As she got older, the journals of Susan Sontag become both noticeably more mature while retaining the essential naivete that allows any person to keep making artistic insights into middle age. Her deeply investigative insights into her concepts of self as person, artist and woman oscillage between a transparent childishness and an opaque, absorptive wisdom.
Ppl in the World
by SUSAN SONTAG
August 5, 1964
Ontological anxiety, "Weltangst." The world blank — or crumbling, shredding. People are wind-up dolls.
"The gift" has meant to me; I wouldn't buy this for myself (it's nice, a luxury, not necessary) but I buy it for you. Denial of self.
There are people in the world.
A constriction in the chest, tears, a scream that feels as if it would be endless if I let it out.
I should go away for a year.
August 8, 1964
I have a wider range as a human being than as a writer. (With some writers, it's the opposite.) Only a fraction of me is available to be turned into art.
A miracle is just an accident, with fancy trappings.
Change — life — comes through accidents.
My loyalty to the past — my most dangerous trait, the one that has cost me most.
Self-respect. It would make me lovable. And it's the secret of good sex.
The best things in Simone Weil are about attention. Against both the will + the categorical imperative.
One can never ask anyone to change a feeling.
August 24, 1964
Great art has a beautiful monotony — Stendhal, Bach. (But not Shakespeare.)
A sense of the inevitability of style — the sense that the artist had no alternatives, so wholly centered is he in his style.
Compare [Gustave] Flaubert and [James] Joyce ("voulu," constructed, intricate) with [Choderlos de] Laclos and [Raymond] Radiguet.
The greatest art seems secreted, not constructed.
November 14, 1965
The book is getting clearer in my mind, and I want to do it fast, in first draft, by January. If I do five pages a day, in sixty days I'll have 300 pages.
November 16, 1965
Laura Riding: sign above her bed: GOD IS A WOMAN
LSD: everything decomposes (blood, cells, wire) — no structure, no situations, no involvement. Everything is physics.
November 24, 1965
Lillian Hellman identified with Becky Sharp [in William Makepeace Thackeray's Vanity Fair] — always wanted to be a bitch, to bait people. I never got past admiring and envying her for being able to throw the dictionary back at the drippy schoolmistress. All that manipulative stuff with men was beyond me.
Analysis: two or three cataracts have fallen from my eyes. A hundred more to go?
I come each night around 2.00 or 3.00. The NY Times is my lover.
November 29, 1965
Weekend with Jasper [with whom SS had become involved earlier that year]
Nothing that's said, one can ask: why? (including: why shd I say that?)
Everything becomes mysterious with Jasper. I think — I don't just either opine or give (or solicit) information.
Intelligence is not necessarily a good thing, something to value or cultivate. It's more like a fifth wheel — necessary or desirable when things break down. When things go well, it's better to be stupid...Stupidity is as much value as intelligence.
Don't generalize. Not: I always or usually do this or that, but I did then. Also, don't predict your future behavior. You don't know what you're going to do or feel in that situation (or: what that situation will be like).
December 3, 1965
Movies in the last week:
Von Sternberg's Thunderbolt
Demy, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg
Monster from Green Hell
Half Human: The Story of the Abominable Snowman
Bresson, Procès de Jeanne d'Arc
Freda, Theodora, Empress of Salves
David Lean, Great Expectations
John Ford, The Informer
Places to see:
Winchester Mystery House
Lola Montez' grave in Brooklyn
Klimt paintings in public buildings + houses in Vienna
Florida Everglades + Sanibel Island
Salt mine near Cracow Poland - runs 80 miles underground, been in existence 1000 years
New Amsterdam Theatre - 42nd Street - Art Nouveau frescoes + relief (1906)
Police Academy - NY - tour every Wed aft
Rainbow Room - top of RCA building - 30s ocean liner
Tiffany Tennis Court - NYC Art Nouveau
Musée Grévin (Paris) - esp Theatre des Miracles
Watts Tower - LA - house near cathedral in Chartres like Watts Tower
December 12, 1965
Dressing > good (means leisure vs work)
bad (means for others vs for oneself)
For me, to dress is to "dress up," play the grown-ups' game. When I'm myself, I'm sloppy.
The Jesuit device (one of many) for promoting concentration in prayer & meditation: "composition of place. You think closely about where an edifying event (say, the Crucifixion) took place – weather, flora & fauna, colors, etc. & thus understand its deeper meaning more easily.
"I don't like remembering things." – Ezra Pound
July 23, 1966
To become famous in order to have access to people, not to be alone.
I am too "close" to David in the sense that I identify with him. When I spend a great deal of time with him, I lose the sense of my age; I accept the limits of his world (no sexuality, shyness, etc.).
I smile too much. How many years have I been saying that? Fifteen at least. it's the Mother-and-Judith in me—
I must learn to be alone — and what I've discovered is that being with David isn't being alone (despite my acute loneliness). It's a whole universe of its own, to which I adjust. With David, I become a different person than I am alone.
What I liked about being with Barbara is that I felt more adult with her than with most people. (The company of Elliot, of Paul, for instance, makes me childish.)
When I'm alone — after a while — I do begin to look at people. I don't, with David (he inhibits me? I'm distracted by him?); I don't with Elliot (his interests, their specificity, confuse + distract me).
These minutes, writing this in the lobby of the Ambassador — at a table spread with a white cloth, by the open doors on a fine Saturday morning, having just finished a big breakfast (two boiled eggs, Prague ham, roll with honey, coffee and alone, alone (David upstairs, still sleeping) — watching the other people in the lobby, on the terrace, passing on the street — have been the first moments since the beginning of summer in which I have had some sense of well-being.
I am alone — I ache — the novel is bogged down — and so on. Yet for the first time, despite all the anguish + the "reality problems," I'm here. I feel tranquil, whole, ADULT.
December 3, 1965
Art is a "situation"
Art is the biggest antique business going. Art as cultural souvenirs.
Is beauty important? Maybe, sometimes, it's boring. Maybe what's more important is the "the interesting." Everything that's interesting eventually seems beautiful.
You can purchase the notebooks of Susan Sontag, collected in three volumes, here.
"Love for Sale" - Dexter Gordon (mp3)
"Second Balcony Jump" - Dexter Gordon (mp3)