Tuesday, December 28, 2004

An education of the heart

I bought a copy of Susan Sontag's In America last fall, and the bookmark in my quotes commonplace book opens onto her page, but I've never read a book by her. She died today of leukemia at age 71. (LA Times)

From the obit:

"An early and passionate opponent of the Vietnam War, Sontag was both admired and reviled for her political convictions. In a 1967 Partisan Review symposium, she wrote that 'America was founded on a genocide, on the unquestioned assumption of the right of white Europeans to exterminate a resident, technologically backward, colored population in order to take over the continent.'

"In her rage and gloom and growing despair, she concluded 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.'

She more recently aroused some fury with her New Yorker article following the Sept. 11 attacks:

"Where is the acknowledgment that this was not a ‘cowardly’ attack on ‘civilization’ or ‘liberty’ or ‘humanity’ or ‘the free world’ but an attack on the world’s self-proclaimed superpower, undertaken as a consequence of specific American alliances and actions?" She added, "In the matter of courage (a morally neutral virtue): Whatever may be said of the perpetrators of Tuesday’s slaughter, they were not cowards."

Her views on the purpose of literature:

" 'A novel worth reading is an education of the heart. It enlarges your sense of human possibility, of what human nature is, of what happens in the world. It’s a creator of inwardness.' " She was the cartographer of her own literary explorations. Henry James once remarked, 'Nothing is my last word on anything.' For Sontag, as for James, there was always more to be said, more to be felt. "

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