Susan Sontag, Simon Weil, and the Pursuit of Seriousness

Susan SontagI could stare for many hours at that famous 1975 picture of Susan Sontag lying on her bed. She’s wearing a turtleneck sweater and her arms are tucked behind her head. She is thinking. Her eyes are open, slightly dreamy, but fixed.

She looks serious. How else could she look? By God, that woman was serious. It is her main contribution as a belletrist, the idea that seriousness itself is a goal, that in the collapse of all other values, we can be serious about being serious.

There is also a picture of Simone Weil at age thirteen, before she got those round glasses you see in the later photos. Weil is laughing and pretty and resting her left arm casually on her neck. It seems impossible that this is the woman who later refused treatment for her tuberculosis and who more or less starved herself to death out of spiritual solidarity with those suffering under German occupation during WWII.

Susan Sontag wrote a review of a collection of Weil’s essays for the New York Review of Books in 1963. Sontag used the publication of Weil’s essays as an excuse to talk about her favorite subject: being serious. Sontag loved Weil’s harshness, her unrelenting, unremitting commitment to seeing her thoughts through wherever they lead. [Read more...]

A Christian Writer Drops the F-Bomb: 25 Years of Image

To celebrate Image’s twenty-fifth anniversary we are posting a series of essays by people who have encountered our programs over the years.

Guest post by Cathy Warner

It was a reading at a memorial service that got me riled.

“Death is nothing at all. It does not count. I have only slipped away into the next room.” Don’t be sad, my pastor read, “All is well. Nothing is hurt; nothing is lost.”

Watching the tearful widow, who’d now be living alone after forty years, I was unconvinced and angry the dead man’s missive denied the living their grief.

I penned an alternative letter, then another, and another, until I imagined half a dozen dead—an aged father, alcoholic wife, young solider, child molester, husband who succumbed to cancer—writing from the beyond to those they’d loved and those they’d wronged. [Read more...]

The Problem with Waiting, Part 1

books, candleI don’t have much time. I’m sitting in a coffee shop less than a mile from my house and place of employment feverishly re-reading Dana Gioia’s recent First Things essay “The Catholic Writer Today” and pounding out these words. But in an hour I will need to pack up my laptop and books and make the walk back—my morning course “The Elements of Fiction” starts at 9:50 am.

There are two ways of making the walk, one practical the other prosaic. The practical one is the most direct and takes me along the shoulder of a busy two-lane county road whose berm is piled with old snow. The prosaic takes me into the woods behind the elementary school adjacent to this coffee shop. There I can pick up a well-blazed trail lined with towering pines that drifts away from the road and eventually leads to the cul-de-sac at the end of the subdivision where I live. [Read more...]

From Luci Shaw to Brother K: My Life with IMAGE

Guest post by Lucas Kwong

 

“Art, Faith, Mystery.” These watchwords have formed the center of Image journal’s mission since I joined its staff as a summer intern in 2006 (and, of course, well before that). Seven years later, on the eve of finishing my band’s first full length album, I find myself marveling at the mysteries by which Image has shaped my view of art and faith—and, by extension, the mysteries by which it has shaped the way that I approach my craft as a musician.

In light of the “near-death experience” cited earlier this week by Image founder Gregory Wolfe and resource development director Stuart Scadron-Wattles, I offer this post as a humble testimonial as to why Image is worth every dollar of your support.

When I moved into my apartment in Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood in June 2006, I had no idea what my summer at Image’s offices would entail. I knew, of course, that the Luci Shaw summer fellowship would require me to update the website and help plan Image’s Glen Workshop. [Read more...]

Genius(es) Wanted

Guest Post
By Santiago Ramos

Where do literary geniuses come from? Or should the question be: Where does literary genius come from? Does genius live only in certain persons or can even a mediocre writer get a humble share? These questions are agitating certain sectors of American letters.

“No more appeals to the inexplicable nature of genius,” observe the editors in a recent issue of n + 1. “Poets now are music makers, not mythmakers,” laments Mark Edmundson, in a recent essay for Harper’s.

The n + 1 editorial is titled “Too Much Sociology,” and wrestles with the ambiguous legacy of the French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu who, in thick books with commanding titles like Distinction and The Rules of Art, developed a “sociology of taste” that attempted to map out the ways in which class and social standing determine artistic taste and creation.

His project was meant to be subversive, not merely descriptive; Bourdieu was a Marxist. And yet, decades hence, it seems as if those very same capitalist bourgeois forces that Bourdieu wished to subvert have adapted to his critique and even harnessed its power. [Read more...]


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