[Paleopsych] Chronicles: Srdja Trifkovic: Susan Sontag and the Evil of Banality
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Srdja Trifkovic: Susan Sontag and the Evil of Banality
December 30, 2004
Susan Sontag died of leukaemia in New York on December 29 at the age
of 71. The obituarists described her as "one of America's most
influential intellectuals, internationally renowned for the passionate
engagement and breadth of her critical intelligence and her ardent
activism in the cause of human rights." (The Financial Times, Dec.
30) Her essays "expanded the universe of subjects it was 'all right'
for intellectuals to take seriously," such as drugs, porn, and pop,
ensuring that we'd "get used to these as intellectual topics."
All of which is one way of saying that Ms. Sontag has made a solid
contribution to the degrading of our cultural and intellectual
standards over the past four decades. But unlike some other purveyors
of bad ideas, such as Voltaire, who could present them in eloquent
prose, Sontag was unable to write a decent sentence. Take this gem for
style and contents:
"The truth is that Mozart, Pascal, Boolean algebra, Shakespeare,
parliamentary government, baroque churches, Newton, the emancipation
of women, Kant, Marx, Balanchine ballet et al., don't redeem what this
particular civilization has wrought upon the world. The white race is
the cancer of human history. It is the white race and it alone--its
ideologies and inventions--which eradicates autonomous civilizations
wherever it spreads, which has upset the ecological balance of the
planet, which now threatens the very existence of life itself"
(Partisan Review, winter 1967, p. 57).
A week after the non-whites struck at the cancer's epicenter on
September 11, 2001, Ms. Sontag asserted in The New Yorker, that
this "monstrous dose of reality" was squarely a consequence of
specific American actions, and paid tribute to the courage of those
willing to sacrifice their lives in order to kill others: "In the
matter of courage (a morally neutral virtue): whatever may be said of
the perpetrators of Tuesday's slaughter, they were not cowards."
Courage means doing the right thing in the face of fear. Ms. Sontag's
standard of "courage," based on an actor's readiness to die in pursuit
of his objectives, makes sense only in the universe of an atheistic
adorer of the self who cannot face the thought of self-annihilation.
On that form she would have to admit that, "whatever may be said of
their activities in Eastern Europe, the Waffen SS were not cowards."
She was equally unaware that the word "coward" also designates a
person who attacks defenseless victims, as in "Bringing the murderous
coward to the stake" (Gloucester in King Lear, Act II, Scene 1). Ergo
the terrorists were brave and therefore virtuous men, but Sontag's
oxymoronic claim that courage is a "morally neutral virtue" was
supposed to make that assertion less unpalatable.
More seriously, in the immediate aftermath of 9-11 and thereafter Ms.
Sontag was reluctant to address the phenomenon of Islam in general
and, in particular, to note the difference between "secular"
terrorism--which may be closely correlated to the intended target's
"specific actions"--and the Islamic variety of the phenomenon. Her
reluctance was understandable: a hater of Western Civilization could
not but feel the corresponding urge to justify those attacking it,
especially if the attackers can be depicted as victims of the victim.
Hence her enthusiastic support for the Muslim side in the Bosnian war.
Hence her attempt to remove moral authority from the terrorists'
"courage" and at the same time to make their motives understandable
strictly through the prism of the target's "specific actions."
That Ms. Sontag felt no sympathy for the victims of 9-11, for those
thousands of her fellow citizens on whose tax dollars, philanthropic
largesse, and buying habits her own existence had depended for most of
her life, or for the city of her birth which she called home, goes
without saying. The gap between Ms. Sontag's heart and mind was total,
reflecting the soul of a rootless purveyor of self-hate. The leading
advocate of "human rights" was not only a hypocrite and a fraud to
boot, she was also a moral degenerate terminally devoid of human
compassion and common decency.
Ms. Sontag's absence of sympathy for the "wrong" victims of any crime
was on full display a generation earlier, two years after the fall of
Saigon, when she wrote that "one can only be glad about the victory
of the DRV [i.e. the "Democratic Republic of Vietnam"] and the PRG
[Viet Cong], but there seems little taste for rejoicing." Such
melancholy note was not due to the Communist reign of terror unleashed
on South Vietnam, exemplified in tens of thousands of ad-hoc
executions, the unspeakable "re-education camps," or the plight of
hundreds of thousands of perfectly innocent and ordinary "boat
people." No, Ms. Sontag's sole reason for lamentation was the loss of
vigor of the anti-war crowd here in the United States: "For while
'they' won, 'we' did not. The 'we' who wanted 'us' to lose had long
since been disbanded. The domestic convulsion set off by the Vietnam
War had subsided long before the peoples of Indochina were liberated
from the American murder machine."
Ms. Sontag's qualities were on full display during the war in
Bosnia-Herzegovina. She supported the Muslim side and was a leading
purveyor of the Muslim-fabricated myth of the Serbian "rape camps"
where she asserted that "tens of thousands of women" were raped "by
military order." Writing in the Nation on Christmas Day 1995 she
likened her trips to Sarajevo--comfortable, safe, and
well-publicized--to the struggle of the Lincoln Brigade in Spain. Ms.
Sontag's a-priori assumptions, that the Serbs were Fascist monsters,
the Muslims innocent victims of a brutal aggression, were beyond
dispute. Her smug self-depiction as a brave voice of intellectual and
moral integrity in a cynical world was laughable.
Ms. Sontag was an enthusiastic supporter of Clinton's war against the
Serbs in 1999. She ridiculed the objection that the war is ("wonderful
word") illegal" with the usual reductio ad Hitlerum: "Imagine that
Nazi Germany had had no expansionist ambitions but had simply made it
a policy in the late 1930's and early 1940's to slaughter all the
German Jews. Do we think a government has the right to do whatever it
wants on its own territory? Maybe the governments of Europe would have
said that 60 years ago. But would we approve now of their decision?"
Writing in The New York Times in May 1999 she reasserted the lie of
the Kosovo genocide, then repeated the already discredited claim that
its prevention was the reason for Clinton's war, and finally
dehumanized the victims of that war:
"it is grotesque to equate the casualties inflicted by the NATO
bombing with the mayhem inflicted on hundreds of thousands of people
in the last eight years by the Serb programs of ethnic cleansing. Not
all violence is equally reprehensible; not all wars are equally unjust
. . . There is radical evil in the world, which is why there are just
wars. And this is a just war . . . The Milosevic Government has
finally brought on Serbia a small portion of the suffering it has
inflicted on neighboring peoples."
Sontag's view of the Balkans provides an apt summary of her opus. As
The New York Times obituarist has noted, she championed style over
content: "She was concerned, in short, with sensation, in both
meanings of the term." In short she was not concerned with the truth.
She dabbled in ideas but she could not think. Her lies, dishonesty,
absence of moral sense and self-deceptions amounted to a sustained
exercise in counter-realism, which is the essence of post-modernism.
In the post-modernist vein Susan Sontag was also a plagiarist who
routinely stole words written by other people and presented them as
her own. She inserted 12 segments totaling four pages written by
others into her 387-page historical novel "In America," and did so
without credit or attribution. The New York Times--a sympathetic
source that has given Ms. Sontag thousands of column-inches over the
years--wrote that "in some passages the language itself is taken
almost verbatim from other authors." But Ms. Sontag blithely responded
that the historical novel is an evolving new genre that does not
require the rigor of footnotes and attributions: "All of us who deal
with real characters in history transcribe and adopt original sources
in the original domain? I've used these sources and I've completely
transformed them? There's a larger argument to be made that all of
literature is a series of references and allusions."
It defies belief that someone of Susan Sontag's talent, literacy,
integrity, education, moral sense, and beliefs could be taken
seriously by any segment of any country's educated public for any
period of time. That this was so in America is as sad as the fact that
Bernard-Henri Lévy is widely regarded as France's foremost
contemporary philosopher. But "BHL" is Sontag's twin brother in almost
every field imaginable: a media personality, an "intellectual," a
hater of Western civilization, a Christophobe, an "essayist," an
enthusiastic promoter of homosexuality, an admirer of Sartre, an
outspoken advocate of the Muslim side in the Bosnian war and in
Kosovo. In Sontag's and Levy's lunatic account of world affairs the
Christians are always at fault and their enemies are always innocent
of any wrongdoing. For both of them the "siege" of Sarajevo became a
stage for countless self-serving media appearances, as well as the
symbol of their decisive move beyond truth and reality and beyond the
limits of the aesthetic.
Thanks to Susan Sontag and Bernard-Henri Lévy and their ilk, New York
and Paris--until not so long ago two intellectual capitals of the
world--have succumbed to the culture of depravity, victimology and
self-hate. Financed by George Soros, the MacArthur Foundation & Co.,
lionized by the likes of the New Yorker and Liberation, they have done
the best to destroy the civilization they hate while feeding the minds
of future suicide bombers with a political pap that nourishes their
hate and legitimizes their rage.
Susan Sontag's death at 71 was at least four decades overdue.
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