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Susan Sontag was born in Manhattan in 1933 and studied at the universities of Chicago, Harvard and Oxford. She is the author of four novels, a collection of stories, several plays, and six books of essays, among them Illness as Metaphor and AIDS and Its Metaphors. Her books are translated into thirty-two languages. In 2001 she was awarded the Jerusalem Prize for the body of her work, and in 2003 she received the Prince of Asturias Prize for Literature and the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade. She died in December 2004.
A literary and social critic must stand somewhere between being a sycophant for established rules and practice and a unbridled individualist who fancies herself on a quixotic mission to set things right and one who occupies a privileged position of apodictic certainty. Fortunately Susan Sontag occupies a comfortable Aristotelian place between these two extremes. Rebels tend to be too self-conscious and maybe to a large degree narcissistic, but Sontag manages to be convincing without being in a constant gaze before a mirror. This puts the readers of her stories and literary commentaries much more at ease, at least those readers who don't mind some frequent strong perturbations of their cognitive equilibrium.
This collection of essays can be considered representative of the late Susan Sontag, and the one that was of main interest to this reviewer was the one entitled "The Pornographic Imagination." In this essay, Sontag asks whether pornography, at least in the way she views it, could ever be considered to be part of "real" literature, and can, or should it be, appreciated by individuals that are not "sexually deficient" or "deformed"? Can pornography thought of as an `interesting' modality within the arts?
Sontag does not want to make commentary on the psychological portraits of those who produce and view pornography, so she confines her analysis to the last question, and, as expected, she places particular emphasis on works of literature that are frequently classified as "pornographic". These include works such as "The Story of O" and "The Image", which Sontag asserts are excluded from classification as real literature "by definition" and not because of the conclusion of genuine debate.Read more ›
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