Women, the Arts, & the Politics of Culture: An Interview with Susan Sontag

By Boyers, Robert; Bernstein, Maxine | Salmagundi, Fall/Winter 2015 | Go to article overview

Women, the Arts, & the Politics of Culture: An Interview with Susan Sontag


Boyers, Robert, Bernstein, Maxine, Salmagundi


R.B.: In the mid '60s, when I was coming of age, and you were yourself a very young writer, it seemed the most eagerly anticipated of literary 'events' was the publication of a new essay by Susan Sontag, usually in Partisan Review. The essay didn't have to be as timely as "Notes on Camp" or the piece on science fiction-it might dwell on moral sententiousness in Camus, or on the aspect of disinterestedness involved in an appreciation of style. Those of us who went through those years, awaiting expectantly your new work, are delighted that you are once again writing speculative essays on a more or less regular basis. Word of your return, in this sense, to the intellectual scene, had been circulated for some time, and with the publication of the recent essay on Leni Riefenstahl in The New York Review of Books there can be few serious readers who do not know how important that return can be. Did you anticipate the interest that the Riefenstahl essay would generate?

SONTAG: It's always agreeable to be welcomed back, though I don't think I've been away. What seemed to you like an absence was for me a going on. After the mid '60s, I wrote a second novel (Death Kit), then made two movies; in the last two years I've published five smaller fictions, made a third film (Promised Lands), and been tunneling through a third novel. As for essays, I never stopped writing them but I did decide to write fewer. The ones that have appeared recently in The New York Review are another go at the same problems that I've been stalking for years-the idea of "modernity," the relation between moral and aesthetic ideas-but, maybe because I'm no longer "a very young writer," the problems seem more and more complex. And I'm still only interested in writing about hard cases. Lately I've been using some ideas I've had about the careers of photographed images to get at these problems in another way. The Riefenstahl essay is not part of the photography series (which will come out as a book early next year), although it was her book of photographs, The Last of the Nuba, that supplied me with a pretext for discussing her work as a whole and for reopening the subject of fascist aesthetics. I did expect the essay to matter, because the campaign underway since the '60s to rehabilitate Riefenstahl-minimizing her official connection with the Nazi regime, obfuscating what is explicit in her work-had been so successful.

MJL: In your essay "On Style" written in 1965 and included in Against Interpretation, you state:

"To call Leni Riefenstahl's The Triumph of the Will and The Olympiad masterpieces is not to gloss over Nazi propaganda with aesthetic lenience. The Nazi propaganda is there. But something else is there, too, which we reject at our loss. Because they project the complex movements of intelligence and grace and sensuousness, these two films of Riefenstahl (unique among works of Nazi artists) transcend the categories of propaganda or even reportage. And we find ourselves-to be sure, rather uncomfortably -seeing ' Hitler ' and not Hitler, the ' 1936 Olympics ' and not the 1936 Olympics. Through Riefenstahl's genius as a filmmaker, the 'content' has-let us even assume, against her intentions-come to play a purely formal role."

And, you continue: "A work of art, so far as it is a work of art, cannotwhatever the artist's personal intention-advocate anything at all."

Yet, in The New York Review in February 1975, you seem to be denying that earlier critical evaluation of Riefenstahl's work, where you refer to Triumph of the Will as "... the most successfully, most purely propagandists film ever made, whose very conception negates the possibility of the filmmaker's having an aesthetic or visual conception independent of propaganda."

I assume, in the context of these very separate approaches to evaluating Riefenstahl, that there has been a change of large dimensions in your approach to criticism. Do you agree with me? Or do you see a continuity between these two essays which you could perhaps clarify here? …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

Women, the Arts, & the Politics of Culture: An Interview with Susan Sontag
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.