Susan Sontag

Susan
Sontag
1933
2004

American Author, Essayist, Literary Theorist and Political Activist

Author Quotes

Aphorisms are rogue ideas.

One wonders why. Can it be that the literature of aphorisms teaches us the sameness of wisdom (as anthropology teaches us the diversity of culture)? The wisdom of pessimism. Or should we rather conclude that the form of the aphorism, of abbreviated or condensed or rogue thought, is a historically-colored voice which, when adopted, inevitably suggests certain attitudes; is the vehicle of a common thematics?

Aphoristic thinking is impatient thinking: by its very brevity or concentratedness, it presupposes a superior standard ?

The cry of the anti-principled: ?I?m doing the best I can.? The best given the circumstances, of course.

Art is the production of mental events in / as a concrete sensuous form

The force of arms has its own logic. If you commit an aggression and others resist, it is easy to convince the home front that the fighting must continue. Once the troops are there, they must be supported. It becomes irrelevant to question why the troops are there in the first place.

At the center of our moral life and our moral imagination are the great models of resistance: the great stories of those who have said no. No, I will not serve.

The Israeli soldiers who are resisting service in the Occupied Territories are not refusing a particular order. They are refusing to enter the space where illegitimate orders are bound to be given? What the refuseniks have done ? there are now more than one thousand of them, more than 250 of whom have gone to prison ? does not contribute to tell us how the Israelis and Palestinians can make peace beyond the irrevocable demand that the settlements be disbanded. The actions of this heroic minority cannot contribute to the much-needed reform and democratization of the Palestinian Authority. Their stand will not lessen the grip of religious bigotry and racism in Israeli society or reduce the dissemination of virulent anti-Semitic propaganda in the aggrieved Arab world. It will not stop the suicide bombers.

Being in love means being willing to ruin yourself for the other person.

The likelihood that your acts of resistance cannot stop the injustice does not exempt you from acting in what you sincerely and reflectively hold to be the best interests of your community. Thus: it is not in the best interests of Israel to be an oppressor. Thus: it is not in the best interests of the United States to be a hyperpower, capable of imposing its will on any country in the world, as it chooses.

Beyond these struggles, which are worthy of our passionate adherence, it is important to remember that in programs of political resistance the relation of cause and effect is convoluted and often indirect. All struggle, all resistance is ? must be ? concrete. And all struggle has a global resonance. If not here, then there. If not now, then soon. Elsewhere as well as here.

The perennial destiny of principles: while everyone professes to have them, they are likely to be sacrificed when they become inconveniencing. Generally a moral principle is something that puts one at˜variance˜with accepted practice. And that variance has consequences, sometimes unpleasant consequences, as the community takes its revenge on those who challenge its contradictions ? who want a society actually to uphold the principles it professes to defend.

Boredom is a function of attention. We are learning new modes of attention ? say, favoring the ear more than the eye? but so long as we work within the old attention-frame we find X boring ? e.g. listening for sense rather than sound (being too message-oriented). Possibly after repetition of the same single phrase or level of language or image for a long while ? in a given written text or piece of music or film, if we become bored, we should ask if we are operating in the right frame of attention. Or ? maybe we are operating in one right frame, where we should be operating in two simultaneously, thus halving the load on each (as sense and sound).

The standard that a society should actually embody its own professed principles is a utopian one, in the sense that moral principles contradict the way things really are ? and always will be. How things really are ? and always will be ? is neither all evil nor all good but deficient, inconsistent, inferior. Principles invite us to do something about the morass of contradictions in which we function morally. Principles invite us to clean up our act, to become intolerant of moral laxity and compromise and cowardice and the turning away from what is upsetting: that secret gnawing of the heart that tells us that what we are doing is˜not˜right, and so counsels us that we?d be better off just˜not˜thinking about it.

Courage has no moral value in itself, for courage is not, in itself, a moral virtue. Vicious scoundrels, murderers, terrorists may be brave. To describe courage as a virtue, we need an adjective: we speak of ?moral courage? ? because there is such a thing as amoral courage, too.

The traditional thematics of the aphorist: the hypocrisies of societies, the vanities of human wishes, the shallowness + deviousness of women; the sham of love; the pleasures (and necessity) of solitude; + the intricacies of one?s own thought processes.

Every violence in war has been justified as a retaliation. We are threatened. We are defending ourselves. The others, they want to kill us. We must stop them.

There would no longer be one huge generation gap (war), between the young and the not young ? but 5 or 6 generation gaps, each much less severe.

Fear binds people together. And fear disperses them. Courage inspires communities: the courage of an example ? for courage is as contagious as fear. But courage, certain kinds of courage, can also isolate the brave.

This simple change in the age specificity of schooling would a) reduce adolescent discontent, anomie, boredom, neurosis; b) radically modify the almost inevitable process by which people at 50 are psychologically and intellectually ossified ? have become increasingly conservative, politically ? and retrograde in their tastes (Neil Simon plays, etc.)

I?m only interested in people engaged in a project of self-transformation.

Thoreau?s going to prison in 1846 for refusing to pay the poll tax in protest against the American war on Mexico hardly stopped the war. But the resonance of that most unpunishing and briefest spell of imprisonment (famously, a single night in jail) has not ceased to inspire principled resistance to injustice through the second half of the twentieth century and into our new era. The movement in the late 1980s to shut down the Nevada Test Site, a key location for the nuclear arms race, failed in its goal; the operations of the test site were unaffected by the protests. But it led directly to the formation of a movement of protesters in faraway Alma Ata, who eventually succeeded in shutting down the main Soviet test site in Kazakhstan, citing the Nevada antinuclear activists as their inspiration and expressing solidarity with the Native Americans on whose land the Nevada Test Site had been located.

It simply declares: enough. Or: there is a limit.˜Yesh gvul. It provides a model of resistance. Of disobedience. For which there will always be penalties. Our ?United We Stand? or ?Winner Takes All? ethos: the United States is a country that has made patriotism equivalent to consensus.

To write aphorisms is to assume a mask ? a mask of scorn, of superiority. Which, in one great tradition, conceals (shapes) the aphorist?s secret pursuit of spiritual salvation. The paradoxes of salvation. We know at the end, when the aphorist?s amoral, light point-of-view self-destructs.

A wounded and fearful country, Israel, is going through the greatest crisis of its turbulent history, brought about by the policy of steadily increasing and reinforcing settlements on the territories won after its victory in the Arab-Israeli war of 1967. The decision of successive Israeli governments to retain control over the West Bank and Gaza, thereby denying their Palestinian neighbors a state of their own, is a catastrophe ? moral, human, and political ? for both peoples. The Palestinians need a sovereign state. Israel needs a sovereign Palestinian state. Those of us abroad who wish for Israel to survive cannot, should not, wish it to survive no matter what, no matter how. We owe a particular debt of gratitude to courageous Israeli Jewish witnesses, journalists, architects, poets, novelists, professors ? among others ? who have described and documented and protested and militated against the sufferings of the Palestinians living under the increasingly cruel terms of Israeli military subjugation and settler annexation.

Author Picture
First Name
Susan
Last Name
Sontag
Birth Date
1933
Death Date
2004
Bio

American Author, Essayist, Literary Theorist and Political Activist