Taking On Sontag – Notes on reading On Photography by Susan Sontag

March 24, 2014

Mystic Sontag / the Post-war Intellectual


‘Only that which narrates can make us understand’ how something functions, insists Susan Sontag and she’s happy to help out, examining the artefacts of culture and technology to conjure a story. Narratives are tools to change the world after all.

Sontag wants to recruit us with the power of No. No. No. She revels in a compulsion to say No to anything new and everything American. She wants to stir things up. She wants attention. This is Critical Thinking, she insists. What she calls Critical Thinking I call it Bad Poetry.

Photography is a poetic take on reality, and so is her Book ‘On Photography’. A poetic take, her Bad Poetry is an incitement to reverie. Like Photography, it also has seduced many. Sontag, in her fashion, might even conclude that her Bad Poetry ‘is’ Photography!

Sontag attempts to present her own aphorisms and paradoxes, but they seem silly rather than amusing, dull rather than enlightening, shallow rather than deep.

Photography is a Social Rite we all have to navigate. But what is not in the human world? Consumption of a Public Intellectual’s product is also a Social Rite we all have to navigate. Most navigate by turning the other cheek. But its effects are deep if an Intellectuals position is supported by a significant number of the class.

What defines a Public Intellectual most? A love of outré metaphors? Photography is Rape?! according to Sontag; and the camera is a gun.

The Intellectual’s reliance on the concept of Alienation has led me to embrace it. What’s wrong with Alienation? To be Human is to be Alienated. Alienation is the social beings natural state. The proposed alternatives to Alienation make me shudder. I don’t want to farm, bake bread, raise chickens. I don’t want to Achieve my Potential at ANY cost.


A Public Intellectual doesn’t aim for the Truth. Truth is part of the problem. You are part of the problem too, if you do not accept the Intellectuals self- referential, self-contained argument. If you don’t accept what they are selling then you are part of the problem. They’re Selling ‘Salvation’ to the Righteous.

The Public Intellectual is a Pontificator, happy to quote Brecht, Walter Benjamin, and French philosophy and Kant, and treat the analogy of Plato’s f***ing cave as the first thing in profundity.

Intellectuals, like Mystic Sontag, demand that ALL Art must tell us how something functions. Art must raise Consciousness, Educate, Instruct; it must provide a sexy example for the Marxist Narrative. Bad Poetry is elevated with ease to the level of Great Art by Marxism and Paternalism. Its heart may be in the right place. Its mind on message. It’s not enough though for Great Art, alas.

The Intellectuals are looking for Propagandists to follow the plan, not seek out the Truth. Operatives not Artists. This is where the Artist can short circuit the whole Project and Challenge the Intellectuals wordy assumptions and manipulative Authority Hypnosis.


Using Sontag’s own Rhetorical tricks we can assert: Sontag is unable to accept reality. Why is she convinced there is another world beyond, behind, parallel, to the world we inhabit? She is not alone of course. But I find it boring and wrongheaded.  Sontag can now be only of Anthropological interest I hope and no longer intellectually or philosophically.

Why does this happen to an intelligent person? Do they fall for the received wisdoms of their influences? Are they products History! Or do they just run with the Pack. Or is there something Biological that keeps these ideas percolating in human thought? Perceptions are not accurate much of the time. It doesn’t mean we need to conclude there is a whole other world.

Intelligent people persisting in positing the existence of an imaginary Noumenal world is a wearisome waste of intelligence. Do they not think the actual world is complicated enough?

The invocation of the other world is an appeal to the immaterial, the supernatural. This sees Public Intellectuals like Sontag performing in an area of mysticism, like drunken Oracles, dizzy under their own ego, conjuring visions and casting black magic, Chanting, ‘It’s for your own good!’

Mystics manipulate for an end they are convinced of through feeling and intuition. With Divine Revelation, Truth only gets in the way of Heaven on Earth. True Alienation.

Unexamined assumptions of the Intellectual Class

Art must raise consciousness.

History dictates all.

America is the root of all evil.

The abnegation of Truth.

Appeal to this ‘other’ alternative Noumenal world.

house of o’dwyer

Marseille /London


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