Monday, August 24, 2009

A Moment with Susan Sontag

What I write is other than me. As what I write is smarter than I am. Because I can rewrite it. My books know what I once knew––fitfully, intermittently. And getting the best word on the page does not seem any easier, even after so many years of writing. On the contrary.

Here is the great difference between reading and writing. Reading is a vocation, a skill at which, with practice, you are bound to become more expert. What you accumulate as a writer is mostly uncertainties and anxieties.

All these feelings of inadequacy on the part of the writer––this writer, anyway––are predicated on the conviction that literature matters. “Matters” is surely too pale a word. That there are books which are necessary, that is, books which, while reading them, you know you’ll reread. Maybe more than once. Is there a greater privilege than to have a consciousness expanded by, filled with, pointed to literature?

Book of wisdom, exemplar of mental playfulness, dilator of sympathies, faithful recorder of a real world (not just the commotion inside one head), servant of history, advocate of contrary and defiant emotions––a novel that feels necessary can be, should be, most of these things.

As to whether there will continue to be readers who share this high notion of fiction, well, “There’s no future to that question,” as Duke Ellington replied when asked why he was to be found playing morning programs at the Apollo. Best just to keep rowing along.

-Susan Sontag, from “Writing as Reading,” Collected in Where the Stress Falls: Essays (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2001).


I am at 243 pages. More later.


Blogger Robert said...

I love Susan Sontag.

12:53 PM  
Blogger Jehanne Dubrow said...

Greg. I know this has nothing to do with Sontag, but I just wanted to say that I was doing a Google search of Hoagland's "Lawrence" poem and came across your "Women In Love" instead, which I just adored. I'm late to the party, as usual, but I had to tell you how much I loved your poem. So smart and literate and also full of heart.

10:40 PM  
Blogger Matthew Thorburn said...

Thanks for sharing these encouraging words!

9:22 AM  
Blogger Keith Wilson said...

It is true. The more I write, the more anxious I get. Writing, it seems, is a form of flagellation.

6:08 PM  
Blogger greg rappleye said...


Thank you. I read that poem (for the first time) at a reading last spring. It went over better than I thought it might.

Maybe I'll try it again.

6:02 AM  
Blogger Pam Hart said...

Her newly published volume of journals is on my reading list.

8:58 AM  

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