Regarding Brexit, you used to be “mildly pro-Remain” but have become more passionately so. What’s changed?
In the right-wing media for the last 10 or 15 years, there was this idea that Europe was somehow threatening the state, altering good British laws in an undemocratic way. That somehow, the European Commission was even standardising the size of condoms across the bloc – leading some to think British men would no longer fit. [Laughs]
Wait, is that real?
I’m not making that up! It was a famous piece by Boris Johnson, when he was the Brussels correspondent of the UK Daily Telegraph. We kind of bought into it, my generation, without particularly thinking about it. The prospect that the European Union wouldn’t be there never even occurred to me until about a month before the 2016 Brexit referendum. I wasn’t remotely worried that the UK electorate would be so stupid. Suddenly you start looking at things you take for granted, like the ability to cross frontiers without barely showing your passport.
So much hinges on the UK election result. How are you voting?
The Tories are definitely now Leave. Labour is sitting, dithering, on the fence with pathetic Jeremy Corbyn. It will have to be Liberal Democrats. Which is a party I’ve often voted for – never with any particular enthusiasm, because they’re slightly like white sliced bread. But in this election, there’s absolutely no question.
That gives us an idea of how you’d like the election to turn out. How do you think it’s going to turn out?
As a Scot, I’d always been at ease with the concept that I’m Scottish, but also British. But the Scots have been 80 per cent Remain. Now I’m very fearful the Tories will win the election, that we will have Brexit and the United Kingdom will break up.
Susan Sontag (/ˈsɒntæɡ/; January 16, 1933 – December 28, 2004) was an American writer, filmmaker, teacher and political activist. She published her first major work, the essay “Notes on ‘Camp'”, in 1964. Her best-known works include On Photography, Against Interpretation, Styles of Radical Will, The Way We Live Now, Illness as Metaphor, Regarding the Pain of Others, The Volcano Lover and In America. Sontag was active in writing and speaking about, or travelling to, areas of conflict, including during the Vietnam War and the Siege of Sarajevo. She wrote extensively about photography, culture and media, AIDS and illness, human rights, and communism and leftist ideology. The New York Review of Books called her “one of the most influential critics of her generation.” However, her essays and speeches sometimes drew controversy. Sontag was born Susan Rosenblatt in New York City, the daughter of Mildred (née Jacobson) and Jack Rosenblatt, both Jews of Lithuanian and Polish descent. Her father managed a fur trading business in China, where he died of tuberculosis in 1939, when Susan was five years old. Seven years later, her mother married U.S. Army Captain Nathan Sontag. Susan and her sister, Judith, took their stepfather’s surname, although he did not adopt them formally. Sontag did not have a religious upbringing and claimed not to have entered a synagogue until her mid-20s. Remembering an unhappy childhood, with a cold, distant mother who was “always away,” Sontag lived in Long Island, New York, then in Tucson, Arizona, and later in the San Fernando Valley in southern California, where she took refuge in books and graduated from North Hollywood High School at the age of 15. She began her undergraduate studies at the University of California, Berkeley but transferred to the University of Chicago in admiration of its famed core curriculum. At Chicago, she undertook studies in philosophy, ancient history and literature alongside her other requirements. Leo Strauss, Joseph Schwab, Christian Mackauer, Richard McKeon, Peter von Blanckenhagen and Kenneth Burke were among her lecturers. She graduated at the age of 18 with an A.B. and was elected to Phi Beta Kappa. While at Chicago, she became best friends with fellow student Mike Nichols. At 17, Sontag married writer Philip Rieff, who was a sociology instructor at the University of Chicago, after a 10-day courtship; their marriage lasted eight years. While studying at Chicago, Sontag attended a summer school taught by the Sociologist Hans Heinrich Gerth who became a friend and subsequently influenced her study of German thinkers. Upon completing her Chicago degree, Sontag taught freshman English at the University of Connecticut for the 1952–53 academic year. She attended Harvard University for graduate school, initially studying literature with Perry Miller and Harry Levin before moving into philosophy and theology under Paul Tillich, Jacob Taubes, Raphael Demos and Morton White. After completing her Master of Arts in philosophy, she began doctoral research into metaphysics, ethics, Greek philosophy and Continental philosophy and theology at Harvard. The philosopher Herbert Marcuse lived with Sontag and Rieff for a year while working on his 1955 book Eros and Civilization.:38 Sontag researched and contributed to Rieff’s 1959 study Freud: The Mind of the Moralist prior to their divorce in 1958. The couple had a son, David Rieff, who later became his mother’s editor at Farrar, Straus and Giroux, as well as a writer. Sontag was awarded an American Association of University Women’s fellowship for the 1957–1958 academic year to St Anne’s College, Oxford, where she traveled without her husband and son. There, she had classes with Iris Murdoch, Stuart Hampshire, A. J. Ayer and H. L. A. Hart while also attending the B. Phil seminars of J. L. Austin and the lectures of Isaiah Berlin. Oxford did not appeal to her, however, and she transferred after Michaelmas term of 1957 to the University of Paris. In Paris, Sontag socialized with expatriate artists and academics including Allan Bloom, Jean Wahl, Alfred Chester, Harriet Sohmers and María Irene Fornés. Sontag remarked that her time in Paris was, perhaps, the most important period of her life.:51–52 It certainly provided the basis of her long intellectual and artistic association with the culture of France. She moved to New York in 1959 to live with Fornés for the next seven years, regaining custody of her son and teaching at universities while her literary reputation grew. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Susan_S…
It always seems to me that I should be happy anywhere but where I am, and this question of moving is one that I am eternally discussing with my soul.
Baudelaire, Paris Spleen
After living eight months straight in Taos, New Mexico from December to August last year, I am now back in Tennessee, south of Nashville, living in a small studio apartment (about 12 feet by 15 feet) within walking distance of the university where I teach. Boxes I moved out of our storage here are stacked against the walls waiting to be sorted through and moved to Taos, making the space even tighter. I have a bed, a desk, a small refrigerator, microwave, sinks, and bathroom. Kitchen facilities are in an adjoining room, shared with two other apartments. It is, in many ways, very efficient. I frequently think about Thoreau’s famous experiment, living two years on Walden Pond, his aim being to reduce expenses, to live close to the bone, more simply, in order to secure time to observe patterns of nature around him and to write.
It is now November. Temperatures drop below freezing at night. September was exceptionally hot and relatively humid, setting records, as though summer was intent on grasping a greater share of the year. Of course, global warming is a hoax! Somehow, midst this heat, I September was a productive time for me. This is a place to get some work done, as I live alone here, with a good deal of solitude and few distractions.
Middle Tennessee is a place I have long struggled desperately to leave, almost ever since I arrived. A huge detour.
I have not felt at all at home. Notes—over twenty years—about wanting to get out. (Reasons. Desires.)
Rather, like an alien partical the body sought to regurgitate or expel. FHorizon . . . Emerson. . .. “The health of the eye seem to demand a horizon.” Real and metaphorical. Something to look forward. What is on the horizon? View. Taos.
Wrestled with being here for nearly 3 decades.
Whenever we say—“there are worse places”—it’s a sign that we don’t feel . . . ideal. Murfreesboro-a place I desperatedly wanted to get out of. Middle. Swamp. Basin. Limestone. Thin layer of top soil. Blossoms began to bloom, only for possibilities fo bearing fruit to be cut short by frost.
The difference now is that I am here knowing that I have another place. While I am here, in the basin, in the swamp, memories of our place in Taos swirl about in my mind and buoy my spirits. The sublime presence of the mountain, the cool, fresh desert air, the distinctive architecture, open space, horizons.
How, then, does Taos now figure in my life??
Describe it. Memories of Taos . . .
Full moon rises over Sangre de Christo in the evening, setting over Mesa early in the morning.
Snow falling again lightly this morning. Quiet but for Sophi, meowing.
Living in the same place, over time, the place seeps into the soul, the blood, the body. The air, the landscape, the smells, the light, the people: all these things, they have an effect on the creatures within this space.
History—murals between town hall and library.
Pueblo. Native American.
Our place . . .
Historical resonances D.H. Lawrence.
Huxley. Came and went.
Agnes Martin. Harwood
Taos. Last stop. Like Candide. Tending Garden.
Work I have been doing. Splitting wood, dispersing gravel in driveway, refurbishing and painting planters and bird feeders. Now: restoring . . . horseshoe pit. Ride off into sunset.
Bowles: Write about places after he had left, as they were distilled by memory. Memories of Taos.
I began running away from home before I began school. Of course, I would come home for dinner. Desire for place elsewhere. A restless sort. Fantasy of a place elsewhere where I could be who I wanted to be, and become what I wanted to beome. Expatriate disposition. Egypt/Syria. In a way, looking for a home elsewhere. Elizabeth Bishop. Brazil in 50s.
Childhood landscape remains indelibly imprinted in my mind. Lake Chelan. Wapato Point. Bear Mt. Old Stormy. Slide Ridge. The Navarres (Debars)
Taos and Chelan/ . Mountains. Sangre de Christo. Sagebrush.
Plants—hollyhock, California poppies, roses, peonies, irises—childhood.
Miss the orchards. The water. Lake. Look out to Blueberry hill—a place where a lake should be.
Bowles. Without Stopping. Facetiously—Stopping.! A time after which the prospect of moving was just too . . . ridiculous. It means starting all over. All the hassle of going through things . . .
Adode style. Mountains.
Literary society (SOMOS).
In a place: We get into ruts, for the sake of efficiency, making our rounds to particular places. Me: Down Verdolaga Rd. to Lower Las Colonias, crossing 8 or 9 speed bumps past trailers. Valley on right. Up to 64. Right to old blinking light. P.O. Gym. Library. Smith’s. Each place.
Andalucia!!—traveled on my own.
19 in Spain. Dating daughter of U.S. ambassador.
Nights in Gardens of Spain.
Alicia de la Roca.
Old friend from grad school, Dr. JM, romanticist—student of Byron, Shelley, Wordsworth & Keats—visits. Two men in 60s. Good shape.
D.H. Lawrence Ranch. Ski Valley. Lifts. Ski Culture. . . . El Sobroso.
The instant the car stopped, and she saw the two cabins inside the rickety fence, the rather broken corral beyond, and behind all, tall, blue balsam pines, the round hills, the solid uprise of the mountain flank: and, getting down, she looked across the purple and gold of the clearing, downwards at the ring of pine-trees standing so still, so crude and untamable, the motionless desert beyond the bristles of the pine crests, a thousand feet below; and, beyond the desert, blue mountains, and far, far-off blue mountains in Arizona: “This is the place.” She said to herself.
Lou Witt, St. Mawr, D.H. Lawrence
Garcia Park-Mountain biking. Falling off bike. Battered, bruised, bleeding. Finally we turn around, returning to the X-Terra.
Rafting—Brit, Jesse. Mexican guy—Miguel? (had visions of what was to come—killing a bird with car, luck at casino, winning $1000.)
Family. High school guy, wrestler. Nearly topples out of raft at one point.
History of river during last 30-40 years, his time on river. River is alive. What is needed to keep it in good health. . . . Minimize human impact.
Mountain sheep. Ram. Then Ewes. Then complete family, with young.
Turkey buzzards circling above.
Lean. “Go. Go. Go!” We paddle. Rapids.
Deep in canyon. Then above. Think of things differently having been down the river.
Engineer Mountain. The two girls and their dogs. Yapping. Ruining the wilderness experience. Phone cameras. Experience to post.
Back through Chama. Ranch town. Like Montana.
Reading Rick Bass’s Lost Grizzlies, which John had brought and given to me.
Life goes on there while I am here. Now here, he is still living frugally, like over the past two years, cutting his own hair, not drinking, buying bread and fruit at reduced prices, cutting back on Starbucks, not buying books, etc.—while in Taos . . . bills come in Windy. Solar panels going on. First snow. Just a month until I drive back for the Christmas holidays.
The man carries his days with him. The man leaves his home to board a plane, head full of thoughts, heart full of feelings, stomach full of everything.
He brings his body which contains the journey, to another place. . . .
He turns in and finds unity. He searches through the folds of self and encounters radiant connectivity in his love for the other.
Freedom stretches forward and sheds preconceptions in its surging.
He finds himself and those who have impacted him in the innocence of a spontaneous insight.