Susan Sontag By Group 10 Rebecca Prince Kay Richards Louisa Reece Helena Rushworth
Biography of Susan Sontag
-Susan Sontag was born in New York City on January 16 1933 and died in 2004 at 71 years of age.
-Brought up in Tuscan, Arizona and Los Angeles and did her undergraduate studies in Chicago, passing with a BA did graduate work in philosophy, literature, and theology at Harvard University and Saint Anne's College, Oxford.
-Her first novel was “The Benefactor” in 1963 and continued to write until 2000 with “In America”.
-She was a human rights activist for more than two decades, Ms. Sontag served from 1987 to 1989.
-She was married to Phillip Rieff for 8 years and had a son called David Reiff by him,but she is more famous for being bisexual and was in a 10 year relationship with Annie Leibovitz.
-Her works consist of novels, essays, plays, monographs.
-Although her works are very varied, the running themes are about human nature, human rights, society and love.
-She has won numerous awards through out her life including the National Book Award and the Jerusalem Prize.
Bibliography of works
(1963) The Benefactor
(1967) Death Kit
(1977) I, etcetera (Collection of short stories)
(1991) The Way We Live Now (short story) I
(1992) The Volcano Lover
(1999) In America (National Book Award for fiction in 2000)
(1991) "A Parsifal"
(1993) Alice in Bed
(1999) "Lady from the Sea" [adaptation of Henrik Ibsen's play of the same name.
Collections of essays
(1966) Against Interpretation
(1969) Styles of Radical Will
(1980) Under the Sign of Saturn
(2001) Where the Stress Falls
(2007) At the Same Time: Essays & Speeches
Sontag also published nonfiction essays in The New Yorker, The New York Review of Books, Times Literary Supplement, The Nation, Granta, Partisan Review and the London Review of Books.
(1977) On Photography
(1978) Illness as Metaphor
(1988) AIDS and Its Metaphors (a continuation of Illness as Metaphor)
(2003) Regarding the Pain of Others
A selected bibliography of the works of Susan Sontag
Louise Norlie, For and Against Interpretation essay in response to Susan Sontag's Against Interpretation ﾊ This Can be found at http://www.elimae.com/essays /Norlie/Norlie.html ﾊ Sheelah Kolhatkar, "Notes on camp Sontag " New York Observer , January 8, 2005This can be find at http://www.observer.com/node /50298 . This a essay on Susan Sontag’s famous essay Camp ﾊ Sexing Susan Sontag . This id about the sexuality of Sontag I thought this might be interesting due to the fact she write about aids and stuff which is link to this. This is found at http://montages.blogspot.com /2005/01/sexing-susan-sontag.html ﾊ Notes on Susan Eliot Weinberger discusses Sontag on the occasion of the posthumously published (2007) At the Same Time: Essays & Speeches http://www.nybooks.com/articles /20494
Précis of The Volcano Lover
The Volcano Lover is a Historic Romantic novel set in Naples in the 18 th Century. It focuses on the lives of a British Envoy Sir William Hamilton and his marriage to Emma Hamilton. However there is a scandal with an affair to Lord Nelson. The novel focuses on her abandonment and her descent into poverty.
The novel features themes of sex and revolution, nature and fate, art and a collectors obsessions and love.
Sontag won a National Book Award for this novel. It was written in 1992
Précis of “On Photography”
On Photography is a Monograph.
The book was published in 1977. It received a lot of press coverage and Sontag won the National Book Critics Circle award for it the same year.
her views on the corrosive role of photography in affluent mass-media capalist societies, and refutes the idea that photography is just a sort of note taking.
The type of Photography used in the book is from the depression era and is documentary photography commissioned by the Farm Security Administration as an example of the "predatory" nature of photographers.
The monograph is on Sontag’s view of what photography is in the modern world and changed people’s opinions on the subject at the time and is still used as a valuable resource for photographers today. .
Précis of Against Interpretation and Other Essays
Against Interpretation and Other Essays is a collection of which were published in1966. It includes some of Sontag's best-known works, including "On Style", “Notes on Camp ' ", and the title essay "Against Interpretation”
The essay “Camp” is a well known essay on the word “camp” and what it represents on gender in society. “ Camp taste draws on a mostly unacknowledged truth of taste: the most refined form of sexual attractiveness (as well as the most refined form of sexual pleasure) consists in going against the grain of one's sex. What is most beautiful in virile men is something feminine; what is most beautiful in feminine women is something masculine”
Sontag states that the understanding of art starts from intuitive response and not from analysis or intellectual considerations.
Précis of “Alice in Bed”
“ Alice in Bed” is a dramatic fantasy play written in 1993.
The play focuses on Alice James (1848--92), the sister to Henry and William James. She was sick all of her childhood then at 19 had depression and many reoccurring illnesses that made her bed ridden and a lifetime invalid. She died at 43 of breast cancer.
The character Alice merges with Lewis Carroll's Alice from his classic children's novel “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland”
The play forcefully raises questions about the social and familial constraints that bind intelligent women and limit their scope of achievement.
Précis of “In America”
-“In America” is a novel Sontag wrote in 1999.
-The novel is based on Polish actress Helena Modjeska (named Maryna Zalewska in the novel) who emigrates to California to live in a “Utopian” commune in 1876.
-Most of the emigres return back to Poland after the commune fails, Maryna stays and eventually becomes a famous actress who forms her own company and tours around America,
-In America is about many things: a woman's search for self-transformation; the fate of idealism; a life in the theatre; the many varieties of love; and, not least of all, stories and storytelling itself.
and her route to fame.
-Sontag won a National Book Award in 2000 fot the novel.
Summary of key terms and ideas used by Susan Sontag
The theme that runs through Susan's writing is this lifelong struggle to arrive at the proper balance between the moral and the aesthetic, with such key ideas as shown below:
-Photographs do not assist in the comprehension of a situation that is up to writers to create narratives that help in understanding
-Meanings from photos are free floating, and can only be grounded by words.
-The photograph is not an objective mirror, but an expressive medium capable of portraying multiple realities.
This photographic ‘evidence’ as a presumption that ‘something exists, or did exist’, regardless of distortion. Sontag saw the art of photography, ‘as much an interpretation of the world as paintings and drawings are’.
Sontag stated that people should not attempt to find the 'meaning' in a work of art but experience it as a thing in itself.
-Sontag advocated what she called 'transparency', which means "experiencing the luminousness of thing in itself, of things being what they are". The 'meaning' of art lies in the experiencing both style and content together without analysis.
She advocated an aesthetic approach to the study of culture, championing style over content, and blurring the boundaries between high and popular culture
Summary of influences and the effect on her work
-Joaqium Maria Machado De Assis was a Brazilian novelist and short story writer. His work had great influence on literary schools of the late 19th Century. He was known for his fascination with jealousy and human psychology. Many of Sontag's works deal with human society and this influenced her fictional works
-Walter Benjamin was a German Marxist literary critic, essayist, translator and philosopher. He began writing essays on the need for educational and cultural change.( Sontag's work on illnesses)
-Kenneth Burke was a professor at the university of Chicago. Sontag was one of his students . He was an American literary theorist and philosopher. The political and social power of symbols was central to Burkes ideas throughout his career.
-Richard Mckean was a professor of history and Greek philosophy at the university also. He was a member of the united nations educational, scientific and cultural organizations. He advised them about human rights and democracy. His work spans virtually all philosophy and the cultural history of the western world. Sontag must have drawn inspiration from his activist work and his interest in almost all philosophy.
- S ontag’s monograph ‘on photography’ was hugely influenced by the ideas of Laszlo Moholy Nagy and Edward Weston's ‘the complete photographer’. They both wrote about the notion of training the eye and a discipline of vision. This term is recognized today in Sontag's writings. She was likely to be influenced by her long term lover Annie Leibovitz as she was a famous photographer.
An account of what these ideas might mean for Culture/ Performance/ Scenography/ Society/ The body
The variety of Sontag’s work leaves you with the conclusion of many influences on culture and the arts today. One of her most influential essay was ’Illness and its metaphors' and also linked with this, ’Aids and its metaphors.' In this book she discusses how culture looks at illness as a plague ( sent by god ). I believe that these essays have helped people today to have a greater understanding of these illnesses. Today we understand that being ill is not a punishment, we have charities to help people in Africa, where there is an epidemic. Also we are not frightened of them. We will touch and help people instead of being scared of them.
Susan Sontag work “ On Photography” taught us a new visual code. It changed the perception on photography, enlarging our notions of what is worth looking at in a photograph and what we have the right to observe. It describes how a photographer changes their relationship with the world once behind the lens, what feels like knowledge at first is in fact power, with themselves choosing what is captured. Photographs become pieces of the world ﾔ m iniatures of reality ﾕ , interpretations of different peoples viewing point. For decades now the book has become the most influential way of arranging photographs, proposing the order on which the photographs should be used by the order of pages,
but not compelling the reader to do so. In conclusion it describes how anything can be photographed and how photography has destroyed the boundaries and definitions of art, with the viewer approaching a photograph freely with no expectations of discovering what it means.