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Susan Sontag

  • Life is a movie. Death is a photograph.

  • Ambition if it feeds at all, does so on the ambition of others.

  • It is easier to endure than to change. But once one has changed, what was endured is hard to recall.

  • ... the appetite for thinking must be regulated, as all sensible people know, for it may stifle one's life.

  • The traditional metaphor for a spiritual investigation is that of the voyage or the journey. From this image I must dissociate myself. I do not consider myself a voyager, I have preferred to stand still.

  • The truth is always something that is told, not something that is known. If there were no speaking or writing, there would be no truth about anything. There would only be what is.

  • Shouting has never made me understand anything.

  • I was not looking for my dreams to interpret my life, but rather for my life to interpret my dreams.

  • False values begin with the worship of things.

  • We do not accept ourselves for what we are, we retreat from our real selves, and then we erect a personality to bridge the gap.

  • A personality is our way of being for others. We hope that others will meet us half way or more, gratify our needs, be our audience, soothe our fears.

  • Ours is a culture based on excess, on overproduction; the result is a steady loss of sharpness in our sensory experience. All the conditions of modern life — its material plenitude, its sheer crowdedness — conjoin to dull our sensory faculties.

    • Susan Sontag,
    • title essay (1964), Against Interpretation ()
  • ... interpretation is the revenge of the intellect upon art.

    • Susan Sontag,
    • title essay (1964), Against Interpretation ()
  • Real art has the capacity to make us nervous. By reducing the work of art to its content and then interpreting that, one tames the work of art. Interpretation makes art manageable, conformable.

    • Susan Sontag,
    • title essay (1964), Against Interpretation ()
  • In place of a hermeneutics we need an erotics of art.

    • Susan Sontag,
    • title essay (1964), Against Interpretation ()
  • Transparence is the highest, most liberating value in art — and in criticism — today. Transparence means experiencing the luminousness of the thing in itself, of things being what they are.

    • Susan Sontag,
    • title essay (1964), Against Interpretation ()
  • The moral pleasure in art, as well as the moral service that art performs, consists in the intelligent gratification of consciousness.

    • Susan Sontag,
    • "On Style" (1965), Against Interpretation ()
  • The purpose of art is always, ultimately, to give pleasure — though our sensibilities may take time to catch up with the forms of pleasure that art in a given time may offer.

    • Susan Sontag,
    • "On Style" (1965), Against Interpretation ()
  • The most potent elements in a work of art are, often, its silences.

    • Susan Sontag,
    • "On Style" (1965), Against Interpretation ()
  • A work of art, so far as it is a work of art, cannot — whatever the artist's personal intention — advocate anything at all.

    • Susan Sontag,
    • "On Style" (1965), Against Interpretation ()
  • Love dies because its birth was an error.

    • Susan Sontag,
    • "The Artist As Exemplary Sufferer," Against Interpretation ()
  • Ours is an age which consciously pursues health, and yet only believes in the reality of sickness.

    • Susan Sontag,
    • "Simone Weil" (1963), Against Interpretation ()
  • The truth is balance, but the opposite of truth, which is unbalance, may not be a lie.

    • Susan Sontag,
    • "Simone Weil" (1963), Against Interpretation ()
  • Perversity is the muse of modern literature.

    • Susan Sontag,
    • "Camus' Notebooks" (1963), Against Interpretation ()
  • Unfortunately, moral beauty in art — like physical beauty in a person — is extremely perishable.

    • Susan Sontag,
    • "Camus' Notebooks" (1963), Against Interpretation ()
  • Science fiction films are not about science. They are about disaster, which is one of the oldest subjects of art.

    • Susan Sontag,
    • "The Imagination of Disaster" (1965), Against Interpretation ()
  • Cinema is a kind of pan-art. It can use, incorporate, engulf virtually any other art: the novel, poetry, theater, painting, sculpture, dance, music, architecture. Unlike opera, which is a (virtually) frozen art form, the cinema is and has been a fruitfully conservative medium of ideas and styles of emotions.

    • Susan Sontag,
    • "A Note on Novels and Films" (1961), Against Interpretation ()
  • My own view is that one cannot be religious in general any more than one can speak language in general; at any given moment one speaks French or English or Swahili or Japanese, but not 'language.'

    • Susan Sontag,
    • "Piety Without Content" (1961), Against Interpretation ()
  • ... taste governs every free — as opposed to rote — human response. Nothing is more decisive. There is taste in people, visual taste, taste in emotion — and there is taste in acts, taste in morality. Intelligence, as well, is really a kind of taste: taste in ideas.

    • Susan Sontag,
    • "Notes on 'Camp'" (1964), Against Interpretation ()
  • Taste has no system and no proofs.

    • Susan Sontag,
    • "Notes on 'Camp'" (1964), Against Interpretation ()
  • ... taste tends to develop very unevenly. It's rare that the same person has good visual taste and good taste in people and taste in ideas.

    • Susan Sontag,
    • "Notes on 'Camp'" (1964), Against Interpretation ()
  • What is most beautiful in virile men is something feminine; what is most beautiful in feminine women is something masculine.

    • Susan Sontag,
    • "Notes on 'Camp'" (1964), Against Interpretation ()
  • The two pioneering forces of modern sensibility are Jewish moral seriousness and homosexual aetheticism and irony.

    • Susan Sontag,
    • "Notes on 'Camp'" (1964), Against Interpretation ()
  • The basic unit for contemporary art is not the idea, but the analysis of and extension of sensations.

    • Susan Sontag,
    • "One Culture and the New Sensibility" (1965), Against Interpretation ()
  • Silence remains, inescapably, a form of speech ...

    • Susan Sontag,
    • "The Aesthetics of Silence," Styles of Radical Will ()
  • The history of art is a sequence of successful transgressions.

    • Susan Sontag,
    • "The Aesthetics of Silence," Styles of Radical Will ()
  • One could plausibly argue that it is for quite sound reasons that the whole capacity for sexual ecstasy is inaccessible to most people — given that sexuality is something, like nuclear energy, which may prove amenable to domestication through scruple, but then again may not.

    • Susan Sontag,
    • "The Pornographic Imagination," Styles of Radical Will ()
  • Religion is probably, after sex, the second oldest resource which human beings have available to them for blowing their minds.

    • Susan Sontag,
    • "The Pornographic Imagination," Styles of Radical Will ()
  • Pornography is one of the branches of literature — science fiction is another — aiming at disorientation, at psychic dislocation.

    • Susan Sontag,
    • "The Pornographic Imagination," Styles of Radical Will ()
  • What pornographic literature does is precisely to drive a wedge between one's existence as a full human being and one's existence as a sexual being — while in ordinary life a healthy person is one who prevents such a gap from opening up.

    • Susan Sontag,
    • "The Pornographic Imagination," Styles of Radical Will ()
  • Experiences aren't pornographic; only images and representations — structures of the imagination — are.

    • Susan Sontag,
    • "The Pornographic Imagination," Styles of Radical Will ()
  • Existence is no more than the precarious attainment of relevance in an intensely mobile flux of past, present, and future.

    • Susan Sontag,
    • "'Thinking Against Oneself': Reflections on Cioran," Styles of Radical Will ()
  • Cogito ergo boom.

    • Susan Sontag,
    • "'Thinking Against Oneself': Reflections on Cioran," Styles of Radical Will ()
  • 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.

    • Susan Sontag,
    • "What's Happening in America," Styles of Radical Will ()
  • 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 alone — its ideologies and inventions — which eradicates autonomous civilization wherever it spreads, which has upset the ecological balance of the planet, which now threatens the very existence of life itself.

    • Susan Sontag,
    • in Partisan Review ()
  • What pornography is really about, ultimately, isn't sex but death.

    • Susan Sontag,
    • "The Pornographic Imagination," Styles of Radical Will ()
  • Persons who merely have-a-life customarily move in a dense fluid. That's how they're able to conduct their lives at all. Their living depends on not seeing.

  • He who despises himself esteems himself as a self-despiser.

  • The only interesting answers are those which destroy the questions.

    • Susan Sontag,
    • in Esquire ()
  • I'm not sure at all that literature should be studied on the university level. ... Why should people study books? Isn't it rather silly to study Pride and Prejudice. Either you get it or you don't.

    • Susan Sontag,
    • in Elizabeth Janeway, ed., The Writer's World ()
  • Lying is an elementary means of self-defense.

    • Susan Sontag,
    • "The Double Standard of Aging," Saturday Review ()
  • Growing older is mainly an ordeal of the imagination — a moral disease, a social pathology ...

    • Susan Sontag,
    • "The Double Standard of Aging," The Saturday Review ()
  • There is a terrible, mean American resentment toward a writer who tries to do many things.

    • Susan Sontag,
    • "On Paul Goodman," in The New York Review of Books ()
  • People tend to become cynical about even the most appalling crisis if it seems to be dragging on, failing to come to term.

    • Susan Sontag,
    • "Approaching Artaud," in The New Yorker ()
  • One of the author's most ancient roles is to call the community to account for its hypocrisies and bad faith ...

    • Susan Sontag,
    • "Approaching Artaud," in The New Yorker ()
  • In every society, the definitions of sanity and madness are arbitrary — are, in the largest sense, political.

    • Susan Sontag,
    • "Approaching Artaud," in The New Yorker ()
  • ... the camera makes everyone a tourist in other people's reality, and eventually in one's own.

    • Susan Sontag,
    • "Shooting America," in The New York Review of Books ()
  • The photographer both loots and preserves, denounces and consecrates.

    • Susan Sontag,
    • "Shooting America," in The New York Review of Books ()
  • ... art is the most general condition of the Past in the present. ... Perhaps no work of art is art. It can only become art, when it is part of the past. In this normative sense, a 'contemporary' work of art would be a contradiction — except so far as we can, in the present, assimilate the present to the past.

    • Susan Sontag,
    • in Salmagundi ()
  • The most interesting ideas are heresies.

    • Susan Sontag,
    • in Salmagundi ()
  • There are some elements in life — above all, sexual pleasure — about which it isn't necessary to have a position.

    • Susan Sontag,
    • in Village Voice ()
  • On the level of simple sensation and mood, making love surely resembles an epileptic fit at least as much as, if not more than, it does eating a meal or conversing with someone.

    • Susan Sontag,
    • "The Pornographic Imagination," Styles of Radical Will ()
  • You can go into all sorts of situations with a camera and people will think they should serve it.

    • Susan Sontag,
    • in The New York Times ()
  • Much of modern art is devoted to lowering the threshold of what is terrible. By getting us used to what, formerly, we could not bear to see or hear, because it was too shocking, painful, or embarrassing, art changes morals.

  • Boredom is just the reverse side of fascination: both depend on being outside rather than inside a situation, and one leads to the other.

  • Though collecting quotations could be considered as merely an ironic mimetism — victimless collecting, as it were ... in a world that is well on its way to becoming one vast quarry, the collector becomes someone engaged in a pious work of salvage. The course of modern history having already sapped the traditions and shattered the living wholes in which precious ones found their place, the collector may now in good conscience go about excavating the choicer, more emblematic fragments.

  • The taste for quotations (and for the juxtaposition of incongruous quotations) is a Surrealist taste.

  • Using a camera appeases the anxiety which the work-driven feel about not working when they are on vacation and supposed to be having fun. They have something to do that is like a friendly imitation of work: they can take pictures.

  • The painter constructs, the photographer discloses.

  • To photograph is to confer importance.

  • When Cartier-Bresson goes to China, he shows that there are people in China, and that they are Chinese.

  • So successful has been the camera's role in beautifying the world that photographs rather than the world, have become the standard of the beautiful.

  • ... reality has come to seem more and more like what we are shown by cameras.

  • Instead of just recording reality, photographs have become the norm for the way things appear to us, thereby changing the very idea of reality and of realism.

  • Photographs are a way of imprisoning reality, understood as recalcitrant, inaccessible; of making it stand still. Or they enlarge a reality that is felt to be shrunk, hollowed out, perishable, remote. One can't possess reality, one can possess (and be possessed by) images ...

  • Paintings invariably sum up; photographs usually do not. Photographic images are pieces of evidence in an ongoing biography or history. And one photograph, unlike one painting, implies that there will be others.

  • Today everything exists to end in a photograph.

  • A way of certifying experience, taking photographs is also a way of refusing it — by limiting experience to a search for the photogenic, by converting experience into an image, a souvenir. Travel becomes a strategy for accumulating photographs.

  • ... photographs alter and enlarge our notions of what is worth looking at and what we have a right to observe. They are a grammar and, even more importantly, an ethics of seeing.

  • There is an aggression implicit in every use of the camera.

  • People robbed of their past seem to make the most fervent picture takers, at home and abroad.

  • Cameras began duplicating the world at that moment when the human landscape started to undergo a vertiginous rate of change: while an untold number of forms of biological and social life are being destroyed in a brief span of time, a device is available to record what is disappearing.

  • Images anesthetize. An event known through photographs certainly becomes more real than it would have been if one had never seen the photographs ... But after repeated exposure to images it also becomes less real. ... 'concerned' photography has done at least as much to deaden conscience as to arouse it.

  • By furnishing this already crowded world with a duplicate one of images, photography makes us feel that the world is more available than it really is.

  • Industrial societies turn their citizens into image-junkies; it is the most irresistible form of mental pollution.

  • Life is not about significant details, illuminated a flash, fixed forever. Photographs are.

  • ... a photograph is not only an image (as a painting is an image), an interpretation of the real; it is also a trace, something directly stenciled off the real, like a footprint or a death mask.

  • Illness is the night-side of life, a more onerous citizenship. Everyone who is born holds dual citizenship, in the kingdom of the well and in the kingdom of the sick. Although we all prefer to use only the good passport, sooner or later each of us is obliged, at least for a spell, to identify ourselves as citizens of that other place.

  • Depression is melancholy minus its charms — the animation, the fits.

  • Any important disease whose causality is murky, and for which treatment is ineffectual, tends to be awash in significance.

  • Any disease that is treated as a mystery and acutely enough feared will be felt to be morally, if not literally, contagious.

  • Cancer is a demonic pregnancy.

  • The romantic treatment of death asserts that people were made singular, made more interesting, by their illnesses.

  • Fatal illness has always been viewed as a test of moral character, but in the nineteenth century there is a great reluctance to let anybody flunk the test.

  • A large part of the popularity and persuasiveness of psychology comes from its being a sublimated spiritualism: a secular, ostensibly scientific way of affirming the primacy of 'spirit' over matter.

  • Illnesses have always been used as metaphors to enliven charges that a society was corrupt or unjust.

  • One cannot use the life to interpret the work. But one can use the work to interpret the life.

    • Susan Sontag,
    • "Under the Sign of Saturn," in The New York Review of Books ()
  • ... the process of building a self and its works is always too slow. One is always in arrears to oneself.

    • Susan Sontag,
    • "Under the Sign of Saturn," in The New York Review of Books ()
  • Thinking, writing are ultimately questions of stamina.

    • Susan Sontag,
    • "Under the Sign of Saturn," in The New York Review of Books ()
  • Books are ... funny little portable pieces of thought.

    • Susan Sontag,
    • in Time ()
  • It's a pleasure to share one's memories. Everything remembered is dear, endearing, touching, precious. At least the past is safe — though we didn't know it at the time. We know it now. Because it's in the past; because we have survived.

  • I haven't been everywhere, but it's on my list.

  • I don't consider devotion to the past a form of snobbery. Just one of the more disastrous forms of unrequited love.

  • I want to save my soul, that timid wind.

  • ... whatever doesn't kill you leaves scars.

    • Susan Sontag,
    • in Charles Ruas, Conversations With American Writers ()
  • ... volume depends precisely on the writer's having been able to sit in a room every day, year after year, alone ...

    • Susan Sontag,
    • in The New York Times Book Review ()
  • The writer is either a practicing recluse or a delinquent, guilt-ridden one; or both. Usually both.

    • Susan Sontag,
    • in The New York Times Book Review ()
  • Communism is ... Fascism with a human face.

    • Susan Sontag,
    • speech (1982) in support of Poland's Solidarity movement, in Richard Lacayo, "Stand Aside, Sisyphus," Time ()
  • One set of messages of the society we live in is: Consume. Grow. Do what you want. Amuse yourselves.

  • Anything in history or nature that can be described as changing steadily can be seen as heading toward disaster.

  • Like the effects of industrial pollution and the new system of global financial markets, the AIDS crisis is evidence of a world in which nothing important is regional, local, limited; in which everything that can circulate does, and every problem is, or is destined to become, worldwide.

  • Victims suggest innocence. And innocence, by the inexorable logic that governs all relational terms, suggests guilt.

  • I envy paranoids; they actually feel people are paying attention to them.

    • Susan Sontag,
    • in Leslie Garis, "Susan Sontag Finds Romance," The New York Times ()
  • The principal instances of mass violence in the world today are those committed by governments within their own legally recognized borders.

    • Susan Sontag,
    • "Why Are We in Kosovo," in The New York Times Magazine ()
  • The capacity to be overwhelmed by the beautiful is astonishingly sturdy and survives amidst the harshest distractions.

    • Susan Sontag,
    • "An Argument About Beauty," At the Same Time ()
  • Beauty can illustrate an ideal, a perfection. Or, because of its identification with women (more accurately, with Woman), it can trigger the usual ambivalence that stems from the age-old denigration of the feminine. Much of the discrediting of beauty needs to be understood as a result of the gender inflection. Misogyny, too, might underlie the urge to metaphorize beauty, thereby promoting it out of the realm of the 'merely' feminine, the unserious, the specious. For if women are worshipped because they are beautiful, they are condescended to for their preoccupation with making or keeping themselves beautiful. Beauty is theatrical, it is for being looked at and admired; and the word is as likely to suggest the beauty industry (beauty magazines, beauty parlors, beauty products) — the theater of feminine frivolity — as the beauties of art and of nature. How else to explain the association of beauty — i.e., women — with mindlessness? To be concerned with one's own beauty is to risk the charge of narcissism and frivolity. Consider all the beauty synonyms, starting with the 'lovely,' the merely 'pretty,' which cry out for a virile transposition.

    • Susan Sontag,
    • "An Argument About Beauty," At the Same Time ()
  • Feminism has meant many things; many unnecessary things. It can be defined as a position — about justice and dignity and liberty — to which almost all independent women would adhere if they did not fear the retaliation that accompanies a word with such a sulfurous reputation. Or it can be defined as a position easier to disavow or quarrel with ... That version of feminism suggests that there is a war against men, which was anathema to such women; that feminism suggests an avowal of strength — and a denial of the difficulty and the cost for women in being strong (above all, the cost in masculine support and affection); more, it proclaims pride in being a woman, it even affirms the superiority of women — all attitudes that felt alien to the many independent women who were proud of their accomplishments and who knew the sacrifices and the compromises they entailed.

    • Susan Sontag,
    • "A Double Destiny: On Anna Banti's Artemisia," At the Same Time ()
  • The truth of history crowds out the truth of fiction — as if one were obliged to choose between them ...

    • Susan Sontag,
    • "Unextinguished: The Case for Victor Serge," At the Same Time ()
  • Self-censorship, the most important and most successful form of censorship, is rampant. Debate is identified with dissent, which is in turn identified with disloyalty. There is a widespread feeling that, in this new, open-ended emergency, we may not be able to 'afford' our traditional freedoms.

    • Susan Sontag,
    • "A Few Weeks After," At the Same Time ()
  • Photography is, first of all, a way of seeing. It is not seeing itself.

    • Susan Sontag,
    • "Photography: A Little Summa," At the Same Time ()
  • All photographs aspire to the condition of being memorable — that is, unforgettable.

    • Susan Sontag,
    • "Photography: A Little Summa," At the Same Time ()
  • Photography — the supreme form of travel, of tourism — is the principal modern means for enlarging the world. As a branch of art, photography's enterprise of world enlargement tends to specialize in the subjects felt to be challenging, transgressive. A photograph may be telling us: this too exists. And that. And that. (And it is all 'human.') But what are we to do with this knowledge — if indeed it is knowledge, about, say, the self, about abnormality, about ostracized or clandestine worlds?

    • Susan Sontag,
    • "Photography: A Little Summa," At the Same Time ()
  • The writer's first job is not to have opinions but to tell the truth ... and refuse to be an accomplice of lies and misinformation. Literature is the house of nuance and contrariness against the voices of simplification. The job of the writer is to make it harder to believe the mental despoilers.

    • Susan Sontag,
    • "The Conscience of Words," At the Same Time ()
  • The wisdom of literature is quite antithetical to having opinions. 'Nothing is my last word about anything,' said Henry James. Furnishing opinions, even correct opinions — whenever asked — cheapens what novelists and poets do best, which is to sponsor reflectiveness, to pursue complexity. Information will never replace illumination.

    • Susan Sontag,
    • "The Conscience of Words," At the Same Time ()
  • Fear binds people together. And fear disperses them. Courage inspires communities: the courage of an example — for courage is as contagious as fear. But courage, certain kinds of courage, can also isolate the brave.

    • Susan Sontag,
    • "On Courage and Resistance," At the Same Time ()
  • [There is a] disconnect between official rhetoric and lived realities. Americans are constantly extolling 'traditions'; litanies to family values are at the center of every politician's discourse. And yet the culture of America is extremely corrosive of family life, indeed of all traditions except those redefined as 'identities' that fit into the large patterns of distinctiveness, cooperation, and openness to innovation.

    • Susan Sontag,
    • "Literature Is Freedom," At the Same Time ()
  • One task of literature is to formulate questions and construct counterstatements to the reigning pieties. And even when art is not oppositional, the arts gravitate toward contrariness. Literature is dialogue: responsiveness. Literature might be described as the history of human responsiveness to what is alive and what is moribund as cultures evolve and interact with one another.

    • Susan Sontag,
    • "Literature Is Freedom," At the Same Time ()
  • Literature can train, and exercise, our ability to weep for those who are not us or ours.

    • Susan Sontag,
    • "Literature Is Freedom," At the Same Time ()
  • ... writers are makers, not just transmitters, of myths. Literature offers not only myths but counter-myths, just as life offers counter-experiences — experiences that confound what you thought you thought, or felt, or believed.

    • Susan Sontag,
    • "Literature Is Freedom," At the Same Time ()
  • Superficial to understand the journal as just a receptable for one's private, secret thoughts — like a confidante who is deaf, dumb, and illiterate. In the journal I do not just express myself more openly than I could to any person; I create myself. ... The journal is a vehicle for my sense of selfhood. It represents me as emotionally and spiritually independent. Therefore (alas) it does not simply record my actual, daily life but rather — in many cases — offers an alternative to it.

    • Susan Sontag,
    • 1957, in David Rieff, ed., Reborn: Journals and Notebooks, 1947-1963 ()
  • Marriage is a sort of tacit hunting in couples.

    • Susan Sontag,
    • in David Rieff, ed., Reborn: Journals and Notebooks, 1947-1963 ()
  • [On marriage:] It is an institution committed to the dulling of the feelings.

    • Susan Sontag,
    • in David Rieff, ed., Reborn: Journals and Notebooks, 1947-1963 ()
  • One can never ask anyone to change a feeling.

    • Susan Sontag,
    • 1964, in David Rieff, ed., As Consciousness is Harnessed to Flesh ()
  • Writing is a little door. Some fantasies, like big pieces of furniture, won't come through.

    • Susan Sontag,
    • 1964, in David Rieff, ed., As Consciousness is Harnessed to Flesh ()
  • One man thinks before he acts. Another man thinks after he acts. Each is of the opinon that the other thinks too much.

    • Susan Sontag,
    • 1964, in David Rieff, ed., As Consciousness is Harnessed to Flesh ()
  • Art is a form of consciousness.

    • Susan Sontag,
    • 1964, in David Rieff, ed., As Consciousness is Harnessed to Flesh ()
  • Each generation has to reinvent spirituality.

    • Susan Sontag,
    • 1964, in David Rieff, ed., As Consciousness is Harnessed to Flesh ()
  • I write — and talk — in order to find out what I think.

    • Susan Sontag,
    • 1965, in David Rieff, ed., As Consciousness is Harnessed to Flesh ()
  • Intelligence is not necessarily a good thing, something to value or cultivate. It's more like a fifth wheel — necessary or desirable when things break down. When things go well, it's better to be stupid ... Stupidity is as much a value as intelligence.

    • Susan Sontag,
    • 1965, in David Rieff, ed., As Consciousness is Harnessed to Flesh ()
  • I feel inauthentic at a party. ... Going to a party is a 'low' activity — the authentic self is compromised, fragmented — one plays 'roles.' One isn't fully present, beyond role-playing. One doesn't (can't) tell the full truth, which means one is lying, even if one doesn't literally tell lies.

    • Susan Sontag,
    • 1970, in David Rieff, ed., As Consciousness is Harnessed to Flesh2012)
  • I make an idol of my moral consciousness. My pursuit of the good is corrupted by the sin of idolatry.

    • Susan Sontag,
    • 1970, in David Rieff, ed., As Consciousness is Harnessed to Flesh ()
  • A lot of what I've written in criticism of my lust for virtue — my discovery that I've committed idolatry, making of the good an idol — is open to the charge of being still caught within the dialectic of idolatry. I've made a moral criticism of my moral consciousness. Meta-idolatry.

    • Susan Sontag,
    • 1970, in David Rieff, ed., As Consciousness is Harnessed to Flesh ()
  • A good listener: a physical presence that is warm, alert, intelligent — more important than any words.

    • Susan Sontag,
    • 1972, in David Rieff, ed., As Consciousness is Harnessed to Flesh ()
  • The only sense in which everybody could be an artist is if art were understood exclusively as performance — or throw-away art. Art would be something people did, and if it resulted in an object you wouldn't have to (perhaps even be able to) keep it, store it in a museum. Cage, therefore, has a right to say he wants everybody to be an artist. There's very little product-making in his notion of art. There's nothing to keep, monumentalize. It self-destructs.

    • Susan Sontag,
    • 1972, in David Rieff, ed., As Consciousness is Harnessed to Flesh ()
  • The only story that seems worth writing is a cry, a shot, a scream. A story should break the reader's heart.

    • Susan Sontag,
    • 1973, in David Rieff, ed., As Consciousness is Harnessed to Flesh ()
  • All my life I've been looking for someone intelligent to talk to.

    • Susan Sontag,
    • 1973, in David Rieff, ed., As Consciousness is Harnessed to Flesh ()
  • It's not 'natural' to speak well, eloquently, in an interesting, articulate way. People living in groups, families, communes say little — have few verbal means. Eloquence — thinking in words — is a byproduct of solitude, deracination, a heightened painful individuality. In groups, it's more natural to sing, to dance, to pray: given, rather than invented (individual) speech.

    • Susan Sontag,
    • 1976, in David Rieff, ed., As Consciousness is Harnessed to Flesh ()
  • The unit of the poet is the word, the unit of the prose writer is the sentence.

    • Susan Sontag,
    • 1980, in David Rieff, ed., As Consciousness is Harnessed to Flesh ()
  • Decline of the letter, the rise of the notebook! One doesn't write to others any more; one writes to oneself.

    • Susan Sontag,
    • 1980, in David Rieff, ed., As Consciousness is Harnessed to Flesh ()
  • War ... is elective. It's not an inevitable state of affairs. War is not the weather.

    • Susan Sontag,
    • "Susan Sontag -- A Bill Moyers Interview," PBS ()
  • If tragedy is an experience of hyperinvolvement, comedy is an experience of underinvolvement, of detachment.

    • Susan Sontag,
    • "Notes on 'Camp'" (1964), Against Interpretation ()
  • You have to sink way down to a level of hopelessness and desperation to find the book that you can write.

    • Susan Sontag
  • I don't write easily or rapidly. My first draft usually has only a few elements worth keeping. I have to find what those are and build from them and throw out what doesn't work, or what simply is not alive.

    • Susan Sontag,
    • in Charles Ruas, Conversations With American Writers ()
  • An important job of the critic is to savage what is mediocre or meretricious.

    • Susan Sontag,
    • in Charles Ruas, Conversations With American Writers ()
  • Sanity is a cozy lie.

    • Susan Sontag,
    • in Charles Ruas, Conversations With American Writers ()
  • I am profoundly uncertain about how to write. I know what I love or what I like, because it's a direct, passionate response. But when I write I'm very uncertain whether it's good enough. That is, of course, the writer's agony.

    • Susan Sontag,
    • in Charles Ruas, Conversations With American Writers ()
  • The only transformation that interests me is a total transformation — however minute.

Susan Sontag, U.S. writer, critic, filmmaker

(1933 - 2004)