Nasty is As Nasty Does

26 Apr

Having ignored my predilection to (with some exceptions) avoid reading reviews, by reading two of such regarding Sigrid Nunez’s Sempre Susan (Atlas & Co.), I was steered to an exercise in nastiness masquerading as a book critique, after speaking with Sigrid —she told of the unfavorable notice in New York Times Book Review.

Now I believe any reader, professional or not has the right to grind their cutlery in opining about a book or movie or recording. There is a large and emphatic BUT though—which is that good sense and dare I say intelligence ought to be exercised by the editors of literary journals publishing ill tempered, ill mannered and misbegotten pseudo cogitations from which alchemical wizardry would be required to draw anything useful or instructive.

From the very first sentence—”It’s not easy to pick the most unforgettable image from the many that flutter through this memoir like snippets from an overturned wastebasket” —an unkind metaphor is offered for the images that MS Nunez evokes in her slender remembrance of the few years in her youth that she spent orbiting around the celestial intellect that was Susan Sontag. And among other quibbles leveled against this insightful book, using an Italian word in the title and that Nunez’s attitude toward her subject is a”mystery”.

Of course, there is no real” mystery” as the writer of this purple faced screed proffers in a full disclosure attached at the end:

Full disclosure: I met Sontag once myself in the ’70s, interviewing her while she was on a book tour, and came away bewitched. She was the smartest woman in the world! Just as [Terry] Castle suggests, if you were a would-be intellectual feminist in those days, you had to idolize Sontag; it was the cost of doing business. But you didn’t have to sign on for years of fealty the way she and Nunez did

Susan Sontag was a true original in an age of branded copies and outright imposters. And however her intellectual and creative legacy resonate in today’s cultural playground, monographs like Sempre Susan are fascinating snapshots of a rare original operating in a millieau not exactly overstocked with her peculiar species. And what is not mysterious at all is Nunez’s well expressed fascination with the singular Susan Sontag.

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