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Notes on Sontag

Notes on Sontag

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3.42

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Notes on Sontag is a frank, witty, and entertaining reflection on the work, influence, and personality of one of the "foremost interpreters of . . . our recent contemporary moment." Adopting Sontag's favorite form, a set of brief essays or notes that circle around a topic from different perspectives, renowned essayist Phillip Lopate considers the achievements and limitations of his tantalizing, daunting subject through what is fundamentally a conversation between two writers. Reactions to Sontag tend to be polarized, but Lopate's account of Sontag's significance to him and to the culture over which she loomed is neither hagiography nor hatchet job. Despite admiring and being inspired by her essays, he admits a persistent ambivalence about Sontag. Lopate also describes the figure she cut in person through a series of wry personal anecdotes of his encounters with her over the years.

Setting out from middle-class California to invent herself as a European-style intellectual, Sontag raised the bar of critical discourse and offered up a model of a freethinking, imaginative, and sensual woman. But while crediting her successes, Lopate also looks at how her taste for aphorism and the radical high ground led her into exaggerations that could do violence to her own common sense, and how her ambition to be seen primarily as a novelist made her undervalue her brilliant essays. Honest yet sympathetic, Lopate's engaging evaluation reveals a Sontag who was both an original and very much a person of her time.

Notes on Sontag is a frank, witty, and entertaining reflection on the work, influence, and personality of one of the "foremost interpreters of . . . our recent contemporary moment." Adopting Sontag's favorite form, a set of brief essays or notes that circle around a topic from different perspectives, renowned essayist Phillip Lopate considers the achievements and limitations of his tantalizing, daunting subject through what is fundamentally a conversation between two writers. Reactions to Sontag tend to be polarized, but Lopate's account of Sontag's significance to him and to the culture over which she loomed is neither hagiography nor hatchet job. Despite admiring and being inspired by her essays, he admits a persistent ambivalence about Sontag. Lopate also describes the figure she cut in person through a series of wry personal anecdotes of his encounters with her over the years.

Setting out from middle-class California to invent herself as a European-style intellectual, Sontag raised the bar of critical discourse and offered up a model of a freethinking, imaginative, and sensual woman. But while crediting her successes, Lopate also looks at how her taste for aphorism and the radical high ground led her into exaggerations that could do violence to her own common sense, and how her ambition to be seen primarily as a novelist made her undervalue her brilliant essays. Honest yet sympathetic, Lopate's engaging evaluation reveals a Sontag who was both an original and very much a person of her time.

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Publish date: Mar 9, 2009
Added to Scribd: Jul 08, 2014
Copyright:Traditional Copyright: All rights reservedISBN:9781400829873
List Price: $19.95

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03/30/2015

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9781400829873

$19.95

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billsprotennoia reviewed this
Rated 3/5
Closer to 3.5 stars... Lopate, who was an acquaintance of Sontag's and apparently a well-known essayist himself (this is my first exposure to his work), has written a somewhat informal collection of notes that is, first and foremost, a felt reflection on her writing. Every one of her books gets at least a few lines, but the bulk of Lopate's considerations are focused on the essays (and rightly so). He has much to say on her aphoristic style, her polemical "radicalism" in art in the sixties (and how this shifted over the years), her public persona, her insecurities, her intelligence, her arrogance. The book, as criticism, suffers from a certain lack of depth. Lopate quibbles with a line here and there, makes clear his opposition to some of her more hyperbolic statements, is quick to note that most of her fiction is mediocre if not outright "awful", but doesn't engage with any one text enough to give the reader something new to consider at length. This is perhaps an effect of both Sontag's still-fresh ability to polarize opinion and the chosen form of the book itself. One feels that after some time has passed (and after all the Diaries are published, fair or no), Sontag's legacy (or lack of one) will be clarified. As for Lopate, he comes off as thoughtful and intelligent. I liked the book.
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