Books Magazine

As Consciousness is Harnessed to Flesh by Susan Sontag Shows Her a Fractured Being

By Periscope @periscopepost

Susan Sontag. Cover photo from As Consciousness is Harnessed to Flesh.

Susan Sontag. Cover photo from As Consciousness is Harnessed to Flesh.

As Consciousness is Harnessed to Flesh by Susan Sontag, the second volume of her diaries, has come out (published by Hamish Hamilton). Her son, David Rieff, who lit upon the notebooks and journals, has edited them sparingly. This volume starts in the early Sixties with Sontag in New York establishing herself as a writer (and having discovered her bisexuality), and goes through to 1980. During that period she wrote three novels and five critical works, including the famous Notes on Camp and On Photography. Critics are split between those who admire the fragmentary nature of the journals, and those who see her revelation of uncertainty as a diminishment of her power as a critic.

“I’m not a genius…my mind isn’t good enough, isn’t really first rate…I’m not mad enough, not obsessed enough.” Susan Sontag, quoted in The Sunday Times.

The journals are brilliant. Sontag, said an impressed Anne Chisholm in The Sunday Telegraph, was “admired for her undeniable brilliance and originality; she was also mocked for her deep seriousness, her sttrong ego and blazing need for attention.” This is more of a “commonplace-book than a diary.” There’s no “coherent account”, and Rieff follows her lead, with a “bare minimum of context, explanation and annotation.” This is “frustrating.” However, a “powerful self-portrait” does emerge, of huge “inner conflict.” The reader warms to her – she lists “appealing adjectives” such as “ ‘besotted, cerulean, ogival,’” for instance. And in the end, this “long, untidy, sometimes obscure” book entirely “justifies the considerable effort the reader must make.” It’s possible that one day Sontag’s diaries will come to seem “as brilliant and important as anything she wrote.”

No they’re not. The diaries show her uncertainty, said a grumpier Leo Robson in The Daily Telegraph. Those readers who’ve not got on with her writing will now be able “to support their scepticism with words from the horse’s mouth.” She portrays herself as “fearful and shrinking,” the “damaged daughter” and “devoted mother.” The journals also show how she was contantly putting things off – “a way of perpetuating dreams.” They show that her journals do “illuminate” her writing – but “not always flatteringly.” And in fact, she rarely hit the nail on the head in terms of criticism, either.

The detail is good (mostly). We learn a lot about her loves, said Sian Griffiths in The Sunday Times. Annie Leibovitz, Iren Fornes, Carlotta del Pezzo, Joseph Brodsky, Baroness Nicole de Rothschild. “Her heart was one often broken,” as Reiff notes in the preface. She self-lacerated in these journals. The existence of her son pulls her back from the brink. But we can also see the “heady and glamorous life she lived.” Hanoi, London, Tangier, for instance. However, whilst all this might be great for Sontag scholars, it’s “too obscure often for the lay reader.”

Come on, give her a chance. The title, said Emily Stokes in The Guardian, comes from a note to an entry from 1965: “ ‘spiritual project – but tied to making an object (as consciousness is harnessed to flesh).’” This is “a curious phrase, suggesting the paradox that is art: a real, tangible thing resulting from a long, indefinable process.” It also evokes “the duality of Sontag herself.” Her essays may be “arch, intransigent” – so it’s a “rare pleasure to read, in her diary, discoveries being made in real time.” As such, the experience of reading them is “strangely mesmerising.”


You Might Also Like :

Back to Featured Articles on Logo Paperblog

These articles might interest you :

  • Shilo Sanders- Son Of Deion Sanders Thanks Courts For Allowing Him To Live With...

    Shilo Sanders- Deion Sanders Thanks Courts Allowing Live With Pilar

    ChristianNews Shilo Sanders, the son of NFL Hall of Famer,  Deion Sanders took to twitter to “thank” the courts for allowing him to live with his mother, Pilar... Read more

    The 04 August 2017 by   Firstladyb
  • “I Feel Great”

    Feel Great”

    Jakub went to his doctor's office believing that he had a back injury, but returned with a chocking diagnosis instead. He had type 2 diabetes - in spite of... Read more

    The 04 August 2017 by   Dietdoctor
  • July Allotment Recap (2/2)

    July Allotment Recap (2/2)

    Sunday afternoon saw us return bravely to 24a even though there were more thundery showers foretold by the weatherman. I will admit that I guffawed at the... Read more

    The 04 August 2017 by   Chrryblossomtat2
  • Culinary Delicacies in Croatia- What to Eat and Drink in Croatia

    Culinary Delicacies Croatia- What Drink Croatia

    In my earlier post, we spoke about how Croatia is a stunning European destination, let us now see what are the culinary delicacies in Croatia or what you can... Read more

    The 04 August 2017 by   Kash Pals
  • #Golf Training Aids Spotlight: The Delta Putt

    #Golf Training Aids Spotlight: Delta Putt

    Do you consider yourself to be a strong putter or do you feel you could improve your make percentage on the green? Most amateurs could use help with the flat... Read more

    The 04 August 2017 by   Golfforbeginners
  • Three Incredible Hikes in Southern Iceland3 Min Read

    Three Incredible Hikes Southern Iceland3 Read

    Nature takes center stage in Iceland, where there's a stunning view around every bend: massive glaciers, expansive lava fields, powerful waterfalls, black sand... Read more

    The 04 August 2017 by   Healthytravelblog
  • What I Wore: Daytime Pajamas

    What Wore: Daytime Pajamas

    Pajama top: ELOQUII (14) | Pajama pants: ELOQUII (14) | Shoes: ASOS (similar) | Earrings: J. Crew ( same in different colors, similar concept in same color) |... Read more

    The 04 August 2017 by   Wardrobeoxygen