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Remembering Susan Sontag

Photo By: Jill Krementz, 1974 from New York Magazine 2005

At the end of December it will be six years since Susan Sontag died.  Susan Sontag has been one of my heroes ever since I read Against Interpretation when I was 16.  I never met her, or heard her speak, but my father not long ago told me a wonderful story of meeting her in the mid-1960’s in NYC.

In 1965 or mid-1966, my father came to NYC and stayed with some friends. My dad was in his mid 30’s, teaching and writing (novels, stories, plays) in India. Through a rather random set of connections, he ended up in NY invited by a former writer at the New Yorker to a party. He went alone and said it was quite a highbrow affair, he said Stephen Spender was there among other writers and editors. And as he sat on the couch, Susan Sontag sat down next to him. He knew who she was because “her book had just come out.” She was very friendly and “She was with a woman, who was Cuban and clearly her lover,” said my father, Sontag talked to him about writing and having kids kids and was very friendly. Late at night, after much drinking and smoking of cigs, she suddenly asked “who wants to go to a wedding” and asked my dad if he wanted to come along. He said “I was nicely lit” so he said why not.

Sontag, her girlfriend, my dad and some others piled into her car and drove to an apartment somewhere on Riverside drive. Sure enough, my dad said, there was a wedding party underway — a bride, a groom, a cake, champagne and people dressed up and dancing. They all kissed the bride, ate cake, talked and drank some more. Everyone was very friendly and he had a great time.

At some point he decided it was time to go back to the friend’s house where he was saying, and Susan Sontag and her girlfriend very nicely took him downstairs to hail him a cab. As he got into the cab, at 3 in the morning, she leaned in to the window and said to my father – “Krishna, I have to tell you something, that was a gay wedding you were just at!”  And with that she closed the door, leaving my father astonished and dumbstruck. He says he blathered to the cab driver, that he had just learned he was at a “gay wedding party” and that he had even kissed the bride, and that he had no idea. The cabbie was an unfazed tough New Yorker and he eyed my dad in the rear view mirror, shook his head side to side and said — “Yup, only in New York.”

My father told me and Kate this story just a couple of years ago, as we were walking around the Upper West Side. It made me marvel at the image of a young, laughing Susan Sontag playing a little gay joke on my young father in the mid 1960’s.

I’ve been re-reading Sontag, and falling in love with her writing all over again.  So I looked for videos of her and found the below three segments on You Tube — all from an interview with her from a magazine conducted in Barcelona in 2003. The questions are written out in Spanish and her responses are in English.

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Sontag on Writing.

Sontag on what she read as a young person and reads now (in 2003).

Sontag reads TS Eliot. She says “He was really important to me. That pessimism. That heroism and That dark sense of life.”

DISCUSSION:3 Comments

  1. jomal says:

    this was so very timely for me to read and hear, particularly re Sontag’s view about the sadistic pleasure of the sufferings of others. it’s so hard to understand hatred. this helped to a closer understanding. thanks for this posting.

  2. tanyadomi says:

    I was in Paris in September 2007 and made a special visit to her grave in the famous Montparnasse Cemetery. She is missed terribly.

  3. elizabeth f schwartz says:

    as a sontag fan and a gal with a cuban lover of my own, i couldn’t resist looking into who this woman might have been and it looks to have been the fabulous maria irene fornes:
    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/01/books/review/Sante-t.html?ref=mariairenefornes

    what can i say? such a nosy nelly… anyway, thanks for sharing the tale and for all of your amazing work!

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