Best Books by Susan Sontag

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Susan Sontag

When you think about Susan Sontag, there are various titles that you can adorn her with. She was a well-known essayist, a novelist, a filmmaker as well as a teacher. Her most acclaimed work “Notes on Camp” is still revered and being interpreted and even inspired 2018’s Met Gala theme. Her essays on modern culture presented a witty and strong critique of the emerging global culture. As the world celebrates her 88th birth anniversary today, we bring you the best books by Susan Sontag that will surely transform the way you perceive the world!

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Susan Sontag
Courtesy: Brain Pickings

Under the Sign of Saturn (1980)

Under the Sign of Saturn
Courtesy: Amazon

“One cannot use the life to interpret the work. But One can use the work to interpret the life.”

Under the Sign of Saturn is one of the best books ever written by Susan Sontag. It’s a collection of essays in which we get to look at certain historical figures through her perspective. This particular collection was meant as her personal interpretation of the ideas of figures like Elias Canetti, Walter Benjamin, Antonin Artaud, Leni Riefenstahl. Through commenting on the work and life of these key figures, she tried to create a discourse which demands certain aspects of their lives to be looked at from a critical vantage point. 

Against Interpretation (1966)

Against Interpretation
Courtesy: Amazon

“This philistinism of interpretation is more rife in literature than in any other art.”

Against Interpretation is another collection of essays written by Susan Sontag. The interesting things about this collection is the theme that it deals with. As the title suggests, Susan Sontag draws in a critical understanding of the theory of criticism itself in this collection. She deals with the two distinct forms of art criticism namely content-based interpretation and formalist interpretation. In this book, she also tries to create a standpoint against the modern forms of interpreting art, which to her seems reductive in nature. It is truly a thought-provoking that you must check out to know about her unique perspective of interpretation, criticism and analysis.

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On Photography (1977)

On Photography
Courtesy: Amazon UK

“To take a photograph is to participate in another person’s mortality, vulnerability, mutability. precisely by slicing out this moment and freezing it, all photographs testify to time’s relentless melt.”

In this collection of essays titled On Photography, Susan Sontag begins a discourse on the historical and cultural significance of an art form like photography and uses this as a base to discuss other key topics. From a critical standpoint, she tries to understand the role that photography began to play in a highly competitive, capitalistic world order. Also included in this collection is the idea that how photography in such a society became a means to achieve certain ends which were not artistic in nature. So, through this collection, you will not only get an insight into the world of photography but also the interpretation of society as per Sontag’s critical perspective.

Style of Radical Will (1969)

Styles of Radical WIll
Courtesy: Waterstones

“A craving for the cloud of unknowing beyond knowledge and for the silence beyond speech.”

Style of Radical Will was the second collection of essays written by Susan Sontag. It explores certain key ideas which were a part of the twentieth-century world like politics, pornography, literature and film. The most important essays in the book are “The Aesthetics of Silence”, “The Pornographic Imagination” and “What’s Happening in America” which elaborate upon the different aspects of a single society. 

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Illness as Metaphor (1978)

Illness as a Metaphor
Courtesy: Penguin.com.au

“Depression is melancholy minus its charms.”

Susan Sontag wrote this acclaimed work titled Illness as Metaphor while battling breast cancer. It’s commendable how she took inspiration from her own illness to create something so challenging and thought-provoking. Her take on illness as a “metaphor” is infused with other ideas put forth by authors like Keats, DH Lawrence and even Thomas Mann. And this all together makes it an interesting read. 

Regarding the Pain of Others (2003)

Regarding the Pain of Others
Courtesy: Waterstones

“To paraphrase several sages: Nobody can think and hit someone at the same time.”

This book by Susan Sontag can be your entry point into a world which has violence as it’s the foundation. In Regarding the Pain of Others, she takes us through various historical events like “Nazi Death Camps”, “Black Lynchings in South”, “American Civil War”, etc and exposes the world which is tainted by the blood of millions. This book is an interesting take on not only the atrocities that people have committed over the years but what our taken on it is as a civilization.

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The Volcano Lover (1992)

The Volcano Lover
Courtesy: Wikipedia

“With genius, as with beauty — all, well almost all, is forgiven.”

The Volcano Lover is a historical romance novel written by Susan Sontag. In this book, she came out of her persona as an essayist and created something new. This novel has its backdrop as the extramarital romance between the protagonist’s of the novel, the married Emma Hamilton and Lord Nelson and how this love becomes a reason for Emma’s downfall. Now, to know what actually occurs in the novel and how this intriguing story unfolds, you have to give it a read. 

Where the Stress Falls (2001)

Where the Stress Falls
Courtesy: Amazon

“When I look at my picture I read stubbornness, balked vanity, panic, vulnerability.”

This collection of essays Where the Stress falls is actually a collection of everything that Susan Sontag was ever interested in. Divided into three sections namely ” Reading”, “Seeing”, “Here and There”, this collection is dedicated to topics like photography, opera, theatre, historical understanding, and also her take on authors of her time like Roland Barthes, W. G. Sebald, Borges and Elizabeth Hardwick, Machado de Assis, etc. So, this book is actually reflective of her statement that an author is “someone who is interested in everything”

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This was our list of the best books by Susan Sontag. Remembering this renowned essayist on her birth anniversary, you must read her essays and stories which are truly thought-provoking and can help you see the world in all its black, white and grey hues! Want to pursue a degree in English Literature? Sign up for a free session with our experts at Leverage Edu and let us help you find the right program and university as per your interests and aspirations!

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