It is becoming difficult to sustain any fervent interest in Susan
Sontag's career. Her critical ideas, embracing everyone from Hegel
to Walter Benjamin, appear more and more merely polemical
excursions in phenomenological or structuralist thought. Against
Interpretation had its topical cachet: a bubbly belligerent
advocacy of "camp," happenings, Levi-Strauss, the nouveau roman,
Artaud. What it lacked in intelligibility, it made up for in le
dernier cri. With Styles of Radical Will, the avant garde pantheon
opens its doors to Cage, "the pornographic imagination," "the
theory of art as assault on the audience," New Left politics. These
essays, more carefully constructed than Miss Sontag's previous
forays, are also much duller. How surprisingly banal, how tiresome
Miss Sontag's militant language seems: "an erotics of agony,"
"exemplary," "excruciating," "ours is a time in which every
intellectual or artistic or moral event is absorbed by a predatory
embrace of consciousness: historicizing." Even the famous use of
inverted commas cannot save Miss Sontag's daring cliches: "The
Vietnamese are 'whole' human beings, not? ??'split' as we are."
Again and again Miss Sontag bemoans the loss of spontaneity, the
deadening effects of analysis, all the while performing as the most
abstract, benighted, "complex" savant. Of course, there are
interesting or reflective passages: Miss Sontag is a serious and
ambitious critic. Still, a private quarrel goes on between what she
is and what she seeks, giving the aura of an embalmed intensity.
Styles of Radical Will, Susan Sontag's second collection of essays, extends the investigations she undertook in Against Interpretation with essays on film, literature, politics and a ground-breaking study of pornography.
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