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Friday, January 07, 2005

Susan Sontag, RIP

Memorial of St. Raymond of Penafort

"I believe... that the novels of Susan Sontag are self-indulgent, overrated cr-p."

--- Kevin Costner as Crash Davis in Bull Durham

I somehow missed Ms. Sontag's passing in the tsunami's aftermath while I was visiting Lake Superior's North Shore on vacation after Christmas. I must admit that I am not terribly familiar with much of her work. In fact, my exposure to her fiction writing is limited to the quote above. On the other hand, I have read some of her essays, and while there are very few things on which we would have agreed, there were some things to admire in her work.

As is often the case, a great many, her fellow writers in particular, hyperbolize the virtues of an influential author. Ms. Sontag's case is no exception. There is no question that she was influential and provocative. Her response in the aftermath of September 11th is case and point as it shifted the context for how the left would stand in opposition to President Bush. That she was serious, dedicated, and probing, as described on NCRonline.org, is also not in doubt. It would not surprise me that her well-publicized quest for the truth was sincere. What puzzles me is similar to the question I face occasionally; the one that goes like "How can you seem intelligent and be (pick one: Catholic, conservative, Republican, etc.)?" or "How can you seem intelligent and yet be so blind to the truth?" In her case, how can someone as intelligent as Ms. Sontag, and as interested in the truth, not find The Truth?

Be that as it may, what I appreciated about her was not the content of her work, nor the way she lived her life, but her craftsmanship as a writer. Her blending of style and structure and content are models any aspiring writer would do well to study. She walked the fine line between being challenging and being merley self-indulgent to great effect. I hope, as I do for everyone, that she embraced enough Truth by the end of her wanderings to rest in peace.


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