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Susan Sontag in a bear suit is probably more incriminating than Susan Sontag’s FBI file
06.19.2014
11:34 am

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FBI
Susan Sontag


Obviously one of Sontag’s espionage-related disguises
 
Writer and intellectual Susan Sontag is usually remembered more for her cultural criticism than for her political activism., Although I eventually grew to find her pretentious as hell, I can honestly say her “Notes on ‘Camp’” may have validated my dirtbag tastes early on. Her anti-Vietnam War activism was actually fairly tame, but combined with a characteristically sober article she wrote on Vietnam for Esquire, her lefty resume earned her an FBI file.

It appears however, that the Bureau was seriously grasping at straws in trying to assess her threat to national security. A New York intellectual protesting the war in the 1960s? Columbia teach-ins? Signing petitions? International travel?!? Even the Esquire essay, “Trip to Hanoi” is hardly an impassioned call for revolution, but rather a reserved account of her own experience mired in (arguably egotistical and naval-gazing) self-reflection. Though more radical anti-war activists like Students for a Democratic Society were present, Sontag states plainly in the piece that, “I was a writer and Vietnam was ‘material.’”
 

 
The FBI never questioned Sontag, saying in the file that “an attempt to interview her could result in embarrassment to the Bureau.” I have to agree with that one. Fear of intellectuals is one thing, but it’s easy to imagine what sort of New Yorker article Sontag would have penned should the FBI have tried to recruit her! Furthermore, Susan Sontag was never more threatening than a fountain pen and the FBI should definitely be embarrassed to have ever “feared” her in any way. Below is a sampling from Sontag’s FBI file of her notorious political activities:

Records of the New York City Police Department reflect that during Anti-Draft Activities, December 4-8, 1967, in New York City, Susan Sontag, white female, born January 16, 1933. and a resident of 346 Riverside Drive, New York City, was arrested on December 5, 1967, on a charge of disorderly conduct. The records further reflect that Sontag is single, a citizen of the United States and is a writer by occupation.

On March 7, 1968, the records of the Bureau of Criminal Identification and Bureau of Special Services, were reviewed by Special Agent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) August J. Micek, and no information pertaining to the subject was reflected.

On February 21, 1966, a source who has furnished reliable information in the past advised that Susan Sontag attended a “Read-In For Peace In Vietnam” held at Town Han, 123 West 43rd Street, New York on February 20, 1966.

The “New York Post” of November 18, 1967, reflected that Susan Sontag spoke at a program “From Dissent To Resistance” at a Vietnam Teach-In at Columbia University in November, 1967.

The’Village Voice” of January 18, 1968 on page 11, column 1 reflected that Susan Sontag signed a scroll pledging to counsel aid and abet any young man who wished to refuse the draft.

The’New York Times” of January 31, 1968, reflected that Susan Sontag signed a protest advertisement in the New York Times concerning the surtax. The advertisement was sponsored by the “Writers and Editors War Tax.”

During March and April, 1968, informants cognizant of some Communist activities in the New York City area were contacted and could furnish no information concerning the subject.

As an added bonus, I’ve added my absolute favorite video of Sontag, in which she claims unfamiliarity with the work of notorious libertarian feminist troll, Camille Paglia. (Paglia is incensed beyond belief.) Susan Sontag did not lead revolutions, she destroyed your composure with passive-aggressive barbs.
 

 
Via The Hairpin

Posted by Amber Frost | Leave a comment
‘Regarding Susan Sontag’: America’s last great intellectual rock star
06.08.2014
01:45 pm

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Susan Sontag


 
From Sontag’s “Notes on ‘Camp’” (1964):
 

56. Camp taste is a kind of love, love for human nature. It relishes, rather than judges, the little triumphs and awkward intensities of “character.” … Camp taste identifies with what it is enjoying. People who share this sensibility are not laughing at the thing they label as “a camp,” they’re enjoying it. Camp is a tender feeling.

 
I won’t beat around the bush about Nancy Kates’ new documentary Regarding Susan Sontag because I loved every minute of it. For one, I’ve always been fascinated by Sontag herself, but beyond that, this is a very fine film, made with great flair, economy, and emotion. There’s not a single wasted frame. It’s the Susan Sontag movie that needed to be made.

Susan Sontag was a “social critic,” filmmaker, novelist, and political activist, although she is mostly referred to as an “intellectual,” a sort of rock star writer who emerged in the early ‘60s pontificating on a dizzying variety of subjects that no one had ever really thought of taking seriously before her. Sontag offered the readers of her essays opinions on “camp,” the hidden cultural meanings behind low-budget sci-fi films, photography as an unlikely impediment to understanding history, Pop art, warfare, the cinema of Jean-Luc Godard and much, much more. There was seemingly nothing that didn’t fascinate her, and this unceasing, insatiable search for novelty and new experiences is what fueled Sontag’s life on practically every level, including her personal relationships, which often didn’t run very smoothly.
 

What other 20th century intellectual giant was photographed as much as Susan Sontag was?
 
Although she often came across in her interviews as brash, even imperious, Sontag was someone who privately felt that she was a bit of an underachiever, always writing about artists and culture, but not taken as seriously as an artist herself for her own films and novels. Gore Vidal famously trashed her talent at writing fiction, which apparently wounded Sontag deeply.

Obviously it was Sontag’s right to have held this rather morose opinion of her life’s work, but it seems so cosmically unfair considering the literary gifts she left behind her. “Susan Sontag’s brilliance”—in a nice turn of phrase I’m pulling straight out of the press release—“gave form to the intangible.” No minor achievement, it is for this that she will be best remembered.

Filmmaker Nancy Kates is best known for her film Brother Outsider: The Life of Bayard Rustin, about the gay African-American civil rights leader. If you ever get the chance to see this film, do take it. Kates will be screening Regarding Susan Sontag at the Sheffield Doc Fest on June 10 with a Q&A session afterwards. HBO will will airing the film in the fall of 2014.
 

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
Camille Paglia’s narcissistic tirade to (perceived) slight: ‘I am the Susan Sontag of the 90s!’
12.20.2013
10:12 am

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Feminism

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Camille Paglia


 
“Libertarian feminist” Camille Paglia is getting press again, and every time Camille Paglia gets press, feminists are obliged to immediately declare their respective camps. There’s a camp that’s perpetually incensed with Paglia, a (dwindling) camp cheering her on, and then there’s my camp—the camp of feminists who hope that if we ignore her, she will simply go away.

To keep a very long story short, Camille Paglia just doesn’t really like women, preferring to decry her youngers, whilst simultaneously dismissing her foremothers. In fact, the only people she seems to really respect are men. Check out his charming excerpt from her latest essay in TIME, some lameass troll-bait titled, “It’s a Man’s World and it Always Will Be.”

Every day along the Delaware River in Philadelphia, one can watch the passage of vast oil tankers and towering cargo ships arriving from all over the world. These stately colossi are loaded, steered and off-loaded by men. The modern economy, with its vast production and distribution network, is a male epic, in which women have found a productive role — but women were not its author. Surely, modern women are strong enough now to give credit where credit is due!

If I may dust off an old chestnut, “Cool story, bro.”  I’m sure those noble icons of manly labor are all really pleased that some bullshit academic “feminist” wrote them a weird love letter in TIME. And the prose is downright Randian in its reverence.

Yes, as far as Paglia is concerned, no one else’s feminism is quite smart enough for her—a point which she’ll readily make to you with 9,000 words on post-structuralism and a libertarian tirade. Unfortunately, I work on the Internet, which prevents me from totally ignoring her, so maybe reminding everyone how terrible she is would make me feel better? Here’s a 1993 interview with Paglia where she acts like a sputtering, defensive fool when confronted with video evidence that her formal idol, Susan Sontag, had never even heard of her.

There’s something sickeningly gratifying about seeing such an egotistical narcissist so miffed. And though I often find Susan Sontag’s work pretentious and politically unsound, the record of this moment alone is enough for me to want to defend her entire career. I have a sneaking suspicion that Sontag was probably in the “Let’s ignore her and maybe she’ll go away” camp. (Here’s Paglia’s meltdown.)
 

Posted by Amber Frost | Leave a comment
Don’t try to interpret Susan Sontag’s ‘Duet for Cannibals’
07.11.2013
02:17 pm

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Susan Sontag


 
In 1969, the American writer and intellectual Susan Sontag made her first film Duet for Cannibals AKA Duett för kannibaler in Sweden. Like Goddard and Truffaut before her, when Sontag moved from serious critique to the arthouse, she stayed quite true to her own ideas about cinema.

In her seminal 1966 essay, “Against Interpretation,” Sontag wrote:

The most celebrated and influential modern doctrines, those of Marx and Freud, actually amount to elaborate systems of hermeneutics, aggressive and impious theories of interpretation. All observable phenomena are bracketed, in Freud’s phrase, as manifest content. This manifest content must be probed and pushed aside to find the true meaning - the latent content - beneath. For Marx, social events like revolutions and wars; for Freud, the events of individual lives (like neurotic symptoms and slips of the tongue) as well as texts (like a dream or a work of art) - all are treated as occasions for interpretation. According to Marx and Freud, these events only seem to be intelligible. Actually, they have no meaning without interpretation. To understand is to interpret. And to interpret is to restate the phenomenon, in effect to find an equivalent for it.

In her writing, Susan Sontag sought to liberate art from interpretation (which is a bit ironic, of course, from someone who was essentially an exalted critic). When it came to her own film, she made something that intended to deliberately confound the notion that there was any sort of underlying meaning beyond exactly what the audience was seeing on the screen directly in front of them.

More from “Against Interpretation”:

Again, Ingmar Bergman may have meant the tank rumbling down the empty night street in The Silence as a phallic symbol. But if he did, it was a foolish thought. (“Never trust the teller, trust the tale,” said Lawrence.) Taken as a brute object, as an immediate sensory equivalent for the mysterious abrupt armored happenings going on inside the hotel, that sequence with the tank is the most striking moment in the film. Those who reach for a Freudian interpretation of the tank are only expressing their lack of response to what is there on the screen.

Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, in other words.

Sontag’s definition of “interpretation,” then—what she’s agin’—is selectively taking only certain elements from a work of art and then using them for the purpose of “translating” the work in a particular context (Marxist, Freudian), as opposed to simply accepting it. What you see is what you get and stop looking for the subtext or allegory in everything. Art should be sensuous and just wash over you is how, I, er… guess I interpret it.

Vincent Canby wrote something along these same lines in a 1969 New York Times article about the films on offer at The New York Film Festival that year:

“The key to the enjoyment of the film…can be found in Miss Sontag’s essays. It’s not because the film recalls either Godard or Bresson, about whom Miss Sontag has written with extraordinary insight. Rather it’s because the film adamantly refuses interpretation on any level but he surface one. It simply is what it is, a self-contained comedy of set pieces, some of which sort of remind you of events (political and psychological) out-side the film without ever actually representing those events.”

Here’s what Roger Greenspun wrote about the film in another 1969 New York Times review:

The cannibals are a middle-aged radical German political activist and the theoretician, Bauer—Hans Erborg—living with his young Italian wife Francesca—Miss Asti—in Sweden. Their victims are a young Swede who goes to work as Bauer’s secretary, and his mistress, who eventually finds herself working as the Bauers’s cook and companion. For all the movie tells us, Bauer’s credentials are real enough (down to a chrome-plated cigarette lighter—gift of Bertolt Brecht), but everything in his present life partakes of fraud calculated to intrigue, upset, and entrap his assistant.

His erratic and violent behavior, the temptation palpably and leeringly offered of his beautiful young wife, eventually the intellectual challenge of what move he will make next, engage the young man and put him repeatedly off balance.

Before it is all over the girl is at work too, making love to the master, accepting advances from the mistress, feeding and being fed by both of them, and lying between them in their connubial bed.

There are too many insane people in the world, comments the young hero after he is attacked by a madman on a city street, and of course he includes the Bauers, who also attack—and win—because they try anything and stand by nothing.

Nevertheless, I don’t think “Duet for Cannibals” means to be a parable about the power of the insane over the sane, or the strong over the weak, or even the inventively absurd over the rational and passionate. I don’t know what it does mean to be, and I am content for a while to rest with its moods and its complicated, often funny motions.

Greenspun went on to say that he didn’t really like Duet for Cannibals and found it a failure in the very next paragraph, but one can’t help but to feel that Sontag must’ve been pleased that at least Greenspun “got” what she was trying to achieve.

It used to be that Duet for Cannibals was next to impossible to see, but now it’s on YouTube like everything else. Enjoy, but please don’t interpret it, okay?
 

 
Bonus: Susan Sontag and French director Agnes Varda chat with Newsweek’s film critic Jack Kroll at the seventh annual New York Film Festival in 1969:
 

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment