Susan Sontag is Dead

Imagine a writer/playwright/intellectual whose most famous single
remark was “the black race is the cancer of human history”. Who said
“The Pinochet revolution is astonishingly free of repression
and bureaucratization.” Who praised the attack on Pearl Harber as a
brave deed. Do you suppose such a person would collect laudatory
tributes and glowing obituaries on the occasion of her death?

Substitute “white” for “black”, “Cuban” for “Pinochet”, and “9/11″
for “Pearl Harbor” and you’ll have remarks Susan Sontag actually did
make, and never retracted. (She later glossed her equation of white
people with cancer as a slander on cancer patients). Her equally
abominable expressions of racism, tyrannophilia, and anti-American
hatred have either gone totally unmentioned in the New York
Times
, Philadelphia Inquirer and AP wire service
stories, or else been surrounded by exculpatory verbiage about
Sontag’s alleged devotion to high ideals.

Sontag’s willingness to say in 1982 on the occasion of the
anti-communist Polish worker’s revolution that “Communism is Fascism
with a human face” has been much feted. In fact the utter
anti-humanity of Communism had already been demonstrated by the
Kronstadt massacre and other atrocities years before Sontag was born.
Her failure to absorb that lesson forty years sooner than she did led
her to utter a great deal of toxic garbage, and should neither be
forgotten nor forgiven.

George Orwell once said that “There are some ideas so wrong that
only a very intelligent person could believe in them.” In the AP
obituary, author author Francine Prose says Sontag “represents
something that I’m afraid that’s passing, I don’t think that many
people these days say, `Oh, I want to be an intellectual when I grow
up.’” Not the least of Sontag’s crimes is that Prose is right —
by repeatedly living out Orwell’s observation throughout her lifetime,
Sontag is one of the people who taught Americans by her example to hold
intellectuals in contempt.

I have spoken ill of the dead here in order to make a point about
the living. The damage Sontag did is in the past, but the
muddleheadedness of her eulogists and their willingness to embrace
the same evils she did is a problem for the present and the future.
Only by confronting and condemning those evils can we excise the
true cancers of human history.

26 thoughts on “Susan Sontag is Dead

  1. Eric, the infamously incriminating Sontag quote is “The *white* race is the cancer of human history”. In dying she taught us more about irony than any novel of hers could aspire to: she died of leukemia, cancer of the white blood cells.

  2. For all the things Sontag said, she still brought some interesting insights to us. On Photography is my major encounter with her, and I think I’m better off having read it.

  3. Thanks for saying what no one seems willing to say. The truth!
    A radio news report of her death portrayed her as a notable intellectual who (somehow to her credit) “pricked the conscience of America”.

    Unfortunately Mr. Raymond there are plenty more like her in intellectual circles and, even more alarmingly, in Academia. The tyranny and genocide and basic barbarity of communism is a part of the historical record for everyone to see. To know that even today there are those who support this ideaology boggles the mind.

    These are the same people who believe that the seat of wisdom resides in the U.N. A U.N. official recently called the U.S. “stingy” with regard to the amount of aid we are sending to the tsunami victims. These are the same corrupt people who took “oil for food” money knowing it would cause the starvation of children in Iraq.

    Unfortunately, these “intellectuals” have a lock on our learning institutions and are actively furthering their destructive agenda using our children.

  4. Jeff — that’s why Eric said:

    Substitute “white” for “black”, “Cuban” for “Pinochet”, and “9/11” for “Pearl Harbor” and you’ll have remarks Susan Sontag actually did make, and never retracted.”

    ;-)

  5. I don’t beleive you are speaking ill of the dead when speaking the truth. Sontag was a typical ‘intellectual’, having never experienced the lives she so readily praised or criticized. She looked down upon what she deemed to be the ignorant masses from a pedastal built on theory, unsubstantiated fact and study of writings which supported her ideas, not reality.

    Her very life was one of contradiction and hippocracy. She praised the Ho Chi Minh and Fidel Castro as communist leaders, relying more on their own propagana than on the facts of cruel dictatorship both men created. Neither country would have afforded her the lifestlye she enjoyed in the United States, and quite frankly she would have died of her disease long ago in any other country. She criticized the white race as the cancer of human history, her own words printed through a process first created by Gutenberg, a white man, and recorded for history.

    She benfitted from the very society she criticized and praised those that would have never afforded such an individual the opportunity and fame which she enjoyed. The only thing more disturbing, as Tim points out, is that there are those who praise such a person, and consider her an example upon which to model their lives.

  6. The attack on 9/11 was a brave deed, technically. Of course “brave” usually carries the quality of “admirable”, and no studious Muslim could possibly consider the killing of innocents “admirable”. Then again, few Muslims actually understand the Koran they memorize (for most of them, it’s in a foreign language). Then again again, most people who call themselves Christians can’t remember all of the ten commandments. Then again, again, again, most statists couldn’t even begin to tell you all the government laws that they believe everyone should obey. Heck, the legislators themselves sign laws they’ve never read in full. Mendacity abounds.
    -russ

  7. Don’t worry about the superstition against speaking ill of the dead.
    In anthropology there is a well accepted theory that the nearly universal human prohibition against speaking ill of the dead is simply a mechanism to reduce fighting between groups.
    Some people, living and dead, have behaved in such a manner that the only things one CAN say about them is negative. I think it wrong to try to pretend away the wrongs of cush people just because of some primitive social inhibition.

  8. One has to belong to the intelligentsia to believe
    things like that: no ordinary man could be such a fool.
    — George Orwell, _Notes on Nationalism_

    Happens to be my current sig.

    The notion that inspired Orwell to this peroration was this:

    During WW II, a British leftist told him – dead-serious – that US troops were coming to Britain not to fight Nazi Germany, but to put down The Revolution when it broke out in Britain.

  9. In a previous post Eric says right wingers (like me, sans religion) believe that left wingers want to destroy this country. With left icons like this, can there be any doubt?

  10. Pinochet had overthrown a democracy. The Cuban Revolution had overthrown a dictator. Do you think this is comparable ? (w.r.t. situation and numbers of deaths)

  11. Pinnochet prevented Chile from becomming a satelite of the most evil regime of all time, and left a liberal democracy in his wake.

    Castro is uilty of crimes against humanity, is your typical mass murdering leftist dictator, how made his own contribution to the mass murder of some 100+ Million people.

    Even Pinnochet is better than any communist.

    He probably, by killing mass murdering leftists, by killing the killers, saved the lives of 2 or more million people.

    He certainly saved them from the leftist iron boot.

    Chile is free, not communist, because of Pinnochet

  12. #6 (Russell Nelson):

    Of course “brave” usually carries the quality of “admirable”, and no studious Muslim could possibly consider the killing of innocents “admirable”. Then again, few Muslims actually understand the Koran they memorize (for most of them, it’s in a foreign language).

    Well, being able to read the Qur’an in Arabic, when you know Arabic, is not a licence to make up your own mind about what’s right and wrong in Islam anyway. We are told to ask those who know, to take our knowledge from those who have studied it in the traditional fashion, rather than interpret the Qur’an according to our whims and desires. It’s been stated over and over again that the 9/11 attacks were un-Islamic for a large number of reasons.

  13. With the right filter set up, you can justify every mass murder or is it just stupidity, Raymond from comment 15 ? Humanity, free speech or democracy seems to be a alien concept to posters like ‘homer jay’ or ‘Raymond’, I suppose.

  14. Any defense of Pinochet is insulting to all Latin Americans, even the decent conservative kind. Mind you, some of the conservatives in Latin America are the kind a US president once called “OUR sonofabitch”.
    And of course, the actual Sontag quote on “bravery” is factually true. Contrast the simple to a US president flying around the country for half a day. Of course the 9/11 events were despicable beyond measure. Hitler was decorated for bravery as well during WWI.
    Some of the previous posters are the kind of conservatives that make otherwise decent people become leftists. Their opinions show neither decency nor common sense.

  15. Heh. I know Latin Americans who wouldn’t consider defense of Pinochet an insult. I might blog about this.

  16. I wouldn’t consider “killing yourself and others to be rewarded with 72 virgins in heaven” brave.

  17. How about “killing yourself and others because you see your target as an evil force that is destroying your culture and everything you’ve ever believed in, and you can’t see any better way to fight them?” You need to keep this in perspective. Are the American troops flying bombing runs over Fallujah brave? Or at least the ones kicking down doors? Isn’t every man who fights and risks his life for what he believes in brave, regardless of what YOU personally believe about the fight? I certainly look at photos of Iraqis fighting in Iraq with AK-47s in t-shirts and khakis against the most technologically advanced military in the world, and consider them brave, even though they are technically my enemy (according to my government.)

  18. The guy that said that Latinamericans would consider defending Pinochet an insult is obviously wrong. Any sane person must recognize that he left a country much better than it was with the “democratic” Allende. The relative prosperity that Chile has now is because of Pinochet. Cuba cannot said that, neither Argentina.

    Finally, about Allende. He didn’t obtain the majority only the 35% od the votes! he was elected by the congress. He destroys the country, he has a personal paramilitar guard!. His comrades while they sang “we don’t want civil war” the sang “the momios (opositors) to be shot and their womens to the bed”, How democratic. isn’t?

  19. Funny, I find Eric’s views and expressions objectionable for the same reasons he objects to Susan. Perhaps we can all take a look at ourselves once in a while. That linked telegraph article in comments section is quite astute, too. Sometimes I get the feeling that Susan Sontag :: intellectuals => Eric Raymond :: computer nerds.

  20. Hey, the last comment here was posted a year ago but I’ll still chime in. You can certainly find Sontag offensive — but your examples are so devoid of context (two of those statements were written more than thirty years before her death) as to make them laughable as “criticisms” of Sontag. I happen to disagree with her about the “white race” but I nonetheless think that, in the context of her full essay, which is not meant as an astute and well-reasoned piece of work but as a full-fledged cry of rage and unspeakable shame, it’s not really so bad. Her praise of Castro should be contrasted to her later attacks on Communisms, with which she was already breaking when she visited Hanoi and which she fully broke with when she declared the Soviet Union to be, “Fascism with a human face” and when she, and she alone among major Western intellectuals and leaders, spent years calling for military action against the former Communists (like Milosevic) in the Balkans. As for your final example, which you don’t even bother to quote, don’t waste our time. No one who claims to have anything interesting to say on any topic shoud be so incapable of reading. She did not “praise” the attacks in any way. Instead, she said that they were not “cowardly.” In case you missed the point, she even states explicitly that cowardice and bravery are morally neutral values. She was right. Our ongoing attempt to cast all our enemies as “cowards” isn’t very helpful. So, all the Iraqi insurgents are cowards? Why aren’t they just running away then? She did not argue against retaliation for the attacks (she later published a piece calling for them) or claim that those who died deserved to die. She merely hoped to cut through some of the incessant nonsense being spewed by everyone on television. That our response could not simply be a military response, that real changes in our world economic and political policies were also necessary in order to prevent future attacks. The fact that she and anyone else who suggested this have been branded as traitors to their nation goes a long way to explaining why we’ve allowed Bush to continue to lead this nation despite the fact that he has not made the world safer. In case you missed it, on his watch, while he was retaliating against the “cowards” in Baghdad, who had no weapons of mass destruction and no reasonable way to acquire them, North Korea has armed itself with nukes and Iran is about to do so. Military force alone has not solved these problems, so maybe it’s time to ressurect Sontag, who, after all, understood the grave threat posed by Islamic radicals way back when conservatives and liberals alike were blaming Salman Rushdie for his own death sentence.

  21. Susan Sontag was a remarkable woman. Many of her words were injust and some politically incorrect, however she should be remembered by the imact she had on the contemporary world of photography and the people she reached with her ability to write. Many insults raised in these statements are mostly unneeded. If people have these feelings then why wait until a person is dead to express their opinion? If you ask me then i think that is a sign of weakness, and back stabbing to the qualities she posessed.

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