Cultural Revolutions

Susan Sontag, R.I.P.

Susan Sontag passed away in New York City on the Feast of the Holy Innocents at the age of 71.  Dying of leukemia after a long struggle with cancer, Sontag leaves behind no image of suffering or weakness but rather one of strength and courage, idiosyncratic integrity and productivity, and a remarkably wide range of engagement.  She also leaves behind the image of herself, simply because she was the image of herself, like a star—and she was a star.  So much so that she appeared as herself in Woody Allen’s film Zelig (1983) and was instantly recognizable, which is more than we could say for Marshall McLuhan in another Woody Allen cameo.  Such charisma is not expected from the usual Chelsea-dwelling left-wing radicals, but from Susan Sontag, it was.  Back in the 1960’s, she was the most identifiable of the black turtleneck crowd, the most bold and hip of the alienated intellectuals, and the most erudite.  She never swerved from that path.

She was to the manner born.  Born in Tucson and raised in Los Angeles, she was a graduate of North Hollywood High School and entered the University of Chicago at 16.  She was already a passionate bibliophile and a philosopher.  She began her career in New York at the age of 26 with little but a son, some books, and a wealth of intelligence.

Sontag quickly gained fame as the challenger of received opinions, the...

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