August 18, 2019

Susan Sontag's Guide to Personal Transformation

“Free self-improvement idea for 2019: become Susan Sontag. Listen, it’s not as hard as it sounds. If you watch all of her favorite films, indulge in all of her likes, avoid all of her dislikes, subscribe to her belief systems, adhere to her reading list, and follow her instructions for life, well, you’ll basically have done it. And either way, you might have a very interesting year.

The easiest way to start such an undertaking is, of course, with Sontag’s lists. She was a famously prodigious listmaker; her journals are full of them (though her son, who edited Sontag’s journals before they were published, cuts some longer lists off partway through). In a journal entry dated August 9, 1967, she explains her affinity for the bulleted form:

I perceive value, I confer value, I create value, I even create—or guarantee—existence. Hence, my compulsion to make “lists.” The things (Beethoven’s music, movies, business firms) won’t exist unless I signify my interest in them by at least noting down their names.

Nothing exists unless I maintain it (by my interest, or my potential interest). This is an ultimate, mostly subliminal anxiety. Hence, I must remain always, both in principle + actively, interested in everything. Taking all of knowledge as my province.”

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