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The Essential Ellen Willis$
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Ellen Willis and Nona Willis Aronowitz

Print publication date: 2014

Print ISBN-13: 9780816681204

Published to Minnesota Scholarship Online: August 2015

DOI: 10.5749/minnesota/9780816681204.001.0001

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Three Elegies for Susan Sontag

Three Elegies for Susan Sontag

(p.464) Three Elegies for Susan Sontag
The Essential Ellen Willis

Nona Willis Aronowitz

University of Minnesota Press

This chapter examines Susan Sontag’s views about art, politics, and death. In the title chapter of her first collection, Against Interpretation, Sontag combined a formidable erudition about the avant-garde with a manifesto-like plea that critics end their one-sided emphasis on teasing out the meaning of art and embrace their pleasure in it. For Sontag, the arch-interpreters of the modernist canon, Karl Marx and Sigmund Freud, had outlived their usefulness. She also believed that intellectuals should, or must, take political stands, arguing that politics was an arena for practicing the high moral style. Finally, she contends that “illness is not a metaphor...the most truthful way of regarding illness—and the healthiest way of being ill—is one most purified of, most resistant to, metaphoric thinking.” Disease, as Sontag conceived of it, was a brute, dumb fact.

Keywords:   art, Susan Sontag, politics, death, avant-garde, Karl Marx, Sigmund Freud, intellectuals, illness, metaphor

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