terça-feira, 1 de outubro de 2013

Notes on Sontag’ By David Kelly

Notes on Sontag’

By David Kelly

Susan Sontag

A lot of nonsense has been written about Susan Sontag lately — too highbrow, too Eurocentric; not radical enough, not gay enough — and Phillip Lopate addresses some of the criticisms in his new book, “Notes on Sontag.”  It’s the first volume in a series called Writers on Writers, from Princeton University Press.

Lopate, who admits to having “mixed feelings” about Sontag, says at one point:
The crisis that Sontag saw in the modern novel — the loss of authority that arose from the death of God and eventually spread to the death of author — she never extended to the essay. That is, she never seemed to doubt her right to put forth her thoughts via a unified, coherent narrative voice in either impersonal or personal essays, without ever raising such self-reflexive specters as the death of the author, the unstable fluid self, the mass media’s conditioning mechanisms challenging our very notion of the individual, et cetera. …

The fact that she was essentially traditional in her approach to essay voice seems to have led some critics since her death to question her literary importance. In Eliot Weinberger’s shrewd if sometimes unfair assessment of Sontag (charging, for instance, that she was too Eurocentric to care about Asian culture, which is certainly untrue) in The New York Review of Books, he says that “she never attempted to do anything new or different, formally, with her critical prose. She did not, or could not, follow another Benjamin dictum she cited: ‘All great works of literature found a genre or dissolve one.’ She was a celebrant of transgression, but there was nothing transgressive about her writing.” For this reason Weinberger, himself an experimental writer, concludes, I think quite wrongly, that “she may ultimately belong more to literary history than to literature.”

The premise that art must be “transgressive,” formally or otherwise, for it to matter seems to me awfully limited, a piece of ideological fashion that will sound like nonsense a hundred years from now. Nothing could be less dangerous or more careerist in academia today than the defense of the “transgressive.” No doubt Sontag has much to answer for, in having smoothed the way for the “transgressive” and “subversive” standard, by arguing that the only art that mattered was that which shook up the status quo — an enthusiastic distortion that she rued in retrospect.

Beyond that, there are many experiments a major, if traditional, essayist like Sontag undertakes in her prose writing on a daily basis, having to do with the sentence-by-sentence construction of structural chains of meaning and association, which may fall outside the restricted set of avant-garde sanctioned experiments. 

True, she did not write destabilized lyric essays, but so what? Sontag’s best ruminations have a power and cohesion that merit countless revisitation, both to savor their insights and to wonder how she did it. If that is not making a contribution to literature, I don’t know what is.

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