The Right Coast

January 04, 2005
Essay on Sontag
By Tom Smith

A good essay on Susan Sontag. I haven't read anything by her since I stopped reading the New York Review of Books about 20 years ago, so I can't really comment on her evolution. What struck me about her death is how it marked the end of an era. The idea of people who live in New York or Paris and specialize in being intellectuals because they read so many deep books and are sensitive to many different forms of art seems antique now, like wearing goggles when you fly airplanes. The democratization of culture may have its downside, but the end of all those serious Intellectuals and their Big Ideas is not one of them. I would probably feel differently if they were not always wrong. With the exception of civil rights, which granted is a big exception, is it far off to say that a NYC intellectual circa 1962 or whatever turned out to be wrong on every single thing? Their politics is at best well intentioned cluelessness, and that's probably too generous, Art is in a complete dead end, as far as I can tell, thanks to all that ridiculous thinking about it. Serious music seems to have started over, no thanks to the intellectuals. The road of excess in sex and drugs seems not to lead to the palace of wisdom but just the same old familiar varieties of despair. Contemporary "serious" fiction is awful. But I think a lot of this stuff is being left behind, as fewer people think there's any reason to invest Culture Central with any particular authority. Goodness, I'm sounding like an intellectual. Good thing nobody takes them seriously any more.