Guernica Magazine

Pessimism of the Intellect

On a new collection of Susan Sontag’s short fiction. The post Pessimism of the Intellect appeared first on Guernica.

Was Susan Sontag a good fiction writer? According to the jacket copy for Debriefing (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), a new collection of her short stories, “Sontag’s work has typically required time for people to catch up to it.” For some, that time has yet to elapse. When in 2014 the New York Times Book Review asked Daniel Mendelsohn and Leslie Jamison to answer the question “Do Critics Make Good Novelists?”, both columnists chose Sontag as their object of analysis, suggesting that Sontag, whose reputation as an essayist is so bright and whose reputation as a fiction writer is so dim, figures for many as the ur-Failed-Critic-Novelist. Jamison was typically sympathetic. The habit among critics of comparing Sontag’s fiction unfavorably with her nonfiction, she argued, points to a “broader accusation that fiction is hobbled by an overactive ‘critical imagination.’” Mendelsohn was typically (delectably) sneering: Of a sentence he cited from Sontag’s novel (1999)he wrote, “If I had more space, I’d happily expatiate on what’s wrong with this mortifying passage.”

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