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Sontagesschau - De File — LiveJournal
Does Collecting Make You Feel Dirty?
I just listened to the Deutsche Welle -- Germany's state-sponsored international media concern -- coverage of Susan Sontag's death. I don't get a chance to listen to German much anymore, but did tune in, randomly, to the coverage of her winning a German freedom prize last year. So I was interested to hear what they had to say. Appropriately, the coverage was bookended by snippets of Bruce Springsteen's Born In the USA. Sontag had a thing for Bruce. The coverage itself repeatedly emphasized the German perception that Sontag had helped to build a bridge between Europe and the United States, while acknowledging that Americans who are not, "literature professors on the East Coast," tended to either ignore or resent such bridge-building efforts. At one point, a literature critic from one of the German papers phoned in his thoughts. Asked why the American media had given very little attention to the passing of such an important figure, he remarked that it did strike him as strange, but concluded that it must be because of Sontag's outspoken opposition to the War on Terror waged by the White House. I'm afraid, however, that the truth is less dramatic. Americans are far less likely to respect their leading intellectuals. In general, they would rather be led by people who seem to be more like them, even if that apparent similarity indicates a failure to prepare for leadership. That's the easiest explanation for George W. Bush's continued popularity with half the country's population. Even as I feel the urge to critique the American reluctance to embrace truly exceptional individuals, however, part of me remains attached to the very trait -- Europeans would likely term it "anti-intellectualism" -- that I wish to interrogate. My year in Germany taught me just how typically American I was. Nearly two decades later, despite all the education I've received in the interim, I remain a lot more American than my rational side would like me to be. So, with Sontag's passing, I regret the loss of one of the few American intellectuals recognized as such by the world community. At the same time, however, I also celebrate the fact that, for all the faults of the United States and its citizens, there's more opportunity for people like myself, who lack Sontag's standing, to use our intellect in public without being dismissed as illegitimate. Whether I'm deluding myself in the course of that celebrating is unclear. But I celebrate regardless.

Mode: überlegend über Legende
Muse: Deutsche Welle Radio

4 comments or Leave a comment
masoo From: masoo Date: December 30th, 2004 06:25 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
My guess is most Americans have never heard of Susan Sontag.
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: December 30th, 2004 07:46 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
I agree. Any other thoughts? I remember your bit on Kael vs. Sontag.
masoo From: masoo Date: December 30th, 2004 07:55 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
I don't like to say too much unless I can add something useful, and I don't think I have anything here. I didn't read much Sontag ... Camp, the book about cancer, can't think of what else.
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: December 30th, 2004 03:18 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
Well, that's a lot more than most Americans have read. I haven't read a great deal more than that myself. I was more interested in the framing. Your initial comment implied that the question of why our media largely ignored her passing, at least compared to the coverage the Germans gave it, should be answered by stating that most Americans didn't know who she was. The same would go for Pauline Kael, obviousy. I wonder, though, whether there's a difference between knowing Sontag but not regarding her passing as significant and not knowing her at all. Most folks in the media clearly did know who she was. Were they deferring to the ignorance -- I'm using the word neutrally -- by not reporting on her death and life?
4 comments or Leave a comment