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Susan Sontag

Page history last edited by Jeff Martinek 12 years, 2 months ago

Susan Sontag



"I don't want to express alienation. It isn't what I feel. I'm interested in various kinds of passionate engagement. All my work says be serious, be passionate, wake up." --Susan Sontag 


 Susan Sontag was a social activist as well as a prolific writer. She was passionate about many topics, including photography, AIDS, & philosophy. She acted as president of the American branch of PEN, during which time she fought for the freedom of imprisoned and persecuted writers, including Salman Rushdie; who has been condemned by Muslim groups to death for writing a book called The Satanic Verses.



Susan Sontag was born in New York City, on January 16, 1933. She later moved to Tucson, Arizona, where she spent her entire childhood. She later attended high school in Los Angeles,California. 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 in Oxford. Massachusetts. Sontag died in New York City, on December 28, 2004.[1 Official Biography site on Susan Sontag Susan's companion for the last 15 years before her death from cancer, was no other than Annie Leibovitz. Annie was a critic of photography, and became a famous celebrity photographer, but always stayed one of Susan's closest friends



The essay, ''In Plato's Cave','[2] represents Sontag's theory, of how the photographer must always be separated from their subject, to some degree. She compares this with the violent act of rape. Rape being an act of violence - not sex. Photography is an act of viewing without interacting, sometimes to a fault. The action of non-intervention is one of her main arguments to this. War photo journalists are criticized in this essay, for watching and photographing acts of brutality, without stepping in to intervene. The photo journalist would argue that by taking these photos, they are helping to save thousands of lives. However, photo journalism is a profession more concerned with selling photos to the highest bidder, than with achieving world peace. News photos, as Susan Sontag has noted, have been concerned with the production of 'spectacle'. [2]


Criticisms of Susan Sontag

Many were critical of how harshly Ms. Sontag berated photography. One of Ms. Sontag's contemporaries, Max Kozloff, was highly critical of her work. Mr. Kozloff also wrote a collection of essays, Photography and Fascination, on the topic of photography. Sontag's perspective tends to be from the realism school and an indexical nature. Kozloff takes the opposite perspective and believes in a photo as a witness angle, with autographic nature. [3](pg. 41-42)


Implications For Media Ecology

 One possible implication for media ecologists, of Ms. Sontag's work, would be that she encouraged us to look beyond the surface of photography (or any other medium) and look for the underlying purposes inherent to the medium. Simply looking at the surface, will never let you see the beautiful or the ugly, that are behind the curtain.



[1] http://www.susansontag.com/biography.htm Official Biography site on Susan Sontag

[2] On Photography by Susan Sontag, Anchor Doubleday Books, New York, NY, 1990.

[3] Photography: A Critical Introduction by Liz Wells, 1997


Related Class Documents


In Plato's Cave by Susan Sontag


External Links


Official Biography site on Susan Sontag


Original Author:  Genia Wyatt

Additional Writing and Editting: Kate M. Fisher

Comments (5)

Jeff Martinek said

at 10:37 am on Sep 12, 2008

You'll want to provide basic factual details about Sontag's life (birth, family, education, writing, reputation, death) as well as some sort of overview and review of the highpoints of her overall career----especially as a cultural critic----before you move into your focus on her writings on photography.

Galenet has a good overview article on her career that you may draw from:

-- AdmiN (2008-04-07 12:25:36)

Kate M. Fisher said

at 4:50 pm on Sep 16, 2008

A new photo of Susan Sontag should be added, as the one at the top of this page, is not appearing efficiently. If I'm not mistaken, Susan passed away of leukemia, not cancer, so that needs to be clarified and changed if I'm correct. I think Sontag's career highlights should be illustared more, as she did serve as a vital political activist and theorist during her lifetime.

Robyn said

at 5:22 pm on Sep 18, 2008

Leukemia is a specific type of cancer that affects the blood and blood-forming tissues of the bone marrow, lymph system, and spleen.

Jeff Martinek said

at 9:30 pm on Sep 18, 2008

Thanks for that correction, Robyn. Good to see you involved in the new wiki.

As for this article, I would like to see it do justice to its subject, who was an absolute giant in American ideas and social criticism. She wrote a great deal on a huge range of subjects (nazism, gay culture, opera, film, AIDS, American history, fame, death, Freud, you name it) in addition to photography. She also wrote in a wide variety of genres, both nonfiction and fiction. Undoubtedly, "On Photography" is one of her greatest and most enduring works and I consider it a landmark in Media Ecology. It deserve to be the focus here---but there is much, much more to it than we have at this point in the article. So, there are lots of opportunities here for the person who wants to try to climb "Mt. Sontag" ---- she's an intellectual giant who was intimidating while she was alive and remains so, years after her death.


Jeff Martinek said

at 2:27 pm on Oct 23, 2008

Review of "On Photography" from New York Times, 1977 http://userpages.bright.net/~dlackey/sontag-pho.PDF

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