Thursday, December 30, 2004


Back to the Funny Farm

Christmas is over and we're back to deal with the news media again.

This is what has happened: Over 70,000 people died in the tsunami earthquake in South-east Asia. And Susan Sontag died at age 71 in New York City. Apparently these two stories got about the same amount of news coverage. Or so it seems.

In WP, Henry Allen writes a typical orbituary (Thinking woman) where the word "intellectual" appears six times in the first two paragraphs. Whenever your friends (or fans) are that keen on stressing your cerebral capacities, without any evidence to back up their claims other than to point at your rap mouth who offered smart remarks about things in general, then you can be sure that it is an exaggeration.
Yet, the journalists at the culture desks are jumping over eachother in attempts to write glorifying stories about her: NY Times, another WP article: Cultural Author, Activist Was a Fearless Thinker, Slate "Remembering an intellectual heroine".

Somewhere out there was a woman who made no sense at all. Aaah! She must be a true intellectual.
She was at the right place at the right time. An opportunist who lived on Manhattan. She despised the U.S., endorsed Communist dictatorships wherever she could find them, and cashed in on funds from capitalist funds and donors. Now, I don't claim to be very smart (at least I don't expect people to write long articles about me and use the word "intellectual" over and over) - but even I can see that there is a somewhat obvious double-standard in her thinking: She didn't like U.S. capitalism - but she enjoyed the money it provided for her. Since her writing couldn't. Few people read her books. But that is only because they were of a higher standard, because Sontag was an I-n-t-e-l-l-e-c-t-u-a-l!

And still... it doesn't make sense.
Some fine examples of the intellectual excesses of Sontag can be read in Roger Kimball's orbituary.

In her 1964 "Notes On 'Camp,' she states that the camp style is "serious about the frivolous, frivolous about the serious. [...] The ultimate camp statement: it's good because it's awful."

Well, maybe here whole point was that nothing makes sense, and to tantalize her audience with inexplicable perseverance. The outcome is the kind of satisfaction Peter Keating finds in The Fountainhead:
"Keating leaned back with a sense of warmth and well-being. He liked this book.
It had made the routine of his Sunday morning breakfast a profound spritual
experience: he was certain it was profound, because he didn't understand it."

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