Essays in Honor of Sandy Petrey
Edited By Robert Harvey and Patrice Nganang
7. Sontag Between America and Europe
E. ANN KAPLAN
“Absolute Subjectivity is achieved only in a state, an effort of silence (Shutting your eyes is to make the image speak in silence).”
—Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida
Susan Sontag is usually represented as the proto-type of the American Public Intellectual who happens to be a woman. Because of her particular style and way of being, and because she did not publically, enthusiastically and immediately embrace the feminisms emerging along with her development as a Public Intellectual, she was not seen as an example of women advancing into male spheres. But what has been insufficiently addressed in analyzing Sontag’s contributions is the full impact on her thought of her love of Europe, and her close ties to European (especially French) intellectuals. Perhaps because so many American intellectuals of her era were also influenced by, and attracted to, Europe, Sontag’s special relationship to Paris was not seen as noteworthy. But it may also be because the works that most embody her European side were films rather than literature. She both wrote with fascination about European Cinema (see her early brilliant essays in Against Interpretation), and under the influence of this cinema, turned to directing films.1 Two of Sontag’s films—her only feature films—were made in Sweden; a little known TV fiction film was made in Venice, while her final and fourth film, a powerful documentary, was made in Israel. Since Sontag’s foray into visual culture has attracted far less notice...
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