Susan Sontag

This poet, author, and modernist emphasizes the role of interpretation in understanding art.

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Like On Photography, Illness as Metaphor (1978) broke new critical ground by examining the significance of a common cultural phenomenon: in this case, the discursive representation of disease. Growing out of Sontag's own diagnosis of breast cancer in 1975, the book sought to expose the fantasies and fears that are masked by the vocabulary of illness. In 1989, she elaborated on this theme in AIDS and Its Metaphors, which was received with some controversy. Many in the gay community criticized her efforts to disentangle the cultural metaphors of AIDS from its politics.

Later Works

Unguided Tour, the film version of an earlier short story, appeared in 1983, and in 1985, she directed the premier production of Milan Kundera's play Jacques and His Master. Her own play, Alice in Bed, premiered in Bonn, Germany, in 1991 and was published in 1993, the same year that she directed Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot in war-besieged Sarajevo.

The Volcano Lover by Susan SontagTwenty-five years after the publication of her last novel, Sontag's critically acclaimed The Volcano Lover (1992) appeared, bringing together concerns that long animated her writing: the relationship between style and form, the moral pleasure--and service--of art, and the psychology of collecting. A historical novel with a self-consciously modern narrator, The Volcano Lover was a revisionary retelling of the eighteenth-century love affair between Lady Emma Hamilton and Lord Horatio Nelson that moved away from the abstraction of Sontag's earlier fiction while still remaining a novel of ideas.

Sontag's final novel In America (2000), which won the National Book Award for Fiction, was also set in the past; based on the life of a nineteenth-century Polish performer who immigrates to America with the dream of establishing a utopian community, the novel relied on the language of theater and acting in order to consider the thematic possibilities of re-inventing both the individual and the nation.

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Tresa Grauer is a lecturer in the Department of Foreign Literatures and Linguistics at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. Her recent publications include "Identity Matters: Contemporary Jewish American Writing," in The Cambridge Companion to Jewish American Literature, eds. Michael Kramer and Hana Wirth-Nesher, and "'The Changing Same': Narratives of Contemporary Jewish American Identity," in Mapping Jewish Identities, ed. Larry Silberstein.