Skip to comments.Susan Sontag and the Evil of Banality
Posted on 12/30/2004 11:12:30 PM PST by Catholic54321
Susan Sontag died of leukaemia in New York on December 29 at the age of 71. The obituarists described her as "one of America's most influential intellectuals, internationally renowned for the passionate engagement and breadth of her critical intelligence and her ardent activism in the cause of human rights" (The Financial Times, Dec. 30). Her essays "expanded the universe of subjects it was 'all right' for intellectuals to take seriously," such as drugs, porn, and pop, ensuring that we'd "get used to these as intellectual topics."
All of which is one way of saying that Ms. Sontag has made a solid contribution to the degrading of our cultural and intellectual standards over the past four decades. But unlike some other purveyors of bad ideas, such as Voltaire, who could present them in eloquent prose, Sontag was unable to write a decent sentence. Take this gem for style and contents:
"The truth is that Mozart, Pascal, Boolean algebra, Shakespeare, parliamentary government, baroque churches, Newton, the emancipation of women, Kant, Marx, Balanchine ballet et al., don't redeem what this particular civilization has wrought upon the world. The white race is the cancer of human history. It is the white race and it aloneits ideologies and inventionswhich eradicates autonomous civilizations wherever it spreads, which has upset the ecological balance of the planet, which now threatens the very existence of life itself" (Partisan Review, winter 1967, p. 57).
A week after the non-whites struck at the cancer's epicenter on September 11, 2001, Ms. Sontag asserted in The New Yorker, that this "monstrous dose of reality" was squarely a consequence of specific American actions, and paid tribute to the courage of those willing to sacrifice their lives in order to kill others: "In the matter of courage (a morally neutral virtue): whatever may be said of the perpetrators of Tuesday's slaughter, they were not cowards."
Courage means doing the right thing in the face of fear. Ms. Sontag's standard of "courage," based on an actor's readiness to die in pursuit of his objectives, makes sense only in the universe of an atheistic adorer of the self who cannot face the thought of self-annihilation. On that form she would have to admit that, "whatever may be said of their activities in Eastern Europe, the Waffen SS were not cowards." She was equally unaware that the word "coward" also designates a person who attacks defenseless victims, as in "Bringing the murderous coward to the stake" (Gloucester in King Lear, Act II, Scene 1). Ergo the terrorists were brave and therefore virtuous men, but Sontag's oxymoronic claim that courage is a "morally neutral virtue" was supposed to make that assertion less unpalatable.
More seriously, in the immediate aftermath of 9-11 and thereafter Ms. Sontag was reluctant to address the phenomenon of Islam in general and, in particular, to note the difference between "secular" terrorismwhich may be closely correlated to the intended target's "specific actions"and the Islamic variety of the phenomenon. Her reluctance was understandable: a hater of Western Civilization could not but feel the corresponding urge to justify those attacking it, especially if the attackers can be depicted as victims of the victim. Hence her enthusiastic support for the Muslim side in the Bosnian war. Hence her attempt to remove moral authority from the terrorists' "courage" and at the same time to make their motives understandable strictly through the prism of the target's "specific actions."
That Ms. Sontag felt no sympathy for the victims of 9-11, for those thousands of her fellow citizens on whose tax dollars, philanthropic largesse, and buying habits her own existence had depended for most of her life, or for the city of her birth which she called home, goes without saying. The gap between Ms. Sontag's heart and mind was total, reflecting the soul of a rootless purveyor of self-hate. The leading advocate of "human rights" was not only a hypocrite and a fraud to boot, she was also a moral degenerate terminally devoid of human compassion and common decency.
Ms. Sontag's absence of sympathy for the "wrong" victims of any crime was on full display a generation earlier, two years after the fall of Saigon, when she wrote that "one can only be glad about the victory of the DRV [i.e. the "Democratic Republic of Vietnam"] and the PRG [Viet Cong], but there seems little taste for rejoicing." Such melancholy note was not due to the Communist reign of terror unleashed on South Vietnam, exemplified in tens of thousands of ad-hoc executions, the unspeakable "re-education camps," or the plight of hundreds of thousands of perfectly innocent and ordinary "boat people." No, Ms. Sontag's sole reason for lamentation was the loss of vigor of the anti-war crowd here in the United States: "For while 'they' won, 'we' did not. The 'we' who wanted 'us' to lose had long since been disbanded. The domestic convulsion set off by the Vietnam War had subsided long before the peoples of Indochina were liberated from the American murder machine."
Ms. Sontag's qualities were on full display during the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina. She supported the Muslim side and was a leading purveyor of the Muslim-fabricated myth of the Serbian "rape camps" where she asserted that "tens of thousands of women" were raped "by military order." Writing in the Nation on Christmas Day 1995 she likened her trips to Sarajevocomfortable, safe, and well-publicizedto the struggle of the Lincoln Brigade in Spain. Ms. Sontag's a-priori assumptions, that the Serbs were Fascist monsters, the Muslims innocent victims of a brutal aggression, were beyond dispute. Her smug self-depiction as a brave voice of intellectual and moral integrity in a cynical world was laughable.
Ms. Sontag was an enthusiastic supporter of Clinton's war against the Serbs in 1999. She ridiculed the objection that the war is ("wonderful word") illegal" with the usual reductio ad Hitlerum: "Imagine that Nazi Germany had had no expansionist ambitions but had simply made it a policy in the late 1930's and early 1940's to slaughter all the German Jews. Do we think a government has the right to do whatever it wants on its own territory? Maybe the governments of Europe would have said that 60 years ago. But would we approve now of their decision?" Writing in The New York Times in May 1999 she reasserted the lie of the Kosovo genocide, then repeated the already discredited claim that its prevention was the reason for Clinton's war, and finally dehumanized the victims of that war:
"it is grotesque to equate the casualties inflicted by the NATO bombing with the mayhem inflicted on hundreds of thousands of people in the last eight years by the Serb programs of ethnic cleansing. Not all violence is equally reprehensible; not all wars are equally unjust? There is radical evil in the world, which is why there are just wars. And this is a just war? The Milosevic Government has finally brought on Serbia a small portion of the suffering it has inflicted on neighboring peoples."
Sontag's view of the Balkans provides an apt summary of her opus. As The New York Times obituarist has noted, she championed style over content: "She was concerned, in short, with sensation, in both meanings of the term." In short she was not concerned with the truth. She dabbled in ideas but she could not think. Her lies, dishonesty, absence of moral sense and self-deceptions amounted to a sustained exercise in counter-realism, which is the essence of post-modernism.
In the post-modernist vein Susan Sontag was also a plagiarist who routinely stole words written by other people and presented them as her own. She inserted 12 segments totaling four pages written by others into her 387-page historical novel "In America," and did so without credit or attribution. The New York Timesa sympathetic source that has given Ms. Sontag thousands of column-inches over the yearswrote that "in some passages the language itself is taken almost verbatim from other authors." But Ms. Sontag blithely responded that the historical novel is an evolving new genre that does not require the rigor of footnotes and attributions: "All of us who deal with real characters in history transcribe and adopt original sources in the original domain? I've used these sources and I've completely transformed them? There's a larger argument to be made that all of literature is a series of references and allusions."
It defies belief that someone of Susan Sontag's talent, literacy, integrity, education, moral sense, and beliefs could be taken seriously by any segment of any country's educated public for any period of time. That this was so in America is as sad as the fact that Bernard-Henri Lévy is widely regarded as France's foremost contemporary philosopher. But "BHL" is Sontag's twin brother in almost every field imaginable: a media personality, an "intellectual," a hater of Western civilization, a Christophobe, an "essayist," an enthusiastic promoter of homosexuality, an admirer of Sartre, an outspoken advocate of the Muslim side in the Bosnian war and in Kosovo. In Sontag's and Levy's lunatic account of world affairs the Christians are always at fault and their enemies are always innocent of any wrongdoing. For both of them the "siege" of Sarajevo became a stage for countless self-serving media appearances, as well as the symbol of their decisive move beyond truth and reality and beyond the limits of the aesthetic.
Thanks to Susan Sontag and Bernard-Henri Lévy and their ilk, New York and Parisuntil not so long ago two intellectual capitals of the worldhave succumbed to the culture of depravity, victimology and self-hate. Financed by George Soros, the MacArthur Foundation & Co., lionized by the likes of the New Yorker and Liberation, they have done the best to destroy the civilization they hate while feeding the minds of future suicide bombers with a political pap that nourishes their hate and legitimizes their rage.
Susan Sontag's death at 71 was at least four decades overdue.
"the white race is the cancer of human history"...Susan Sontag.
I knew it. The moment I saw her picture splashed onto the FNC screen, I knew she had to be an anti-war, Clinton buttkissing, hippie.
I hate to say this because it seems so un-Christian, but 2004 has been full of unexpected gifts. The demise of this virulent, anti-America, hate-filled and bitterly unhappy woman is just one more.
Another Godless messianic humanist harridan who projected her own inadequacies on the rest of us: the essence of what passes for the psyche of modern liberalism.
Hopefully....most will die off with my generation.
PS: why are they all gray haired and usually ugly? i think that is part of the problem. handsome women are happier
He is to be congratulated.
Waiter! A bottle of your best slivovitz!
well thats the probably the best obituatry we can get with someone adding the letters C and H.
Some people have such an overwhelming and abiding sense of inferiority and worthlessness that they have to devote their entire lives to proving how intellectually and morally superior they are to everyone else.
I think I just heard the gates of hell slam shut behind her....Clang!
I don't suspect that he gave the eulogy. Right?
With her gone, the world feels cleaner. Like removing a tick from a dog. What an odious parasite!!
Apparently, you don't hate to say it enough not to say it.
And yes, it probably is "un-Christian" to consider the death of someone you've decided is "unhappy" (among other things) to be a "gift."
She was a worthless HACK, who appealed to the rewrite history crowd who will tout her name until they die, and their children until they die. But fewer people are listening to them.
These fools had their century - the 20th century. Now it's time for people to live again.
Sontag, Mailer and the whole crowd of current New York Times-approved literati are the sorriest excuse for "intellectuals" that this nation has ever seen. I am constantly amazed at what passes for "intellectuals" these days. They are, at best, mediocre minds, and most of them haven't written a sentence worth reading since Neil Armstrong skipped across the moon. They are spoiled, self-referential and -reverential blowhards, all holding the same divorced-from-reality views and expounding on them by blithering four-dollar English major buzzwords at excruciating length in a style that critics call "stream of consciousness" but that I refer to as "typewriter diarrhea." They attack concepts such as conciseness and clarity in other authors, sneering at writers capable of conveying ideas cleanly and quickly as "hacks" or "mere craftsmen," because they know that if they could not baffle their acolytes with great, raging tsunamis of meaningless words and disjointed phrases, they might actually have to express clearly what it is they are thinking, and we would all discover just how small, cliquish, cliched and stupid most of their ideas really are.
In the immortal words of Ian Sholes (Merle Kessler), a better writer than Susan Sontag could ever hope to be, "Writers who complain that nobody reads anymore really mean 'nobody reads ME, boo-hoo!'"
Side note: a few years back, my wife played Emily Dickinson in a production of Sontag's "Alice In Bed," and as her driver, I was present for every rehearsal and every performance. The acting was superb, but I deserve more Purple Hearts than John Kerry for sitting through that script so many times.
People like Ms. Sontag don't acquire their worldview because they are ugly, it's the other way around.
The emptiness, immorality, and loathing inside of them makes them become "gray and ugly".
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