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Reborn: Journals and Notebooks, 1947-1963

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Review-A-Day

"Susan Sontag's presence, in essays, interviews, fiction, film, and theater, wove itself so firmly into our culture that when it vanished upon her death in late 2004, one became abruptly aware of the delicacy of the fabric. She was for many a focal point — someone whom readers and commentators enjoyed revering, dismissing, complaining about, being exasperated, or infuriated, or amused, or electrified by — and she was a focusing consciousness; her stature as a writer and the value of her work have been, and no doubt will continue to be, debated, but what is beyond dispute is that she suggested, monitored, and even, to an extent, determined what was to be under discussion." Deborah Eisenberg, the New York Review of Books (read the entire New York Review of Books review)

Synopses & Reviews

Publisher Comments:

"I intend to do everything...to have one way of evaluating experience — does it cause me pleasure or pain, and I shall be very cautious about rejecting the painful — I shall anticipate pleasure everywhere and find it too, for it is everywhere! I shall involve myself wholly...everything matters!"

So wrote Susan Sontag in May 1949 at the age of sixteen. This, the first of three volumes of her journals and notebooks, presents a constantly and utterly surprising record of a great mind in incubation. It begins with journal entries and early attempts at fiction from her years as a university and graduate student, and ends in 1964, when she was becoming a participant in and observer of the artistic and intellectual life of New York City. Reborn is a kaleidoscopic self-portrait of one of America's greatest writers and intellectuals, teeming with Sontag's voracious curiosity and appetite for life. We watch the young Sontag's complex self-awareness, share in her encounters with the writers who informed her thinking, and engage with the profound challenge of writing itself — all filtered through the inimitable detail of everyday circumstance.

Review:

"The first of three planned volumes of Sontag's private journals, this book is extraordinary for all the reasons we would expect from Sontag's writing — extreme seriousness, stunning authority, intolerance toward mediocrity; Sontag's vulnerability throughout will also utterly surprise the late critic and novelist's fans and detractors. At 15, when these journals began, Sontag (1933 — 2004) already displayed her ferocious intellect and hunger for experience and culture, though what is most remarkable here is watching Sontag grow into one of the century's leading minds. In these carefully selected excerpts (many passages are only a few lines), Sontag details her developing thoughts, her voluminous reading and daily movie-going, her life as a teenage college student at Berkeley discovering her sexuality ('bisexuality as the expression of fullness of an individual'), and meeting and marrying her professor Philip Rieff, with whom, at the age of 18, she had David, her only child. Most powerful are the entries corresponding to her years in England and Europe, when, apart from Philip and their son, the marriage broke down and Sontag entered intense lesbian relationships that would compel her to rethink her notions of sex, love ('physical beauty is enormously, almost morbidly, important to me') and daughter- and motherhood, and all before the age of 30. Watching Sontag become herself is nothing short of cathartic. Two writers share their experiences — as a teacher and a journalist — in two New York City schools." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)

Review:

"What ultimately matters about Sontag...is what she has defended: the life of the mind, and the necessity for reading and writing as 'a way of being fully human.'" Hilary Mantel, Los Angeles Times

Review:

"[An] electrifying record of Sontag striving to become Sontag." Booklist

Synopsis:

This first of three volumes of Susan Sontag's journals and notebooks presents a constantly and utterly surprising record of a great mind in incubation. Reborn is a kaleidoscopic self-portrait of one of America's greatest writers and intellectuals.

Synopsis:

"In the journal I do not just express myself more openly than I could to any person; I create myself."

The first of three volumes of Susan Sontag's journals and notebooks, Reborn (1947-1963) reveals one of the most important thinkers and writers of the twentieth century, fully engaged in the act of self-invention. Beginning with a voracious and prodigious fourteen-year-old, Reborn ends as Sontag, age thirty, is finally living in New York as a published writer.

Synopsis:

"I intend to do everything...to have one way of evaluating experience—does it cause me pleasure or pain, and I shall be very cautious about rejecting the painful—I shall anticipate pleasure everywhere and find it too, for it is everywhere! I shall involve myself wholly...everything matters!"
 
So wrote Susan Sontag in May 1949 at the age of sixteen. This, the first of three volumes of her journals and notebooks, presents a constantly and utterly surprising record of a great mind in incubation. It begins with journal entries and early attempts at fiction from her years as a university and graduate student, and ends in 1964, when she was becoming a participant in and observer of the artistic and intellectual life of New York City.
 
Reborn is a kaleidoscopic self-portrait of one of Americas greatest writers and intellectuals, teeming with Sontags voracious curiosity and appetite for life. We watch the young Sontags complex self-awareness, share in her encounters with the writers who informed her thinking, and engage with the profound challenge of writing itself—all filtered through the inimitable detail of everyday circumstance.

Susan Sontag immediately became a major literary figure of our culture with the publication in 1966 of the pathbreaking collection of essays Against Interpretation. She went on to write four novels, a collection of stories, several plays, and seven subsequent works of nonfiction, among them On Photography (1977) and Illness as Metaphor (1978). Her many international honors included the Jerusalem Prize (2001) and the Friedenspreis, the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade (2003). She died in New York City on December 28, 2004.

The first of three volumes of Susan Sontag's journals and notebooks, this book presents a constantly surprising record of a great mind in incubation. It begins with journal entries and early attempts at fiction from her years as a university and graduate student, and ends in 1963, when she was becoming a participant in and observer of the artistic and intellectual life in New York City.
 
Reborn is a kaleidoscopic self-portrait of one of America's greatest writers and thinkers, teeming with Sontag's voracious curiosity and appetite for life. We watch the young Sontag's complex self-awareness, share in her encounters with the writers who informed her thinking, and engage with profound challenge of writing itself—all filtered through the inimitable detail of everyday circumstances.
"Sontag's Reborn: Journals and Notebooks, 1947-1963, edited by her son, David Rieff, is a fascinating document of her apprenticeship, charting her earnest quest for education, identity, and voice. The volume takes us from her last days at North Hollywood High School to the year that, now living in New York, she published her first novel, The Benefactor."—Darryl Pinckney, The New Yorker
"Sontag's Reborn: Journals and Notebooks, 1947-1963, edited by her son, David Rieff, is a fascinating document of her apprenticeship, charting her earnest quest for education, identity, and voice. The volume takes us from her last days at North Hollywood High School to the year that, now living in New York, she published her first novel, The Benefactor."—Darryl Pinckney, The New Yorker

"Susan Sontag's presence, in essays, interviews, fiction, film, and theater, wove itself so firmly into our culture that when it vanished upon her death in late 2004, one became abruptly aware of the delicacy of the fabric. She was for many a focal point—someone whom readers and commentators enjoyed revering, dismissing, complaining about, being exasperated, or infuriated, or amused, or electrified by—and she was a focusing consciousness; her stature a writer and the value of her work have been, and no doubt will continue to be, debated, but what is beyond dispute is that she suggested, monitored, and even, to an extent, determined what was to be under discussion. She seemed to be at least twice as alive as most of us—to know everything, to do everything, to be inexhaustibly engaged. Her arresting appearance was familiar even to many nonreaders from the photographs that recorded it over several decades and registered the glamour and magnetism—the sheer size—of her personality, and her celebrity was all the more potent and irreversible because the place she occupied was so far outside the usual radius of the spotlight. And also because it was a general combustion of her style, her brain, her concerns, and her looks—rather than any particular attribute or accomplishment—that gave off all that dazzle. Sontag's own apparent conviction, sustained until several weeks before she died, was that the laws of mortality would be, if not canceled, at least suspended in her case. And rather than resolving her evident ambivalence about exposing her private writings, she allowed death to bequeath the ambivalence to her son, David Rieff. This we adduce from Rieff's decorous and deeply moving introduction to Reborn: Journals and Notebooks, 1947-1963, the earliest and first to be published of three volumes, which begins when its author was just shy of fifteen . . . The diaries contain (among plenty of other sorts of things) passages that concern's Sontag's—largely anguished—love affairs with several women, her abrupt and painful seven-year marriage to the scholar and cultural critic Philip Rieff, and, inevitably, their son. The experience of reading the diaries, even for a disinterested party, is intense as well as anxiously voyeuristic; small wonder that the tone of Rieff's introduction is sometimes that of someone who has been on hand to witness a terrain-altering meteorological event. But from the earliest, less intimate entries, we feel that we've broken the lock on the little book . . . Over the sixteen years this volume of her journals covers, Sontag grows up. Along the way she enters (at scarcely sixteen) the University of California at Berkeley and the following year transfers with a scholarship to the University of Chicago where she meets and marries Philip Rieff . . . Among the entries are also lists of books to be read and words to be learned contemplated, lists of things to be done and things not to be done, mentions of areas of history to become acquainted with, the odd aperçum general reflections, and whole meadows of quotations. We see rudiments of ideas which years later expand into essays, and we see aspects of the author—and the author's view of herself—that there certainly would be no other way to see. Though descriptions of the outside world do turn up, Sontag's forceful attention is largely reflexive . . . We have been dared to read. Sontag did not destroy her journals nor did she restrict them."—Deborah Eisenberg, The New York Review of Books

"I first read Susan Sontags 'Notes on "Camp"' in college. I proceeded slowly and with minimal comprehension, took careful notes and imagined the owner of that stern, abstruse voice living in a faraway land of brilliance, black sweaters and espresso. In New York, or Paris somewhere, smoking with Roland Barthes, Michelangelo Antonioni and Jackson Pollock. Sontag was not real. Not until the morning about four years later when one of my coworkers at PEN American Center was instructed to 'call Susan' to ask her something or another, and upon placing the call was soundly lambasted by Ms. Sontag herself. Everyone with half a brain cell knew, apparently, not to call a writer before two in the afternoon. For the next ten years, I had what seemed like regular encounters with the enigma. I witnessed the tussles between PEN and an unauthorized biographer over access to her PEN files; pored over a box of endearingly neurotic correspondence in the archives of her publisher Farrar Straus and Giroux at the New York Public Library; spotted her and Annie Leibovitz at a Strindberg play at BAM, soon after a bout with breast cancer. By the time Sontag died in 2004, she had become human. But not entirely comprehensible, and never simple. She might in fact be one of the most elliptical writers to have crossed over into mainstream American cultural criticism. Her essays are dense hedges of precisely constructed ideas, cloaked in rhetorical assault and accessorized by brilliantly aphoristic quotes. Remarkably, Sontags notebooks, out this month in a first volume, Reborn, covering the years 1947–1963, arent all that different from her other published work—at least in temperament. 'Ideas disturb the levelness of life' is the leadoff entry to her 15th year. 'Life lives on,' she writes, quoting herself quoting Lucretius at 16, 'it is the lives, the lives, the lives that die.' Ten years later, a crib note on the philosophy of Max Scheler is followed by the pronouncement: 'In marriage, every desire becomes a decision.' Sontag expressed herself in crystals, even when dredging the murk of adolescence, sexuality, ambition, divorce, motherhood and love . . . The journals are stocked with lists of books to read (Scholem! Gide! Flaubert!), movies seen (so many) and philosophical précis. Despite the fact that a book list from an 18-year-old Susan Sontag is a literary log of the highest level, these sections are essentially little intrusions to the latticework biography emerging from the candor of a woman who lived in a huge, lustful, deep way, yet always also in her mind."—Minna Proctor, Time Out New York

"In September 2006, two years after Susan Sontags death at 71 from blood cancer, The New York Times Magazine published excerpts from her notebooks: unfettered jottings on books, dates, people—but mostly her sense of self—by the writer and public intellectual with the iconic white hair streak. The rippling thrill that this unearthed material had on a certain pop culture-addicted, humanities-majoring, I-will-read-Hegel-someday demographic was as great as if one verifiable fact about TomKat or Brangelina had been unveiled—maybe even greater. The link sailed through the Monday-morning e-mail channels: Did you see? Did you read? What did you think? We wanted more. The more, at least the beginning of the more, is here. Reborn: Journals & Notebooks, 1947–1963 is, as Sontags son, the foreign affairs journalist David Rieff, explains in his preface, the first of three volumes to be culled from her walk-in closet's notebook stash. (No wonder she never mentions clothes—where would she have put them?) Rieffs rage at feeling forced to publish these highly personal documents, because his mother sold her papers to UCLA without instructions, simmers beneath the surface of his comments. But why bother worrying whether it was right to bring these to light? The fruits of Rieffs editing labors are a gift, a page-turning joy—it couldn't have been easy for him to stumble on passages such as 'P. [Philip Rieff, his father] and I used to talk often about using double contraception + starting to have sex again.' The first installment reads like the best books should: Theres a compelling plot—we watch aghast as, at 16 and on the verge of a lesbian awakening, Sontag falls without explanation into a stifling marriage to Rieff, a sociologist whose class she audited; then we tremble as she wrestles herself out, damaged child and husband be damned, and discovers orgasms. Is she a bit of a coldhearted bitch? Yes, but arent we all when its a matter of survival? Shes also funny. Her compulsive literature and cinema lists are a highbrow High Fidelity, and her arch self-awareness will make you laugh aloud. “How easy it would be to convince myself of the plausibility of my parents life!” she writes in 1948—an absurdly precocious 15-year-old en route to UC Berkeley, but a teenager nonetheless. Or this, on a trip after a breakup: 'Stunned + sleepy ever since Im here . . . The "real me," the lifeless one . . . The slug. The one that sleeps and when awake is continually hungry. The one that doesnt like to bathe or swim and cant dance. The one that goes to the movies. That one that bites her nails. Call her Sue.' Even for those who never quite got to her seminal works—'Notes on "Camp,"' say, or On Photography—or her discordant, unexpectedly memorable fiction (The Volcano Lover), Sontag holds a particular fascination in this age of self-branding. She invented the ultimate freelancers role, a one-woman business in the culture industry, never stooping to suck up to a corporation or institution. These notebooks might lead detractors to accuse Sontag, yet again, of an unseemly will to power, a fixation on fashioning her persona; theyd do better to take her musings at face value. Anyone struggling with how to live without compromise or shame, how to produce art, to raise a child, to have good sex, will find validation in Sontags brilliantly articulated but recognizable impasses. 'Work = being in the world,' Sontag writes, in a typical construction whose far-reaching implications belie its economy. Few worked at it harder, and how lucky for us to have a blueprint from a heroine who got it so right."—Miranda Purves, Elle

"The publication this month of the first volume of Susan Sontag's Reborn: Journals and Notebooks, 1947-1963, edited by her son, David Rieff, is a significant event in the literary world. The book gives us more fully than ever the mind and sensibility of one of the 20th century's finest writers at work during her formative years. It provides compelling insights into the world (and underworlds) that she successively inhabited: Berkeley, Calif., in 1949; Chicago from 1949 to 1951; Cambridge, Mass., in the mid-1950s; Paris in 1958; and Manhattan as of 1959. The New York Times published brief selections from Sontag's journals two years ago, bringing to the public some of what is in the extensive collection of her unpublished writings, now open at the Charles E. Young Research Library at the University of California at Los Angeles. But the new book opens up a much wider range of issues than appeared in the Times selections: Sontag's sexuality; the world of gay, lesbian, transgendered, and transsexual people (although she does not use all those words) from the late 1940s into the early 1960s; the nature of her life with Philip Rieff during their troubled marriage, which began in 1950 and ended in 1958; her interest in Jewish history and religion (more apparent in the journals than in her writings for much of her career); her relationship to her mother and to her son; her ambitions and self-fashioning; and, above all, the origins and development of her movement from modernism to something akin to postmodernism . . . With its frank discussion of Sontag's sexual experiences and knowledge, Reborn will therefore fascinate many readers (although one hopes they will also see the connections between her most intimate experiences and her writings) . . . The journal entries offer compelling evidence of what Sontag was thinking and experiencing. David Rieff reflects that it is impossible to imagine his mother returning 'to her social and ethnic context for inspiration, as many Jewish-American writers of her generation would do.' Yet Reborn does make clear how often she pondered questions about Jews and Judaism. She noted how patriarchal Jews were; worked to learn the difference between death camps and concentrations camps; and remarked in 1957 that 'I am proud of being Jewish'—before adding, 'Of what?' Readers will also learn from Reborn a great deal about the world of gay, lesbian, and bisexual people and the transgendered in the late 1940s in the Bay Area . . . Sontag's keen observational power and brilliant writing takes us on a tour of gay San Francisco, providing descriptions of all sorts of gender bending as well as of the style and sexual practices of gay men and lesbians . . . What Reborn reveals are the sources of Sontag's transformation into a powerful writer and major celebrity. The connection she articulated in 1949 between lesbianism and passion was central to her long-gestating articulation of an aesthetics that includes sexuality and sensuous pleasure. Although she pursued a Ph.D. and taught at colleges and universities, she connected sensuality with a rejection of what she saw as the stuffy constrictions of academic life. Her passionate beliefs all but assured that she would pursue a career as a writer outside academe . . . [Sontag] has left us with a rich legacy—her books and essays and now, thankfully, this first installment of her journals and notebooks."—Daniel Horowitz, The Chronicle of Higher Education

About the Author

Susan Sontag immediately became a major figure of our culture with the publication in 1966 of the path-breaking collection of essays Against Interpretation. She went on to write four novels, a collection of stories, several plays, and seven works of nonfiction, among them On Photography (1977) and Illness as Metaphor (1978). Her many international honors included the Jerusalem Prize (2000) and the Friedenspreis (Peace Prize) of the German Book Trade (2003). She died in New York City on December 28, 2004.

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gdietz, January 27, 2009 (view all comments by gdietz)
I have to admit that I hadn't read any of Susan Sontag's writing before this collection. I think it was the voyeuristic aspect of reading someone's journal that interested me at first, but I stayed interested throughout this volume because of feeling the excitement of her insatiable intellectual curiosity. And the fact that the selected journals start when she was only 15 make it even more amazing. Of course, I now regret that I'll never get a chance to see her in person, but you get bet I will be reading her works.
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Product Details

ISBN:
9780374100742
Author:
Susan Sontag and David Reiff
Publisher:
Farrar Straus Giroux
Editor:
Rieff, David
Author:
Sontag, Susan
Author:
Rieff, David
Subject:
Literary
Subject:
Authors, American
Subject:
Women and literature
Subject:
Women
Subject:
Authors, American -- 20th century.
Subject:
Women and literature -- United States.
Subject:
Biography-Literary
Copyright:
Edition Description:
Trade Cloth
Publication Date:
20081231
Binding:
HARDCOVER
Grade Level:
General/trade
Language:
English
Pages:
336
Dimensions:
7.95 x 5.53 x 0.905 in

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Reborn: Journals and Notebooks, 1947-1963 Used Hardcover
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$9.95 In Stock
Product details 336 pages Farrar Straus Giroux - English 9780374100742 Reviews:
"Publishers Weekly Review" by , "The first of three planned volumes of Sontag's private journals, this book is extraordinary for all the reasons we would expect from Sontag's writing — extreme seriousness, stunning authority, intolerance toward mediocrity; Sontag's vulnerability throughout will also utterly surprise the late critic and novelist's fans and detractors. At 15, when these journals began, Sontag (1933 — 2004) already displayed her ferocious intellect and hunger for experience and culture, though what is most remarkable here is watching Sontag grow into one of the century's leading minds. In these carefully selected excerpts (many passages are only a few lines), Sontag details her developing thoughts, her voluminous reading and daily movie-going, her life as a teenage college student at Berkeley discovering her sexuality ('bisexuality as the expression of fullness of an individual'), and meeting and marrying her professor Philip Rieff, with whom, at the age of 18, she had David, her only child. Most powerful are the entries corresponding to her years in England and Europe, when, apart from Philip and their son, the marriage broke down and Sontag entered intense lesbian relationships that would compel her to rethink her notions of sex, love ('physical beauty is enormously, almost morbidly, important to me') and daughter- and motherhood, and all before the age of 30. Watching Sontag become herself is nothing short of cathartic. Two writers share their experiences — as a teacher and a journalist — in two New York City schools." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Review A Day" by , "Susan Sontag's presence, in essays, interviews, fiction, film, and theater, wove itself so firmly into our culture that when it vanished upon her death in late 2004, one became abruptly aware of the delicacy of the fabric. She was for many a focal point — someone whom readers and commentators enjoyed revering, dismissing, complaining about, being exasperated, or infuriated, or amused, or electrified by — and she was a focusing consciousness; her stature as a writer and the value of her work have been, and no doubt will continue to be, debated, but what is beyond dispute is that she suggested, monitored, and even, to an extent, determined what was to be under discussion." (read the entire New York Review of Books review)
"Review" by , "What ultimately matters about Sontag...is what she has defended: the life of the mind, and the necessity for reading and writing as 'a way of being fully human.'"
"Review" by , "[An] electrifying record of Sontag striving to become Sontag."
"Synopsis" by , This first of three volumes of Susan Sontag's journals and notebooks presents a constantly and utterly surprising record of a great mind in incubation. Reborn is a kaleidoscopic self-portrait of one of America's greatest writers and intellectuals.
"Synopsis" by ,

"In the journal I do not just express myself more openly than I could to any person; I create myself."

The first of three volumes of Susan Sontag's journals and notebooks, Reborn (1947-1963) reveals one of the most important thinkers and writers of the twentieth century, fully engaged in the act of self-invention. Beginning with a voracious and prodigious fourteen-year-old, Reborn ends as Sontag, age thirty, is finally living in New York as a published writer.

"Synopsis" by ,
"I intend to do everything...to have one way of evaluating experience—does it cause me pleasure or pain, and I shall be very cautious about rejecting the painful—I shall anticipate pleasure everywhere and find it too, for it is everywhere! I shall involve myself wholly...everything matters!"
 
So wrote Susan Sontag in May 1949 at the age of sixteen. This, the first of three volumes of her journals and notebooks, presents a constantly and utterly surprising record of a great mind in incubation. It begins with journal entries and early attempts at fiction from her years as a university and graduate student, and ends in 1964, when she was becoming a participant in and observer of the artistic and intellectual life of New York City.
 
Reborn is a kaleidoscopic self-portrait of one of Americas greatest writers and intellectuals, teeming with Sontags voracious curiosity and appetite for life. We watch the young Sontags complex self-awareness, share in her encounters with the writers who informed her thinking, and engage with the profound challenge of writing itself—all filtered through the inimitable detail of everyday circumstance.

Susan Sontag immediately became a major literary figure of our culture with the publication in 1966 of the pathbreaking collection of essays Against Interpretation. She went on to write four novels, a collection of stories, several plays, and seven subsequent works of nonfiction, among them On Photography (1977) and Illness as Metaphor (1978). Her many international honors included the Jerusalem Prize (2001) and the Friedenspreis, the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade (2003). She died in New York City on December 28, 2004.

The first of three volumes of Susan Sontag's journals and notebooks, this book presents a constantly surprising record of a great mind in incubation. It begins with journal entries and early attempts at fiction from her years as a university and graduate student, and ends in 1963, when she was becoming a participant in and observer of the artistic and intellectual life in New York City.
 
Reborn is a kaleidoscopic self-portrait of one of America's greatest writers and thinkers, teeming with Sontag's voracious curiosity and appetite for life. We watch the young Sontag's complex self-awareness, share in her encounters with the writers who informed her thinking, and engage with profound challenge of writing itself—all filtered through the inimitable detail of everyday circumstances.
"Sontag's Reborn: Journals and Notebooks, 1947-1963, edited by her son, David Rieff, is a fascinating document of her apprenticeship, charting her earnest quest for education, identity, and voice. The volume takes us from her last days at North Hollywood High School to the year that, now living in New York, she published her first novel, The Benefactor."—Darryl Pinckney, The New Yorker
"Sontag's Reborn: Journals and Notebooks, 1947-1963, edited by her son, David Rieff, is a fascinating document of her apprenticeship, charting her earnest quest for education, identity, and voice. The volume takes us from her last days at North Hollywood High School to the year that, now living in New York, she published her first novel, The Benefactor."—Darryl Pinckney, The New Yorker

"Susan Sontag's presence, in essays, interviews, fiction, film, and theater, wove itself so firmly into our culture that when it vanished upon her death in late 2004, one became abruptly aware of the delicacy of the fabric. She was for many a focal point—someone whom readers and commentators enjoyed revering, dismissing, complaining about, being exasperated, or infuriated, or amused, or electrified by—and she was a focusing consciousness; her stature a writer and the value of her work have been, and no doubt will continue to be, debated, but what is beyond dispute is that she suggested, monitored, and even, to an extent, determined what was to be under discussion. She seemed to be at least twice as alive as most of us—to know everything, to do everything, to be inexhaustibly engaged. Her arresting appearance was familiar even to many nonreaders from the photographs that recorded it over several decades and registered the glamour and magnetism—the sheer size—of her personality, and her celebrity was all the more potent and irreversible because the place she occupied was so far outside the usual radius of the spotlight. And also because it was a general combustion of her style, her brain, her concerns, and her looks—rather than any particular attribute or accomplishment—that gave off all that dazzle. Sontag's own apparent conviction, sustained until several weeks before she died, was that the laws of mortality would be, if not canceled, at least suspended in her case. And rather than resolving her evident ambivalence about exposing her private writings, she allowed death to bequeath the ambivalence to her son, David Rieff. This we adduce from Rieff's decorous and deeply moving introduction to Reborn: Journals and Notebooks, 1947-1963, the earliest and first to be published of three volumes, which begins when its author was just shy of fifteen . . . The diaries contain (among plenty of other sorts of things) passages that concern's Sontag's—largely anguished—love affairs with several women, her abrupt and painful seven-year marriage to the scholar and cultural critic Philip Rieff, and, inevitably, their son. The experience of reading the diaries, even for a disinterested party, is intense as well as anxiously voyeuristic; small wonder that the tone of Rieff's introduction is sometimes that of someone who has been on hand to witness a terrain-altering meteorological event. But from the earliest, less intimate entries, we feel that we've broken the lock on the little book . . . Over the sixteen years this volume of her journals covers, Sontag grows up. Along the way she enters (at scarcely sixteen) the University of California at Berkeley and the following year transfers with a scholarship to the University of Chicago where she meets and marries Philip Rieff . . . Among the entries are also lists of books to be read and words to be learned contemplated, lists of things to be done and things not to be done, mentions of areas of history to become acquainted with, the odd aperçum general reflections, and whole meadows of quotations. We see rudiments of ideas which years later expand into essays, and we see aspects of the author—and the author's view of herself—that there certainly would be no other way to see. Though descriptions of the outside world do turn up, Sontag's forceful attention is largely reflexive . . . We have been dared to read. Sontag did not destroy her journals nor did she restrict them."—Deborah Eisenberg, The New York Review of Books

"I first read Susan Sontags 'Notes on "Camp"' in college. I proceeded slowly and with minimal comprehension, took careful notes and imagined the owner of that stern, abstruse voice living in a faraway land of brilliance, black sweaters and espresso. In New York, or Paris somewhere, smoking with Roland Barthes, Michelangelo Antonioni and Jackson Pollock. Sontag was not real. Not until the morning about four years later when one of my coworkers at PEN American Center was instructed to 'call Susan' to ask her something or another, and upon placing the call was soundly lambasted by Ms. Sontag herself. Everyone with half a brain cell knew, apparently, not to call a writer before two in the afternoon. For the next ten years, I had what seemed like regular encounters with the enigma. I witnessed the tussles between PEN and an unauthorized biographer over access to her PEN files; pored over a box of endearingly neurotic correspondence in the archives of her publisher Farrar Straus and Giroux at the New York Public Library; spotted her and Annie Leibovitz at a Strindberg play at BAM, soon after a bout with breast cancer. By the time Sontag died in 2004, she had become human. But not entirely comprehensible, and never simple. She might in fact be one of the most elliptical writers to have crossed over into mainstream American cultural criticism. Her essays are dense hedges of precisely constructed ideas, cloaked in rhetorical assault and accessorized by brilliantly aphoristic quotes. Remarkably, Sontags notebooks, out this month in a first volume, Reborn, covering the years 1947–1963, arent all that different from her other published work—at least in temperament. 'Ideas disturb the levelness of life' is the leadoff entry to her 15th year. 'Life lives on,' she writes, quoting herself quoting Lucretius at 16, 'it is the lives, the lives, the lives that die.' Ten years later, a crib note on the philosophy of Max Scheler is followed by the pronouncement: 'In marriage, every desire becomes a decision.' Sontag expressed herself in crystals, even when dredging the murk of adolescence, sexuality, ambition, divorce, motherhood and love . . . The journals are stocked with lists of books to read (Scholem! Gide! Flaubert!), movies seen (so many) and philosophical précis. Despite the fact that a book list from an 18-year-old Susan Sontag is a literary log of the highest level, these sections are essentially little intrusions to the latticework biography emerging from the candor of a woman who lived in a huge, lustful, deep way, yet always also in her mind."—Minna Proctor, Time Out New York

"In September 2006, two years after Susan Sontags death at 71 from blood cancer, The New York Times Magazine published excerpts from her notebooks: unfettered jottings on books, dates, people—but mostly her sense of self—by the writer and public intellectual with the iconic white hair streak. The rippling thrill that this unearthed material had on a certain pop culture-addicted, humanities-majoring, I-will-read-Hegel-someday demographic was as great as if one verifiable fact about TomKat or Brangelina had been unveiled—maybe even greater. The link sailed through the Monday-morning e-mail channels: Did you see? Did you read? What did you think? We wanted more. The more, at least the beginning of the more, is here. Reborn: Journals & Notebooks, 1947–1963 is, as Sontags son, the foreign affairs journalist David Rieff, explains in his preface, the first of three volumes to be culled from her walk-in closet's notebook stash. (No wonder she never mentions clothes—where would she have put them?) Rieffs rage at feeling forced to publish these highly personal documents, because his mother sold her papers to UCLA without instructions, simmers beneath the surface of his comments. But why bother worrying whether it was right to bring these to light? The fruits of Rieffs editing labors are a gift, a page-turning joy—it couldn't have been easy for him to stumble on passages such as 'P. [Philip Rieff, his father] and I used to talk often about using double contraception + starting to have sex again.' The first installment reads like the best books should: Theres a compelling plot—we watch aghast as, at 16 and on the verge of a lesbian awakening, Sontag falls without explanation into a stifling marriage to Rieff, a sociologist whose class she audited; then we tremble as she wrestles herself out, damaged child and husband be damned, and discovers orgasms. Is she a bit of a coldhearted bitch? Yes, but arent we all when its a matter of survival? Shes also funny. Her compulsive literature and cinema lists are a highbrow High Fidelity, and her arch self-awareness will make you laugh aloud. “How easy it would be to convince myself of the plausibility of my parents life!” she writes in 1948—an absurdly precocious 15-year-old en route to UC Berkeley, but a teenager nonetheless. Or this, on a trip after a breakup: 'Stunned + sleepy ever since Im here . . . The "real me," the lifeless one . . . The slug. The one that sleeps and when awake is continually hungry. The one that doesnt like to bathe or swim and cant dance. The one that goes to the movies. That one that bites her nails. Call her Sue.' Even for those who never quite got to her seminal works—'Notes on "Camp,"' say, or On Photography—or her discordant, unexpectedly memorable fiction (The Volcano Lover), Sontag holds a particular fascination in this age of self-branding. She invented the ultimate freelancers role, a one-woman business in the culture industry, never stooping to suck up to a corporation or institution. These notebooks might lead detractors to accuse Sontag, yet again, of an unseemly will to power, a fixation on fashioning her persona; theyd do better to take her musings at face value. Anyone struggling with how to live without compromise or shame, how to produce art, to raise a child, to have good sex, will find validation in Sontags brilliantly articulated but recognizable impasses. 'Work = being in the world,' Sontag writes, in a typical construction whose far-reaching implications belie its economy. Few worked at it harder, and how lucky for us to have a blueprint from a heroine who got it so right."—Miranda Purves, Elle

"The publication this month of the first volume of Susan Sontag's Reborn: Journals and Notebooks, 1947-1963, edited by her son, David Rieff, is a significant event in the literary world. The book gives us more fully than ever the mind and sensibility of one of the 20th century's finest writers at work during her formative years. It provides compelling insights into the world (and underworlds) that she successively inhabited: Berkeley, Calif., in 1949; Chicago from 1949 to 1951; Cambridge, Mass., in the mid-1950s; Paris in 1958; and Manhattan as of 1959. The New York Times published brief selections from Sontag's journals two years ago, bringing to the public some of what is in the extensive collection of her unpublished writings, now open at the Charles E. Young Research Library at the University of California at Los Angeles. But the new book opens up a much wider range of issues than appeared in the Times selections: Sontag's sexuality; the world of gay, lesbian, transgendered, and transsexual people (although she does not use all those words) from the late 1940s into the early 1960s; the nature of her life with Philip Rieff during their troubled marriage, which began in 1950 and ended in 1958; her interest in Jewish history and religion (more apparent in the journals than in her writings for much of her career); her relationship to her mother and to her son; her ambitions and self-fashioning; and, above all, the origins and development of her movement from modernism to something akin to postmodernism . . . With its frank discussion of Sontag's sexual experiences and knowledge, Reborn will therefore fascinate many readers (although one hopes they will also see the connections between her most intimate experiences and her writings) . . . The journal entries offer compelling evidence of what Sontag was thinking and experiencing. David Rieff reflects that it is impossible to imagine his mother returning 'to her social and ethnic context for inspiration, as many Jewish-American writers of her generation would do.' Yet Reborn does make clear how often she pondered questions about Jews and Judaism. She noted how patriarchal Jews were; worked to learn the difference between death camps and concentrations camps; and remarked in 1957 that 'I am proud of being Jewish'—before adding, 'Of what?' Readers will also learn from Reborn a great deal about the world of gay, lesbian, and bisexual people and the transgendered in the late 1940s in the Bay Area . . . Sontag's keen observational power and brilliant writing takes us on a tour of gay San Francisco, providing descriptions of all sorts of gender bending as well as of the style and sexual practices of gay men and lesbians . . . What Reborn reveals are the sources of Sontag's transformation into a powerful writer and major celebrity. The connection she articulated in 1949 between lesbianism and passion was central to her long-gestating articulation of an aesthetics that includes sexuality and sensuous pleasure. Although she pursued a Ph.D. and taught at colleges and universities, she connected sensuality with a rejection of what she saw as the stuffy constrictions of academic life. Her passionate beliefs all but assured that she would pursue a career as a writer outside academe . . . [Sontag] has left us with a rich legacy—her books and essays and now, thankfully, this first installment of her journals and notebooks."—Daniel Horowitz, The Chronicle of Higher Education

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