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Susan Sontag

Benjamin Moser’s Sontag: Her Life and Work

Benjamin Moser’s Sontag: Her Life and Work

Reviewed by Stephen Piccarella

Moser delights in delivering the dirty details of Sontag’s personal life for the same reason he attempts to correct her politics: to draw attention to himself. One might expect a writer after this kind of recognition to prefer fiction or poetry, but a biography is a perfect project for a writer with more ambition than good ideas. Susan Sontag was narcissistic herself, and capable at times of manipulations even more objectionable than Moser’s. These Moser catalogues dutifully and with a combination of empathy and angst, as does someone who needs to reconcile the misdeeds of the person he reveres. Sontag was also an exceptional and peerless artist; Moser attempts to improve on Sontag so that he can improve on himself. By inhabiting––with success and to good effect––a figure whose flaws reflect but whose strengths and achievements outpace his own, Moser has managed to place himself at the center of the moving and inspiring story of a literary icon. In many ways, Moser’s biography is a great book. What’s debatable is whether it’s really about Susan Sontag.