April 25, 2011

NOTHING SO BECOMES AMERICA AS ITS CONTEMPT FOR INTELLECTUALS:

A Very Public Intellectual (JOSEPH EPSTEIN, 4/02/11, WSJ)

The problem is that Sontag wasn't sufficiently interested in real-life details, the lifeblood of fiction, but only in ideas. She also wrote and directed films, which were not well-reviewed: I have not seen these myself, but there is time enough to do so, for I have long assumed that they are playing as a permanent double feature in the only movie theater in hell.

"Intelligence," Sontag wrote, "is really a kind of taste: taste in ideas." In her thrall to ideas she resembles the pure type of the intellectual. The difficulty, though, was in the quality of so many of her ideas, most of which cannot be too soon forgot. Her worst offenses in this line were in politics, where her specialty was extravagant utterance.

During the Vietnam War, Sontag went off to Hanoi as one of those people Lenin called "useful idiots"—that is, people who could be expected to defend Communism without any interest in investigating the brutality behind it. There she found the North Vietnamese people noble and gentle, if a touch boring and puritanical for her tastes. Doubtless that trip led to her most famous foolish remark, when she said that "the white race is the cancer of human history," later revising this judgment by noting that it was a slander on cancer. Hers was the standard leftist view on Israel, which was—natch—that it is a racist and imperialist country. All her political views were left-wing commonplace, noteworthy only because of her extreme statement of them.

Some might think Sontag's renunciation of communism an exception to this record of nearly perfect political foolishness. In a 1982 speech at New York's Town Hall, she announced that communism was no more than "fascism with a human face." The remark drove bien-pensants up the (still standing Berlin) wall. Others who had fallen for the dream of communism had got off the train as long as 50 years earlier. And whatever can Sontag have meant by "a human face" to describe a monstrous system of government that in Russia, Eastern Europe, China and Cambodia slaughtered scores of millions of people?

Rounding her political career off nicely, when the Twin Towers were destroyed and nearly 3,000 people murdered, Sontag, in the New Yorker, wrote that the attack was "on the world's self-proclaimed superpower, undertaken as a consequence of specific American alliances and actions"—and so America, in other words, had it coming. "Some ideas are so stupid," Orwell said, "that only an intellectual could believe them," and Susan Sontag seems, at one time or another, to have believed them all.

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Posted by at April 25, 2011 6:11 AM
  

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