In the Mail: Susan Sontag edition


Sorry for the lack of content on my part (Jeff and Moe have picked up the slack).  I have still not really gotten a handle on my schedule or my time management (babies and jobs are both quite demanding).  While I put together some review and discussion posts, below are some interesting books that have come my way.

Swimming in a Sea of Death by David Rieff

Publishers Weekly:

At age 70, Susan Sontag was diagnosed with a virulent form of blood cancer, her third bout with cancer over the course of 30 years and one she would not win. Her son, journalist Rieff (At the Point of a Gun), accompanied her through her final illness and death, and offers an extraordinarily open, moving account of the trial and journey. Sontag’s ‘avidity’ for life had prompted her to beat the advanced breast cancer that devastated her in 1975; she now resolved to fight the statistical odds of dying from myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS), despite the pessimistic prognosis from doctors. Rieff, who admits he was not close to his mother over the preceding decade, is silenced by Sontag’s refusal to reconcile herself to dying and unable to console her. Both mother and son are by turns angered by doctors’ infantilizing treatment of terminally ill patients and by their squelching of hope. Anxious, chronically unhappy and obsessed with gathering information about her disease, Sontag was unable to be alone, and Rieff becomes one in a circle of devotees who rotate staying with her at her New York City apartment. A doctor is found who does not believe her case is hopeless, and in Seattle she undergoes a bone-marrow transplant. In this sea of death, Sontag took her son with her — conflicted, wracked, but wrenchingly candid, Rieff attempts to swim out.

At the Same Time: Essays and Speeches by Susan Sontag

The New York Times:

The amplified note of despair and loss in “At the Same Time” makes Sontag resemble one of the European “last” intellectuals she often wrote about, “that Saturnine hero of modern culture” standing alone in the ruins of history. This anguish may seem exaggerated, part of her frequently noted self-regard. But, in her later weariness with modern civilization, Sontag fulfilled a particularly American destiny. Gertrude Stein once claimed that America was the oldest country in the world, since it was the “mother of the 20th-century civilization.” Sontag, who had a tragic sense of history rarely found among her peers, never failed to absorb the lessons of her country’s old age and accumulated experience of modernity. It is why the melancholy and occasional bitter wisdom of her last writings appear to be of a mature and passionately engaged American rather than of a marginal and jaded European sensibility — one that has not only learned from the past but, by grappling vigorously with the present, can also divine, if gloomily, the future.

Kevin Holtsberry
I work in communications and public affairs. I try to squeeze in as much reading as I can while still spending time with my wife and two kids (and cheering on the Pittsburgh Steelers and Michigan Wolverines during football season).

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