Susan Sontag: Not So Judicious

Writer Susan Sontag, one of America‘s most “celebrated” intellectuals, died a few days after Christmas of leukemia. She was 71.

“In my view,” she once explained, “the only intelligence worth defending is critical, dialectical, skeptical, desimplifying.” An yet, in her rage against the West, she displayed no complexity in simplifying the white race as pure evil, concluding that “the truth is that Mozart, Pascal, Boolean algebra, Shakespeare, parliamentary government, baroque churches, Newton, the emancipation of women, Kant, Marx, Balanchine ballets, 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 alone — its ideologies and inventions — which eradicates autonomous civilizations wherever it spreads, which has upset the ecological balance of the planet, which now threatens the very existence of life itself.”

When it was time to go, unsurprisingly, Sontag died at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City, not in some mud hut in some autonomous and untainted-by-the-West civilization where there’s no treatment for cancer.

In life too, unsurprisingly, it was straight New York for Ms. Sontag, not Somalia, with Joan Didion in the village two tables away at Da Silvano, and Fran Lebowitz across the aisle schmoozing with celebrities, and Elaine’s for late nightcaps on 88th Street and Second Avenue, with Sontag holding court at her regular table by the door, a table away from Norman Mailer and Tom Wolfe, and sometimes Rudolf Nureyev, and Woody Allen at his usual table in the back, next to Kurt Vonnegut and Mikhail Baryshnikov, and it’s doubtful that any of them ever wished, no matter how much Tuscan red had flowed, that the whole shebang should be turned back into the swamp that it once was, so as not to “upset the ecological balance of the planet.”

“We live in a culture,” Sontag also contended, “in which intelligence is denied relevance altogether, in a search for radical innocence, or is defended as an instrument of authority and repression,” and yet off she flew to Hanoi during the American bombing in 1968, and then to Cuba, in what appeared to be a globe-trotting mission in “search for radical innocence,” minus any application of intelligence that was “critical, dialectical, skeptical, desimplifying.”

Subsequently, she wrote essays flattering to the resistance of the Vietnamese communists to American power and sympathetic to the communist regime in Cuba, fully unaware, it seems, of how her intelligence was being used as “an instrument of authority and repression.”

More than three decades later, a week after the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, she had this to say in The New Yorker: “The disconnect between last Tuesday’s monstrous dose of reality and the self-righteous drivel and outright deceptions being peddled by public figures and TV commentators is startling, depressing. The voices licensed to follow the event seem to have joined together in a campaign to infantilize the public. Where is the acknowledgment that this was not a

  • Tony Cosmo Lucero

    Wow almost 8 years and no comment other then my snarky one. What does that tell you?

  • writeby


  • JudeGeorge

    Sontag was great. Nobody has time to answer snarky, small minded articles that condemn Sontag because of her 9/11 New Yorker essay or her (rightful) opposition to the Vietnam War. Her work is mammoth. Her critics will be forgotten. Sontag, yes, will live on.

  • writeby

    Sontag will join the likes of Lillian Hellman, Dorothy Kilgallen, etc., in the memory hole of history.

  • SuperCarper

    Sontag nailed the White race. So did William Howitt: “If ever there was a quarter of the globe distinguished by its quarrels, its jealousies, its everlasting wars and bloodshed, it is Europe.”

  • writeby

    Ignoring the ongoing, bloody tribal wars among North American Indians, between North African & Sub-Saharan tribes, among maharajah fiefdoms in India, the brutal conquests of the Manchu clansmen in China; etc., etc., etc.

    Well, those didn’t exactly get a lot of press–at least not in Sontag or Howitt’s political neighborhoods–so their (feigned?) ignorance is understandable.

    Primitivism has only one color: death.

    And oversimplification but one result: falsehood.

  • SuperCarper

    Stop your weeping. We can’t be beaten: the world’s first and only production-line genocide; the two most devastating wars in history (let alone the centuries of other wars and bloodshed); the trans-Atlantic slave-trade; the brutal exploitation of Africa; the famines of India; China’s ‘century of humiliation'; and the biggest genocide in history: the annihilation of the Amerindians, as David Stannard has shown. The list goes on, and on, and on. None can compare.

  • writeby

    Mao’s cultural revolution, in which it’s estimated resulted in 100 million deaths surely trumps even Stalin’s forced famine deaths of 30-million kulaks.

    World War II–the war in which Japan played such a pivotal role? And let’s not forget about the Turks, their brutal Ottoman Empire–e.g., genocide of the Armenians, etc.–& their role in WWI.

    The Mideast-sub-Saharan slave trade; the slavery of the Indian caste system; the tribal barbarity of the American Indian; etc.

    Yada, yada and more yada.

    The diff being that it was the principles of Western classical liberalism that wiped out the barbarians, the killers, (like Nippon’s Bushido), slavery (well, except the current flourishing trade in the Mideast) and a slew of other despotic regimes.

    (NOTE: The West is all about ideas, not about geography or race or sex or even nationality.)

    Finally, assigning guilt to an entire race based of the actions of members of that race is about as racist as one can get.

    Such, though, is the supernaturalist Left’s Doctrine of Original Sin, of which Sontag was a leading evangelist. Like their counterparts on the supernaturalist Right and their own Doctrine of Original Sin, collective guilt is a pillar in the Left’s primacy of consciousness (social) reconstruction of reality.

    Wax on, man; wax on.

  • SuperCarper

    I thought I told you to stop weeping. I forcefully reissue you with that imperative now.

    If you look at everything overall, which is the issue at hand, no one can run the Euro-Americans close. Have others committed crimes? I am not denying it—nor does anyone, including Sontag. It remains a fact, however, that Western civilisation is pre-eminent in the field of horror.

  • SuperCarper

    “the principles of Western classical liberalism”
    I’m interested in actions, not empty words. Actions. Look at our actions. Look at them throughout history, look at them in the world today.

  • writeby

    Well preached; one might say, dogmatically so.

  • Tom

    The white race is the cancer of human history; it is the white race and it alone — its ideologies and inventions — which eradicates autonomous civilizations wherever it spreads, which has upset the ecological balance of the planet, which now threatens the very existence of life itself

    – Susan Sontag (a jewish woman)

    Culturally, he (the Jew) contaminates art, literature, the theater, makes a mockery of natural feeling, overthrows all concepts of beauty and sublimity, of the noble and the good, and instead drags men down into the sphere of his own base nature.
    – Adolf Hitler (a white man)

    Interesting the similarities and yet so many people love this Sontag woman…