Daniel Green is thoughtfully compiling notes and obituaries of Susan Sontag, who died today at age 71. I knew much of Sontag’s writing by reputation more than through actually reading it, and I never did get far into The Volcano Lover, so I can’t offer the most informed thoughts on her. But I want to salute a few particular things.
Sontag’s death comes as more of a surprise than most because I thought of her as being at a fundamentally restless stage of her life, before the period of old age where writers settle down and start repeating themselves. When I was younger and discovering writers through remainders at The Strand and small press reissues, Sontag popped up all over the place. Wherever I went–E.M. Cioran, Alexander Kluge, Roberto Bolano, Imre Kertesz, Bela Tarr–Sontag had been there first, writing introductions or analyses. At the Japan Society’s retrospective of post-war Japanese film earlier this year, she had made the selections, and they were hardly common choices: these were movies and directors I’d never heard of, even after having followed Japanese film for several years. And her appreciation of Shohei Imamura was spot on.
I disagreed with many of her enthusiasms (Cioran, for one, and certainly Peter Nadas), but this is an almost inevitable consequence of the breadth of her tastes. At a time when specialization and depth take precedence over exploration, Sontag’s eclecticism is something we need more of.
Update: Also see Professor Nightspore’s just-right memories of Sontag:
It’s strange though how she feels central but unimportant to my own sense of self and intellectual world.