Date Published: March 6, 2007
Goodreads Synopsis: “A writer is someone who pays attention to the world,” Susan Sontag said in her 2003 acceptance speech for the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade, and no one exemplified this definition more than she. Sontag’s incisive intelligence, expressive brilliance, and deep curiosity about art, politics, and the writer’s responsibility to bear witness have secured her place as one of the most important thinkers and writers of the twentieth century. At the Same Time gathers sixteen essays and addresses written in the last years of Sontag’s life, when her work was being honored on the international stage, that reflect on the personally liberating nature of literature, her deepest commitment, and on political activism and resistance to injustice as an ethical duty. She considers the works of writers from the little-known Soviet novelist Leonid Tsypkin, who struggled and eventually succeeded in publishing his only book days before his death; to the greats, such as Nadine Gordimer, who enlarge our capacity for moral judgment. Sontag also fearlessly addresses the dilemmas of post-9/11 America, from the degradation of our political rhetoric to the appalling torture of prisoners in Abu Ghraib.
At the Same Time, which includes a foreword by her son, David Rieff, is a passionate, compelling work from an American writer at the height of her powers, who always saw literature “as a passport to enter a larger life, the zone of freedom.”
My View: I don’t really remember how I heard about Susan Sontag except it was in one of my bookish whatsapp groups (umm yeah, they exist, I am a part of two). And I tucked it away in the back of my mind. On my visit to the library a couple of months back, I stumbled upon ‘In America’ by her but the title didn’t interest me much. What did I have to do with America anyhow? And I put it back on the shelf.
And then I came across this book by Sontag on my recent library visit. I contemplated keeping it back. I wasn’t sure if I was in the mood for essays (I usually never am. Those were things written and memorized in school and never read again.) but I decided to bring it home. It sat beside my bed while I read fictional works I had issued. And finally I decided to atleast get a flavor of what it was about. The introduction by Sontag’s son, Davie Rieff piqued my curiosity. And thereafter I didn’t look back, turning page upon page until I devoured it, albeit a bit slow in the beginning and faster at the end.
It was a brilliant read. I think I am in love with Sontag. And I deeply mourn her loss. I wish she was alive now. I am sure she would have so much to say about Trump’s win and the state of America now. She seems very vocal and unfazed by critics and people in the power. I admire her tenacity and bravado. We need more people like her.
My favorite essay in this book was on Pasternak, Tsvetayeva and Rilke. How she talks about their personal and professional lives giving us a peek into their private lives. Mesmerizing!
I deeply appreciate her insights into books, the lives of authors, political situations and almost everything under the sun. She’s well read, thorough in her research, and her writing just pulls you in and keeps you focused. I could feel the time she has taken in penning down each and every word. I totally am with her when she says not many writers today are knowledgeable. They don’t know about the world they reside in. I agree when she says it’s important as a writer to know what’s happening around.
Ah. The feeling. The aftertaste this book leaves in your mouth. You feel like just sitting for a while, letting it all sink in. To not let that get murky by reading another book. *Sigh*
I need to pick up another book by her. I am gravitating towards ‘Regarding the pain of others’. Have you read Sontag? Which book of hers do you recommend?
Susan Sontag was born in New York City on January 16, 1933, grew up in Tucson, Arizona, and attended high school in Los Angeles. She received her B.A. from the College of the University of Chicago and did graduate work in philosophy, literature, and theology at Harvard University and Saint Anne’s College, Oxford.
Her books, all published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux, include four novels, The Benefactor, Death Kit, The Volcano Lover, and In America; a collection of short stories, I, etcetera; several plays, including Alice in Bed and Lady from the Sea; and nine works of nonfiction, starting with Against Interpretation and including On Photography, Illness as Metaphor, Where the Stress Falls, Regarding the Pain of Others, and At the Same Time. In 1982, FSG published A Susan Sontag Reader.
Ms. Sontag wrote and directed four feature-length films: Duet for Cannibals (1969) and Brother Carl (1971), both in Sweden; Promised Lands (1974), made in Israel during the war of October 1973; and Unguided Tour (1983), from her short story of the same name, made in Italy. Her play Alice in Bed has had productions in the United States, Mexico, Germany, and Holland. Another play, Lady from the Sea, has been produced in Italy, France, Switzerland, Germany, and Korea.
Ms. Sontag also directed plays in the United States and Europe, including a staging of Beckett’s Waiting for Godot in the summer of 1993 in besieged Sarajevo, where she spent much of the time between early 1993 and 1996 and was made an honorary citizen of the city.
A human rights activist for more than two decades, Ms. Sontag served from 1987 to 1989 as president of the American Center of PEN, the international writers’ organization dedicated to freedom of expression and the advancement of literature, from which platform she led a number of campaigns on behalf of persecuted and imprisoned writers.
Her stories and essays appeared in newspapers, magazines, and literary publications all over the world, including The New York Times, The New Yorker, The New York Review of Books, The Times Literary Supplement, Art in America, Antaeus, Parnassus, The Threepenny Review, The Nation, and Granta. Her books have been translated into thirty-two languages.
Among Ms. Sontag’s many honors are the 2003 Peace Prize of the German Book Trade, the 2003 Prince of Asturias Prize, the 2001 Jerusalem Prize, the National Book Award for In America (2000), and the National Book Critics Circle Award forOn Photography (1978). In 1992 she received the Malaparte Prize in Italy, and in 1999 she was named a Commandeur de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French government (she had been named an Officier in the same order in 1984). Between 1990 and 1995 she was a MacArthur Fellow.
Ms. Sontag died in New York City on December 28, 2004.