The research for this assignment started with the examples presented to us in the classroom. One particular technique caught my eye that of the work of the video artist who goes under the name of ‘Cassette Boy’.
This anonymous artist had taken the speeches of David Cameron and edited them together so that using Cameron’s own words the speeches were transformed into one speech that Cameron would never deliver, a speech that criticises his own policies and ‘achievements’. Cassette boy had done to Cameron in video what Peter Kennard did to Tony Blair in the now famous selfie montage picture where Blair is standing in front of the burning oilfields of Iraq and smiling.
Both art forms whilst different in their approach question clearly the part played by politicians who are quick to ‘jump on the bandwagon’ when something goes well, but fail to adequately take responsibility when what they orchestrate in the name of the people goes horribly wrong.
Both artists clearly demonstrate a keen understanding of the underlying consciousness of their viewing public, in that they illustrate in their art the words and feelings of many people, much to the annoyance of the politicians who become their victims.
In my appropriation video starring Susan Sontag, the art critic and social commentator, I have attempted to re organise her interviews to reflect the negative response many people have to her writings. Her use of the English language in many of her books immediately detaches her from the general public in that many of the words she has chosen to use are not in everyday use. Whilst grammatically correct, using words unknown to many readers have the effect of just alienating many people.
Having listened to her in interviews and read extracts from a few of her books I have no doubt this woman was gifted with a keen observational eye. Had she been a photographer or artist her work could have been revered by a greater number of people. Unfortunately she was a woman of her time, a time before the ‘campaign for plain English’ brought smiles to the faces of those who were not born into a world of words that perhaps belong to a past age and marked the separation between the ‘educated’ and most of society. Her books and writings therefore typecast her.
In truly reflecting the personality of Sontag in my re edit of her interviews I tried to get to know her. In her book “Against Interpretation” (Vintage 1994) she begins the book by apologising for comments made by her in previous books and even indicates at one point that her point of view has changed and she no longer believe what she originally said. A brave writer indeed.
My overall feeling of her is that she lovingly creates a contrived sound bite to press her opinion, almost patting herself on the back at her cleverness, but failing occasionally to truly understand what exactly she has just commented on. ‘On Photography’ her book on the camera and its impact on society, is full of contradictions where in one chapter she is ‘for’ a point of view only to offer an opposite view in the next few paragraphs with equal argument. As a student of Photography reading her work I have concluded she is frustratingly obtuse. I am not alone in this opinion as the internet has several examples of Sontag being made fun of or ridiculed.
Only in the years that follow does she allow herself a degree of critical reflection but rarely does she admit she was wrong.
The timeline of her publications does indicate a slow move away from critical observations towards fiction as she, as a writer, grew over the years. Whether this was a developmental strategy or she just became tired of justifying her words one will never know as the last few years of her life she became more heavily involved with voluntary work in particular in war torn Sarajevo.
In summary therefore the elements of this research I want to try and include are, the difference between her spoken language and her written language, her aloofness and her sometimes controversial opinions (among others).
Works of Susan Sontag
(1963) The Benefactor ISBN 0-385-26710-X
(1967) Death Kit ISBN 0-312-42011-0
(1977) I, etcetera (Collection of short stories) ISBN 0-374-17402-4
(1991) The Way We Live Now (short story) ISBN 0-374-52305-3
(1992) The Volcano Lover ISBN 1-55800-818-7
(1999) In America ISBN 1-56895-898-6 – winner of the 2000 U.S. National Book Award for Fiction
The Way We Live Now (1990) about the AIDS epidemic
A Parsifal (1991), a deconstruction inspired by Robert Wilson’s 1991 staging of the Wagner opera
Alice in Bed (1993), about 19th century intellectual, Alice James, who was confined to bed by illness
Lady from the Sea, an adaptation of Henrik Ibsen’s 1888 play of the same name, premiered in 1998 in Italy Sontag wrote an essay about it in 1999 in Theatre called “Rewriting Lady from the Sea”.
Collections of essays
(1966) Against Interpretation ISBN 0-385-26708-8 (includes Notes on “Camp”)
(1969) Styles of Radical Will ISBN 0-312-42021-8
(1980) Under the Sign of Saturn ISBN 0-374-28076-2
(2001) Where the Stress Falls ISBN 0-374-28917-4
(2002) Regarding the Pain of Others ISBN 0-374-24858-3
(2007) At the Same Time: Essays & Speeches ISBN 0-374-10072-1 (edited by Paolo Dilonardo and Anne Jump, with a foreword by David Rieff
- Sontag also published nonfiction essays in The New Yorker, The New York Review of Books, Times Literary Supplement, The Nation, Granta, Partisan Review and the London Review of Books.Monographs
(1977) On Photography ISBN 0-374-22626-1
(1978) Illness as Metaphor ISBN 0-394-72844-0
(1988) AIDS and Its Metaphors (a continuation of Illness as Metaphor) ISBN 0-374-10257-0
(2003) Regarding the Pain of Others ISBN 0-374-24858-3
(1969) Duett för kannibaler (Duet for Cannibals)
(1971) Broder Carl (Brother Carl)
(1974) Promised Lands
(1983) Unguided Tour AKA Letter from Venice
(2002) Liner notes for the Patti Smith album Land
(2004) Contribution of phrases to Fischerspooner’s third album Odyssey
(2008) Reborn: Journals and Notebooks 1947–1963
(2012) As Consciousness Is Harnessed to Flesh: Journals and Notebooks, 1964–1980
- Awards and honors
1978: National Book Critics Circle Award for On Photography
1990: MacArthur Fellowship
1992: Malaparte Prize, Italy
1999: Commandeur de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, France
2000: National Book Award for In America
2001: Jerusalem Prize, awarded every two years to a writer whose work explores the freedom of the individual in society.
2002: George Polk Award, for Cultural Criticism for “Looking at War,” in The New Yorker
2003: Peace Prize of the German Book Trade (Friedenspreis des deutschen Buchhandels) during the Frankfurt Book Fair (Frankfurter Buchmesse).
2003: Prince of Asturias Award on Literature.
2004: Two days after her death, Muhidin Hamamdzic, the mayor of Sarajevo announced the city would name a street after her, calling her an “author and a humanist who actively participated in the creation of the history of Sarajevo and Bosnia.” Theatre Square outside the National Theatre was promptly proposed to be renamed Susan Sontag Theatre Square. It took 5 years, however, for that tribute to become official.
- On January 13, 2010, the city of Sarajevo posted a plate with a new street name for Theater Square: Theater Square of Susan Sontag.