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June 07, 2008, 2:30 PM

Susan Sontag: Public Intellectual, Polymath, Provocatrice

Participants: Joan Acocella, Robert Boyers (moderator), Roger Copeland, Phillip Lopate, James Miller

Susan Sontag was a public intellectual and renowned polymath who represented the furthest regions of multidisciplinary thinking before anyone even used the word multidisciplinary. In particular, she contributed to putting the arts and sciences in conversation with one another, and was at the forefront of debates about political and aesthetic avant-gardism. Her interests, from the study of her own illness to the Serbian conflict (she staged Beckett in Sarajevo during the bombings), are astonishing not only for their range, but for the energy of her investment and the brilliance of her thinking in so many different areas. She tried her hand at novel-writing and filmmaking as well as criticism, and was not above critiquing herself, as her second book on photography brilliantly refuted many of the insights of the first. This discussion of her legacy will examine the enduring life of her critical and cultural contributions.

Joan Acocella is a staff writer for The New Yorker, where she writes primarily about books and dance. Her own books include Mark Morris (a critical biography of the choreographer), Creating Hysteria: Women and Multiple Personality Disorder, and Willa Cather and the Politics of Criticism. She also edited the first unexpurgated English-language edition of The Diary of Vaslav Nijinsky. Her most recent book, a collection of essays entitled Twenty-eight Artists and Two Saints, which included a profile of Susan Sontag, was published in paperback earlier this year.

Robert Boyers is Editor of the quarterly Salmagundi, which he founded in 1965, and Director of the New York State Summer Writers Institute, which he founded in 1986. He was Tisch Professor of Arts and Letters at Skidmore College from 1995-2006, and has been a member of the English department there since 1969. He is the author of nine books, most recently The Dictator's Dictation: Essays on the Politics of Novels and Novelists and the short story collection An Excitable Woman He writes regularly for Harper's magazine, and has recently contributed essays on Susan Sontag, Nadine Gordimer, John Updike, and other writers.

Roger Copeland is Professor of Theater and Dance at Oberlln College. His essays about dance and theater have appeared in The New York Times, The Village Voice, American Theatre, Partisan Review, The Drama Review, Performing Arts Journal, and many other publications. He reviewed Susan Sontag's On Photography for The New Republic and his widely-quoted interview with Sontag, "The Habits of Consciousness," appears in the anthology, Conversations With Susan Sontag, edited by Leland Pogue. Copeland's books include What Is Dance? and Merce Cunningham: The Modernizing of Modern Dance. He wrote and directed The Unrecovered, a film about 9/11, which was recently screened at Anthology Film Archives in Manhattan.

Phillip Lopate is the one of America's foremost personal essayists, having written three collections (Bachelorhood, Against Joie de Vivre, and Portrait of My Body) and edited the anthology, The Art of the Personal Essay. His other books include Waterfront: A Journey Around Manhattan, Totally Tenderly Tragically (film criticism), and Being With Children (a teaching memoir). He is currently completing Notes On Sontag, to be published by Princeton University Press in 2009. He is the Adams Chair Professor at Hofstra University, and also teaches in graduate writing programs at Columbia, the New School, and Bennington.

James Miller is Chair of Liberal Studies and Professor of Political Science at the New School for Social Research. He is the author of five books: Flowers in the Dustbin: the Rise of Rock & Roll, 1947-1977, winner of an ASCAP-Deems Taylor award and a Ralph Gleason BMI award for best music book of 1999; The Passion of Michel Foucault, a National Book Critics Circle Finalist for General Nonfiction; Democracy is in the Streets: Form Port Huron to the Siege of Chicago, also a National Book Critics Circle Finalist for General Nonfiction; Rousseau: Dreamer of Democracy; and History and Human Existence: From Marx to Merleau-Ponty. The original editor of The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock and Roll, Miller has written about music since 1967, when one of his early record reviews appeared in the third issue of Rolling Stone magazine. Subsequent reviews, profiles, and essays on music have appeared in New Times, The New Republic, The New York Times, and Newsweek, where he was a book reviewer and pop music critic between 1981 and 1990. Since 2000, he has been the editor of Daedalus, the journal of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences, where he commissioned and published one of Susan Sontag's last essays.


Discussion Board

This forum allows for an ongoing discussion of the above Philoctetes event. You may use this space to share your thoughts or to pose questions for panelists. An attempt will be made to address questions during the live event or as part of a continued online dialogue.
Laurie Simon says:
Rai Come says:
Is this the notebooks and journals which the panel talks about? Since Joan Acocella talks about the period 1958 - 1967.

Reborn: Journals and Notebooks, 1947-1963 (Hardcover)
# Hardcover: 336 pages
# Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (December 9, 2008)
# Language: English
# ISBN-10: 0374100748
# ISBN-13: 978-0374100742

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