At the Same Time: Essays and Speeches by Susan Sontag ed. Paolo Dilonardo and Anne Jump · Hamish Hamilton, 235 pp, £18.99
A Photographer’s Life 1990-2005 by Annie Leibovitz · Cape, 480 pp, £60.00
Susan Sontag intended something like the book which is now published as At the Same Time to be her final collection of essays. After that, says her son, David Rieff, in his foreword, she intended to get on with what she most valued, writing fiction. Edited by her, somewhat differently no doubt, this would, then, have been her next book. As it is, published two years after her death, and put together by Rieff and her assistants with an eye on her preliminary sketch of its contents, it is her last book. Or rather, it is her first posthumous book, since Rieff plans to bring out further collections of her letters, diaries and unpublished writings.
A next book and a last book must be read in different ways, even if they are identical in content and in either case written in the shadow of a cancer that she surely knew was going to kill her sooner rather than later. None of these introductions to other people’s books, contingent newspaper articles and speeches written between 2001 and 2004 was intended as last words. Rieff is adamant about that. And to underline it he speaks of her ‘unalloyed fear of extinction – in no part of her, not even in the last agonised days of her ending, was there the slightest ambivalence, the slightest acceptance’. But it is very hard for the reader, knowing it to be her last, rather than her next book (and coming to it via Rieff’s elegiac foreword) not to see these writings as valedictory – a round-up of Sontag’s thought and work. We may know that death is always an arbitrary interruption of a life, but with us here and her not, and our narrative-hungry brains being what they are, we bind death to life by assuming a summation rather than allowing life to spill pointlessly over the edge into oblivion...
This is a new review in the latest London Review of Books of Susan Sontag essays and an Annie Leibovitz photo book, the rest you can read here.
(...Just seen that you can't read the rest at the LRB site. Sorry. The piece is restricted to subscribers - which of course it's worth doing if you can afford it. On the other hand there are some excellent articles in this issue available to read for free.)