Susan Sontag – A Biography
Translated from the German by David Dollenmayer
Daniel Schreiber has created a wonderfully written, well organized short biography on Susan Sontag. The book is fluid in pace and provides an ample well of historical context to enable the reader to see the many connections and subtleties of Sontag’s life and thought. The book is very unacademic as was Ms Sontag.
Mr Schreiber is a German journalist based in Berlin and is a writer for various European periodicals.
Daniel’s German nationality helps to crystalize and give perspective to Sontag’s Americanness. This is no easy feat given Sontag’s closely developed alliance with Europe both in thinking and in culture as she spent a great deal of her adult life working on literary pieces in Germany, France, England and Spain. Mr Schreiber’s execution of this careful articulation with simple yet elegant prose is a very rare accomplishment especially given the complex task.
Ms Sontag’s journey in developing herself as a public intellectual begins as a young girl in New York and later in Arizona and Los Angeles before she moves to Chicago and then New York as an adult to fulfill her education and to develop the network of supporters who are so important to her success. Her contacts from the University of Chicago, including Kenneth Burke; and from Harvard, Herbert Marcuse, Paul Tillich and Michael Taubes were important throughout her professional life. Mr. Schreiber shows clearly that her key supporters are in the publishing sphere: Roger Straus of Farrar, Straus, Giroux and the literary agent Andrew Wylie spent considerable time and resources to aid in positioning Sontag.
While Ms. Sontag wrote both fiction and essays, it is clear that she will be remembered for her critical thinking abilities targeting literature, film, theater, art and political behaviour.
America lost an important voice of clarity and intellectual passion with her passing in 2004. Her radical predilection allowed her to unfold many ways of perceiving that were uncomfortable if not unconscious in the American public and their political representatives.
She demonstrated the importance of literature in life, the paths of nations and the fact that literature is a source of prophecy in the world – a singular contribution to the way of the world.
Mr. Schreiber was able to take advantage of the wealth of public interviews, in addition to traditional biographical sources, that documented her thinking and positions throughout Ms Sontag’s life.
Close relationships with both sexes, Philip Rieff, Maria Fornes, Nicole Stephane, and Anne Leibovitz were strong forces in her life and she used them to enrich her intellectual and cultural perspectives. Her son, David Rieff has also been a key advocate for Ms. Sontag’s books and articles.