January 4, 2005

Hithcens bids adieu to Susan Sontag . . .

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In another moving encomium to Susan Sontag, Christopher Hitchens, at Slate, notes that, “A man is not on his oath, said Samuel Johnson, when he gives a funeral oration . . . Could Susan Sontag be irritating, or hectoring, or righteous? She most certainly could. She said and did her own share of foolish things during the 1960s, later retracting her notorious remark about the white ‘race’ being a ‘cancer’ by saying that it slandered cancer patients.” However, he notes, “best of all, I felt, was the moment when, as president of American PEN, she had to confront the Rushdie affair in 1989. It’s easy enough to see, now, that the offer of murder for cash, made by a depraved theocratic despot and directed at a novelist, was a warning of the Islamist intoxication that was to come. But at the time, many of the usual ‘signers’ of petitions were distinctly shaky and nervous, as were the publishers and booksellers who felt themselves under threat and sought to back away. Susan Sontag mobilized a tremendous campaign of solidarity that dispelled all this masochism and capitulation. I remember her saying hotly of our persecuted and hidden friend: ‘You know, I think about Salman every second. It’s as if he was a lover.’ I would have done anything for her at that moment, not that she asked or noticed.”

Dennis Johnson is the founder of MobyLives, and the co-founder and co-publisher of Melville House. Follow him on Twitter at @mobylives

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