As Consciousness Is Harnessed to Flesh: Journals and Notebooks, 1964-1980by Susan Sontag
This, the second of three volumes of Susan Sontag's journals and notebooks, begins where the first volume left off, in the middle of the 1960s. It traces and documents Sontag's evolution from fledgling participant in the artistic and intellectual world of New York City to world-renowned critic and dominant force in the world of ideas with the publication of the
This, the second of three volumes of Susan Sontag's journals and notebooks, begins where the first volume left off, in the middle of the 1960s. It traces and documents Sontag's evolution from fledgling participant in the artistic and intellectual world of New York City to world-renowned critic and dominant force in the world of ideas with the publication of the groundbreaking Against Interpretation in 1966.
As Consciousness is Harnessed to Flesh follows Sontag through the turbulent years of the 1960sfrom her trip to Hanoi at the peak of the Vietnam War to her time making films in Swedenup to 1981 and the beginning of the Reagan era. This is an invaluable record of the inner workings of one of the most inquisitive and analytical thinkers of the twentieth century at the height of her power. It is also a remarkable document of one individual's political and moral awakening.
“Sontag's essays are arch, intransigent--so it is a rare pleasure to read, in her diary, discoveries being made in real time. She applies her mind to itself with enthusiasm . . . The overall portrait gained from these journals seems to be of an impossibly fractured author--but the diaries also remind us that Sontag the writer and Sontag the woman, inevitably, occupy the same territory, so that even when she is writing about culture, she is, in a sense, exploring herself . . [a] difficult, fascinating volume . . . As her diaries reveal with such intensity, she harnessed only a fraction of her mind to produce the writing we have seen until now; the rest is consciousness.” Emily Stokes, The Guardian
“In the three years since Reborn, the first volume of Susan Sontag's journals and notebooks, was published, at least three more books about the literary titan have appeared . . . [but] nothing compares with going to the source directly. The second of three volumes, As Consciousness Is Harnessed to Flesh, spans the years of Sontag's most prodigious output and her greatest intellectual influence, including the 1966 publication of her first volume of essays, the landmark Against Interpretation, and the equally influential Illness as Metaphor, a 1978 treatise inspired by her first bout with breast cancer.” Melissa Anderson, Newsday
“A powerful self-portrait gradually emerges. Sontag avoided personal writing, as Rieff explains; perhaps, he suggests, the diaries constitute ‘the great autobiographical novel she never cared to write' . . . the reader warms more to her through her sudden lists of appealing adjectives (‘besotted, cerulean, ogival') or her likes (‘Drums, carnations, socks, raw peas') and dislikes (‘television, baked beans, hirsute men') . . . a tribute by a scrupulous son to his difficult, gifted mother . . . In its fragmentation and incoherence and passion, its combination of the erudite and the everyday, it is more true to life, both intellectual and emotional, than the most artful novel or careful biography. It may well be that Sontag's diaries, like Virginia Woolf's (which she knew and admired) will come to be seen as just as brilliant and important as anything she wrote.” Anne Chisholm, The Telegraph
“That tormented Sontag is known to many, but she was not all Dark Lady. It's impossible to read these journals and not experience the warmer sides of her ambition: her deep admiration for certain artists around her, her animating wish to encourage and promote . . . Rieff designates the second volume as his mother's ‘political bildungsroman,' the record, as she put it, of ‘falling out of love with Communism.' Yet he chose to call this volume As Consciousness Is Harnessed to Flesh, a title pointing to her inner life rather than her political one. It is through this startling image, noted in a margin in May, 1965, that we today see the thirty-two-year-old Sontag awaken to her finitude: her life had to reach an end, just as consciousness is harnessed to flesh. But, then again, perhaps it isn't: language--which can capture and embody consciousness--lives on, and has its own fleshiness. As Sontag's hero, Roland Barthes, once wrote, ‘Language is a skin: I rub my language against the other. It is as if I had words instead of fingers, or fingers at the tip of my words. My language trembles with desire.' If anyone else's language trembles that way, as this volume of her journals attests, it is Susan Sontag's.” Emily Greenhouse, The New Yorker
“The Sontag that appears here is, at times, very different from the strident academic who polarises public opinion. She is anxious, self-deprecating and frequently heartbroken . . . As in the earlier volume of diaries, Reborn, in which Sontag wrote reminders to herself to wash, this collection brings a more fragile, neurotic side into view. And yet there is still much of the academic who did not suffer fools--or ‘Modernist-nihilist-wise-guy-bullshit'--gladly. Her lengthy analyses of her relationships are broken up with quotations from Wittgenstein, or counterpoised by reported conversations with Jasper Johns and Joseph Brodsky . . . She writes dozens of obsessive lists . . . each a reminder of her voraciously catholic interests . . . Over the course of the diary, a picture of a complicated, brilliant person emerges. A little like her criticism, her diary entries combine her interests with bright, aphoristic turns of phrase . . . these diaries are a reminder of the value of the work that made her great, and also mysterious--"partly (and forever)" escaping from view.” The Economist
“Consciousness is ultimately a very serious book, as it would have to be, as the record of the inner life of a renowned and resolutely serious person . . . It is a story of settling and unsettling, of restlessness and of trying to find a place to rest, of examining the parameters of adulthood, of questioning what it means to be a friend, a lover, a writer, an artist, a mother, a person in the world. ‘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,' Sontag writes. If this is the case, then Consciousness is a presentation of the residue of Sontag, the part that is not art. It's life . . . At its best, [Consciousness] is Sontag turning her keen intellect onto the world and onto herself, practicing criticism in her architectural, adversarial, serious way . . . we should . . . be grateful for the dissemination of these notebooks, with their long stretches of self-analysis and their pops of insight.” Lisa Levy, Los Angeles Review of Books
“Sontag seems addicted to writing lists--of films she has seen, or would like to see, and of her extensive reading, including Thomas Mann, Walter Benjamin and Sigmund Freud. But there is plenty of deeper, psychological revelation. While, outwardly, she appeared formidably confident, her entries here show her to be riddled with doubt, anxiety and a fear of showing weakness . . . These often intense accounts of the inner life of a passionate, highly cultured intellectual woman are riveting.” Rebecca Wallersteiner, The Jewish Chronicle
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Read an Excerpt
As Consciousness Is Harnessed to Flesh
The right hand = the hand that is aggressive, the hand that masturbates. Therefore, to prefer the left hand! ... To romanticize it, to sentimentalize it!
I am Irene's [the Cuban-American playwright María Irene FornésSS's lover for a time in Paris in 1957 and then her partner in New York between 1959 and 1963] Maginot Line.
Her very "life" depends on rejecting me, on holding the line against me.
Everything has been deposited on me. I am the scapegoat.
[This entry is emphasized by a vertical line in the margin:] As long as she is occupied in warding me off, she doesn't have to face herself, her own problems.
I can't convince herpersuade herwith reasonthat it is otherwise.
Any more than she could convince mewhen we lived togethernot to need her, clutch at her, depend on her.
There is nothing in it for me nowno joy, only sorrow. Why do I hang on?
Because I don't understand. I don't really accept the change in Irene. I think I can reverse itby explaining, by demonstrating that I am good for her.
But it is as indispensable for her to reject meas it has been indispensable for me to hold on to her.
"Whatever doesn't kill me, makes me stronger." [a paraphrase of Goethe]
There is no love, no charity, no kindness for me in Irene. For me, to me, she becomes cruel and shallow.
The symbiotic tie is broken. She cast it aside.
Now she only presents "bills." Inez, Joan, Carlos!
I have damaged her ego, she says. I and Alfred [the American writer Alfred Chester].
(The inflated, fragile ego.)
And no repentance, no apology for, no change from what was truly damaging in my behavior will appease her, or heal her.
Remember how she received the "revelation" at the New Yorker [a Manhattan movie theater that showed foreign and revival films, where SS went several times a week in the 1960s] two weeks ago!
"I am a stone wall," she says. "A rock." It's true.
There is no responsiveness, no forgiveness in her. To me, only hardness. Deafness. Silence. Even a grunt of assent "violates" her.
Rejecting me is the shell Irene constructs around herself. The protective "wall."
Why I didn't nurse David:
Mother didn't nurse me. (I vindicate her by doing it to Davidit's ok, I do it to my own child)
I had a difficult birth, caused M[other] a lot of pain; she didn't nurse me; she stayed in bed for a month after.
David was big (like me)a lot of pain. I wanted to be knocked out, not to know anything; it never occurred to me to nurse him; I stayed in bed for a month after.
Loving = the sensation of being in an intense form Like pure oxygen (as distinct from air)
All based on a particular stylization of consciousness
Self & world (money)no body consciousness, among many ways of being-in-the-world which he omits.
Edith Wharton's biography. Banal sensibility capped, periodically, by strong intelligent conclusion. But her intelligence doesn't transform the eventsi.e. disclose their complexity. It only supervenes upon the banal telling of them.
Ontological anxiety, "Weltangst." The world blankor crumbling, shredding. People are wind-up dolls. I'm afraid.
"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.
To say a feeling, an impression is to diminish itexpel it.
But sometimes feelings are too strong: passions, obsessions. Like romantic love. Or grief. Then one needs to speak, or one would burst.
The desire for reassurance. And, equally, to be reassured. (The itch to ask whether I'm still loved; and the itch to say, I love you, half-fearing that the other has forgotten, since the last time I said it.)
"Quelle connerie" ["What idiocy"]
I valued professional competence + force, think (since age four?) that that was, at least, more attainable than being lovable "just as a person."
I can't drive out my obsession with I[rene]my grief, my despair, my longingwith another love. I'm not capable of loving anyone now. I'm being "loyal."
But the obsession must be drained, somehow. I must force some of that energy elsewhere.
If I could get started on another novel ...
From Mother, I learned: "I love you" means "I don't love anyone else." The horrid woman was always challenging my feelings, telling me I had made her unhappy, that I was "cold."
As if children owe their parents love + gratification! They don't. Though parents owe these things to their childrenexactly like physical care.
From Mother: "I love you. Look. I'm unhappy."
She made me feel: Happiness is disloyalty.
She hid her happiness, challenged me to make her happyif I could.
Therapy is deconditioning [SS's therapist at the time, Diana] (Kemeny)
Mary McCarthy's gringrey hairlow-fashion red + blueprint suit. Club woman gossip. She is [her novel] The Group. She's nice to her husband.
Fear of the other going away: fear of abandonment
Fear of my going away: fear of retaliation by the other (also abandonmentbut as revenge for the rejection of going away).
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.
Changelifecomes through accidents.
My loyalty to the pastmy 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 SW [the philosopher Simone Weil] are about attention. Against both the will + the categorical imperative.
One can never ask anyone to change a feeling.
"Variety of Uniformities makes compleat Beauty."Sir Christopher Wren
Buster Keaton: Candide with a frontal lobotomy
[Description of the American novelist James Jones:] Shoulders coming out of his ears
Ectoplasm is (displaced) seminal fluid19th c. mediums are aberrant symptom of the wakening of "modern" female sexuality
cf. [Henry James's] The Bostonians, Padmore book
"The psychology and physiology of 'the instant'"
Mary McCarthy can do anything with her smile; she can even smile with it.
A brain-damaged woman whoeven after she'd mostly recoveredcouldn't follow a movie.
The Beatles, their quaternity.
Damp mollusks of 12-year old girls.
Dexamyls [a form of amphetamine on which SS became dependent for writing in the mid-1960s and which she used until the early 1980s, though in diminishing doses] are called, in England, "Purple Hearts" (they're purple, not green [as in the U.S.]kids take them 20 at a time, with Coke ... Then (lunch hour) pop into a "cave" (nobody over 21 admitted) and [dance the] Watusi
Hemingway wrote a parody of Sherwood Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio; it's his 2nd novel, Torrents of Spring (1926), just before The Sun Also Rises.
Arnold Geulincx (1624-69), the Belgian philospherfollower of Descartes[Samuel] Beckett, as a student, read him[Geulincx] holds that a reasonable man is nowhere free, except in his own minddoesn't waste energy trying to control his body in the external world.
Story: "The infinite system of Couples"
Cockney slang: rhyming plus knight's move to the side
Breasts = Bristol (city > titty)
Teeth = Hampteads (heath > teeth)
Horrifying to feel one's integument (skin) pierced
[the American writer William S.] Burroughs:
Language = control
"Terrorist" attacks on language (cut-up method)
cf. [The French experimental writer Raymond] RousselComment J'ai Écrit ...
Escape into space (sci-fi) vs. History
[The] Soft Machine Nova Express Naked Lunch Dead Fingers Talk
"Bumtrinkets"bits of feces stuck to hairs of anus (cf. Cicely Bumtrinket in [the seventeenth-century dramatist Thomas] Dekker's Shoemaker's Holiday)
Ditto for "dingleberries"
"Une incertitude de jeunesse" ["youthful uncertainty"] (of [Bertolt Brecht's first play] Baal)
1. Films better than the bookswhy?
Figure of the scientist as Satanist ([Goethe's] Faust, Poe, [Nathaniel] Hawthorne)
• treatment of the scientist as one who releases forces which if not controlled for good could destroy man himself
• cf. old vision of scientist (Prospero, etc.) as a dotty magician only partly in control of the forces in which he dabbles.
Sci-fi as modern allegory:
Modern attitude toward madness (being "taken over")
Modern attitude toward death (incineration, extinction)
Rich fund of metaphors (Jonathan [Miller, British writer and director]) from:
3. Photography; optics
4. Physiology of crustaceans
6. Chess + military strategy
[Examples of Miller's use of these metaphors:]
"Like the kick-start on a motor-bikenow I'm going on my own."
"Yards of prose."
"Final suicidal Pickett's charge against ..."
"Chromium-plated with charm."
Jonathan: the intersection between psychiatry and aesthetics
Lonnie Donegan Chris Barber ...
Cliff Richard + his Shadows Cilla [Black] Helen Shapiro ...Mersey [Beat]: Beatles Dave Clark 5 The Rolling Stones The Beasts The Pretty Things The Birds ... Dusty Springfield
Sequence of a migraine:
Loss of perspective (flattening out) > "fortification phenomena" (white lineszooming in from side; one-sided) > nausea and vomiting > acute hemicrania
(holding site is always part of acute pain)
SMELL is the largest sensory area in the brain and also the most primitive
Very powerful but not articulatedcan't do anything with it (just naming)
All accent, no syntax
Smelling gives one a knowledge of sensation rinsed clean of thought (unlike hearing and seeing)
Osmology, as opposed to logology
[The French writer Nathalie] Sarraute
Tropismes (first book)something like "prose poems"Sarraute calls them that.
First one written in 1932.
Volume was published in 1939 (Denoël), republished by Éditions de Minuit in 1957, with 6 more written between 1939 + 1941
This is her form!her texture is anti-novelistic, though she's decided to write "novels" + launched an important critique of the novel on the basis of her method.
Sperlongabeach near Rome
In old age, the cereberal arteries silt upgradual diminution of blood supply to the brain
Influence of photography on painting:
1. Off-centering: main subject is in a corner ([the Italian director Michelangelo] Antonioni, [the Swiss-American photographer] Robert Frank).
2. Figures in motion: [the nineteenth-century English photographer Eadweard] Muybridge. Previously, all figures are either at rest (in repose) or at the end of a motion (e.g. farthest the limb can be extended)
Compare dancing figures in Breughel with Degas's Horses at Longchamps
3. Understanding of focus: eye can't see focusing, since it does so automatically, it's a function of attention.
All painting prior to photography is in even focus. As the painter's eye traveled from plane to plane, each went into focus.
Quality of film [stock] is importantwhether grainy or not; old stock or new ([Stanley] Kubrick used WWII unused newsreel stock for War Room sequences in Dr. Strangelove)
Mont Blanc fountain pen (Fr.)
Italic script (get book on)
Read Poe on "Magnetism," and "The Imp of the Perverse."
[This is highlighted:] Off-centering big technique in modern fiction and poetry
Words have their own firmness. The word on the page may not reveal (may conceal) the flabbiness of the mind that conceived it. > All thoughts are upgradesget more clarity, definition, authority, by being in printthat is, detached from the person who thinks them.
A potential fraudat least potentialin all writing.
How revealing to meet [Richard] Eberhart, [Paul] Tillich, Dwight Macdonald, Mary McCarthy!
Jonathan [Miller]: "I take Trilling's ideas less seriously since I know him."
Sensibility is humus for the intellect.
There's no syntax for sensibilityhence, it's ignored.
Reading criticism clogs conduits through which one gets new ideas: cultural cholesterol.
One's ignorance is a treasure, not to be casually spent ([Paul] Valéry)
Body type [SS is describing herself]:
• Low blood pressure
• Need lots of sleep
• Sudden craving for pure sugar (but dislike dessertsnot a high enough concentration)
• Intolerance for liquor
• Heavy smoking
• Tendency to anemia
• Heavy protein craving
• Very good stomachno heartburn, constipation, etc.
• Negligible menstrual cramps
• Easily tired by standing
• Like heights
• Enjoy seeing deformed people (voyeuristic)
• Teeth grinding
• Nearsighted, astigmatism
• Frileuse (very sensitive to cold, like hot summers)
• Not very sensitive to noise (high degree of selective auditory focus)
Pills one takes for reducing hypertension are depressants Alcohol is a depressant
The incredible pain returns again and again and again.
Finished the story. "An American Destiny," for the moment. I see now that it's mined from the vein that produced [SS's firstnovel] The Benefactorit's a sort of miniaturized Frau Anders story, more drastically comic.
[In the margin:] My pop art story
• Third person rather than first
• Fantasy America, rather than fantasy France (because I'm in Paris?!)
• Use of slang,active verbs
Great art has a beautiful monotonyStendhal, Bach. (But not Shakespeare.)
A sense of the inevitability of a stylethe 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.
Camp: irony, distance; ambivalence (?)
Pop art: only possible in an affluent society, where one can be free to enjoy ironic consumption. Thus there is Pop art in Englandbut not in Spain, where consumption is still too serious. (In Spain, painting is either abstract or social protest realism.)
[Josef von Sternberg's 1930 Hollywood film starring Marlene Dietrich and Gary Cooper] Morocco:
Dietrich: clean, solidmovements never weak or floating or pettysparse
Von S: profuse
[In the margin:] They highlight each other by their differences
"Fagotage" (m.)botch; ridiculous way of dressing
"Fagoter" (verb)to dress (a person) ridiculously > Is this where "faggot" comes from?
Movies seen since Aug. 11:
The Crowd (King Vidor)Cinemathèque Bande à Part ([Jean-Luc] Godard)Gaumont Rive Gauche Une Femme est une Femme (Godard)Cinemathèque La Grande Muraille (Jap[anese]?)Normandie Maciste Contre Le Cyclope (It[alian]?)Ciné Gobelins
[The French director Georges] Franju's first feature, The Keepers [La Tête contre les murs], about insane asylumhorrible, stupid, vicious director
([parallel] to Les Yeux sans visage [Franju's next film]
Gothic horror in films
The institutioncf. [Robert Wiene's 1920 Weimar film The Cabinet of Dr.] Caligari, etc.
"The Primary and most beautiful of Nature's qualities is motion, which agitates her at all times, but this motion is simply the perpetual consequence of crimes, it is conserved by means of crimes alone."
[Marquis] de Sade
Humanism = moralizing the world, thereby refusing to acknowledge the "crimes" of which de Sade speaks.
What one is is the idea one has of oneself. If one thinks one is loveable, one is; beautiful, talented, etc.
[The American sociologist Philip Rieff, to whom SS was married between 1950 and 1959] P. [hilip Rieff]
Everyone else not realvery distant, small figures. I would have to swim a thousand miles to reach the margin of the relationship,on the other side of which might lie other people, and it was too far, I was too tired.
The almost infinitely extending network of that relationship; its dense weave That's what held me
Not (at least nowhere as strongly as I. [Irene Fornés])
The sense of P.'s uniqueness, value, preciousness
H. [Harriet Sohmers Zwerling, who was SS's lover when she was a student at the University of California, Berkeley, and then the lover of both Irene Fornés and SS in Paris in 1956 and 1957]very sloppy, loosely woven relationshiphence possibility of friendship, much later.
If one knew one would live 200 years, would one be as tired at 35?
Is the being tired a spontaneous complicity with deatha beginning to let go at what one judges to be about the right time, half way?
Or is it objectively so, that one would anyway be tired at 35 and spend the next 165 years "se traînant?" ["moping around"]
If one could amputate part of one's consciousness ...
What appeared to Annette [the American film scholar Annette Michelson, whom SS met in Paris in 1957] as narcissism sixyears ago: I was still so unawakened, so out of focus. So dead, or, rather, unborn.
I will never just outlast this pain. (Healing passage of time, etc.) I am frozen, paralyzed, the gears are jammed. It will only recede, diminish if I can somehow transpose the emotionas from grief to anger, from despair to assent. I must become active. As long as I continue to experience myself as done to (not doing) this unbearable pain will not desert me
Persistent motive in my writing:
X speaks, asks, demandsbut if doesn't answer, turns away. X tries to make the best of it.
[A note, undated, is inserted:] I will be alright by 7:00 am this morning
M. [Mother] didn't answer when I was a child. The worst punishmentand the ultimate frustration. She was always "off"even when she wasn't angry. (The drinking a symptom of this.) But I kept trying.
Now, the same with I[rene]. Even more agonizing because for four years she did answer. So I know she can.
Those four years! That huge length of timeits weight, its almost palpable thicknessobsesses me. "How can she ..." etc.
I'm so stuck on the "was" of people
Hypochondriac, thin, needs 10 hours of sleep a nightlives on pills
From provincesNantes, Poitiers
Fatherhad a small clothing factory, makes uniforms for the army
Motheran antique dealer
Red hair, white skin, regular features
Works for army on rocketsbig center in banlieue
"Je sais que je vais vieillir trop tôt et ..." ["I know that I will grow old too early, and ..."]
Stole money from bank (father's friend) + from queer art gallery dealer (Annette's friend)
"Denise"calls her Régineshe's 20, works this summer in Paris for an airline.
First time he was with Annette: "If only someone could see me now." For the last three years.Annette: "Elle n'est pas ma reine à moi" ["She's not my very own queen"]
From parataxis (loose association of clauses) to hypotaxis (more precise indications of logical relationships + subordination)
Play: Doctor World is a body
Writing is a little door. Some fantasies, like big pieces of furniture, won't come through.
In ancient religion all significant behavior was acc[ording] to a divine prototype.
Man > arena of forces, battleground
Gods = names of important things
a. Homer on volition (cf. Snell [the German classicist Bruno Snell, author of The Discovery of Mind in Greek Philosophy and Literature]
A causal analysis
A god wills > humans act
No conception of roles
Modern idea of individuality < > role-playing (i.e. self-consciousness)
Compare Hamlet and Oedipus
How beautiful [von Sternberg's 1935 film] The Devil Is a Woman is! It's one of the most extreme films I've ever seen. Dietrich is completely objectalmost lacquered, embalmed. Research into the absoluteness of décor: style obliterating personality ... Dietrich is "mounted" inside her costumes, her huge hatsbehind the confetti, the streamers, the doves, the grilles, the rain ... Décor is "surcharge," both beautiful and parodic
Compare with [the Italian director Luchino] Visconti (Senso, The Leopard) +, of course, Flaming Creatures [made in 1963 by the American experimental filmmaker Jack Smith. SS had written an essay on the film, which would appear in her first collection of essays, Against Interpretation (1966).]
[John] Donne's "Sermon Preached at White-Hall"Feb. 29, 1627
• To censor others for my own vices*
• To make my friendships into love affairs
• To ask that love include (and exclude) all
*but, perhaps this becomes most hectic and obviousreaches a climax, when the thing in myself is deteriorating, giving way, collapsinglike: my indignation at Susan [Taubes's] [SS's close friend from Cambridge, Massachusetts, days] and Eva [Berliner Kollisch's] [a friend of SS's and Taubes's] physical squeamishness.
N.B. My ostentatious appetitereal needto eat exotic and "disgusting" foods = a need to state my denial of squeamishness. A counter-statement.
"I got away, but I had to leave my arms and legs behind ..."
Not to look back means cordoning off all sorts of things in the present which are too full of memories that can't be suppressed. To disinfect my life of, of this nearly mortal grief, I find myself refraining from this, and this, and this. The greatest loss is sex. That, and so many other things, remind me of.
I can't afford to allow the present any depth or ballast, because that means (for me) the past, and the past means all that was shared with.
I feelwhen I'm not sorrowingso dry, like powder, like a helium balloon that's been let go
I've forbidden myself to think, to feel, because thinking and feeling
How can I go on this way?
And how can I not?
"I'm sorry not to have written. Life is tough, and its hard to talk while one is gritting one's teeth ..."
Color in films
[Teinosuke Kinugasa's 1953 film] Gate of Hell
[Alain Resnais's 1963 film] Muriel
Two palettes: one based on skin color, one not (city, plastic, neon)
The orgasmrepeated overexposed sequence in [Resnais's 1961 film Last Year at] Marienbad
Relation of parody + self-parody in camp
[The twentieth-century French artist Jean-Robert] Ipous-téguy's sculpturethe heroic figure (large head, arms outstretched, pubic hair like a badgepenis rides free), in bronze, but cracked, fissured ...
"I don't want to know about your past. I have a feeling it would weigh too much."
"But we're not on a balance."
"But we are."
Marxism a position vis-à-vis culture
[Theodor] Adorno, Philosophy of New Music
[Arnold] Schoenberg = progress
[Igor] Stravinsky = fascism (whom A. identifies with just one period, the neo-classical)
[In the margin:] NB parallels [between] Stravinsky + [Pablo] Picassoraiding the past [in their] different stylesno commitment to progress
[Thomas] Mann = realism = sense of history = Marxism
[Franz] Kafka = allegory = dehistoricization = fascism
Cinema = abolition of tradition = fascism
(Use this as introduction to Lukács essay)
Read the two novels of [the contemporary French novelist Jean-Marie Gustave] Le Clézio
"J'ai besoin de beaucoup de tendresse." ["I need a great deal of tenderness."]
"Écrire veut dire aller jusqu'au bout. J'ai renoncé à ça dans ma vie, mais dans ce que j'écris, je dois prendre un risque." ["To write means to go all the way. I've renounced this in life, but in what I write, I must take risks."]
"C'est trop et c'est juste assez pour moi" (Jean Cocteau) ["It's too much and it's just enough for me"] Motto of Cahiers du Cinéma American Cinema issue (Jan. 1963)
Lineage of Le Bavard [by Louis-René des Forêts]: Poe
[Jorge Luis] Borges says: [G. K.] Chesterton, [Robert Louis] Stevenson, + early films of von Sternberg
Do essays on:
• The first person narrative, the récit
• Von Sternberg
• [Herman Melville's novel] Pierre[: or, The Ambiguities]
• Style + silence Gertrude Stein, etc.
All great art contains at its center contemplation, a dynamic contemplation.
Camp is one of the species of behaviorism in artit is, so extremely, it has no norm to reflect.
Modern aesthetics is crippled by its dependence upon the concept of "beauty." As if art were "about" beautyas science is "about" truth!
[The contemporary American artist R. B.] Kitaj: "found + assisted object"
For Sarraute piece, read early essay by [Pierre] Boulez (printed by "Domaine Musicale") "On Hedonism."
For [SS's essay on the contemporary French anthropologist Claude] Lévi-Strauss, read [Paul] Ricoeur essay in Esprit
[The contemporary German composer Karlheinz] Stockhausen's work abolishes the notion of compositionproposes
1. Any rhythmic structure may be organically adapted to any tempo; 2) unlimited cycle of permutations.
Boulez rejects (1) + (2)
9/23/64 New York
Inhale > lower (flatten diaphragm) > suppress sensationpelvic, i.e. sexual
Therefore secret of a feeling is learning to breathe out
Spiritual chemistry ...
Effect irradiates into other zones ...
Cut the dialogue into panels and make a great screen of ...
Flaming Creatures is sexual, sexually stimulating (not just a spoof on sex) in the same sense that sex is also silly, grotesque, awkward, ugly.
One man thinks before he acts. Another man thinks after he acts. Each is of the opinion that the other thinks too much.
A murder: like a flashbulb (panoramic photo) going off in a dark forest, lighting up all the obscure, frightened woodland life. (DallasNov. 1963)
Subject: the second birth of the self
Through the mad "project"
Shedding the pastexileaborting the self
Principle of redundancy (e.g. traffic lights) red < > green up < > down stop < > go
Get more precise communication
English is so precise because it's so redundant ... > cf. [the twentieth-century English literary critic and poet William] Empson on complex words: words have resonances, halos, vibrations. Literary work is strung on them. "E.g. "fool," "honest"
Vs. a telegram
Redundancy necessary to convey infobut what is the connection with beauty, the non-utilitarian
Mathematicians say of a certain equation "it's beautiful" because it is so simple, so non-redundant.
Connection between style (stylishness) and redundancy  e.g. films of von Sternberg
Connection between redundancy and "the replicate."
Women are "politically transparent" in the 19th century.
We have all the elementsjust have to bolt them down, then attack the warheadthen launch it.
So much in modern life that can be enjoyed, once one gets over the nausea of the replicate.
Moralists like [the twentieth-century American writer on urbanism Lewis] Mumford vs. aesthetes like [the contemporary American architect] Philip Johnson.
Seriousnessthe highest form is the same as irony.
I was afraid of my mother, physically afraid. Not afraid of her anger, afraid of her decreasing the little emotional nourishment she supplied me, but afraid of her. Afraid of Rosie [SS's nanny, Rose McNulty], too.
Mother slapped me across the facefor talking back, for contradicting her.
I've always made excuses for her. I've never allowed my anger, my outrage.
If I can't bring judgment against the world, I must bring it against myself.
I'm learning to bring judgment against the world.
As a writer, I tolerate error, poor performance, failure. So what if I fail some of the time, if a story or an essay is no good? Sometimes things do go well, the work is good. And that's enough.
It's just this attitude I don't have about sex. I don't tolerate error, failuretherefore I'm anxious from the start, and therefore I'm more likely to fail. Because I don't have the confidence that some of the time (without my forcing anything) it will be good.
If only I could feel about sex as I do about writing! That I'm the vehicle, the medium, the instrument of some force beyond myself.
I experience the writing as given to mesometimes, almost, as dictated. I let it come, try not to interfere with it. I respect it, because it's me and yet more than me. It's personal and transpersonal, both.
I would like to feel that way about sex, too. As if "nature" or "life" used me. And I trust that, and let myself be used.
An attitude of surrender to oneself, to life. Prayer. Let it be, whatever it will be. I give myself to it.
Prayer: peace and voluptuousness.
In this, no room for shame and anxiety as to how the little old self rates in the light of some objective standard of performance.
One must be devout about sex. Then, one won't dare to be anxious. Anxiety will never be revealed for what it isspiritual meanness, pettiness, small-mindedness.
Q: Do you succeed always?
A: Yes, I succeed thirty percent of the time.
Q: Then you don't succeed always.
A: Yes I do. To succeed 30% of the time is always.
Article by Lévi-Strauss on Christmas in The New Society (mag[azine])
[Marcel] Proust, "About Flaubert's Style," in Pleasures and Days, ed[ited by the American literary critic F. W.] Dupee (Anchor [Books])
Hermesnew French mag[azine] on mysticism ([Mircea] Eliade, [Alan] Watts, [Henry] Corbin, etc.)
[The contemporary French writer Michel] Butor, The Four Seasons, New World Writing (Rothkosoft Mondrians)
[SS marked an X in the margin:] Any trans[lation] in English of Louis-René des Forêts ([published by John] Calder in London)
Popular mythology for contemporary negative imagination about the impersonal
Otherworld creatures = the it, what takes over
Essay: style, silence, repetition.
Kurt Goldstein, Language and Language Disturbances (Grune & Stratton, 1960)
Noble feelings / ignoble feelings Dignity Respect Loyalty to oneself
Comparison between [Paul] Klee + Valéry
Theory + art
[The Russian-born American constructivist sculptor Naum] Gabo: negative space
To "construct" something is to carve the space out of it (to disclose the space).
[Gabo:] "We deny volume as an expression of space ... We reject solid mass as an element of plasticity." (1920)
Gabo: Must see the sculpture from all sidesit's three dimensional.
Innovations: Use of new materialsplastic, celluloid, wire; + making sculpture move (either to see it / or because the movement is the subject) > e.g. Kinetic Construction (1920)
Bring sculpture close to architecture.
[Marcel] Duchamp: Readymades as not art, but a philosophical point
Circular style ([Gertrude] Stein) > read Donald Sutherland's book [the American critic, playwright, and librettist, who, in 1951, wrote Gertrude Stein: A Biography of Her Work]
Cf. [Jean-Paul] Sartre on "the white style" of [Albert] Camus's L'Étranger [The Stranger]
W[illiam] James acknowledged that "morbid-mindedness"defined it, ratheras ranging over "a wider scale of experience" than healthy-mindedness
the "value" in what is evil or lunatic
[Erik] Satie's "furniture music"background, not meant to be listened to with all one['s] attention
Andy Warhol's films
Read [the contemporary American literary critic J.] Hillis Miller book
Art is a form of consciousness
One difference between naming a feeling ("I feel terrible") and expressing it ("Ohh ... .") is the response you get: "Why?" or "What's the matter?" By naming a feeling in order to give vent to ita practice very much promoted by psychoanalysisyou make a co-reasoner out of your consoler.
Use of markings on a roll of film (the "leader") as part of the content of the film: Bruce Conner's A Movie (like exposing the structure of a building, orBrechtthe mechanism of the set)
Cross-cutting between old film quote + event in film:
Godard, Vivre Sa Vie [featuring] Renée Falconetti + Anna Karina
[The American experimental filmmaker Kenneth] Anger, Scorpio Rising [where he crosscuts between material from Cecil B.] DeMille's King of Kings + motorcyclist's orgy (sound track: "Going to a Party" [actually "Party Lights"])
[The Spanish director Luis] Buñuel's L'Age d'Or [with its] use of Christ to illustrate De Sade episode
Paul Ricoeur, "Structure et herméneutique," in Esprit, Nov. 1963
3 other essays on Lévi-Strauss in same issue, plus interview
18th century the great period of campdistributed through whole culture
[Alexander] PopeSpurious passage in "Epistle to Dr Arbuthnot": " ... And he himself one vile Antithesis."
[William] CongreveSymmetrical (like billiards): passion A, passion B
18th century drama: no developmentwhole character thereinstant feelings summed up in an epigramlove born or dies
Characteristics of art nouveau paintings + drawings:
Symmetrical composition, attenuated curves, spare use of color, slender bodies.
Le Rouget's restaurantArt Nouveau décor near Gare Montparnasse
De Sade, Andrea de Nerciat, Restif de la Bretonne >>> triumvirate of 18th-century French libertines
Earl of Rochester [John Wilmot], John Cleland >>> English (N.B. [Laurence] Sterne, John Wilkes, + Robert Burns all belonged to erotic secret societies. Wilkes the Medmenham Monks, Burns the Caledonian Muses)
18th centuryno guilt; atheism; more philosophical, polemical
19th centuryguilt, horror
Andrea de Nerciatcareer officer in French army (father was Italian); got to be colonel:
Two great philosophical works:
[Radiguet's novel] Le Diable au Corps (3 vols.)alternates between narrative + dialogue; starts with countess (slut) + marquise (the heroinelike [Proust's character] Duchesse de Guermantesbeautiful, worldly, rich; everyone curries her favor)
Affair between the two+ contesse tells stories.
Sex never condemned, always pleasurable
A lot of social satire
[Andrea de Nerciat's novel] Les Aphrodites (3 vols.)a secret sexual society; tells stories.
Also a novel, Monrose; and Félicia (best known bookerotic but gallant, not pornographic)
Death = being completely inside one's own head
Life = the world
Proust, in a letter:
"What's more, ever since Hervieu, Hermant, etc., snobbish has been so frequently represented from the outside that I wanted to try to show it inside the person, like a wonderful kind of imagination ..."
One criticizes in others what one recognizes + despises in oneself. For example, an artist who is revolted by another's ambitiousness.
Underneath the depression, I found my anxiety.
History of film
This is the first generation of directors who are aware of film history; cinema now entering era of self-consciousness
[The German film scholar and writer Siegfried] Kracauer: moviesanti-art; anti-auteur
Femininity = weakness (or being strong through weakness)
No image of strong woman who is just strong, + takes the consequences
Conceiving all relationships as between a master and a slave ...
In each case, which was I to be? I found more gratification as a slave; I was more nourished. Butmaster or slave, one is equally unfree. One cannot step away, get out of character.
A relationship of equals is one not tied to "roles."
Where I detected envy, I forbore to criticizelest my motives be impure, and my judgment less than impartial. I was benevolent. I was malicious only about strangers, people who were indifferent.
It seems noble.
But, thereby, I rescued my "superiors," those I admired, from my dislike, my aggression. Criticism was reserved only for those "beneath" me, whom I didn't respect ... I used my power of criticism to confirm the status quo.
Wayne Andrews, [Architecture, Ambition and Americans: A Social History of ] American Architecture
John Cage, Silence
Sir Oliver Lodge, Raymond
Daisy Ashford, The Young Visitors
Read Max Beerbohm, "Savonarola Brown," [Ronald Firbank's 1926 novel, Concerning the Eccentricities of] Cardinal Pirelli, Diary of Nijinsky
Soft-focus thinking (as in the 4 lectures) whose virtue is aliveness, being improvised, being contemporary to the situation in which it's uttered;vs sharp-focus thinking (writing) which is more accurate, complex, unrepetitive, but has to be prepared in advancelike a Greek statue with blank eyes
Say I have a dreary feeling (Z) which I want to combata feeling which gives rise to something I repeatedly do or say that I wish I didn't.
If I merely suppress the behavior (if that's even possible) I recharge the feeling behind it.
Recipe for killing the feeling: Act it out in an exaggerated form.
The chagrin one feels then is far more memorable and therapeutic.
"depends where I get flung off ..."
read [the Austrian-British art historian Ernst] Gombrich, Wilhelm Meister [Goethe's second novel, The Apprenticeship of Wilhelm Meister, published in 1795]
Injured, scarred in the face
Marked Woman [1937 Hollywood film directed by Lloyd Bacon and Michael Curtiz and starring Bette Davis, Humphrey Bogart, and Lola Lane]
• smoking at beginning (sign of independence from bossJohnny Vanning / blows smoke in his face).
Nietzsche: "no facts, only interpretations."
Art is never a photograph.
Mimetic theory of art: art < > reality
Plato: measures art by the standard of truth
Aristotle: emotional effect of lying.
Social facts > "fact"
Psychological facts > "imagination"
Many different relations between art + fact
2. ironicpop art  Andy Warhol's 129 Die; front page of [Hearst-owned New York tabloid that folded in 1963] Daily Mirror
3. Patronizing reality: New Yorker fiction; some passages in The Group
Problem as a writer: Never think of model Don't think of units of art as facts
Erwin Straus, "The Upright Posture," Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 1942
Resurrections (in literature):
Osamu Dazai, No Longer Human, The Setting Sun
[Jan Potocki,] The Saragossa Manuscript
[Ghislain de Diesbach,] The Toys of Princes
[Machado de Assis,] Epitaph of a Small Winner
[Witold Gombrowicz,] Ferdydurke
[Knut Hamsun,] Pan
"Another merry day"
"Acting up a storm"
On [Antonin] Artaud-[Jacques] Rivière correspondance, pp. 45-52 of [Maurice] Blanchot, Le Livre à Venir.
Read [Thomas] Carlyle, Sartor Resartus on the dandy  "the dandiacal body"
"J'ai le cafard" ["I'm blue"]
Interesting new sculpture rejects the pedestal ([the American sculptor George] Sugarman etc.)
Refinement, finesse: Camp, based on an exaggeration of this value, makes this central; it isn't. Vigor, vitality is at least as important. But it is important. Cf. Jasper Johns
Essay on camp an example of the larger pointthe imp[ortance] ofthe idea ofsensibility. Talking about Camp a way of making this point.
Modern art related to 20th century revolution in the graphic arts. We are first generation in human history to live surrounded by print artifacts (comics, billboards, newspapers)a second nature.
[The American art historian Meyer] Schapiro one of the first to be interested in [Jackson] Pollock, [Willem] de Kooning (late 40s)
Find Schapiro essay on modern art in The Listener, 1956
Warhol ideas: single image (monotonized); the impersonal
"What is it?" before "Is it any good?"
André Breton, a connoisseur of freedom
"The Nature of Abstract Art," Marxist Quarterly, vol. 1, no. 1 (1937) reply by Delmore Schwartz, a reply to that by Schapiro, op. cit., vol. 1, no. 2 (April-June 1937)
"Style" (Kroeber vol.) [Schapiro's essay in Alfred Louis Kroeber's Anthropology Today]
On Modern Art, The Listener, 1956
"Metaphysics for the Movies," Marxist Quarterly, Vol. 1, No. 3 (Oct.-Dec. 1937)attack on Mortimer Adler
• "On the Aesthetic Attitude in Romanesque Art," in [K. Bharatha Iyer,] Art & Thought ...
Priest and Worker: The Autobiography of Henri Perrin Translated and with an introduction by Bernard Wall
[There is a box drawn around this:] Style
Style as mode of change in art.
Consciousness of style the same as consciousness of historicity of the art work
Velocity of styles in contemporary painting
Contra "style," aestheticismcf. [a friend of SS's beginning in the 1960s, the French critic Roland] Barthes, "Les Maladies du Costume de Théâtre"Essais Critiques
Work of Art
An experiment, a research (solving a "problem") vs form of play
[Michelangelo Antonioni's film] L'Avventura
Hard to believe [it was made] only four years ago ...
Only learn at the end that Claudia is poor
A's scenes always have the same duration on screen as they w[oul]d in lifeno manipulation of time in the cutting
"Abandon the supernatural casuistry of positives + negatives"A's refusal to make a villain of Sandro
Makes films about emotions, but refuses to let his actors "emote" (à la [the Italian film director Federico] Fellini + Visconti)that w[oul]d be "rhetoric"
New style: "Against Rhetoric"
A's films are "literary" in that they are full of complex references
Self-conscious film-makingFitzgerald['s Tender Is the Night] in L'A[vventura]
(They have literate scripts) but not like traditional stories
> A's films: a kind of writing ("caméra-stylo" [literally "camera-pen" of the French film critic and director Alexandre ] Astruc) done by the director who "uses" the actors
• Why does one "write"?
• Answeridea of a film as recording, incarnating
Material must necessarily be diffuse, non-dramatic (hence, failure of [Antonioni's 1957 film] Il Grido)
[The next three entries have a box drawn around them.]
A number is the set of all sets which are equivalent to each other
A cardinal number is the class of all similar classes
To every finite set can be assigned a cardinal number
My friendships (Paul[SS's friend the American artist Paul Thek] etc.) are weightless. Now, since, I experience them as maintenance problems. I'm juggling my schedule, paying dues ...
"Every life is a defense of a particular form." [the Austrian composer Anton] von Webern
Buy: OUP editions of [the Welsh alchemist and Rosicrucian Thomas] Vaughan, [Andrew] Marvell, + [the metaphysical poet Richard] Crashaw.
Vaughan sermon on dying
[The French writer Alfred de Musset's 1834 play) Loren-zaccio ...
Walter Benjamin's book on the baroque.
Frederic Farrar, History of Interpretation (1886)
Iris Murdoch, "How I Write a Novel," Yale Review, spring '64
Franz Borkenau, book on 17th century (1934)Pascal, Racine, Descartes, Hobbes [The Transition from the Feudal to the Bourgeois World View]
• John Cage, Silence
[The Russian filmmaker Vsevolod] Pudovkin on film [Film Technique and Film Acting]
Novel: discovering the life of the body (posture, gesture Carolee's [the American performance artist Carolee Schneemann] "I had to deal with the fire," [the Swedish sculptor] Claes Oldenburg's "very involved these days with hallways") ... two charactersone who makes it, one who doesn't.
Copyright © 2012 by David Rieff
Meet the Author
Susan Sontag (1933–2004) was the author of numerous works of non-fiction, including the groundbreaking collection of essays Against Interpretation (FSG, 1966), and of four novels, including In America (FSG, 2000), which won the National Book Award.
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