A giant hairpin from beyond the grave has landed in the New York Times Sunday Magazine. Susan Sontag: critic, novelist and subject of almost as many photographic portraits as Sergei Eisenstein is with us once agian via excerpts from her soon-to-be-published journals. And Oh My Stars!
“The selection here begins at the end of 1958, when Sontag is about to turn 26. Her marriage to Philip Rieff had grown troubled, and with a one-year fellowship to study abroad, she planned to settle in Oxford, England, but went instead to Paris.”
Cue Gershwin’s “An American in Paris” and rouse the shade of Oscar Levant. (The shades of Natalie Barney and Gertrude Stein are already wide awake.)
“Harriet [Sohmers, author and artists’ model]. Finest flower of American bohemia. New York. Jewish. Family apartments in the 70’s and 80’s. Middle-class business (not professional) father. Communist aunts. Own history of CP flirtation. Negro maid. New York high school, N.Y.U., experimental artsy-craftsy college, San Francisco, flat in Greenwich Village. Early sexual experience, including Negroes. Homosexuality. Writes short stories. Bisexual promiscuity. Paris. Lives with a painter. Father moves to Miami. Trips back to America. Expatriate-type night employment. Writing peters out”
Susan’s just warming up here. Love her use of the antique tag “Negroes.” Reminds me of thatscene in Darling where Julie Christie tells Dirk Bogarde “Two of the most gorgeous negroes just went upstairs!”
“My relationship to Harriet baffles me. I want it to be unpremeditated, unreflective — but the shadow of her expectations about what an “affair” consists in upsets my poise, makes me fumble. She with her romantic dissatisfactions, I with my romantic needs and longing.. . . One unexpected gift: that she is beautiful. I had remembered her as definitely not beautiful, rather gross and unattractive. She’s anything but that. And physical beauty is enormously, almost morbidly, important to me.”
Do tell Michelle!
“Superficial to understand the journal as just a receptacle for one’s private, secret thoughts — like a confidante who is deaf, dumb and illiterate. In the journal I do not just express myself more openly than I could to any person; I create myself.”
Well not just in the journal, dear. Your entire output was an act of self-creation. Comparable to Baron Corvo in many respects.
“It’s corrupting to write with the intent to moralize, to elevate people’s moral standards”
Not that that ever gave you a nanosecond’s pause.
“Yesterday (late afternoon) I went to my first Paris cocktail party, at Jean Wahl’s — in the disgusting company of Allan Bloom.”
Oooooo — Goss!!!
“a man who looked like Jean-Paul Sartre, only uglier, with a limp, and was Jean-Paul Sartre”
Now really, dear — how rude!
“In the late afternoon read Carson McCullers’s “Reflections in a Golden Eye.” Slick, really economical and ‘written,’ but I don’t go for motivation by apathy, catatonia, animal empathy.. . .(In a novel, I mean!) “
“The coming of the orgasm has changed my life. I am liberated, but that’s not the way to say it. More important: it has narrowed me, it has closed off possibilities, it has made the alternatives clear and sharp. I am no longer unlimited, i.e. nothing.
Sexuality is the paradigm. Before, my sexuality was horizontal, an infinite line capable of being infinitely subdivided. Now it is vertical; it is up and over, or nothing”
Yikes! Erica Jong’s Elsie Dinsmore compared to this. And she’s just getting started —
“The orgasm focuses. I lust to write. The coming of the orgasm is not the salvation but, more, the birth of my ego. I cannot write until I find my ego. The only kind of writer I could be is the kind who exposes himself.. . “
Oh really? Well you sure as hell changed your tune on that score in a few years time. But now —
“I have never been as demanding of anyone as I am of [the Cuban-American playwright Maria] I[rene Fornes]. I am jealous of everyone she sees, I hurt every minute she goes away from me. But not when I leave her, and know that she is here. My love wants to incorporate her totally, to eat her. My love is selfish.”
Getting truly Proustian aren’t we dear?
“Tonight she went from work to meet Inez at the San Remo. Ann Morrissett [journalist and playwright] was there. After, the Cedar Bar. She came home at 12:00; I was asleep.. . .She came to bed, told me about the conversations of the evening, at 2:00 asked that the light be put out, went to sleep. I was paralyzed, mute, swollen with tears. I smoked, she slept.”
Maria Irene Disparu I see. But now we get to the beating heart of the matter.
“My desire to write is connected with my homosexuality. I need the identity as a weapon, to match the weapon that society has against me.
It doesn’t justify my homosexuality. But it would give me — I feel — a license.
I am just becoming aware of how guilty I feel being queer. With H., I thought it didn’t bother me, but I was lying to myself. I let other people (e.g. Annette [Michelson, film scholar]) believe that it was H. who was my vice, and that apart from her I wouldn’t be queer or at least not mainly so.
Being queer makes me feel more vulnerable.”
And that vulnerability was doubtless a factor in making you put aside “the identity as a weapon, to match the weapon that society has against me” and left you MIA during one of the greatest socio-cultural upheavals of our time.
Maria Irene put it best in a song from Promenade, the musical she wrote with the great Al Carmines
There’s no love like unrequited love
Don’t love me sweetheart
Or I may stop loving you.