Trained in philosophy and literature at the University of Chicago and Harvard University, and a former faculty member at several colleges, Sontag turned in the early 1960’s from the strictly academic life and what she considered misguided academic interpretation of literature to the general critical essay. Although her essays are informed by her own broad reading and a clear understanding of existentialist philosophical thought, derived from Friedrich Nietzsche and made a powerful cultural force by Camus, Sartre, and others, Sontag has never been taken completely seriously by the academic critical community. In spite of the fact that some of her essays, particularly the title pieces of Against Interpretation and Other Essays and “The Aesthetics of Silence” (from her collection Styles of Radical Will), are sometimes reprinted in college anthologies of literary criticism, academic critics have never accepted her as one of their own. Surveys of American literary criticism usually dismiss her in a page or two as an unoriginal “popularizing” critic who helped to introduce European existentialist writers and thought to American intellectuals in the 1960’s.
Part of the reason for the rejection of Sontag by academics is her somewhat anomalous position as a woman of letters, eschewing the close reading of individual works practiced by university professors of literature in the 1950’s and 1960’s and focusing instead on general...
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