Susan Sontag Additional Biography


(American Culture and Institutions Through Literature, 1960-1969)

0111205505-Sontag.jpg Susan Sontag (Library of Congress) Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Early Life

Susan Sontag grew up in Arizona and California and attended a semester at the University of California, Berkeley, before departing for the University of Chicago, where she was schooled in a great books view of criticism and philosophy that she applied to the cultural developments of the 1960’s. She pursued graduate work at Harvard, earning a master’s degree in 1957, and taught briefly at several colleges.

The 1960’s

Sontag’s watershed year was 1964. Her essay, “Notes on Camp,” was published in the Partisan Review and received national attention in Time magazine. With an encyclopedic list of events and attitudes, the essay formulated a thesis that attempted to capture the dynamism of the 1960’s and its playful sensibility. At the end of the year, The Evergreen Review published her essay, “Against Interpretation,” which argued that critics had devalued contemporary art by concentrating on its content—reducing it to a series of statements or messages. Sontag argued that art was not reducible to points in a critical essay and that the efforts of content-driven critics ignored the style and tone of art, depriving readers of the whole experience that only art can provide.

In 1965, Commentary published Sontag’s “The Imagination of Disaster,” a searching investigation of the appeal of science-fiction films, which made this popular genre a noteworthy benchmark for the discussion of postwar culture. After the success of her first book, Against Interpretation and Other Essays (1966), Sontag became a full-time writer, lecturing at universities and speaking at public cultural events in Europe and the United States. The publication in 1967 of “The Pornographic Imagination” and “The Aesthetics of Silence” enhanced her reputation not only as a commentator on contemporary culture but as a critic/philosopher who was extending the work of modern European and American masters of literature and criticism. Sontag recounted her controversial trip to Vietnam in Trip to Hanoi (1968) and collected her most important essays of the late 1960’s in Styles of Radical Will (1969). She also wrote and directed two films in Sweden, Duet for Cannibals (1969) and Brother Carl (1972).

Later Life

In 1975, Sontag was hospitalized for breast cancer. Based on her struggle with that disease, she wrote Illness as Metaphor (1978), followed by AIDS and Its Metaphors (1989). On Photography (1977) received the National...

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(Masterpieces of Women's Literature, Critical Edition)

Author Profile

Susan Sontag’s essay collections have earned her a place as one of the most important nonfiction writers in the United States. While only a few of her essays are explicitly feminist, her outspoken criticism of the political establishment in Trip to Hanoi (1969) and of modern medicine in Illness as Metaphor (1978) seems to spring from a feminist and contrary nature. She is less admired as a novelist, although her romantic historical novel The Volcano Lover (1992) was a surprise best-seller. Sontag remains a touchstone figure for contemporary thinking on radical politics. Sontag died in New York City in December, 2004 after battling leukemia.


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(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Susan Sontag was born Susan Rosenblatt in New York City in January, 1933, the daughter of Jack Rosenblatt, a trader-merchant based in China, and Mildred Jacobsen, a teacher and business partner of her husband. Sontag’s father died in China when she was only five years old. She felt his loss keenly and wrote about it in an autobiographical story, “Project for a Trip to China,” in I, Etcetera.

Sontag’s restless mother moved the family briefly to Florida and then to Arizona in the hope of curing her daughter’s asthma. Sontag received her early education in Tucson, where her mother met and married air force captain Nathan Sontag. Susan adopted his last name at the age of twelve.

The Sontags...

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(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Although Susan Sontag has written novels and short fiction and considers herself a creative writer, her work as a critic is what has established her as one of the most important American writers of her time. She was born in New York City but grew up in Tucson, Arizona, and Los Angeles, California. She was a precocious student, thinking herself a writer at the age of eight, reading the Partisan Review in high school, and attending college by the time she was fifteen years old. Her bachelor’s degree in philosophy at the University of Chicago and her master’s degrees in English literature and philosophy from Harvard University are reflective of her desire to understand the principles behind the subjects she studies. At...

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(Short Stories for Students)

Sontag was born on January 16, 1933 in New York City. She grew up in Tucson, Arizona and Los Angeles, California. A serious and precocious...

(The entire section is 376 words.)