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December 28, 2004

SUSAN SONTAG'S DEATH

I was quite pained to learn just now of the death of Susan Sontag, who left us this morning at 7:00 AM in New York.  I first encountered Susan on the page when I was a teenager, through her groundbreaking essays in the Partisan Review--where she helped introduce Americans to European intellectuals of the first rank, like Roland Barthes, among many. We finally met in the late '70s, when Dick Sennett had asked me to be a Fellow at the Institute for the Humanities at New York University--a sort of glorified chat shop for intellectuals which we used to refer to jokingly as "the Humane Society"-- where Susan was a regular at the seminars. We became friends, and I passed many agreeable hours in her company in the years before I left for France. On several occasions we shared a joint together--although I felt rather guilty about giving one to her, as she had already had lung problems and bouts of cancer. Most of the obituaries will undoubtedly speak of Susan's brilliance. But I also remember her humor and wit, her love of gossip, her openness to the new, her capacity for lucid self-analysis, her ravishing smile, and her distinctive laugh. We often talked about sexuality--she was quite amusing in recounting her own amorous adventures with women. I confess I never cared as much for her fiction, although it was always interesting, as I did for her inimitable essays on culture, literature, and politics. Against Interpretation was masterful; Regarding the Pain of Others, which almost won the National Book Award last year, should be in everyone's library. Hers was a truly original mind.

Susan was the epitome of the intellectuelle engagée. She never shirked the responsibility of living in her time, and brought her acute analysis, and empathy with victims of state oppression wherever it was felt, onto the page with memorable effect. She was also a tireless activist in the service of other writers and writers' liberties. The last time she made headlines was when, during the second U.S. war in Iraq, Susan was pilloried by the philistines --and in the most vile terms -- after a Nightline appearance in which she compared the Congress's repeated standing applause for George Bush's war speech to the knee-jerk ovations of the Party Congresses in the Soviet Union (post-Stalin.) She got it exactly right, of course.

Susan is not replaceable. She will be missed.

P.S. After reading the above, Steve Wasserman, the L.A. Times literary editor, just sent me his obit on Susan for his paper. He captures her importance rather nicely. In his note to me, Steve says of Susan's death, "I'm undone." He is not alone in that feeling.....Later still: It's now 5:00 P.M. , and Susan's removal hangs in the air of the dying day like a bad omen. I've just read the irritating obit the N.Y. Times has posted, which contains this decidedly snarky paragraph:

"Over four decades, public response to Ms. Sontag remained irreconcilably divided. She was described, variously, as explosive, anticlimactic, original, trendy, iconoclastic, captivating, hollow, rhapsodic, naïve, sophisticated, approachable, abrasive, aloof, attention-seeking, charming, condescending, populist, puritanical, sybaritic, sincere, posturing, ascetic, voluptuary, right-wing, left-wing, mannered, formidable, brilliant, profound, superficial, ardent, bloodless, dogmatic, challenging, ambivalent, accessible, lofty, erudite, lucid, inscrutable, solipsistic, intellectual, visceral, reasoned, pretentious, portentous, maddening, lyrical, abstract, narrative, acerbic, opportunistic, chilly, effusive, careerist, sober, gimmicky, relevant, passé, facile, illogical, ambivalent, polemical, didactic, tenacious, slippery, celebratory, banal, untenable, doctrinaire, ecstatic, melancholic, humorous, humorless, deadpan, rhapsodic, aloof, glib, cantankerous and clever. No one ever called her dull." After reading this, my chum John Berendt sent me this note: "By my rough count there are 25 words in the list that could be considered positive, 33 negative, and 19 that could be read either way.  Strangely, the words 'aloof' and 'ambivalent' appear twice; I only counted each of them once, but their appearance made the list seem even more heavily weighted on the negative side."

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Comments

Dear Doug...

I was wondering, if you could please take out my comment about Susan Sontag's death. I feel embarrassed that I wrote this in 2005. I guess the reason that I wrote this was that I was still going through my own grief and trying to cope with it - I lost my brother - and so I reacted stronger to everything that happened around me at the time.

Thanks. I truly appreciate it.

Kind regards,

Simone Kussatz

Posted by: Simone Kussatz | Oct 22, 2009 11:48:21 AM

To Whom It May Concern:

I was wondering, if you could please take my comment out. I had no idea that this would be shown on the web.

Thanks. I'd so much appreciate it.

Posted by: Simone Kussatz | Jun 28, 2009 1:31:09 AM

Dear Doug...

could you please take off my comment about Susan Sontag's death. I didn't know that this would be published, when I wrote it and I feel it's something so personal
that I don't like to share with everyone who's googling me..

Thanks I truly appreciate your consideration.

and Happy 2009..

Posted by: Simone Kussatz | Dec 27, 2008 1:44:51 PM

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