Tuesday 8 October 2013
Susan Sontag, Where The Stress Falls
I've read so many great things about Susan Sontag that I was almost salivating when I finally got hold of a book of her essays. The revered author, elegantiae arbiter of the literary world, spoken of with reverence by the likes of Nadine Gordimer, and I'll get to read some of her words? Gosh!
Well, there's no denying Sontag's impressive erudition and, yes, elegance. Her command of language was awesome, as was her ability to create vivid, detailed images - even her non-fiction reads like poetry. A master of the abstract, she wrote of feelings, impressions, ideas, her mind's eye able to detect whole worlds in a single book, movie or performance.
With all this greatness, Where The Stress Falls should have swept me off my feet.
I was bored.
My goodness, didn't the book drag! It took ages to get through. My mind kept drifting off every five seconds, words turning into meaningless gibberish every other line. The reading got easier halfway through the volume, but even in the best moments I wasn't exactly captivated. Now, is it me being boorish and uncultured, or is Susan Sontag vastly overrated?
Where The Stress Falls is composed of 100% High Culture, capital letters mandatory. All the Great Arts get their due. Books (obviously), cinema, photography, theatre, opera, even bloody ballet. All very exclusive, very noble, very condescending. Unfortunately, I'm allergic to intellectual snobbism. High Arts can be fine, Sontag's reviews flawless, but I simply couldn't stand the author's patronising tone. People With Taste vs The World. I couldn't stop thinking of those posh vernissages where VIPs stuff their faces with caviar and sigh with delight over a black square on white canvas (with a seven-figure price tag). Ridiculous only begins to describe it.
It's faintly possible that I'm simply not mature enough to appreciate Sontag's cultural refinement. I might get there when I'm around sixty, but I doubt it. I simply do not wish to take my sensitivities in that direction.
Besides, I hate caviar.