2005 City of Women festival is dedicated to SUSAN SONTAG


SUSAN SONTAG (1933 – 2004)

"I have every right to be personal, because I loved her as much as she loved me, with a friend’s love that a lot of people nowadays haven’t got the clue about, but she knew everything. I’m in terrible pain and it hurts so much having to face the fact that Susan is really gone. I lost my dear friend, David lost his mother, and the whole world lost Susan Sontag. She’s gone for good, together with the century that she signed; the lady of the Great Spirit, mind and heart." (Nermina Kurspahić)

“It’s so beautiful here, this village of yours reminds me of the Swiss landscape. The next time I’ll come in June again,” were Susan Sontag’s words while we were sitting and talking in the garden of my home on the outskirts of Sarajevo. “The weather is fine, and somehow everything seems better than it actually is...” And then the message from New York, saying “I can’t make it in June, I’ll come in September, I promise...” This happened last year. And then “Susan sends you all her love, and she’s very sorry about your father... He was a good person; she’ll always remember him for that... She’s in hospital in New York now, and she doesn’t want any visits nor flowers...”

“Even when illness is not interpreted as a punishment it turns out to be one, retroactively, because it ends up in the breakdown of the moral values and the customs,” wrote Susan Sontag. The death may have been her punishment, but the rest definitely not... Her moral values never broke nor did her spirit ever waver, but her body did. She was fighting against her illnesses for 40 years. Her fight for the better world was even longer and harder. Unfortunately she lost both battles. She fought her own personal war against every known rules and medical prognosis. “Cancer is a disease which leads to the resignation, the decline of bioenergy and ultimately to the loss of any hope,” wrote Susan in her book entitled Illness as a Metaphor. None of this was true for her. In her own words she was a genuine ‘fanatic of austerity, in the sense of taking everything seriously’, she was an intellectual, thinker, fighter for human rights, and her own life contrary to every medical prognosis.

She was a great writer and a critic. Susan was the founder of the American post-modernism, an avant-garde artist, the follower of her own consistency, and ‘the dark lady of the American intellectual life, the aesthete who designed its cultural horizon...’. Even those who didn’t really like her (Who are they?) gave her credit for that. She made great many right and courageous decisions and judgements – from Vietnam, Bosnia to the contemporary America. She said and wrote that it is the balance between the aesthetics (intellectual, discursive) and ethics that determines her as a human being. And the truth is that everything she wrote, said, worked is absolutely coherent with this claim. Unlike some other philosophers, thinkers or intellectuals, Susan Sontag never operated within a single exclusive system of values, she did not utilise her ideas to build up ideologies nor – by demonstrating her ethics as well as the sense for justice and moral standards – did she ever moralise.

On the contrary, she carried all her ideas, her knowledge, and the education around like a ‘travelling library’ and applied it to the segments of reality. Carlos Fuentes compared her to the renaissance humanist Erasmus who ‘travelled with 32 volumes of books whose contents were worth knowing’. Fuentes says: “Susan Sontag carried (the knowledge) in her brain! I don’t know of any other intellectual who thinks so clearly and is capable of putting it all together, joining it, connecting it somehow. Her case is the best proof of the utopian thesis – which a lot of people fail to bring to life – that the knowledge has to have and actually does have a practical purpose, and that it directly corresponds to the contents of reality, time and space.”

For Susan Sontag the pursuit for knowledge was like hunger. The hunger – like the usual human need for food – drove Susan to spend her life from the early childhood in reading, studying, thinking. She considered the childhood to be ‘the waste of time.’ Thus she started at that very time, in her early youth, to fill it with contents worth remembering. As a fourteen-year old college girl she had tea with Thomas Mann in L.A. Discussing with Mann The Magic Mountain or the Arnold Schoenberg’s atonal music was something completely normal and expected for Susan. The same as it would be later absolutely normal to discuss with the Vietcong guerrilla, Vietnam rural population, and the inhabitants of Hanoi or Sarajevo taxi drivers about the meaning or insignificance of ordinary things. Susan could talk to anyone about anything. But she could never have shallow conversations on frivolous subjects nor she was good at or willing for small talk or little gaiety. During the aggression and genocide in Bosnia in the 1990s of the past century, Susan Sontag took the part of the victims in a way that a lot of people resented her. She was one of those intellectuals who saw and recognised in the catastrophe of Bosna and its people (‘Bošnjaki’) a ‘deja-vu’ European scenario from the times of the Spanish civil war. As a matter of fact, this very war was for many intellectuals who got engaged in the preservation of Bosnia a paradigm in the sense of the confirmation of ethics as well as intellectual integrity. For Susan Sontag, the parallel between Bosnia and Spanish civil war in 1930s was logical. Namely, the Spanish civil war and the ‘taking sides’ (and combat) as intellectuals on the anti-fascist side was an ideal that was never reached; unrepeatable yes, but nevertheless much desired. Susan Sontag wrote a lot about this subject, and in her famous essay “There” and “Here” she says: “The war in Bosnia is not the only horror that is shown as a programme for the last four or five years. But there are events – models of events –, which represent the sum of the opposition forces of the century. One of such events was the Spanish civil war. The same is the war in Bosnia, with its symbolic meaning.”

Date and time of event: 
Oct 06th - Oct 14th