Deep and Shallow Waters
Joseph Epstein on novelists, poetry, and the changing world of the literary intellectuals:
No one could say that Susan Sontag didn’t take ideas seriously. Ideas, one might say, were all she knew; it was only reality of which she was ignorant. (Always a tricky business for intellectuals, this matter of reality.) The problem for Susan Sontag was that, in the fullness of time, she changed so many of her ideas: Communism turned out not to be such a hot idea after all, she concluded as late as the 1980s, it was only “fascism with a friendly face” (why “friendly” I have never quite understood; it was grim and monstrous from the git-go). In the end she was no longer even “against interpretation”—the title of the book of essays that launched her career—but came out in favor of the damned thing, interpretation, that is (art apparently needed a hermeneutics, after all, and not, as she originally stipulated, an “erotics”). Nor, she decided upon further reflection, was “the white race … the cancer of human history.” She was even coming around to decide, after her initial pronunciamento to the contrary, that the United States did not bring the Arab terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 on itself. Extreme opinions were her stock in trade, but weakly held.