in the realization that drowning requires the depletion of oxygen on the intake. Sontag has long been accustomed to existing without adequate oxygen reaching the brain.
Thomas Wolfe has her pegged as “just another scribbler who spent her life signing up for protest meetings and lumbering to the podium encumbered by her prose style, which had a handicapped parking sticker valid at Partisan Review.” That’s why Wolfe makes the big bucks.
At the risk of portraying a valid point wrapped up in the fictitious Durham Bull soliloquy of “Crash” Davis, “I believe…in the soul ... the small of a woman's back, the hangin' curveball, high fiber, good Scotch, that the novels of Susan Sontag are self-indulgent, overrated crap...” So, in the interest of comparison, what is it, exactly, that Sontag believes? She believes in herself. That is a meritorious endeavor. However, despite that very act being the goal of any caring parent to instill upon their child, there are serious repercussions to placing one’s confidence in an irrelevant claptrap.
Face it, she is amusing. No matter the issue. No matter the importance. Sontag is the moral equivalent of Benny Hill in a nunnery. She ensconces her percipience, and in the fashion of a drunk baker twists, kneads, and manipulates her message into a preexisting expectation of where her lapdog gnomes of the cultural garden expect her to be. That is all well and good except for the fact that the very foundation of her pedestal is a bunch of hooey. The Sisters of St. Augustine would, certainly, experience trepidation in the acts of Benny Hill. A thinking populace is no more swayed by Sontag.
In fact, I invite Sontag to speak at length, on any topic and at every occasion. It’s not because she says things I want to hear, or encourages a healthy discourse. I don’t and she doesn’t. However, the very nature of her ludicrous points of view is damaging to the credibility of anyone who, somehow, mirrors that high school lesson of “guilt by association.”
When she was interviewed by the New Yorker in the days after the September 11th terrorist attack she did not disappoint. The piece’s title “Observations by Susan Sontag” would have been enough. Where most would use that encumbrance as the header in their personal diary entry. Sontag, somehow, perceives her view as something to be showered upon the great unwashed. I always wondered what entitled her to that luxury. Surely, it wasn’t something that she regurgitated in the past. I have read a number of her “works.” The most impressionable on me was not her intended message I fear.
Early in her career she wrote a number of essays dealing with art. She expounded on Antonin Artaud, proclaiming him a failure. Sontag deduced that Artaud was unable to complete a thought and that his numerous varied works “amount to a broken, self-mutilated corpus, a vast collection of fragments.“ It never occurred to Sontag to look at Artaud’s endeavors as a means to a goal. Despite his own admission of his difficulties in grasp and concentration, perhaps he enjoyed what he did. Perhaps he enjoyed the challenge that accompanied the profession. Perhaps it was the striving for improvement that drove Artaud to cover the gambit of art, cinema, poems, prose, painting, music et al. Instead, Sontag could only see her picture of another artist’s work. There lies the cornerstone of her failings. And there lies the basis of her warped assessment of the events of September 11th. Her audacity to categorize Artaud as a failure in her definition of the word shows the epitome of hypocrisy when you digest, quite forcefully, one of her most well known pieces.
In Against Interpretation and Other Essays (1966) the intuitive response, as she would call it, was the concept of avoiding the intellectual and analytical evaluation of a piece. “The 'meaning' of art lies in the experiencing both style and content together without analysis. “ That’s an interesting revelation coming from someone who, quite solidly, categorized Artaud as a failure based on the inability to stay focused on a specific idea. I suppose, sometimes one has to twist, knead, and manipulate until the soft pretzel resembles what the public would recognize and consume.
Regardless, in the New Yorker Sontag queried, “Where is the acknowledgment that this was not a "cowardly" attack on "civilization" or "liberty" or "humanity" or "the free world" but an attack on the world's self-proclaimed superpower, undertaken as a consequence of specific American alliances and actions?”
In her “intuitive response” Sontag failed to acknowledge the minor analytical detail that she is an American Citizen, and that the acts of the terrorists were defined by the actors to be murderous, callous acts in cold blood against all American citizens. No. Instead, we ‘intellectuals’ should ponder the all encompassing innate observations and deliberate the feelings of the rat bastards who butchered 4,537 human beings in the name of their “God.” To Sontag, that would be the reasonable response.
Sontag doesn’t think America plays fairly. “How many citizens are aware of the ongoing American bombing of Iraq? And if the word "cowardly" is to be used, it might be more aptly applied to those who kill from beyond the range of retaliation, high in the sky, than to those willing to die themselves in order to kill others.
What a wonderful argument for the necessity to initiate an immediate program to provide “certificates of participation” to all parties of conflict (no matter the purpose) so as not to have to go through the uncomfortable foible of having to declare a winner or recognize right from wrong, sane from insane, smart from dumb. I am reminded of the profound words of chronic law abuser Rodney King and my heart just runs with endearing warmth. “Can’t we all just get along?” The answer is “no,” and there are very valid analytical (sometimes intellectual) reasons for that disclosure. Life is not an exercise in participation. Life is not something to be pondered. It is more than that I hope. Maybe it is an ongoing mission in personal accomplishment and achievement. Life could be an effort to better yourself in all capacities. It is not an application in holding back your own potential so as to allow others achievement at your expense. The whole concept of freedom affords the opportunity to accomplish goals as an individual and as a nation. Making the battlefield one of equality is the “intuitive response” of inept logic. Show me a boxer with short arms, and I’ll show you a throw rug.
“Let's by all means grieve together. But let's not be stupid together. A few shreds of historical awareness might help us understand what has just happened, and what may continue to happen. "Our country is strong," we are told again and again. I for one don't find this entirely consoling. Who doubts that America is strong? But that's not all America has to be.”
By all means we grieve together. And, by all means, we shall not be stupid together. Instead, I leave that to Susan Sontag alone. Historical awareness is a conscious motivation to act in a capacity that would guarantee a desired outcome and future deterrent. History holds the souls of Beirut in 1983, Kenya in 1998, Tanzania in 1998, Somalia in 1993, Yemen in 2000, Saudi Arabia in 1996, New York in 1993, and New York, again, in 2001. We are finished with the history lesson Ms. Sontag. The class is entirely too loud. Our country is strong. We are strong in character and pride. I find that extremely consoling, because I realize that character and pride are not given, but earned. They are earned, sometimes, at the expense of those who would try to tarnish those innate qualities within us. A strength-of-purpose lives within the knowledge that our Republic has the ability to control our own destiny so that those cherished freedoms are not on loan from others.
Susan Sontag would say I didn’t understand her point. But, in the very color of her position I understood the whole encompassing view of her work. It initiated an intuitive response. I didn’t take away a single, one-sided, analytical perception as to what she was trying to express in each sentence or phrase. It was pure, unadulterated discord; all of it.
A lesson in reverse to Susan Sontag, never teach the unwashed how to juggle knives, lest they learn to throw them.