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This article is taken from PN Review 252, Volume 46 Number 4, March - April 2020.

‘Reborn’: on Moser's Sontag David Herman
Benjamin Moser, Sontag: Her Life (Allen Lane), £30

Susan Sontag always managed to find a ringside seat at the key moments of her time. Like Woody Allen’s Zelig, she always seemed to be where the action was. In the late 1950s she was in Paris during the heyday of the new cinema of Godard and Truffaut. She was back in New York in the early 1960s, writing about Happenings, Merce Cunningham and John Cage. In the late Sixties, at the highpoint of the New Left, she travelled to Hanoi and Cuba. In the Seventies she debated Feminism with Norman Mailer and Germaine Greer. In the Reagan years she denounced communism and in the new eighties’ celebrity culture, she appeared on the cover of Vanity Fair. During the siege of Sarajevo, she was there directing Waiting for Godot and she responded to 9/11 with a controversial article for The New York Times.

This was Sontag the public intellectual. However, the new biography by Benjamin Moser shows how little was known of the private person. This new Sontag was a woman often overwhelmed by depression, loneliness and a lifelong fear of death.

‘All my life,’ she wrote, ‘I have been thinking about death…’ Her second novel was called Death Kit and ends in an ossuary. Her best-known play was about Alice James who died of cancer. In perhaps her best book of essays, Under the Sign of Saturn, five of the seven essays are about dead subjects. In her later, darker ...


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