Susan Sontag

Novelist, Author

1933 – 2004

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Who was Susan Sontag?

Susan Sontag was an American writer and filmmaker, professor, literary icon, and political activist. Beginning with the publication of her 1964 essay "Notes on 'Camp'", Sontag became an international cultural and intellectual celebrity. Her best known works include On Photography, Against Interpretation, Styles of Radical Will, The Way We Live Now, Illness as Metaphor, Regarding the Pain of Others, The Volcano Lover and In America.

Sontag was active in writing and speaking about, or travelling to, areas of conflict, including during the Vietnam War and the Siege of Sarajevo. She wrote extensively about photography, culture and media, AIDS and illness, human rights, and communism and leftist ideology. Her often provocative essays and speeches sometimes drew criticism. The New York Review of Books called her "one of the most influential critics of her generation."

Famous Quotes:

  • In America, the photographer is not simply the person who records the past, but the one who invents it.
  • For those who live neither with religious consolations about death nor with a sense of death (or of anything else) as natural, death is the obscene mystery, the ultimate affront, the thing that cannot be controlled. It can only be denied.
  • AIDS obliges people to think of sex as having, possibly, the direst consequences: suicide. Or murder.
  • It is not altogether wrong to say that there is no such thing as a bad photograph -- only less interesting, less relevant, less mysterious ones.
  • 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.
  • A family's photograph album is generally about the extended family and, often, is all that remains of it.
  • Victims suggest innocence. And innocence, by the inexorable logic that governs all relational terms, suggests guilt.
  • What pornography is really about, ultimately, isn't sex but death.
  • We live under continual threat of two equally fearful, but seemingly opposed, destinies: unremitting banality and inconceivable terror. It is fantasy, served out in large rations by the popular arts, which allows most people to cope with these twin specters.
  • Intelligence is really a kind of taste: taste in ideas.

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Jan 16, 1933
New York City
Also known as
  • Susan Rosenblatt
  • The Dark Lady of American Letters
  • Judaism
  • Jewish American
  • United States of America
  • University of Chicago
  • University of Toronto Mississauga
  • University of California, Berkeley
  • University of Paris
  • North Hollywood High School
  • Harvard University
Lived in
  • New York City
Dec 28, 2004
New York City
Resting place
Montparnasse Cemetery

on July 23, 2013


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