This collection of two decades of Susan Sontag essays reinforces our sense of her maverick importance. So stubbornly eclectic that she has been accused of squandering her genius, she explores what she pleases, delving into new subjects and new genres as she will. These essays, grouped into invitingly open sections ("Reading," "Seeing," "There & Here"), follow her enthusiasms through almost every branch of artistic venture and thought.
One of the few Americans to manage superbly the dual roles of public intellectual and novelist, Sontag, whose novel In America won a National Book Award in 2000, reaches a big audience even as she divides critics. First and foremost an essayist, Sontag tackles varied interests that are compelling in part for their apparent randomness. This new collection of occasional articles includes punditry on literature, film, photography, theater and her own literary career, among other subjects. Once a champion of then-lesser-known writers like Jorge Luis Borges and Roland Barthes, she now boosts the worthy Brazilian novelist Machado de Assis and Swiss writer Robert Walser. Sometimes her enthused advocacy seems overstated, such as when she argues a little too forcefully for Glenway Wescott as a novelist and for the poet Adam Zagajewski as a prose writer. A sugary memorial for New York City Ballet founder Lincoln Kirstein is also inadequate on many levels. Still, Sontag's appetite for trends and achievements is still so fierce, and she switches subjects so quickly and lithely, that if one short essay does not convince, the next one probably will. One can't help admiring the conviction evident in "Waiting for Godot in Sarajevo," her account of directing a Beckett play in the war-torn city. There is no one quite like Sontag, and her many admirers will enjoy following up on her reading tips and engaging in debate with her via this book. (Sept.) Forecast: Expect solid sales among Sontag's fans, some of whom will pick this book up as a first foray into her essays. For those who need assistance in entering the Sontag oeuvre, biographer and Baruch College professor Carl Rollyson's Reading Susan Sontag: AnIntroduction to Her Work is forthcoming in October (Ivan R. Dee). Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Sontag collects 41 essays that frame over 20 years of astute observations on culture, arts, and aesthetics. Previously published as magazine articles, articles for tourist catalogs, program notes for puppet theater or ballet performances, notes for art exhibition catalogs, and introductions, forewords, or afterwords in other authors' monographs, the essays are organized into three categories. "Reading" encompasses Sontag's erudite, critical renderings on autobiography and the works and influence of international literary figures such as Machado de Assis, Roland Barthes, Danilo Ki, Marina Tsvetaeva, and Robert Walser. In the middle section, "Seeing," Sontag is more approachable, expressing her perceptive and provocative opinions on cinema, garden history, photography, painting, opera, drama, and dance. Finally, in "There and Now," Sontag recounts her experiences in Sarajevo and her feelings regarding travel, activism, writing, and translations. Several of the essays such as "A Letter to Borges" appear here in English for the first time. Although an introduction to prepare newcomers to Sontag for what follows would have been helpful, this remains an attractive and interesting collection from an important cultural thinker. Recommended for academic and public libraries. Jeris Cassel, Rutgers Univ. Lib., New Brunswick, NJ Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
“What ultimately matters about Sontag is what she has defended: the life of the mind, and the necessity for reading and writing as ‘a way of being fully human.' She has been a great explainer, but her explanations are not reductive....She regroups the familiar and makes the eye fresh....She stands for what is articulate, independent, exploratory: for self as work in progress.” Hilary Mantel, Los Angeles Times Book Review
“[The essays] invariably also leave one with the urgent desire to read the book or see the painting, play, dance she describes. Her passion evokes that urgency...The outstanding essays are ‘Waiting for Godot in Sarajevo' and ‘Writing Itself: On Roland Barthes,' both of which are definitive and awe-inspiring.” Bookforum
“Three essays--the longest in the book--are of unquestioned lasting importance. They are ‘Writing Itself: On Roland Barthes,' ‘Waiting for Godot in Sarajevo' and the title essay [‘Where the Stress Falls' which] is a stunning tour de force.” Houston Chronicle
“Where the Stress Falls raises the bar of criticism to the highest level....Her energy infuses every word in the collection.” The Seattle Times
“Her criticism is art in its own right, so gorgeously formed and creative, so vital and searching, deeply rooted in passionately intelligent reading and unstinting curiosity ....A substantial and wonderfully musical collection that makes matters literary and artistic urgent and thrilling.” Booklist