Is it wrong that I waste prayers* on the subject of keeping my eyesight until I die, so someday when I'm really old and retired and my children don't visit me, I can at least spend all my time reading? Because I actually have a list of authors whose entire lists I'd love to read, but who I just don't have the proper time for right now?
Susan Sontag is one of those authors. I've always found her really interesting, even though I've only read snippets of her work. I tried to read On Photography once, but it was a bit over my head. Whenever I see her novels in used bookstores, I think about trying one of those, too, but I never do. I am also fascinated by her relationship with Annie Leibovitz, which was at least partially chronicled in Leibovitz's photography collection A Photographer's Life: 1990-2005 (Leibovitz's photographs of Sontag after her death from cancer in 2004--she was 71 years old--are some of the most simultaneously beautiful and saddest I've ever seen). The two also collaborated on a work published in 2000 and titled simply Women.
The book I had home this week, and which I won't get enough time to read (add it to the "retirement list") was Regarding the Pain of Others. I'm not sure where I got the idea to check it out; recently I indexed a book about World War I posters and war photography, which led me to look into broader issues of the pictorial depictions of wars, and I must have stumbed across it sometime during that (I'm guessing). This is how it begins:
"In June 1938 Virginia Woolf published Three Guineas, her brave, unwelcomed reflections on the roots of war. Written during the preceding two years, while she and most of her intimates and fellow writers were rapt by the advancing fascist insurrection in Spain, the book was couched as the very tardy reply to a letter from an eminent lawyer in London who had asked, 'How in your opinion are we to prevent war?' Woolf begins by observing tartly that a truthful dialogue between them may not be possible. For though they belong to the same class, 'the educated class,' a vast gulf separates them: the lawyer is a man and she is a woman. Men make war. Men (most men) like war, since for men there is 'some glory, some necessity, some satisfaction in fighting' that women (most women) do not feel or enjoy." (p. 4.)
That, to me, is an opening that promises a very interesting book. And I love Sontag's prose; it's crisp. She's got a way with description (I love the image of Woolf observing "tartly"), and even when her sentences require a bit of deciphering on my part**, she's expressing complex thoughts as succinctly as really is possible.
*I know it's wrong. I try to throw a few prayers at the problem of world peace at the same time to make up for my selfish personal needs.
**Think on this one a while: "The destructiveness of war--short of total destruction, which is not war but suicide--is not in itself an argument against waging war unless one thinks (as few people actually do think) that violence is always unjustifiable, that force is always and in all circumstances wrong--wrong because, as Simone Weil affirms in her sublime essay on war, 'The Iliad, or the Poem of Force,' violence turns anybody subjected to it into a thing." (p. 12.) That's a sentence I need a few days with.