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Susan Sontag – photo by Peter Hujar & Sontag and Nestor Almendros

December 29th, 2007
  • Susan hujarsontag Sontag
    Photo by Peter Hujar

  • Literature was her passport

  • Susan Slept Here by David Ehrenstein

  • With W.S.B. 1aBSontag
    William S. Burroughs – Our Paranoid Friend Had a Dinner with Susan Sontag

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    Susan Sontag and Nestor Almendros

    Susan Sontag, the American critic and a former supporter of the Castro regime, describes the Castro campaign against homosexuals as ”a heritage, in a way a ‘Puritan’ one, that is deeply embedded in the morals of the Left.” She continues: ”The discovery that homosexuals were being persecuted in Cuba shows, I think, how much the Left needs to evolve.”

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    Photo by Annie Leibovitz

  • Desperately Seeking Alice

    July 11th, 2006

    Two Books Alice James Biography and Play

    Susan Sontag wrote a play about Alice James, the invalid sister of William and Henry James. It would be implausible to assume that Sontag did not read a brilliant biography of Alice James by Jean Strouse. It was one of my favorite books, I have learned so much about the whole of James family.

    Here is the review of her play by Robert Scanlan.

    In 1980, Jean Strouse published an award-winning study of the short, pathetic, life of Alice James … Alice died of cancer in 1892, at the age of 43, and the enormous fame and accomplishment of her two eldest brothers — Henry (the novelist) and William (the psychologist/philosopher) — eventually brought attention to her terrible life of illness and , as W.H. Auden so unforgettably put it, her all-too human “unsuccess.” In the preface to Alice James, Jean Strouse introduced the subject of her complex and carefully researched biography as follows:
    “When I am gone,” Alice James wrote to her brother William as she was dying, “pray don’t think of me simply as a creature who might have been something else, had neurotic science been born.” Alice clearly foresaw that her famous psychologist brother — and perhaps others — would “interpret” her life, and she expressed a wish to forestall this indignity. Jean Strouse introduced the subject Sontag took up in her play: how did Alice collect the separated fragments of her shattered life into an identity, however dismal and disappointing it might appear to others.

    Imagine my surprise when I came across this article by Dana Heller accusing Sontag of hiding a truth that she was influenced by another novel “Alice in Bed” by Cathleen Schine bearing a same title as Sontag’s play.

    And then there is untruth. The untruth is that Susan Sontag once read a novel by Cathleen Schine and was so entertained by its subtle meditation on questions of female intellect and crippling illness that she borrowed its title for a play she’d been thinking about writing, a play about Alice James’ heroic struggle with cancer, all the while certain that nobody would ever make the connection or confront her with the possibility of influence. Until we met. And that, while plainly not the truth, may not be a lie.(Dana Heller)

    Now go back to Scanlan’s review of Sontag’s play.

    Thus the title, Alice in Bed (not to be confused with Cathleen Schine’s 1983 novel, which bears the same title), for the significant portion of Alice James’ life was spent in prostration, bedridden and waiting for death. (Robert Scanlan)

    Schine’s Alice is also an invalid with the last name of Brody, a modern woman who actually has an affair with a doctor, quite different from the neurotic, virginal spinster, Alice James. The only connection is the title. If Sontag had titled her play “Alice James in Wonderland” or something, she might have escaped the unfair and wrong headed posthumous accusation from this very ignorant academic who gives no indication she has ever heard of the 1980 Strouse biography of Alice James.

    Here is a review of “Alice In Bed” (Cathleen Schine)

    Found another Alice James, wife of William James, who happens to be lying in Bed. My desperate search for Alice James in bed has led me to the wrong Alice James. This Sargent portrait was made after the death of the sister Alice James. Researchers and academics must be very careful before jumping to erroneous and damaging conclusions.
    Watercolor portrait by John Singer Sargent.

    Alice James or Mrs William JamesAlice James, wife of William James by Sargent

  • Literature was her passport (Sontag’s homepage)

    A Streetcar Named Desire – Love Note to New Orleans

    September 8th, 2005

    “Welcome to Johnny White’s, a New Orleans bar that has actually managed to stay open all through the Katrina disaster and has turned into a kind of community center for folks who have refused to leave the city. ” (via Sfgate)

    Bellocq bellocq11

    FIRST 0F ALL, the pictures are unforgettable – photography’s ultimate standard of value. And it’s not hard to see why the trove of glass negatives by a hitherto unknown photographer working in New Orleans in the early years of this century became one of the most admired recoveries in photography’s widening, ever incomplete history. (Susan Sontag on Bellocq )

    13 more photographs by Bellocq from Masters of Photography

    Step inside A Gallery for Fine Photography, located in an historic 19th-century building at 241 Chartres in New Orleans’ French Quarter.
    Bellocq at A Gallery, here.

    Luois Malle and Pretty Baby.
    “Violet (Shields) is the daughter of a prostitute (Susan Sarandon) who works at one of the brothels in New Orleans’ legendary red-light district, Storyville. One day photographer Ernest Bellocq (Keith Carradine) arrives at the brothel to take photos of the prostitutes and becomes fascinated with Violet, who is fast approaching her 12th birthday and a subsequent initiation into prostitution. When her mother moves to St. Louis in search of marriage and respectability, Violet determines to marry the much older Bellocq. Malle infuses the potentially lurid subject matter with a lyrical beauty that brings humanity to his characters and story, with the assistance of a sensitive script by Polly Platt and superb cinematography by Sven Nykvist.”

    Andre Codrescu on Love Note to New Orleans

    The Lady with the Cross from A Gallery of Eccentrics from New Orleans

    My Family Can Help

    World Changing on Katrina home.

    A Street Car Named Desire on Wikipedia

    “A strong, soulful, wicked, frail city” wrote Reed Johnson –
    “After disaster recedes, the rebuilding will begin. Artists and others wonder: What will become of the culture?”

    New Orleans is a ghost town, an occupied city, from Life in the Necropolis.

    Spike Lee is headed to New Orleans to make a documentary examining how race and politics collided in aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

    The Subject Supposed to Loot and Rape:
    Reality and fantasy in New Orleans by Slavoj Zizek
    “New Orleans is one of those cities within the United States most heavily marked by the internal wall that separates the affluent from ghettoized blacks. And it is about those on the other side of the wall that we fantasize: More and more, they live in another world, in a blank zone that offers itself as a screen for the projection of our fears, anxieties and secret desires.”

    Back to Ephemeral Cities

    The Last Empress Besieged

    March 17th, 2005

    Susan Sontag <><><>Susan Sontag  photography by Fred McDarrah
    Susan Sontag at a symposium on sex in 1962 at the Mills Hotel, now defunct, on Bleecker Street. (Image source from NY Times “On Self” by Susan Sontag)
    In previous posts on Sontag, I have emphasized how Susan Sontag expressed her wish to be remembered as a novelist. This view was reenforced after reading a hilarious and a touching article, a portrait of Susan Sontag with warts and all by a Stanford professor who used to escort Sontag from time to time. (Terry Castle – Desperately Seeking Susan)

    Susan Sontag is back in the public discourse recently in relation with the opening of Diane Arbus retrospective at the Met. Finally from a seasoned critic came this article on Diane Arbus by
    Peter Schjeldahl
    calling her a revolutionary artist. Peter illustrated how wrong headed Sontag was in her treatment of Diane Arbus.

    “Sontag’s notorious attack on Arbus, in an essay from 1973 that became the linchpin of her book “On Photography” (1977), passed one test of great criticism. It asked the right question—about photography’s claim to be a full-fledged and legitimate art—at the right time, when Arbus’s work had advanced that claim with unprecedented force. Otherwise, the essay is an exercise in aesthetic insensibility, eschewing description of the art for aspersions, often pithy, on the artist’s ethics…. (read more here).

    Susan Sontag was right when she said one must remember artists by their best work and not by their worst.
    I have many posting on Susan Sontag in this blog because I remember her for her best works and her forceful and tireless promotion of international talents in the arts and her high minded activisim but not for her controversial book on photography .

    Besieged Besieged

    Here is a photo based digital image, neither my best nor my worst, just created recently when I saw the groove of cement on the floor while my spouse was fixing the tiles in our bedroom.

    Elsewhere in the world,
    Matt (Pas au-dela) has great post on Wittgenstein’s Mistress, David Markson’s brilliant novel. Make time and read this delightful work.

    Two birthdays passed by on March 16: Isabelle Huppert and Bernardo Bertolucci.
    Isabelle Huppert – there are so many memorable films by her,
    she was especially brave and brilliant in “The Piano Teacher”.
    Thinking about the twisted relationship of mother and piano teacher, reminds one of our pathological repressed leaders .
    I will digress here, I often wished that our Secretary of State had stayed in the music world as a concert pianist or a figure skater. She is an amoral monkey performer, a consumate careerist. Astrologically speaking , Condi Rice and Laura Bush share the same Sun and Moon combo- Scorpio with Moon in Cancer – one in 144 – W is a Cancer. The threesome seems to embody the worst of Cancer trait – needy, cagey and ready to attack at any moment. W shares a birthday with the Dalai Lama, which I find kind of funny, like a story from Dumas the Iron Mask the exiled King and the fake King.

    Isabelle and Bernardo are Pisces Snakes.
    Bernardo Bertolucci old films inspired me and gave me the title of this post. His film “Besieged” was not appreciated as well as his other films. His earlier film “The Conformist” influenced Coppola, dark, brooding operatic style so well incorporated in the first two Godfather. Bertolucci’s Birth Chart

    Sontag, Simone Weil and Tsunami

    January 5th, 2005

    “Sontag and Tsunami” by Rebecca Solnit from Commondreams,
    “Sontag has achieved the immortality of people whose work reaches far beyond them in time and space, not one that means death does not matter, only that part of her is still here for us — a truth born out immediately by the way her comments on photography and representation allow us to continue navigating the news and examine the terms in which it is delivered to us.”

    A beautiful and moving article by Sontag on Simone Weil Simone Weil , here.

    Powerful Lives, an article written by Hugh Dillon focused on
    Weil and Orweil.
    Simone Weil 1weil
    More on Simone Weil, here

    More Susan Sontag from Vitro Nasu.

    The Volcano Lover – From Sondheim to Sontag – A Day After

    December 29th, 2004
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    Close to midnight I wrote to Alan Sondheim,
    (do you think I should add that she would like to be known
    as a novelist. She seemed to want that recognition, gathering from
    TV interviews – my impression).
    She described how in telling the story she would often find herself
    in tears. She was so moved.

    “Well I think of her as novelist, really liked The Volcano Lover…”
    (via email) Alan Sondheim replied.
    I asked if he wants to add something to my post on Sontag,
    he said ” I want to read her again on illness; I’ll use that in a piece.
    She was incredibly brave in the writing she did about 9/11.

    And there are good minds left, there are always dor vdor, generations after generations…
    (*dor vdor is Hebrew.)

    Susan Sontag 1933 – 2004

    December 28th, 2004

    Susan Sontag passed away this morning.
    Remembering Susan here
    Sontag at Japan Society Film Lecture.
    Her fine essay on Bergman’s “Persona”
    Here is Bill Moyer’s Interview. From New Yorker, Looking at War

    From Steve Wasserman’s generous and more complete tribute.
    Here, a loving portrait from Gary Indiana, who knew her well .

    A day later from NYtimes from Charles MacGrath,
    highlight her glamour and hidden warmth
    and
    finally her ability to reexamine and reinvent.
    Sontag would have been thrilled to be known as an old fashioned novelist who can entertain.