2010年1月12日 星期二



Sontag at a symposium on sex in 1962 at the Mills Hotel, now defunct, on Bleecker Street.
Photograph by Fred W. McDarrah

On Self


Published: September 10, 2006﹐ New York Times

The most prominent New York intellectual of her generation, Susan Sontag appears, to a reader of her journals, to have filled every idle moment with a notation. She wrote in steno pads and City College spiral-bound notebooks, hardcover journals and even on loose sheets of paper. This churning of life and thought could be found tucked away here and there in the many-roomed apartment at 24th Street and 10th Avenue where she spent her last years; she died on Dec. 28, 2004, shortly before what would have been her 72nd birthday.

Sontag’s interest in traditional journal-keeping — with dated entries and considered sentences — was episodic. There are outbreaks of diary writing, though more typical are lists: of movies seen, books to read, places to eat and drink in the cities that interested her; and of words, usually English words but sometimes words and phrases in French, German, Greek, Italian and Spanish. There are lists of notable writers, poets or painters of a particular moment, all jotted with the meaningful intensity of a student, an intensity she kept throughout her life.

In certain periods, she traces every detail of her private life with anxious care; in other periods, close relationships seem hardly to have been noted. Exploratory passages of novel-writing further blur the line between private drama and literary or intellectual narratives. Seen in the light of her accomplishments and celebrity, Sontag’s life seems to have an admirable coherence. Her public persona was durable and unmistakably hers. But in the journals, the effort of it appears again and again: the reworking of the life and ideas, the total concentration, along with the excitement she felt when things were finally going well. She often meditates on this constant self-construction, and indeed some aspects of her life — the mixing of high and low culture, the sexual enthusiasm, the passionate intellectualism — would become, beginning in the 1960’s, hallmarks of the Downtown life.

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.

29 December 1958, Paris

St. Germain des Prés. Not the same as Greenwich Village, exactly. For one thing, expatriates (Americans, Italians, English, South Americans, Germans) in Paris have a different role + self-feeling than provincials (e.g. kids from Chicago, the West Coast, the South) who come to New York. No rupture of national identification, and mal-identification. Same language. One can always go home. And, anyway, the majority of Villagers are New Yorkers — internal, even municipal, expatriates

The cafe routine. After work, or trying to write or paint, you come to a cafe looking for people you know. Preferably with someone, or at least with a definite rendez-vous.. . . One should go to several cafes — average: four — in an evening.

Also, in New York (Greenwich Village) there’s the shared comedy of being Jewish. That’s missing, too, from this bohemia. Not so heimlich. In Greenwich Village, the Italians — the proletarian background against which deracinated Jews + provincials stage their intellectual and sexual virtuosity — are picturesque but pretty harmless. Here, turbulent marauding Arabs.

. . .

The ratés, the failed intellectuals (writers, artists, would-be Ph.D.’s). People like Sam Wolfenstein [mathematician], with his limp, his briefcase, his empty days, his addiction to the films, his penny-pinching and scavengering, his arid family nest from which he flees — terrifies me.

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.

30 December

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.

31 December

On Keeping a Journal. 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.

The journal is a vehicle for my sense of selfhood. It represents me as emotionally and spiritually independent. Therefore (alas) it does not simply record my actual, daily life but rather — in many cases — offers an alternative to it.

There is often a contradiction between the meaning of our actions toward a person and what we say we feel toward that person in a journal. But this does not mean that what we do is shallow, and only what we confess to ourselves is deep. Confessions, I mean sincere confessions of course, can be more shallow than actions. I am thinking now of what I read today (when I went up to 122 Bd. St-G to check for her mail) in H’s journal about me — that curt, unfair, uncharitable assessment of me which concludes by her saying that she really doesn’t like me but my passion for her is acceptable and opportune. God knows it hurts, and I feel indignant and humiliated. We rarely do know what people think of us (or, rather, think they think of us).. . .Do I feel guilty about reading what was not intended for my eyes? No. One of the main (social) functions of a journal or diary is precisely to be read furtively by other people, the people (like parents + lovers) about whom one has been cruelly honest only in the journal. Will H. ever read this?

. . .

Writing. It’s corrupting to write with the intent to moralize, to elevate people’s moral standards.

Nothing prevents me from being a writer except laziness. A good writer.

Why is writing important? Mainly, out of egotism, I suppose. Because I want to be that persona, a writer, and not because there is something I must say. Yet why not that too? With a little ego-building — such as the fait accompli this journal provides — I shall win through to the confidence that I (I) have something to say, that should be said.

My “I” is puny, cautious, too sane. Good writers are roaring egotists, even to the point of fatuity. Sane men, critics, correct them — but their sanity is parasitic on the creative fatuity of genius.

( 節選)

Text (c) 2006 The Estate of Susan Sontag, from the first volume of her journal to be published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux in 2008 or 2009, printed with permission of the Wylie Agency.