As Consciousness Is Harnessed to Flesh: Journals and Notebooks, 1964-1980

As Consciousness Is Harnessed to Flesh: Journals and Notebooks, 1964-1980

Paperback(First Edition)

View All Available Formats & Editions
Choose Expedited Shipping at checkout for delivery by Monday, June 21


A Financial Times Best Book of 2012

From the turbulent years of her trip to Hanoi at the peak of the Vietnam War to her time making films in Sweden and up to the eve of the 1980 election, As Consciousness Is Harnessed to Flesh documents the evolution of an extraordinary mind. The 1966 publication of Against Interpretation propelled Susan Sontag from the periphery of New York City's artistic and intellectual milieu into the international spotlight, solidifying her place as a dominant force in the world of ideas. These entries are an invaluable record of the inner workings of one of the most inquisitive and analytical thinkers of the twentieth century.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781250024121
Publisher: Picador
Publication date: 07/30/2013
Edition description: First Edition
Pages: 544
Sales rank: 628,731
Product dimensions: 8.28(w) x 5.42(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Susan Sontag (1933–2004) was the author of numerous works of non-fiction, including the groundbreaking collection of essays Against Interpretation (FSG, 1966), and of four novels, including In America (FSG, 2000), which won the National Book Award.

Read an Excerpt



The right hand = the hand that is aggressive, the hand that masturbates. Therefore, to prefer the left hand! ... To romanticize it, to sentimentalize it!



I am Irene's [the Cuban-American playwright María Irene Fornés—SS's lover for a time in Paris in 1957 and then her partner in New York between 1959 and 1963] Maginot Line.


Her very "life" depends on rejecting me, on holding the line against me.


Everything has been deposited on me. I am the scapegoat.


[This entry is emphasized by a vertical line in the margin:] As long as she is occupied in warding me off, she doesn't have to face herself, her own problems.


I can't convince her—persuade her—with reason—that it is otherwise.


Any more than she could convince me—when we lived together—not to need her, clutch at her, depend on her.



There is nothing in it for me now—no joy, only sorrow. Why do I hang on?


Because I don't understand. I don't really accept the change in Irene. I think I can reverse it—by explaining, by demonstrating that I am good for her.


But it is as indispensable for her to reject me—as it has been indispensable for me to hold on to her.



"Whatever doesn't kill me, makes me stronger." [a paraphrase of Goethe]


There is no love, no charity, no kindness for me in Irene. For me, to me, she becomes cruel and shallow.


The symbiotic tie is broken. She cast it aside.


Now she only presents "bills." Inez, Joan, Carlos!


I have damaged her ego, she says. I and Alfred [the American writer Alfred Chester].


(The inflated, fragile ego.)

And no repentance, no apology for, no change from what was truly damaging in my behavior will appease her, or heal her.

Remember how she received the "revelation" at the New Yorker [a Manhattan movie theater that showed foreign and revival films, where SS went several times a week in the 1960s] two weeks ago!


"I am a stone wall," she says. "A rock." It's true.


There is no responsiveness, no forgiveness in her. To me, only hardness. Deafness. Silence. Even a grunt of assent "violates" her.


Rejecting me is the shell Irene constructs around herself. The protective "wall."



—Why I didn't nurse David:


Mother didn't nurse me. (I vindicate her by doing it to David—it's ok, I do it to my own child)


I had a difficult birth, caused M[other] a lot of pain; she didn't nurse me; she stayed in bed for a month after.


David was big (like me)—a lot of pain. I wanted to be knocked out, not to know anything; it never occurred to me to nurse him; I stayed in bed for a month after.



Loving = the sensation of being in an intense form Like pure oxygen (as distinct from air)



Henry James—

All based on a particular stylization of consciousness

Self & world (money)—no body consciousness, among many ways of being-in-the-world which he omits.



Edith Wharton's biography. Banal sensibility capped, periodically, by strong intelligent conclusion. But her intelligence doesn't transform the events—i.e. disclose their complexity. It only supervenes upon the banal telling of them.





Ontological anxiety, "Weltangst." The world blank—or crumbling, shredding. People are wind-up dolls. I'm afraid.


"The gift" has meant to me: I wouldn't buy this for myself (it's nice, a luxury, not necessary) but I buy it for you. Denial of self.


There are people in the world.


A constriction in the chest, tears, a scream that feels as if it would be endless if I let it out.


I should go away for a year.


To say a feeling, an impression is to diminish it—expel it.


But sometimes feelings are too strong: passions, obsessions. Like romantic love. Or grief. Then one needs to speak, or one would burst.



The desire for reassurance. And, equally, to be reassured. (The itch to ask whether I'm still loved; and the itch to say, I love you, half-fearing that the other has forgotten, since the last time I said it.)

"Quelle connerie" ["What idiocy"]



I valued professional competence + force, think (since age four?) that that was, at least, more attainable than being lovable "just as a person."



I can't drive out my obsession with I[rene]—my grief, my despair, my longing—with another love. I'm not capable of loving anyone now. I'm being "loyal."


But the obsession must be drained, somehow. I must force some of that energy elsewhere.


If I could get started on another novel ...



From Mother, I learned: "I love you" means "I don't love anyone else." The horrid woman was always challenging my feelings, telling me I had made her unhappy, that I was "cold."


As if children owe their parents love + gratification! They don't. Though parents owe these things to their children—exactly like physical care.



From Mother: "I love you. Look. I'm unhappy."


She made me feel: Happiness is disloyalty.


She hid her happiness, challenged me to make her happy—if I could.


Therapy is deconditioning [SS's therapist at the time, Diana] (Kemeny)



Mary McCarthy's grin—grey hair—low-fashion red + blueprint suit. Club woman gossip. She is [her novel] The Group. She's nice to her husband.



Fear of the other going away: fear of abandonment

Fear of my going away: fear of retaliation by the other (also abandonment—but as revenge for the rejection of going away).


I have a wider range as a human being than as a writer. (With some writers, it's the opposite.) Only a fraction of me is available to be turned into art.



A miracle is just an accident, with fancy trappings.


Change—life—comes through accidents.



My loyalty to the past—my most dangerous trait, the one that has cost me most.



Self-respect. It would make me lovable. And it's the secret of good sex.



The best things in SW [the philosopher Simone Weil] are about attention. Against both the will + the categorical imperative.



One can never ask anyone to change a feeling.



8/18/64 London

"Variety of Uniformities makes compleat Beauty."—Sir Christopher Wren


Buster Keaton: Candide with a frontal lobotomy


[Description of the American novelist James Jones:] Shoulders coming out of his ears


Ectoplasm is (displaced) seminal fluid—19th c. mediums are aberrant symptom of the wakening of "modern" female sexuality

cf. [Henry James's] The Bostonians, Padmore book


"The psychology and physiology of 'the instant'"


Mary McCarthy can do anything with her smile; she can even smile with it.



A brain-damaged woman who—even after she'd mostly recovered—couldn't follow a movie.


The Beatles, their quaternity.


Damp mollusks of 12-year old girls.

Dexamyls [a form of amphetamine on which SS became dependent for writing in the mid-1960s and which she used until the early 1980s, though in diminishing doses] are called, in England, "Purple Hearts" (they're purple, not green [as in the U.S.]—kids take them 20 at a time, with Coke ... Then (lunch hour) pop into a "cave" (nobody over 21 admitted) and [dance the] Watusi



Hemingway wrote a parody of Sherwood Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio; it's his 2nd novel, Torrents of Spring (1926), just before The Sun Also Rises.



Arnold Geulincx (1624-69), the Belgian philospher—follower of Descartes—[Samuel] Beckett, as a student, read him—[Geulincx] holds that a reasonable man is nowhere free, except in his own mind—doesn't waste energy trying to control his body in the external world.






Story: "The infinite system of Couples"




Cockney slang: rhyming plus knight's move to the side

Breasts = Bristol (city > titty)

Teeth = Hampteads (heath > teeth)






Horrifying to feel one's integument (skin) pierced


Annealed ...



[the American writer William S.] Burroughs:

Language = control

"Terrorist" attacks on language (cut-up method)

cf. [The French experimental writer Raymond] Roussel—Comment J'ai Écrit ...


Escape into space (sci-fi) vs. History


[The] Soft Machine

Nova Express

Naked Lunch

Dead Fingers Talk



"Bumtrinkets"—bits of feces stuck to hairs of anus (cf. Cicely Bumtrinket in [the seventeenth-century dramatist Thomas] Dekker's Shoemaker's Holiday)

Ditto for "dingleberries"







"Une incertitude de jeunesse" ["youthful uncertainty"] (of [Bertolt Brecht's first play] Baal)



Sci-fi essay

1. Films better than the books—why?

2. Content

Figure of the scientist as Satanist ([Goethe's] Faust, Poe, [Nathaniel] Hawthorne)

• treatment of the scientist as one who releases forces which if not controlled for good could destroy man himself

• cf. old vision of scientist (Prospero, etc.) as a dotty magician only partly in control of the forces in which he dabbles.

Sci-fi as modern allegory:

Modern attitude toward madness (being "taken over")

Modern attitude toward death (incineration, extinction)



Rich fund of metaphors (Jonathan [Miller, British writer and director]) from:

1. Computers

2. Hydraulics

3. Photography; optics

4. Physiology of crustaceans

5. Architecture

6. Chess + military strategy

[Examples of Miller's use of these metaphors:]

"Like the kick-start on a motor-bike—now I'm going on my own."

"Yards of prose."

"Final suicidal Pickett's charge against ..."

"Chromium-plated with charm."



Jonathan: the intersection between psychiatry and aesthetics





British pops

Lonnie Donegan

Chris Barber


Cliff Richard + his Shadows

Cilla [Black]

Helen Shapiro


Mersey [Beat]:


Dave Clark 5

The Rolling Stones

The Beasts

The Pretty Things

The Birds


Dusty Springfield





Sequence of a migraine:


Loss of perspective (flattening out) > "fortification phenomena" (white lines—zooming in from side; one-sided) > nausea and vomiting > acute hemicrania

(holding site is always part of acute pain)



SMELL is the largest sensory area in the brain and also the most primitive

Very powerful but not articulated—can't do anything with it (just naming)

All accent, no syntax

Smelling gives one a knowledge of sensation rinsed clean of thought (unlike hearing and seeing)


Osmology, as opposed to logology



[The French writer Nathalie] Sarraute—


Tropismes (first book)—something like "prose poems"—Sarraute calls them that.

First one written in 1932.

Volume was published in 1939 (Denoël), republished by Éditions de Minuit in 1957, with 6 more written between 1939 + 1941


This is her form!—her texture is anti-novelistic, though she's decided to write "novels" + launched an important critique of the novel on the basis of her method.



Sperlonga—beach near Rome





In old age, the cereberal arteries silt up—gradual diminution of blood supply to the brain




Influence of photography on painting:

1. Off-centering: main subject is in a corner ([the Italian director Michelangelo] Antonioni, [the Swiss-American photographer] Robert Frank).

2. Figures in motion: [the nineteenth-century English photographer Eadweard] Muybridge. Previously, all figures are either at rest (in repose) or at the end of a motion (e.g. farthest the limb can be extended)

Compare dancing figures in Breughel with Degas's Horses at Longchamps

3. Understanding of focus: eye can't see focusing, since it does so automatically, it's a function of attention.

All painting prior to photography is in even focus. As the painter's eye traveled from plane to plane, each went into focus.



Quality of film [stock] is important—whether grainy or not; old stock or new ([Stanley] Kubrick used WWII unused newsreel stock for War Room sequences in Dr. Strangelove)



Mont Blanc fountain pen (Fr.)

Italic script (get book on)

Read Poe on "Magnetism," and "The Imp of the Perverse."



[This is highlighted:] Off-centering big technique in modern fiction and poetry



Words have their own firmness. The word on the page may not reveal (may conceal) the flabbiness of the mind that conceived it. > All thoughts are upgrades—get more clarity, definition, authority, by being in print—that is, detached from the person who thinks them.


A potential fraud—at least potential—in all writing.


How revealing to meet [Richard] Eberhart, [Paul] Tillich, Dwight Macdonald, Mary McCarthy!


Jonathan [Miller]: "I take Trilling's ideas less seriously since I know him."



Sensibility is humus for the intellect.

There's no syntax for sensibility—hence, it's ignored.



Reading criticism clogs conduits through which one gets new ideas: cultural cholesterol.


One's ignorance is a treasure, not to be casually spent ([Paul] Valéry)



Body type [SS is describing herself]:

• Tall

• Low blood pressure

• Need lots of sleep

• Sudden craving for pure sugar (but dislike desserts—not a high enough concentration)

• Intolerance for liquor

• Heavy smoking

• Tendency to anemia

• Heavy protein craving

• Asthma

• Migraines

• Very good stomach—no heartburn, constipation, etc.

• Negligible menstrual cramps

• Easily tired by standing

• Like heights

• Enjoy seeing deformed people (voyeuristic)

• Nailbiting

• Teeth grinding

• Nearsighted, astigmatism

• Frileuse (very sensitive to cold, like hot summers)

• Not very sensitive to noise (high degree of selective auditory focus)

Pills one takes for reducing hypertension are depressants Alcohol is a depressant

8/22/64 Paris

The incredible pain returns again and again and again.


Finished the story. "An American Destiny," for the moment. I see now that it's mined from the vein that produced [SS's first novel] The Benefactor—it's a sort of miniaturized Frau Anders story, more drastically comic.

[In the margin:] My pop art story



• Third person rather than first

• Fantasy America, rather than fantasy France (because I'm in Paris?!)

• Use of slang,—active verbs


Great art has a beautiful monotony—Stendhal, Bach. (But not Shakespeare.)


A sense of the inevitability of a style—the sense that the artist had no alternatives, so wholly centered is he in his style.


Compare [Gustave] Flaubert and [James] Joyce ("voulu," constructed, intricate) with [Choderlos de] Laclos and [Raymond] Radiguet.


The greatest art seems secreted, not constructed.



Camp: irony, distance; ambivalence (?)


Pop art: only possible in an affluent society, where one can be free to enjoy ironic consumption. Thus there is Pop art in England—but not in Spain, where consumption is still too serious. (In Spain, painting is either abstract or social protest realism.)



Armature—in sculpture



[Josef von Sternberg's 1930 Hollywood film starring Marlene Dietrich and Gary Cooper] Morocco:


Dietrich: clean, solid—movements never weak or floating or petty—sparse

Von S: profuse


[In the margin:] They highlight each other by their differences



"Fagotage" (m.)—botch; ridiculous way of dressing 

"Fagoter" (verb)—to dress (a person) ridiculously > Is this where "faggot" comes from?



Movies seen since Aug. 11:

The Crowd (King Vidor)—Cinemathèque

Bande à Part ([Jean-Luc] Godard)—Gaumont Rive Gauche

Une Femme est une Femme (Godard)—Cinemathèque

La Grande Muraille (Jap[anese]?)—Normandie

Maciste Contre Le Cyclope (It[alian]?)—Ciné Gobelins



[The French director Georges] Franju's first feature, The Keepers [La Tête contre les murs], about insane asylum—horrible, stupid, vicious director

([parallel] to Les Yeux sans visage [Franju's next film]


Gothic horror in films

The institution—cf. [Robert Wiene's 1920 Weimar film The Cabinet of Dr.] Caligari, etc.


"The Primary and most beautiful of Nature's qualities is motion, which agitates her at all times, but this motion is simply the perpetual consequence of crimes, it is conserved by means of crimes alone."

—[Marquis] de Sade


Humanism = moralizing the world, thereby refusing to acknowledge the "crimes" of which de Sade speaks.



What one is is the idea one has of oneself. If one thinks one is loveable, one is; beautiful, talented, etc.


[The American sociologist Philip Rieff, to whom SS was married between 1950 and 1959] P. [hilip Rieff]—


Everyone else not real—very distant, small figures. I would have to swim a thousand miles to reach the margin of the relationship, on the other side of which might lie other people, and it was too far, I was too tired.


The almost infinitely extending network of that relationship; its dense weave That's what held me—


Not (at least nowhere as strongly as I. [Irene Fornés])

The sense of P.'s uniqueness, value, preciousness—


H. [Harriet Sohmers Zwerling, who was SS's lover when she was a student at the University of California, Berkeley, and then the lover of both Irene Fornés and SS in Paris in 1956 and 1957]—very sloppy, loosely woven relationship—hence possibility of friendship, much later.



If one knew one would live 200 years, would one be as tired at 35?


Is the being tired a spontaneous complicity with death—a beginning to let go at what one judges to be about the right time, half way?

Or is it objectively so, that one would anyway be tired at 35 and spend the next 165 years "se traînant?" ["moping around"]



If one could amputate part of one's consciousness ...


What appeared to Annette [the American film scholar Annette Michelson, whom SS met in Paris in 1957] as narcissism six years ago: I was still so unawakened, so out of focus. So dead, or, rather, unborn.



I will never just outlast this pain. (Healing passage of time, etc.) I am frozen, paralyzed, the gears are jammed. It will only recede, diminish if I can somehow transpose the emotion—as from grief to anger, from despair to assent. I must become active. As long as I continue to experience myself as done to (not doing) this unbearable pain will not desert me—



Persistent motive in my writing:

X speaks, asks, demands—but if doesn't answer, turns away. X tries to make the best of it.


[A note, undated, is inserted:] I will be alright by 7:00 am this morning



M. [Mother] didn't answer when I was a child. The worst punishment—and the ultimate frustration. She was always "off"—even when she wasn't angry. (The drinking a symptom of this.) But I kept trying.


Now, the same with I[rene]. Even more agonizing because for four years she did answer. So I know she can.

Those four years! That huge length of time—its weight, its almost palpable thickness—obsesses me. "How can she ..." etc.


I'm so stuck on the "was" of people—






Hypochondriac, thin, needs 10 hours of sleep a night—lives on pills


From provinces—Nantes, Poitiers

Petit bourgeois

Father—had a small clothing factory, makes uniforms for the army

Mother—an antique dealer


Red hair, white skin, regular features


Works for army on rockets—big center in banlieue


"Je sais que je vais vieillir trop tôt et ..." ["I know that I will grow old too early, and ..."]



Stole money from bank (father's friend) + from queer art gallery dealer (Annette's friend)

"Denise"—calls her Régine—she's 20, works this summer in Paris for an airline.

First time he was with Annette: "If only someone could see me now." For the last three years.—Annette: "Elle n'est pas ma reine à moi" ["She's not my very own queen"]



From parataxis (loose association of clauses) to hypotaxis (more precise indications of logical relationships + subordination)







World is a body



Writing is a little door. Some fantasies, like big pieces of furniture, won't come through.



In ancient religion all significant behavior was acc[ording] to a divine prototype.


Man > arena of forces, battleground

Gods = names of important things

a. Homer on volition (cf. Snell [the German classicist Bruno Snell, author of The Discovery of Mind in Greek Philosophy and Literature]

b. Tragedy

A causal analysis

A god wills > humans act

No conception of roles


Modern idea of individuality < > role-playing (i.e. self-consciousness)


Compare Hamlet and Oedipus


How beautiful [von Sternberg's 1935 film] The Devil Is a Woman is! It's one of the most extreme films I've ever seen. Dietrich is completely object—almost lacquered, embalmed. Research into the absoluteness of décor: style obliterating personality ... Dietrich is "mounted" inside her costumes, her huge hats—behind the confetti, the streamers, the doves, the grilles, the rain ... Décor is "surcharge," both beautiful and parodic—


Compare with [the Italian director Luchino] Visconti (Senso, The Leopard) +, of course, Flaming Creatures [made in 1963 by the American experimental filmmaker Jack Smith. SS had written an essay on the film, which would appear in her first collection of essays, Against Interpretation (1966).]



[John] Donne's "Sermon Preached at White-Hall"—Feb. 29, 1627



My faults:

• To censor others for my own vices*

• To make my friendships into love affairs

• To ask that love include (and exclude) all

*but, perhaps this becomes most hectic and obvious—reaches a climax, when the thing in myself is deteriorating, giving way, collapsing—like: my indignation at Susan [Taubes's] [SS's close friend from Cambridge, Massachusetts, days] and Eva [Berliner Kollisch's] [a friend of SS's and Taubes's] physical squeamishness.


N.B. My ostentatious appetite—real need—to eat exotic and "disgusting" foods = a need to state my denial of squeamishness. A counter-statement.




"I got away, but I had to leave my arms and legs behind ..."


Not to look back means cordoning off all sorts of things in the present which are too full of memories that can't be suppressed. To disinfect my life of—, of this nearly mortal grief, I find myself refraining from this, and this, and this. The greatest loss is sex. That, and so many other things, remind me of—.

I can't afford to allow the present any depth or ballast, because that means (for me) the past, and the past means all that was shared with—.


I feel—when I'm not sorrowing—so dry, like powder, like a helium balloon that's been let go—

I've forbidden myself to think, to feel, because thinking and feeling—


How can I go on this way?

And how can I not?




"I'm sorry not to have written. Life is tough, and its hard to talk while one is gritting one's teeth ..."



Color in films

[Teinosuke Kinugasa's 1953 film] Gate of Hell


[Alain Resnais's 1963 film] Muriel


Two palettes: one based on skin color, one not (city, plastic, neon)


The orgasm—repeated overexposed sequence in [Resnais's 1961 film Last Year at] Marienbad


Relation of parody + self-parody in camp


[The twentieth-century French artist Jean-Robert] Ipous-téguy's sculpture—the heroic figure (large head, arms outstretched, pubic hair like a badge—penis rides free), in bronze, but cracked, fissured ...



"I don't want to know about your past. I have a feeling it would weigh too much."

"But we're not on a balance."

"But we are."



Marxism a position vis-à-vis culture


—[Theodor] Adorno, Philosophy of New Music

[Arnold] Schoenberg = progress

[Igor] Stravinsky = fascism (whom A. identifies with just one period, the neo-classical)

[In the margin:] NB parallels [between] Stravinsky + [Pablo] Picasso—raiding the past [in their] different styles—no commitment to progress


—[Georg] Lukács

[Thomas] Mann = realism = sense of history = Marxism

[Franz] Kafka = allegory = dehistoricization = fascism


—[Walter] Benjamin

Cinema = abolition of tradition = fascism


(Use this as introduction to Lukács essay)




Read the two novels of [the contemporary French novelist Jean-Marie Gustave] Le Clézio


"J'ai besoin de beaucoup de tendresse." ["I need a great deal of tenderness."]


"Écrire veut dire aller jusqu'au bout. J'ai renoncé à ça dans ma vie, mais dans ce que j'écris, je dois prendre un risque." ["To write means to go all the way. I've renounced this in life, but in what I write, I must take risks."]


"C'est trop et c'est juste assez pour moi" (Jean Cocteau) ["It's too much and it's just enough for me"] Motto of Cahiers du Cinéma American Cinema issue (Jan. 1963)




Lineage of Le Bavard [by Louis-René des Forêts]: Poe

[Jorge Luis] Borges says: [G. K.] Chesterton, [Robert Louis] Stevenson, + early films of von Sternberg


Do essays on:

• The first person narrative, the récit

• Von Sternberg

• [Herman Melville's novel] Pierre[: or, The Ambiguities]

• Style + silence Gertrude Stein, etc.



All great art contains at its center contemplation, a dynamic contemplation.


Camp is one of the species of behaviorism in art—it is, so extremely, it has no norm to reflect.



Modern aesthetics is crippled by its dependence upon the concept of "beauty." As if art were "about" beauty—as science is "about" truth!



[The contemporary American artist R. B.] Kitaj: "found + assisted object"





For Sarraute piece, read early essay by [Pierre] Boulez (printed by "Domaine Musicale") "On Hedonism."


For [SS's essay on the contemporary French anthropologist Claude] Lévi-Strauss, read [Paul] Ricoeur essay in Esprit




[The contemporary German composer Karlheinz] Stockhausen's work abolishes the notion of composition—proposes

1. Any rhythmic structure may be organically adapted to any tempo; 2) unlimited cycle of permutations.

Boulez rejects (1) + (2)



9/23/64 New York

Inspiratory emphasis


Inhale > lower (flatten diaphragm) > suppress sensation—pelvic, i.e. sexual


Therefore secret of a feeling is learning to breathe out



Spiritual chemistry ...

Effect irradiates into other zones ...

Cut the dialogue into panels and make a great screen of ...


Flaming Creatures is sexual, sexually stimulating (not just a spoof on sex) in the same sense that sex is also silly, grotesque, awkward, ugly.


One man thinks before he acts. Another man thinks after he acts. Each is of the opinion that the other thinks too much.


A murder: like a flashbulb (panoramic photo) going off in a dark forest, lighting up all the obscure, frightened woodland life. (Dallas—Nov. 1963)



Subject: the second birth of the self


Through the mad "project"


Shedding the past—exile—aborting the self



Principle of redundancy

(e.g. traffic lights)

red < > green

up < > down

stop < > go


Get more precise communication


English is so precise because it's so redundant ... > cf. [the twentieth-century English literary critic and poet William] Empson on complex words: words have resonances, halos, vibrations. Literary work is strung on them. "E.g. "fool," "honest"


Vs. a telegram


Redundancy necessary to convey info—but what is the connection with beauty, the non-utilitarian


Mathematicians say of a certain equation "it's beautiful" because it is so simple, so non-redundant.


Connection between style (stylishness) and redundancy [—] e.g. films of von Sternberg


Connection between redundancy and "the replicate."



Women are "politically transparent" in the 19th century.



We have all the elements—just have to bolt them down, then attack the warhead—then launch it.




Catenary curve


So much in modern life that can be enjoyed, once one gets over the nausea of the replicate.


Moralists like [the twentieth-century American writer on urbanism Lewis] Mumford vs. aesthetes like [the contemporary American architect] Philip Johnson.


Seriousness—the highest form is the same as irony.


I was afraid of my mother, physically afraid. Not afraid of her anger, afraid of her decreasing the little emotional nourishment she supplied me, but afraid of her. Afraid of Rosie [SS's nanny, Rose McNulty], too.


Mother slapped me across the face—for talking back, for contradicting her.


I've always made excuses for her. I've never allowed my anger, my outrage.



If I can't bring judgment against the world, I must bring it against myself.


I'm learning to bring judgment against the world.



As a writer, I tolerate error, poor performance, failure. So what if I fail some of the time, if a story or an essay is no good? Sometimes things do go well, the work is good. And that's enough.


It's just this attitude I don't have about sex. I don't tolerate error, failure—therefore I'm anxious from the start, and therefore I'm more likely to fail. Because I don't have the confidence that some of the time (without my forcing anything) it will be good.



If only I could feel about sex as I do about writing! That I'm the vehicle, the medium, the instrument of some force beyond myself.


I experience the writing as given to me—sometimes, almost, as dictated. I let it come, try not to interfere with it. I respect it, because it's me and yet more than me. It's personal and transpersonal, both.


I would like to feel that way about sex, too. As if "nature" or "life" used me. And I trust that, and let myself be used.


An attitude of surrender to oneself, to life. Prayer. Let it be, whatever it will be. I give myself to it.


Prayer: peace and voluptuousness.


In this, no room for shame and anxiety as to how the little old self rates in the light of some objective standard of performance.


One must be devout about sex. Then, one won't dare to be anxious. Anxiety will never be revealed for what it is—spiritual meanness, pettiness, small-mindedness.



Q: Do you succeed always?

A: Yes, I succeed thirty percent of the time.

Q: Then you don't succeed always.

A: Yes I do. To succeed 30% of the time is always.







Article by Lévi-Strauss on Christmas in The New Society (mag[azine])


[Marcel] Proust, "About Flaubert's Style," in Pleasures and Days, ed[ited by the American literary critic F. W.] Dupee (Anchor [Books])


Hermes—new French mag[azine] on mysticism ([Mircea] Eliade, [Alan] Watts, [Henry] Corbin, etc.)


[The contemporary French writer Michel] Butor, The Four Seasons, New World Writing (Rothko—soft Mondrians)


[SS marked an X in the margin:] Any trans[lation] in English of Louis-René des Forêts ([published by John] Calder in London)



Science fiction—

Popular mythology for contemporary negative imagination about the impersonal


Otherworld creatures = the it, what takes over



Essay: style, silence, repetition.



Kurt Goldstein, Language and Language Disturbances (Grune & Stratton, 1960)—

aphasia read



Noble feelings / ignoble feelings



Loyalty to oneself





Comparison between [Paul] Klee + Valéry

Theory + art



[The Russian-born American constructivist sculptor Naum] Gabo: negative space


To "construct" something is to carve the space out of it (to disclose the space).


[Gabo:] "We deny volume as an expression of space ... We reject solid mass as an element of plasticity." (1920)


Gabo: Must see the sculpture from all sides—it's three dimensional.


Innovations: Use of new materials—plastic, celluloid, wire; + making sculpture move (either to see it / or because the movement is the subject) > e.g. Kinetic Construction (1920)


Bring sculpture close to architecture.



[Marcel] Duchamp: Readymades as not art, but a philosophical point





Circular style ([Gertrude] Stein) > read Donald Sutherland's book [the American critic, playwright, and librettist, who, in 1951, wrote Gertrude Stein: A Biography of Her Work]


Cf. [Jean-Paul] Sartre on "the white style" of [Albert] Camus's L'Étranger [The Stranger]





W[illiam] James acknowledged that "morbid-mindedness"—defined it, rather—as ranging over "a wider scale of experience" than healthy-mindedness


—the "value" in what is evil or lunatic



[Erik] Satie's "furniture music"—background, not meant to be listened to with all one['s] attention


Andy Warhol's films



Read [the contemporary American literary critic J.] Hillis Miller book


Art is a form of consciousness





One difference between naming a feeling ("I feel terrible") and expressing it ("Ohh ... .") is the response you get: "Why?" or "What's the matter?" By naming a feeling in order to give vent to it—a practice very much promoted by psychoanalysis—you make a co-reasoner out of your consoler.



Use of markings on a roll of film (the "leader") as part of the content of the film: Bruce Conner's A Movie (like exposing the structure of a building, or—Brecht—the mechanism of the set)


Cross-cutting between old film quote + event in film:


Godard, Vivre Sa Vie [featuring] Renée Falconetti + Anna Karina

[The American experimental filmmaker Kenneth] Anger, Scorpio Rising [where he crosscuts between material from Cecil B.] DeMille's King of Kings + motorcyclist's orgy (sound track: "Going to a Party" [actually "Party Lights"])

[The Spanish director Luis] Buñuel's L'Age d'Or [with its] use of Christ to illustrate De Sade episode



Paul Ricoeur, "Structure et herméneutique," in Esprit, Nov. 1963


3 other essays on Lévi-Strauss in same issue, plus interview





18th century the great period of camp—distributed through whole culture


[Alexander] Pope—Spurious passage in "Epistle to Dr Arbuthnot": " ... And he himself one vile Antithesis."


[William] Congreve—Symmetrical (like billiards): passion A, passion B






18th century drama: no development—whole character there—instant feelings summed up in an epigram—love born or dies





Characteristics of art nouveau paintings + drawings:

Symmetrical composition, attenuated curves, spare use of color, slender bodies.

Le Rouget's restaurant—Art Nouveau décor near Gare Montparnasse







De Sade, Andrea de Nerciat, Restif de la Bretonne >>> triumvirate of 18th-century French libertines


Earl of Rochester [John Wilmot], John Cleland >>> English (N.B. [Laurence] Sterne, John Wilkes, + Robert Burns all belonged to erotic secret societies. Wilkes the Medmenham Monks, Burns the Caledonian Muses)


18th century—no guilt; atheism; more philosophical, polemical

19th century—guilt, horror


Andrea de Nerciat—career officer in French army (father was Italian); got to be colonel:

Two great philosophical works:


[Radiguet's novel] Le Diable au Corps (3 vols.)—alternates between narrative + dialogue; starts with countess (slut) + marquise (the heroine—like [Proust's character] Duchesse de Guermantes—beautiful, worldly, rich; everyone curries her favor)

Affair between the two—+ contesse tells stories.

Sex never condemned, always pleasurable

A lot of social satire


[Andrea de Nerciat's novel] Les Aphrodites (3 vols.)—a secret sexual society; tells stories.


Also a novel, Monrose; and Félicia (best known book—erotic but gallant, not pornographic)




Death = being completely inside one's own head

Life = the world




Proust, in a letter:


"What's more, ever since Hervieu, Hermant, etc., snobbish has been so frequently represented from the outside that I wanted to try to show it inside the person, like a wonderful kind of imagination ..."


Like camp



One criticizes in others what one recognizes + despises in oneself. For example, an artist who is revolted by another's ambitiousness.



Underneath the depression, I found my anxiety.



History of film


This is the first generation of directors who are aware of film history; cinema now entering era of self-consciousness



[The German film scholar and writer Siegfried] Kracauer: movies—anti-art; anti-auteur





Femininity = weakness (or being strong through weakness)


No image of strong woman who is just strong, + takes the consequences




Conceiving all relationships as between a master and a slave ...


In each case, which was I to be? I found more gratification as a slave; I was more nourished. But—master or slave, one is equally unfree. One cannot step away, get out of character.


A relationship of equals is one not tied to "roles."



Where I detected envy, I forbore to criticize—lest my motives be impure, and my judgment less than impartial. I was benevolent. I was malicious only about strangers, people who were indifferent.


It seems noble.


But, thereby, I rescued my "superiors," those I admired, from my dislike, my aggression. Criticism was reserved only for those "beneath" me, whom I didn't respect ... I used my power of criticism to confirm the status quo.



Wayne Andrews, [Architecture, Ambition and Americans: A Social History of ] American Architecture

John Cage, Silence

Sir Oliver Lodge, Raymond

Daisy Ashford, The Young Visitors


Read Max Beerbohm, "Savonarola Brown," [Ronald Firbank's 1926 novel, Concerning the Eccentricities of] Cardinal Pirelli, Diary of Nijinsky


Soft-focus thinking (as in the 4 lectures) whose virtue is aliveness, being improvised, being contemporary to the situation in which it's uttered;—vs sharp-focus thinking (writing) which is more accurate, complex, unrepetitive, but has to be prepared in advance—like a Greek statue with blank eyes



Say I have a dreary feeling (Z) which I want to combat—a feeling which gives rise to something I repeatedly do or say that I wish I didn't.


If I merely suppress the behavior (if that's even possible) I recharge the feeling behind it.


Recipe for killing the feeling: Act it out in an exaggerated form.


The chagrin one feels then is far more memorable and therapeutic.



"depends where I get flung off ..."


read [the Austrian-British art historian Ernst] Gombrich, Wilhelm Meister [Goethe's second novel, The Apprenticeship of Wilhelm Meister, published in 1795]



Injured, scarred in the face


Marked Woman [1937 Hollywood film directed by Lloyd Bacon and Michael Curtiz and starring Bette Davis, Humphrey Bogart, and Lola Lane]


Bette Davis—M.

• smoking at beginning (sign of independence from boss—Johnny Vanning / blows smoke in his face).



Nietzsche: "no facts, only interpretations."


Art is never a photograph.



Mimetic theory of art: art < > reality


Plato: measures art by the standard of truth


Aristotle: emotional effect of lying.



Social facts > "fact"


Psychological facts > "imagination"


Many different relations between art + fact

1. reportorial

2. ironic—pop art [—] Andy Warhol's 129 Die; front page of [Hearst-owned New York tabloid that folded in 1963] Daily Mirror

3. Patronizing reality: New Yorker fiction; some passages in The Group



Problem as a writer:

Never think of model

Don't think of units of art as facts





Erwin Straus, "The Upright Posture," Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 1942





Resurrections (in literature):


Osamu Dazai, No Longer Human, The Setting Sun


[Jan Potocki,] The Saragossa Manuscript


[Ghislain de Diesbach,] The Toys of Princes


[Machado de Assis,] Epitaph of a Small Winner


[Witold Gombrowicz,] Ferdydurke


[Stendhal,] Armance


[Knut Hamsun,] Pan



"Another merry day"


"Acting up a storm"



On [Antonin] Artaud-[Jacques] Rivière correspondance, pp. 45-52 of [Maurice] Blanchot, Le Livre à Venir.


Read [Thomas] Carlyle, Sartor Resartus on the dandy [—] "the dandiacal body"


"J'ai le cafard" ["I'm blue"]


Interesting new sculpture rejects the pedestal ([the American sculptor George] Sugarman etc.)


Refinement, finesse: Camp, based on an exaggeration of this value, makes this central; it isn't. Vigor, vitality is at least as important. But it is important. Cf. Jasper Johns


Essay on camp an example of the larger point—the imp[ortance] of—the idea of—sensibility. Talking about Camp a way of making this point.


Modern art related to 20th century revolution in the graphic arts. We are first generation in human history to live surrounded by print artifacts (comics, billboards, newspapers)—a second nature.


[The American art historian Meyer] Schapiro one of the first to be interested in [Jackson] Pollock, [Willem] de Kooning (late 40s)


Find Schapiro essay on modern art in The Listener, 1956



Warhol ideas: single image (monotonized); the impersonal



"What is it?" before "Is it any good?"



André Breton, a connoisseur of freedom






Meyer Schapiro


"The Nature of Abstract Art," Marxist Quarterly, vol. 1, no. 1 (1937) reply by Delmore Schwartz, a reply to that by Schapiro, op. cit., vol. 1, no. 2 (April-June 1937)


"Style" (Kroeber vol.) [Schapiro's essay in Alfred Louis Kroeber's Anthropology Today]


On Modern Art, The Listener, 1956


"Metaphysics for the Movies," Marxist Quarterly, Vol. 1, No. 3 (Oct.-Dec. 1937)—attack on Mortimer Adler

• "On the Aesthetic Attitude in Romanesque Art," in [K. Bharatha Iyer,] Art & Thought ...



Priest and Worker: The Autobiography of Henri Perrin Translated and with an introduction by Bernard Wall





[There is a box drawn around this:] Style


Style as mode of change in art.

Consciousness of style the same as consciousness of historicity of the art work

Velocity of styles in contemporary painting


Contra "style," aestheticism—cf. [a friend of SS's beginning in the 1960s, the French critic Roland] Barthes, "Les Maladies du Costume de Théâtre"—Essais Critiques





Work of Art


An experiment, a research (solving a "problem") vs form of play





[Michelangelo Antonioni's film] L'Avventura

Hard to believe [it was made] only four years ago ...


Only learn at the end that Claudia is poor




A's scenes always have the same duration on screen as they w[oul]d in life—no manipulation of time in the cutting—


"Abandon the supernatural casuistry of positives + negatives"—A's refusal to make a villain of Sandro


Makes films about emotions, but refuses to let his actors "emote" (à la [the Italian film director Federico] Fellini + Visconti)—that w[oul]d be "rhetoric"


New style: "Against Rhetoric"




A's films are "literary" in that they are full of complex references


Self-conscious film-making—Fitzgerald['s Tender Is the Night] in L'A[vventura]




(They have literate scripts) but not like traditional stories


> A's films: a kind of writing ("caméra-stylo" [literally "camera-pen" of the French film critic and director Alexandre ] Astruc) done by the director who "uses" the actors

• Why does one "write"?

• Answer—idea of a film as recording, incarnating

Material must necessarily be diffuse, non-dramatic (hence, failure of [Antonioni's 1957 film] Il Grido)





[The next three entries have a box drawn around them.]


A number is the set of all sets which are equivalent to each other


A cardinal number is the class of all similar classes


To every finite set can be assigned a cardinal number


My friendships (Paul—[SS's friend the American artist Paul Thek] etc.) are weightless. Now, since—, I experience them as maintenance problems. I'm juggling my schedule, paying dues ...


"Every life is a defense of a particular form." [—the Austrian composer Anton] von Webern


(Kitaj painting)





Buy: OUP editions of [the Welsh alchemist and Rosicrucian Thomas] Vaughan, [Andrew] Marvell, + [the metaphysical poet Richard] Crashaw.


Vaughan sermon on dying


[The French writer Alfred de Musset's 1834 play) Loren-zaccio ...


Walter Benjamin's book on the baroque.


Frederic Farrar, History of Interpretation (1886)




Iris Murdoch, "How I Write a Novel," Yale Review, spring '64


Franz Borkenau, book on 17th century (1934)—Pascal, Racine, Descartes, Hobbes [The Transition from the Feudal to the Bourgeois World View]

• John Cage, Silence

[The Russian filmmaker Vsevolod] Pudovkin on film [Film Technique and Film Acting]




Novel: discovering the life of the body (posture, gesture Carolee's [the American performance artist Carolee Schneemann] "I had to deal with the fire," [the Swedish sculptor] Claes Oldenburg's "very involved these days with hallways") ... two characters—one who makes it, one who doesn't.

Copyright © 2012 by David Rieff

Customer Reviews