1.04.2005

We are feeling sad here at Cupcake for the same reasons you are feeling sad these days. This afternoon, I'm thinking about how much we miss Susan Sontag. For once, Chip McGrath didn't piss us off--he wrote a tribute to her that is the first time we've ever seen anything coming near appropriate levels of goddess worship from him.

But word on the street from one of our favorite guy fans is that not everyone has such sense or manners:
Yo Cupcake,

You guys should stop picking on the boys at N+1. They really want to publish women writers—they're just recluse grad students, which can make it hard to meet girls. [I can introduce them to plenty, btw. We'll have a party or something. --Eliz.]

Meanwhile there's some creepiness at the New Criterion. They took it upon themselves to post a (largely recycled) anti-Sontag tirade just hours after her death. For fancy boys, they're a little lacking in class. If they really knew any Latin they'd say "de mortuis nil nisi bonum," and then keep their mouths shut, at least for a day. And I catch a whiff of misogyny to boot:

"Norman Podhoretz has suggested that the "rapidity" of Sontag's rise was due partly to her filling the role of "Dark Lady of American Letters," vacated when Mary McCarthy was "promoted to the more dignified status of Grande Dame as a reward for her years of brilliant service. The next Dark Lady would have to be, like her, clever, learned, good-looking, capable of writing [New York-intellectual] family-type criticism as well as fiction with a strong trace of naughtiness." The "ante on naughtiness," Podhoretz notes, had gone up since McCarthy's day: "in an era of what Sherry Abel has called the `fishnet bluestocking,' hints of perversion and orgies had to be there."
More than a whiff. The article is really gross. It feels like the author, Roger Kimball, saved up every single mean jab he could possibly hoard and as soon as she was really out of the room started spewing. I mean, every defensive, small-minded accusation he can think of, including associating Sontag with the anal sex ballerina Toni Bentley. Can you imagine? Listen to the venom in this paragraph:
As a writer, Sontag is essentially a coiner of epigrams. At their best they are witty, well phrased, provocative. A few are even true: "Nietzsche was a histrionic thinker but not a lover of the histrionic." But Sontag's striving for effect (unlike Nietzsche, she is a lover of the histrionic) regularly leads her into muddle. What, for example, can it mean to say that "the AIDS epidemic serves as an ideal projection for First World political paranoia" or that "risk-free sexuality is an inevitable reinvention of the culture of capitalism"? Nothing, really, although such statements do communicate an unperturbable aura of left-wing contempt for common sense.
Or this one:

Sontag enjoyed an extraordinary career. But, pace Salman Rushdie [whose tribute posted after Sontag's death last week Kimball warns is only for "those with strong stomachs"], her celebrity was not the gratifying product of intellectual distinction but the tawdry coefficient of a lifelong devotion to the mendacious and disfiguring imperatives of radical chic.
Not a patriarchal, hierarchical organization, Cupcake has never had a formal Most Wanted list. But if we did, Chip McGrath would be bumped down by this bozo Roger Kimball. Nevermind his misguided, outdated analysis: Kimball's manners make him a one-man argument for finishing school for boys.

I am thinking in appreciation of Wayne Koestenbaum, whose Sontag lecture I still remember from the remarkable undergraduate American lit course I took with him a million years ago in the nineties. He started his lecture by mentioning a dream he'd just had of her, reclining on a chaise in a pink miniskirt, her light stripe of hair regal and commanding.

I see her reclining in such grandeur now, giving the finger, along with Cupcakes the world over, to Kimball's line: "her celebrity was not the gratifying product of intellectual distinction but the tawdry coefficient of a lifelong devotion to the mendacious and disfiguring imperatives of radical chic." Cupcake would not exist without her. I can't even imagine how dry and awful someone's life must be to assume that intellectual rigor requires a lack of pleasure, sensuality, humor, style, to call Sontag's insistence on transforming crusty genres "histrionic." Kimball is clinging desperately to that bone dry, outdated, pale-male-stale-Yale action and resenting, violently, a revolutionary who excelled in that world on its own terms while also transforming those terms into her own.

For now, may we suggest this tribute over at n+1 by perennial Cupcake favorite Ben Kunkel:
Susan Sontag was the first living intellectual who mattered to me. I discovered Against Interpretation early on in college, and its title essay at once confirmed and cast doubt upon what I sensed was my vocation. Here was a complaint against the relentless extraction of symbols and ideas from art, a call for a new “erotics of art” (I think was the phrase) in place of the old “hermeneutics.” I was 19, I feared my intellectual bent would forever deprive me of the sensual enjoyment of things, here was an essay thrillingly addressed to my very fear, one that undermined the value of the activity—interpretation—I was best at, at the same time that it provided, in the swift notations of Sontag’s headstrong prose, never mind her fetching dust-jacket photo, an idea of the glamour of the intellectual and his or her helpless urge to interpret.
Elizabeth

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