Susan Sontag


American Author, Essayist, Literary Theorist and Political Activist

Author Quotes

Every violence in war has been justified as a retaliation. We are threatened. We are defending ourselves. The others, they want to kill us. We must stop them.

There would no longer be one huge generation gap (war), between the young and the not young ? but 5 or 6 generation gaps, each much less severe.

Fear binds people together. And fear disperses them. Courage inspires communities: the courage of an example ? for courage is as contagious as fear. But courage, certain kinds of courage, can also isolate the brave.

This simple change in the age specificity of schooling would a) reduce adolescent discontent, anomie, boredom, neurosis; b) radically modify the almost inevitable process by which people at 50 are psychologically and intellectually ossified ? have become increasingly conservative, politically ? and retrograde in their tastes (Neil Simon plays, etc.)

I?m only interested in people engaged in a project of self-transformation.

Thoreau?s going to prison in 1846 for refusing to pay the poll tax in protest against the American war on Mexico hardly stopped the war. But the resonance of that most unpunishing and briefest spell of imprisonment (famously, a single night in jail) has not ceased to inspire principled resistance to injustice through the second half of the twentieth century and into our new era. The movement in the late 1980s to shut down the Nevada Test Site, a key location for the nuclear arms race, failed in its goal; the operations of the test site were unaffected by the protests. But it led directly to the formation of a movement of protesters in faraway Alma Ata, who eventually succeeded in shutting down the main Soviet test site in Kazakhstan, citing the Nevada antinuclear activists as their inspiration and expressing solidarity with the Native Americans on whose land the Nevada Test Site had been located.

It simply declares: enough. Or: there is a limit.˜Yesh gvul. It provides a model of resistance. Of disobedience. For which there will always be penalties. Our ?United We Stand? or ?Winner Takes All? ethos: the United States is a country that has made patriotism equivalent to consensus.

To write aphorisms is to assume a mask ? a mask of scorn, of superiority. Which, in one great tradition, conceals (shapes) the aphorist?s secret pursuit of spiritual salvation. The paradoxes of salvation. We know at the end, when the aphorist?s amoral, light point-of-view self-destructs.

A wounded and fearful country, Israel, is going through the greatest crisis of its turbulent history, brought about by the policy of steadily increasing and reinforcing settlements on the territories won after its victory in the Arab-Israeli war of 1967. The decision of successive Israeli governments to retain control over the West Bank and Gaza, thereby denying their Palestinian neighbors a state of their own, is a catastrophe ? moral, human, and political ? for both peoples. The Palestinians need a sovereign state. Israel needs a sovereign Palestinian state. Those of us abroad who wish for Israel to survive cannot, should not, wish it to survive no matter what, no matter how. We owe a particular debt of gratitude to courageous Israeli Jewish witnesses, journalists, architects, poets, novelists, professors ? among others ? who have described and documented and protested and militated against the sufferings of the Palestinians living under the increasingly cruel terms of Israeli military subjugation and settler annexation.

Let?s not underestimate the force of what we are opposing. The world is, for almost everyone, that over which we have virtually no control. Common sense and the sense of self-protectiveness tell us to accommodate to what we cannot change. It?s not hard to see how some of us might be persuaded of the justice, the necessity of a war. Especially of a war that is formulated as small, limited military actions that will actually contribute to peace or improve security; of an aggression that announces itself as a campaign of disarmament ? admittedly, disarmament of the enemy; and, regrettably, requiring the application of overpowering force. An invasion that calls itself, officially, a liberation.

What I have to get over: the idea that the value of love rises as the self dwindles.

After all, since most people from now on are going to live to be 70, 75, 80, why should all their schooling be bunched together in the first 1/3 or 1/4 of their lives ? so that it?s downhill all the way. Early schooling ? age 6-12 ? would be intensive language skills, basic science, civics, the arts. Back to school at 16: liberal arts for two years. Age 18-21: job training through apprenticeship, not schooling

Mad people equal people who stand alone and burn. I?m attracted to them because they give me permission to do the same.

Why not eliminate schooling between ages 12-16? It?s biologically and psychologically too turbulent a time to be cooped up inside, made to sit all the time. During these years, kids would live communally ? doing some work, anyway being physically active, in the countryside; learning about sex ? free of their parents. Those four ?missing? years of school could be added on, at a much later age. At, say, age 50-54 everyone would have to go back to school. (One could get a deferment for a few years, in special cases, if one was in a special work or creative project that couldn?t be broken off.) In this 50-54 schooling, have strong pressure to learn a new job or profession ? plus liberal arts stuff, general science (ecology, biology), and language skills.

All great art contains at its center contemplation, a dynamic contemplation.

Never mind the disparity of forces, of wealth, of firepower ? or simply of population. How many Americans know that the population of Iraq is 24 million, half of whom are children? (The population of the United States, as you will remember, is 290 million.) Not to support those who are coming under fire from the enemy seems like treason.

Aphorism is aristocratic thinking: this is all the aristocrat is willing to tell you; he thinks you should get it fast, without spelling out all the details. Aphoristic thinking constructs thinking as an obstacle race: the reader is expected to get it fast, and move on. An aphorism is not an argument; it is too well-bred for that.

Nothing is mysterious, no human relation. Except love.

Aphorisms are rogue ideas.

One wonders why. Can it be that the literature of aphorisms teaches us the sameness of wisdom (as anthropology teaches us the diversity of culture)? The wisdom of pessimism. Or should we rather conclude that the form of the aphorism, of abbreviated or condensed or rogue thought, is a historically-colored voice which, when adopted, inevitably suggests certain attitudes; is the vehicle of a common thematics?

Aphoristic thinking is impatient thinking: by its very brevity or concentratedness, it presupposes a superior standard ?

The cry of the anti-principled: ?I?m doing the best I can.? The best given the circumstances, of course.

Art is the production of mental events in / as a concrete sensuous form

The force of arms has its own logic. If you commit an aggression and others resist, it is easy to convince the home front that the fighting must continue. Once the troops are there, they must be supported. It becomes irrelevant to question why the troops are there in the first place.

At the center of our moral life and our moral imagination are the great models of resistance: the great stories of those who have said no. No, I will not serve.

Author Picture
First Name
Last Name
Birth Date
Death Date

American Author, Essayist, Literary Theorist and Political Activist