Susan Sontag: "Be serious, be passionate, wake up."

Susan Sontag died on 12/28/04. She summed up her career:"Be serious, be passionate, wake-up." The Susan Sontag archive is at UCLA.

  • Regarding the Pain of Others. One of the distinguishing features of modern life is that it supplies countless opportunities for regarding (at a distance, through the medium of photography) horrors taking place throughout the world. Images of atrocities have become, via the little screens of the television and the computer, something of a commonplace.
  • On Abu Ghraib. "After all, we’re at war. Endless war. And war is hell. The only good Indian is a dead Indian. Hey, we were only having fun. In our digital hall of mirrors, the pictures aren’t going to go away. Yes, it seems that one picture is worth a thousand words. And there will be thousands more snapshots and videos. Unstoppable. Can the video game, "Hazing at Abu Ghraib" or "Interrogating the Terrorists", be far behind ?"
  • Defending civilization. In her acceptance speech for the German Booksellers Peace Prize, Sontag held true to her reputation. Not one to hold her tongue, she seized the opportunity to criticize President George W. Bush’s administration. She drew attention to the "deliberate absence" from the ceremony of the U.S. ambassador to Germany as typical of Washington’s current ideology of distancing itself from "old Europe." She went on to lament a transatlantic divide shaped by "latent antagonism" and America’s view that it alone could save civilization.
    "They see themselves as defending civilization. The barbarians are outside the gates," she said describing the attitude of many Americans, who believe, that as long as "God is on its side," nothing can go wrong.
    "Americans have gotten used to seeing the world in terms of enemies. Terrorist is a more flexible word than communist," the author of Polish-Lithuanian Jewish descent told the audience.