Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Susan Sontag

Susan Sontag, with her skunklike streak of white hair, died Monday of Leukemia. She was 71 years old.

Sontag wrote "Illness as Metaphor," probably her most famous essay, when she had breast cancer in the 1970's. In it she describes the way that language (and culture) demonizes those who are ill. This morning, Smartmom heard some old interviews with Sontag and was struck not only by her intelligence but also by her honest, compassionate nature. She said that her illness changed her -- that it was even a good thing -- because it helped her to understand her need for intimacy and love. It made her recognize the importance of sharing her feelings with the people in her life - something she had been afraid to do since childhood.

It's time to take her books off the shelf - the ones we've read, the one's we haven't. Her death moves us to take another look at the words of this brilliant and brave woman.

Groovy Cousin sent this in an e-mail this morning. It's transcribed from a speech Sontag gave to Vassar graduates in 2002:

"Despise violence. Despise national vanity and self-love. Protect the territory of conscience.

Try to imagine at least once a day that you are not an American. Go even further: try to imagine at least once a day that you belong to the vast, the overwhelming majority of people on this planet who don't have passports, don't live in dwellings equipped with refrigerators and telephones, who have never even once flown on a plane.

Be extremely skeptical of all claims made by your government. Remember, it may not be the best thing for America or for the world for the president of the United States to be the president of the planet. Be just as skeptical of other governments, too.

It's hard not to be afraid. Be less afraid.

It's good to laugh a lot, as long as it doesn't mean you're trying to kill your feelings.

Don't allow yourself to be patronized, condescended to -- which, if you happen to be a woman, happens and will continue to happen all the time.

Do stuff. Be clenched, curious. Not waiting for inspiration's shove or society's kiss on your forehead.

Pay attention. It's all about paying attention. It's all about taking in as much of what's out there as you can, and not letting the excuses and the dreariness of some of the obligations you'll soon be taking on narrow your lives. Attention is vitality. It connects you with others. It makes you eager. Stay eager.

You'll notice that I haven't talked about love. Or about happiness. I've talked about becoming the person who can be happy a lot of the time without thinking that being happy is what it's all about. It's not. It's about becoming the largest, most inclusive, most responsive person you can be."


At 6:04 PM, Blogger Udge said...

RIP Susan. She was to me in many ways a role model of intelligent thought, and of the responsibility that our (absolute) privilege and (relative) wealth carries. You commented on my religious and spiritual values: They were informed by Susan Sontag and others like her, who wrote about our duty to each other without mentioning God.

We are all poorer for her death.

At 6:56 PM, Blogger jonesy said...

I shall not remove her books, I shall look upon them with fondness and a bit of remorse for not sharing her with more of the people I love. RIP Susan Sontag - we will indeed, as said by the poster ahead of me, be poorer without you.


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