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At the Same Time: Essays and Speeches Hardcover – March 6, 2007
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Literature and politics are inextricably intertwined and unified by moral purpose in this powerful collection of pieces (a couple not previously published in English or at all) by iconic critic and novelist Sontag (Regarding the Pain of Others), who died in 2004. Sontag was a dedicated champion of literature in translation, and the book opens with several introductions to such works, led off by a meditation on beauty. The section might have been called "Art and Ardor," so laced is it with artistic passion, both Sontag's own and that of the writers she celebrates, such as Leonid Tsypkin and Anna Banti. Part three contains speeches Sontag gave in accepting the Jerusalem Prize and other awards, and honoring others whose moral courage she admired. But most striking is to re-read the pieces she wrote in the wake of 9/11 and the Abu Ghraib scandal, which constitute the book's middle section. Sontag's controversial attack on the Bush administration immediately after 9/11 may have been an act of courage or of folly, but from a distance of five years, her critique seems on the mark. Sontag's brilliance as a literary critic, her keen analytical skill and her genius for the searingly apt phrase (like her damning "the photographs are us" in relation to the Abu Ghraib photos) are all fiercely displayed here. (Mar. 6)
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The world lost a brilliant, passionate, and ethical thinker and writer when Susan Sontag died in December 2004. In his moving foreword to this collection of resonant essays and speeches, Sontag's son, David Rieff, writes that his mother "was interested in everything. Indeed, if I had only one word with which to evoke her, it would be avidity." But for all her arresting insights into photography and other arts, literature was Sontag's true love, and nowhere else has she so directly addressed what literature accomplishes. Sontag was working on this book at the end of her life, and it is a generously personal volume addressing her greatest ardors and gravest concerns. Here is Sontag on beauty, Russian literature, and the art of literary translation. Here, too, are Sontag's clarion writings on Israel, 9/11, and Abu Ghraib. Although Sontag was happiest writing fiction, she never failed to celebrate the work of others or protest injustice and brutality, and in this she was both artist and hero. More posthumous works are promised. Donna Seaman
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These issues, exemplified by this sterling collection of essays, range from the political to the moral to the literary (she would probably say the latter encompasses the former two). While her outspokeness frequently won her enemies, and her bluntness can be seen at times as insensitive, she was always looking inward to create a public person that she could admire, a strenuous egotism.
Readers of this volume can find her championing writers she feels have been neglected, criticizing the United States foreign policies and most notoriously, evaluating the attacks of 9/11 in yet further clarifications of her opinions.
The loss of this woman is incalculable; even when one disagrees with her(and at some points I am sure you will) you will never fail to find her challenging you to define your own point of view. Her aphorisms expand in widening concentric circles of thought, broadening your vistas with clarity and compassion.
Victor Serge's novel, THE CASE OF COMRADE TULAYEV,was published a year after Victor Serge's death. He was a valiant dissident Communist. Sontag believed Victor Serge resembled Simone Weil in his rectitude. For Serge, fiction was truth. The truths of a novel differ from the truths of an historian. Trotsky accused Victor Serge of being more anarchist than Marxist.
Susan Sontag was not in new York City at the time of nine eleven. She was in Berlin. Returning, she read the heartbreaking biographies of the victims appearing in the NEW YORK TIMES. She believed the principal figures in leadership positions were at a linguistic loss. She rejected prevalent models of reaction to the event that we are at war or our civilization is superior. A year after the event the Bush administration decreed that the U.S. was at war, but it was a war without end.
Sontag believed that not calling what took place at Abu Graib torture was as outrageous as not calling what took place in Rwanda between the Tutsis and the Hutus genocide. The photographs represented the fundamental corruption of the occupation.
The essay entitled 'The Conscience of Words' notes that to speak truthfully about literature it is necessary to talk about paradox. Literature is a plural system of standards. In 'Literature is Freedom' Susan Sontag comments on the latent antagonism between Europe and America. Europe is regarded as socialist. The difference between most European countries and the U.S. is that the U.S. is a religious society.
A novel is a creation of a voice and of a world it is said in 'The Novelist and Moral Rasoning. The novel is a journey. Endings in a novel confer a kind of liberty. Storytelling by a novelist involves an ethical element. Writing fiction is a solitary task. The forward to this collection by Susan Sontag's son, David Rieff, stresses his mother's avidity, her interest in everything. For her there was a joy of living and a joy of knowing. These last writings are excellent.
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