Thursday, November 15, 2007


Searching the New York Times this morning for a particular article about how the life stories we tell reveal the raw ingredients of our personalities, I stumbled instead upon "On Self," excerpts from Susan Sontag's journals. They're funny, introspective, sometimes terribly sad, populated by the likes of Simone de Beauvoir and Jasper Johns and Lillian Hellman and Maria Irene Fornes (whom she calls "I.", interestingly.) I couldn't devour them fast enough, even as I wanted to linger in each entry, rolling my favorite lines over and over in my mind. So I had to read it all twice. For example:
Early 1959, New York City
The ugliness of New York. But I do like it here, even like Commentary [to which she contributed]. In NY sensuality completely turns into sexuality — no objects for the senses to respond to, no beautiful river, houses, people. Awful smells of the street, and dirt.. . .Nothing except eating, if that, and the frenzy of the bed.

December 24, 1959

My desire to write is connected with my homosexuality. I need the identity as a weapon, to match the weapon that society has against me. It doesn’t justify my homosexuality. But it would give me — I feel — a license.
Being queer makes me feel more vulnerable.

August 8

Monday Morning

I must help I. to write. And if I write, too, it will stop this uselessness of just sitting and staring at her and begging her to love me again.
. . .
It hurts then to love. It’s like giving yourself to be flayed and knowing that at any moment the other person may just walk off with your skin.

Becoming aware of the ‘dead places’ of feeling — Talking without feeling anything. (This is very different from my old self-revulsion at talking without knowing anything.)

The writer must be four people:

1) the nut, the obsédé
2) the moron
3) the stylist
4) the critic

1) supplies the material
2) lets it come out
3) is taste
4) is intelligence

a great writer has all 4 — but you can still be a good writer with only 1) and 2); they’re most important.

January 4, 1966

The situation in painting is tight: like science.
One has to keep up, have a very keen radar. (To be relevant, to be interesting.)

While in literature, everything is so loose textured. One could make a parachute jump blindfolded — anywhere you land, if you push it hard enough, you’re bound to find interesting unexplored valuable terrain. All the options are lying about, barely used.

(Photo by Peter Hujar)
Here is Susan Sontag in 1975.

I know that some people say that when they die, they want all their journals and personal writing burned and destroyed. But what better time to crack it open? No one is ever going to know you again. All you are is words now. You get to just be, as Sontag calls it, the nut and the moron. The most important part.

1 comment:

sue said...

what a coincidence, i'm reading right now an article from the believer (april 2006) on susan sontag. that same picture was there. she was such a beauty.