A Bit More Detail

Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

Posts Tagged ‘susan sontag

[BLOG] Some Wednesday links

  • Anthropology.net reports on the discovery of footprints of a Neanderthal band in Le Rozel, Normandy, revealing much about that group’s social structure.
  • Bad Astronomer’s Phil Plait explains why standing at the foot of a cliff on Mars during local spring can be dangerous.
  • Centauri Dreams shares a suggestion that the lakes of Titan might be product of subterranean explosions.
  • Chris Bertram at Crooked Timber considers how, and when, anger should be considered and legitimated in discussions of politics.
  • The Crux looks at the cement mixed successfully in microgravity on the ISS, as a construction material of the future.
  • D-Brief looks at what steps space agencies are considering to avoid causing harm to extraterrestrial life.
  • The Dragon’s Tales notes new evidence that the Anthropocene, properly understood, actually began four thousand years ago.
  • Jonathan Wynn writes at the Everyday Sociology Blog about how many American universities have become as much lifestyle centres as educational communities.
  • Far Outliers reports on how, in the 13th century, the cultural differences of Wales from the English–including the Welsh tradition of partible inheritance–caused great instability.
  • This io9 interview with the creators of the brilliant series The Wicked and the Divine is a must-read.
  • JSTOR Daily looks at a paper considering how teachers of German should engage with the concept of Oktoberfest.
  • Language Hat looks at a new study examining the idea of different languages being more efficient than others. (They are not, it turns out.)
  • Language Log looks at the history of translating classics of Chinese literature into Manchu and Mongolian.
  • Erik Loomis considers the problems the collapse of local journalism now will cause for later historians trying to do research in the foreseeable future.
  • Marginal Revolution reports on research suggesting that markets do not corrupt human morality.
  • Neuroskeptic looks in more detail at the interesting, and disturbing, organized patterns emitted by organoids built using human brain cells.
  • Stephen Baker at The Numerati writes, with photos, about what he saw in China while doing book research. (Shenzhen looks cool.)
  • The NYR Daily notes the import of the working trip of Susan Sontag to Sarajevo in 1993, while that city was under siege.
  • Robert Picardo at the Planetary Society Blog shares a vintage letter from Roddenberry encouraging Star Trek fans to engage with the Society.
  • Noel Maurer at The Power and the Money looks at the economy of Argentina in a pre-election panic.
  • Strange Company looks at the life of Molly Morgan, a British convict who prospered in her exile to Australia.
  • Window on Eurasia notes that, in 1939, many Soviet citizens recognized the import of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact; they knew their empire would expand.
  • Arnold Zwicky looks at the treatment of cavemen, as subjects and providers of education, in pop culture.

[BLOG] Some Friday links

  • Sociologist Dan Hirschman is unimpressed by Mark Regnerus’ claim that porn viewing predisposes heterosexual men to support same-sex marriage. Yes, it’s actually a causal claim.
  • Centauri Dreams’ Paul Gilster notes a new method for detecting planets, one relying on patterns in the dust clouds orbiting stars.
  • At Crooked Timber, Daniel Davies uses a metaphor to explore the insufficient nature of criticisms of religion to believers. Who, after all, believes in Canada?
  • Marginal Revolution’s Alex Tabarrok takes issue with the New York Times‘ claims that its coverage of poor conditions at Chinese factories have led to improved wages. In actual fact, wages have been increasing for a decade as part of China’s growth.
  • At Registan, Myles G. Smith notes the extent to which the Kazakh-language Wikipedia appears to be dominated by state-sponsored volunteers.
  • Torontoist recounts the successful restoration of a decrepit building downtown on Yonge Street.
  • Window on Eurasia notes Russian commentary on regionalism in the eastern Latvian region of Latgale.
  • Wonkman tells us why we should care about Susan Sontag–her controversial 1982 suggestion that the left got it wrong on Communism speaks to an admirable intellectual honesty.

[BRIEF NOTE] Why I love Susan Sontag

I was so caught up in reading the 1980 book by Susan Sontag (Wikipedia, official site), essay collection Under the Sign of Saturn, that I missed my subway transfer to a northbound route and overshot to Sherbourne station, and would certainly have come in late to work if not for the kind lady who said that the escalators provided a much quicker route to the westbound platform than the stairs. I returned the book that day to the friend who’d lent it to me and cherished it, pasting a poicture of Sontag in Sarajevo on the back cover.

What is it about this book that inspires such devotion? It was Sontag’s beautiful prose style, at once langourous and critical, conversational and disciplined. It was also Sontag’s beautiful critical mind that did it for me, that marvellous instrument that was profoundly informed and profoundly honest. It’s that mind that inspired Andrew Sullivan to create the “Susan Sontag Award” as a club with which to beat people whose opinions he didn’t like, one reason among several, incidentally, why I think he deserves to be hit, repeatedly. It’s this mind that wrote the six wonderful essays contained in Under the Sign of Saturn, five of which were biographies of intellectuals one sort or another–Roland Barthes, Elias Canetti, Antonin Artaud, Walter Benjamin and Paul Goodman. These biographical essays were written about all kinds of intellectuals–people she knew and people she could never have known, people she liked as people and people she didn’t, avant-garde playwrites and Marxist social theorists alike–and were, again, rigourous and honest. The centrepiece of the book is her famous 1975 essay “Fascinating Fascism”, the essay that begins with a withering takedown of Leni Riefenstahl‘s claims to be an honest person and a critical director and an innovative one, passing from there to examine the cult of the perfect body and the transformation of Nazi ideology into sexual fetishes.

I haven’t read much of Sontag’s work, but I still miss her. We all need wonderful public intellectuals like her plying their crafts, saving us from ourselves and letting us make sense of the past. Everywhere.

Written by Randy McDonald

June 19, 2009 at 7:34 pm