Susan Sontag's Closet Shredded
(Photo credit: Mary Ellen Mark.)
She may have been a ferociously public intellectual of uncompromising honesty, often staking out the most avant-garde of cultural and political thinking, but when it came to being genuine about the lesbian side of her life and how it influenced her writing Susan Sontag was an emotionally stunted closet case. Why was she afraid to admit her wide and varied sexual intimacies?
I don't know the answer, but it was quite satisfying to this queer old dude who assisted in pioneering the practice of outing in February 1989 (!) before the tactic even had a name when I publicly demanded Oregon GOP U.S. Senator Mark Hatfield come out of the closet and generated media attention that named him, to read the review in Sunday's San Francisco Chronicle book section of "As Consciousness Is Harnessed to Flesh", comprised of Sontag's notebooks and journals.
Penned by Nancy D. Kates, who is currently working on a documentary about Sontag, the review shreds Sontag's closet and does what the mainstream and literary media should have done when she was alive - name names and give readers the facts. So much criticism was leveled against Sontag while alive about innumerable matters, except when it came to being a bisexual. Better late than never to have the mainstream media shed honest light on the issue.
My gratitude goes to Kates for her entire review and I hope her "Regarding Susan Sontag" film also delves into Sontag's same-sex affairs:
In life, she remained closeted, only begrudgingly admitting to bisexuality shortly before her death. The closet represents the great irony of Sontag's life, which was full of public courage on political issues, and yet virtually no disclosure when it came to her same-sex relationships. The diary opens with Sontag's 1964 breakup with Cuban American playwright Maria Irene Fornes, details the relationship with her friend and sometime lover Eva Kollisch and continues through Sontag's years with French actress and film producer Nicole Stéphane. Above all is what she once called "the maelstrom of C." - Sontag's stormy late '60s relationship with Italian aristocrat Carlotta Del Pezzo. [...]
Curiously, while Rieff's introduction points out his mother's admiration for numerous male artists and intellectuals and her two serious relationships with men in this era - painter Jasper Johns and poet Joseph Brodsky - it entirely omits the many women Sontag admires, loves, pines for and is heartbroken over for hundreds of pages. [...]
"I'm good at understanding things-+ ordering them-+ using them," she confesses. "But I'm not a genius." Genius or not, she succeeded brilliantly as an essayist, perhaps, in small part, because of her homosexuality. Queers, like all minorities, traffic in codes, forced to negotiate between the larger culture and their own subjective realities.