Thursday, April 13, 2000

The Foreigner: Susan Sontag Interviewed

First appeared in Atlantic Unbound, 4/13/2000

Susan Sontag -- whose new novel, In America, has just been published -- doesn't feel at home in New York, or anywhere else. And that's the way she likes it

By the late seventies, books such as Against Interpretation (1966), Styles of Radical Will (1969), and On Photography (1977) had established Susan Sontag as an essayist whose concerns stretched from high culture to low before it was fashionable for writers to have this kind of range. Sontag wrote on subjects like film, photography, pornography, and camp with the same zeal she brought to the great European writers whom she helped introduce to American readers. The title essay of her collection Under the Sign of Saturn (1980) is about the German critic Walter Benjamin, and it is no wonder he had special meaning for her. In Benjamin's work many of the contrasting cultural and political concerns of his day -- any one of which would have sufficed for a lifetime's preoccupation by more narrowly focused thinkers -- flourished side by side. Similarly, in Sontag's essays there is an inclusiveness that may be the closest thing to intellectual unity we should hope for in our multi-dimensional culture. As Sontag says in the following interview, she does not like to exclude.