More Volcano Loving (And other Notes on Yesterday)

January 18, 2010

Philip Lopate‘s Notes on Sontag is one of the best works I’ve read on a literary figure. Short though muscular in its contentions, Lopate introduces us to Susan Sontag: critic/novelist/bette noir and, above all, a woman trying not to be defined as any of these things. There’s a deep ambivalence toward Sontag here, a clear belief that she was important and her work powerful, coupled with the nagging suspicion that her work might not really matter much any more; an artifact from a pre-post-modern world (Yes, I’m going to stand by that odd circumlocution).

At her best, she spoke to the 1960s, created a new language for her era. Though even here Lopate’s praise is undramatic:

“She was consistently able to diagnose the moment and prophesize the immediate future–which goes some way toward explaining her relevance as a public intellectual.” (26)

At her worst, she was blinded by ideology. Or a novelist; in the words of that great critic, Crash Davis:

Well, I believe in the soul, the cock, the pussy, the small of a woman’s back, the hanging curve ball, high fiber, good scotch, that the novels of Susan Sontag are self-indulgent, overrated crap. I believe Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone. I believe there ought to be a constitutional amendment outlawing Astroturf and the designated hitter. I believe in the sweet spot, soft-core pornography, opening your presents Christmas morning rather than Christmas Eve and I believe in long, slow, deep, soft, wet kisses that last three days.

(That JFK argues for an alternate Kennedy scenario is here meaningless. It’s not as if there’s some Tommy Westphall Hypothesis for Kevin Costner movies)

Lopate, too, minimizes Sontag’s fiction career. If anything, he implicitly argues, her success with The Volcano Lover and In America reveals a problematic distancing from her critical writing championing the avant garde. Her only successes are in the realist tradition she so maligned (and that Lopate champions).

As he himself has admitted, Notes on Sontag is more a defense of the essay as form than a defense of Sontag (though there’s plenty of that too). It’s a tremendous work, an excellent start to Princeton University Press’ new Writers on Writers series.   This part of the post is completely different.

Steve Hely, whose book we mentioned favorably the other day, has the clear tweet of the day–if not century!

“Some of our finest prose artists work in the genre ‘reviews of awards shows.'”

So, at the risk of being an also ran to this emerging genre, here’s our summary of how last night’s Globes impacted things:

1. The Hangover moves into the top-10. I agree with Awards Daily. Statistically, the Golden Globe winner for best comedy or musical goes on to be nominated for Best Picture 50% of the time. Adding that data moves the Hangover into 10th place in our rankings.

2. Nine and (500) Days of Summer. Solidly on the outside looking in.

As it stands now, with almost all our data in, the nominees look increasingly like:

1. The Hurt Locker

2. Up in the Air

3. Avatar

4. Precious

5. Inglourious Basterds

6. A Serious Man

7. Invictus

8. An Education

9. Up

10. The Hangover

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One Response to “More Volcano Loving (And other Notes on Yesterday)”


  1. […] readers know that one of our regular features is best picture predictions. This year we went 8/10, guessing that “Invictus” would be the apartheid movie nominated (it wasn’t; […]


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