Sontag, Susan 1933-2004

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SONTAG, Susan 1933-2004


See index for CA sketch: Born January 16, 1933, in New York, NY; died of complications from acute myelogenous leukemia December 28, 2004, in New York, NY. Critic and author. Sontag came into prominence in the 1960s as an acclaimed social critic who advocated a new type of formal aestheticism blending emotion and intellect. Possessing a brilliant mind that devoured books such as Les Miserables by Victor Hugo when she was still a child, she went on to complete a B.A. at the University of Chicago in 1951. She then earned master's degrees in English and philosophy from Harvard University in 1954 and 1955 respectively; this was followed by two years of graduate school at Harvard and another year spent at St. Anne's College, Oxford. Sontag always knew she wanted to write, though she periodically worked as a teacher and editor. For example, she taught for a year at the University of Connecticut and was an editor at Commentary in 1959. From 1960 until 1964, she was an instructor in the religion department at Columbia University. While at Columbia in New York City, she met William Phillips, an editor at the Partisan Review who invited her to contribute to the journal. She happily submitted articles that were quickly accepted, and by the mid-1960s was making a living writing articles and publishing books. She wrote on a wide variety of topics, including theater, literature, photography, biographies of intellectuals, and more abstract subjects such as aesthetics. A major theme in her writing developed as she espoused her theories that intellectualism and emotion, or feelings, were not antithetical concepts but rather two aspects of the same thing; thus, art and science, feeling and thought, were all the same thing on a continuum of human consciousness and experience. Her writings and outspokenness on political issues at times made Sontag a controversial figure; she seemed as willing to lambaste American foreign policies as she was eager to excoriate Communism and other forms of tyranny. American audiences at times shunned her as a consequence, whether she was writing in support of the Vietnamese point of view during the Vietnam War, or offering the opinion that America had done some things that directly led to the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. As a writer of nonfiction, novels, and even screenplays, she was admired by critics for her obvious intellect, while other reviewers sometimes found her writing to be unnecessarily abstruse, pedantic, or even dull. Among some of her notable works are Against Interpretation, and Other Essays (1966), which was nominated for the National Book Award, On Photography (1977), which received the National Book Critics Circle prize for criticism, In America (2000), a novel that won the National Book Award, and Regarding the Pain of Others (2003), which received a National Book Critics Circle nomination for criticism. During her lifetime, Sontag suffered from a number of serious ailments. Diagnosed with cancer in her breast, lymphatic system, and leg in 1976, she underwent a radical mastectomy and chemotherapy. The cancer went into remission; then, in 1999, she contracted uterine sarcoma, which was treated with chemotherapy. Unfortunately, the chemo apparently caused her to develop leukemia, to which she eventually succumbed.



Chicago Tribune, December 29, 2004, section 1, pp. 1-2.

Los Angeles Times, December 29, 2004, pp. A1, A24-A25.

New York Times, December 20, 2004, pp. A1, A20.

Times (London, England), December 29, 2004, p. 41.