Finalist for the PEN/Jacqueline Bograd Weld Award for Biography
Named one of the Best Books of the Year by: O Magazine, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Seattle Times
The definitive portrait of one of the American Century’s most towering intellectuals: her writing and her radical thought, her public activism and her hidden private faceNo writer is as emblematic of the American twentieth century as Susan Sontag. Mythologized and misunderstood, lauded and loathed, a girl from the suburbs who became a proud symbol of cosmopolitanism, Sontag left a legacy of writing on art and politics, feminism and homosexuality, celebrity and style, medicine and drugs, radicalism and Fascism and Freudianism and Communism and Americanism, that forms an indispensable key to modern culture. She was there when the Cuban Revolution began, and when the Berlin Wall came down; in Vietnam under American bombardment, in wartime Israel, in besieged Sarajevo. She was in New York when artists tried to resist the tug of money—and when many gave in. No writer negotiated as many worlds; no serious writer had as many glamorous lovers. Sontag tells these stories and examines the work upon which her reputation was based. It explores the agonizing insecurity behind the formidable public face: the broken relationships, the struggles with her sexuality, that animated—and undermined—her writing. And it shows her attempts to respond to the cruelties and absurdities of a country that had lost its way, and her conviction that fidelity to high culture was an activism of its own.
Utilizing hundreds of interviews conducted from Maui to Stockholm and from London to Sarajevo—and featuring nearly one hundred images—Sontag is the first book based on the writer’s restricted archives, and on access to many people who have never before spoken about Sontag, including Annie Leibovitz. It is a definitive portrait—a great American novel in the form of a biography.
Benjamin Moser was born in Houston. He is the author of Why This World: A Biography of Clarice Lispector, a finalist for the National Book Critics' Circle Award and a New York Times Notable Book. For his work bringing Clarice Lispector to international prominence, he received Brazil’s first State Prize for Cultural Diplomacy. He has published translations from French, Spanish, Portuguese, and Dutch. A former books columnist for Harper's Magazine and The New York Times Book Review,he has also written for The New Yorker, Conde Nast Traveler, and The New York Review of Books.
Table of Contents
Introduction: Auction of Souls 1
Chapter 1 The Queen of Denial 17
Chapter 2 The Master Lie 29
Chapter 3 From Another Planet 37
Chapter 4 Lower Slobbovia 55
Chapter 5 The Color of Shame 67
Chapter 6 The Bi's Progress 79
Chapter 7 The Benevolent Dictatorship 93
Chapter 8 Mr. Casaubon 105
Chapter 9 The Moralist 119
Chapter 10 The Harvard Gnostics 133
Chapter 11 What Do You Mean by Mean? 151
Chapter 12 The Price of Salt 167
Chapter 13 The Comedy of Roles 183
Chapter 14 All Joy or All Rage 199
Chapter 15 Funsville 223
Chapter 16 Where You Leave Off and the Camera Begins 245
Chapter 17 God Bless America 265
Chapter 18 Continent of Neurosis 283
Chapter 19 Xu-Dan Xon-Tac 299
Chapter 20 Four Hundred Lesbians 317
Chapter 21 China, Women, Freaks 331
Chapter 22 The Very Nature of Thinking 349
Chapter 23 Quite Unseduced 363
Chapter 24 Toujours Fidèle 381
Chapter 25 Who Does She Think She Is? 403
Chapter 26 The Slave of Seriousness 417
Chapter 27 Things That Go Right 437
Chapter 28 The Word Won't Go Away 459
Chapter 29 Why Don't You Go Back to the Hotel? 475
Chapter 30 Casual Intimacy 491
Chapter 31 This "Susan Sontag" Thing 507
Chapter 32 Taking Hostages 523
Chapter 33 The Collectible Woman 535
Chapter 34 A Serious Person 551
Chapter 35 A Cultural Event 569
Chapter 36 The Susan Story 585
Chapter 37 The Callas Way 599
Chapter 38 The Sea Creature 611
Chapter 39 The Most Natural Thing in the World 625
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