The writer reflects on her bout with cancer, the fundamentals of love, and her “desert childhood”
by Jonathan Cott
The only possible metaphor one may conceive of for the life of the mind,” wrote the late political scientist Hannah Arendt, ”is the sensation of being alive. Without the breath of life, the human body is a corpse; without thinking, the human mind is dead.”
Susan Sontag is an exemplary witness to the fact that living a thinking life and thinking about the life one is living can be complementary and energizing activities. Since the 1966 publication of Against Interpretation — her first collection of essay, which included the brilliant ”Notes on ‘Camp”’ and ”On Style” and which ranged joyously and unpatronizingly from the Supremes to Simone Weil, from films like The Incredible Shrinking Man to Muriel — Sontag has continued to be drawn to both ”popular” and ”high” cultures and to write about subjects as diverse as pornography and photography, the aesthetics of silence and the aesthetics of fascism. In doing so, moreover, she has been continually examining and testing out her notion that supposed oppositions like thinking and feeling, consciousness and sensuousness, morality and aesthetics can in fact simply be looked at as aspects of each other — much like the pile on the velvet that, upon reversing one’s touch, provides two textures and two ways of feeling, two shades and two ways of perceiving.