“Sontag” by Benjamin Moser: the excited rebel


by Benjamin Moser

Translated from English (United States) by Cécile Roche

Christian Bourgois, 880 pages, €39

Susan Sontag (1933-2004) was one of the most famous Western intellectuals of the last three decades of the 20th century. She was recognized for her disconcerting and radiant beauty (her famous white lock in her thick, jet-black hair), her intelligence as creative as it was devastating, her innovative essays: On the photoIllness as a metaphor, The scripture itself, In front of the pain of others

The house of Christian Bourgois, faithful to this leading author, makes this thought in progress available thanks to new editions, accompanied by the Log held by Susan Sontag (read The cross June 26, 2013). Everything is now endowed with the masterful biography of Benjamin Moser, who received the Pulitzer Prize across the Atlantic in 2020.

Exceptional always she was

The American approach, sometimes mocked for its relentlessly tracked mania for details, works wonders here, as the writer’s struggles were inseparable from her work and her life. Whether it’s his homosexuality, never claimed loud and clear but tinged with an elitism specific to the margins knowing or wanting to be superior. Let it also be the disease, which attacked his body like Susan Sontag attacked our conformist societies. In the last months of her existence, she let go of this observation, which was as just as it was impudent: “This time, for the first time in my life, I don’t feel special. »

She was always exceptional. The orderly whirlwind authored by Benjamin Moser casts a spell over the 1964 article that launched Susan Sontag: Notes on Camp. (1) The “camp” is a style, a way of being, of appearing, of apprehending, with a mixture of irony and generosity, eccentricity and resolution. This essay, notes Moser, “has had its effect in its time, but still does today – because it gives its readers the impression of understanding the phenomenon from the inside. Like all of Sontag’s best texts, this is a list, a guided tour. She takes the time to explain to us why Cocteau is a camp, but not Gide (…)”

Paris exerted a phenomenal power of attraction on this New Yorker down to her fingertips – this is one of the red threads of the biography. And her son, the travel writer David Rieff, wanted her to rest in the Montparnasse cemetery: “She would keep company for eternity with Sartre, Cioran, Barthes, Beckett – the ideal family she had dreamed of”notes Benjamin Moser.


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