Thursday, December 30, 2004

R.I.P. Susan Sontag

Susan Sontag, the author, activist and self-defined "zealot of seriousness" whose voracious mind and provocative prose made her a leading intellectual of the past half century, died Tuesday 28 December, 2004. She was 71.

Sontag died at 7:10 a.m. Tuesday, said Esther Carver, a spokeswoman for Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in Manhattan.

The hospital declined to release a cause of death. Sontag had been treated for breast cancer in the 1970s.

Sontag called herself a "besotted aesthete," an "obsessed moralist" and a "zealot of seriousness." Tall and commanding, her very presence suggested grand, passionate drama: eyes the richest brown; thick, black hair accented by a bolt of white; the voice deep and assured; her expression a severe stare or a wry smile, as if amused by a joke only she could tell.

She wrote a best-selling historical novel, "The Volcano Lover," and in 2000 won the National Book Award for the historical novel "In America." But her greatest literary impact was as an essayist.

The 1964 piece "Notes on Camp," which established her as a major new writer, popularized the "so bad it's good" attitude toward popular culture, applicable to everything from "Swan Lake" to feather boas. In "Against Interpretation," this most analytical of writers worried that critical analysis interfered with art's "incantatory, magical" power.

She also wrote such influential works as "Illness as Metaphor," in which she examined how disease had been alternately romanticized and demonized, and "On Photography," in which she argued pictures sometimes distance viewers from the subject matter. "On Photography" received a National Book Critics Circle award in 1978. "Regarding the Pain of Others," a partial refutation of "On Photography," was an NBCC finalist in 2004.

She read authors from all over the world and is credited with introducing such European intellectuals as Roland Barthes and Elias Canetti to American readers.

"I know of no other intellectual who is so clear-minded with a capacity to link, to connect, to relate," Carlos Fuentes, the Mexican novelist, once said. "She is unique."

Unlike many American writers, she was deeply involved in politics, even after the 1960s. From 1987-89, Sontag served as president of American chapter of the writers organization PEN. When the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini called for Salman Rushdie's death because of the alleged blasphemy of "The Satanic Verses," she helped lead protests in the literary community.

Sontag campaigned relentlessly for human rights and throughout the 1990s traveled to the region of Yugoslavia, calling for international action against the growing civil war. In 1993, she visited Sarajevo and staged a production of "Waiting for Godot."

Reading and writing

The daughter of a fur trader, she was born Susan Rosenblatt in New York in 1933, and also spent her early years in Tucson, Arizona, and Los Angeles. Her mother was an alcoholic; her father died when she was 5. Her mother later married an Army officer, Capt. Nathan Sontag.

Susan Sontag remembered her childhood as "one long prison sentence." She skipped three grades and graduated from high school at 15; the principal told her she was wasting her time there. Her mother, meanwhile, warned if she did not stop reading she would never marry.

Her mother was wrong. At the University of Chicago, she attended a lecture by Philip Rieff, a social psychologist and historian. They were married 10 days later. She was 17, he 28. "He was passionate, he was bookish, he was pure," she later said of him.

By the mid-1960s, she and Rieff were divorced (they had a son, David, born in 1952), and Sontag had emerged in New York's literary society. She was known for her essays, but also wrote fiction, although not so successfully at first. "Death Kit" and "The Benefactor" were experimental novels few found worth getting through.

"Unfortunately, Miss Sontag's intelligence is still greater than her talent," Gore Vidal wrote in a 1967 review of "Death Kit."

"Yet ... once she has freed herself of literature, she will have the power to make it, and there are not many American writers one can say that of."

Her fiction became more accessible. She wrote an acclaimed short story about AIDS, "The Way We Live Now," and a best-selling novel, "The Volcano Lover," about Lord Nelson and his mistress Lady Hamilton.

In 2000, her novel "In America," about the 19th-century Polish actress Helena Modjeska, was a commercial disappointment and was criticized for the uncredited use of material from fiction and nonfiction sources. Nonetheless, Sontag won the National Book Award.


Sontag's work also included making the films "Duet For Cannibals" and "Brother Carl" and writing the play "Alice in Bed," based on the life of Alice James, the ailing sister of Henry and William James. Sontag appeared as herself in Woody Allen's mock documentary, "Zelig."

In 1999 she wrote an essay for "Women," a compilation of portraits by her longtime companion, photographer Annie Leibovitz.

Sontag did not practice the art of restrained discourse. Writing in the 1960s about the Vietnam War she declared "the white race is the cancer of human history." Days after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, she criticized U.S. foreign policy and offered backhanded praise for the hijackers.

"Where is the acknowledgment that this was not a 'cowardly' attack on 'civilization' or 'liberty' or 'humanity' or 'the free world' but an attack on the world's self-proclaimed superpower, undertaken as a consequence of specific American alliances and actions?" she wrote in The New Yorker.

"In the matter of courage (a morally neutral virtue): whatever may be said of the perpetrators of Tuesday's slaughter, they were not cowards."

Even among sympathetic souls, she found reason to contend. At a 1998 dinner, she was one of three given a Writers For Writers Award for contributions to others in the field. Sontag spoke after fellow guest of honor E.L. Doctorow, who urged writers to treat each other as "colleagues" and worried about the isolation of what he called "print culture."

"I agree with Mr. Doctorow that we are all colleagues, but there are perhaps too many of us," Sontag stated.

"Nobody has to be a writer. Print culture may be under siege, but there has been an enormous inflation in the number of books printed, and very few of these could be considered part of literature. ... Unlike what has been said here before, for me the primary obligation is human solidarity."

Susan Sontag obituary @ BBC

Monday, December 20, 2004

DJing At Swäg & Club Telex, Friday 17 December 2004

As if everyone cared, here are playlists by yours truly from Friday's sets at two different events. Can't tell much anything about Swäg's acts since I had to hurry to Telex after my early-night set, but as said before, it was too bad these two events serving rare quality electronic sounds in Tampere were overlapping. At Telex Putsch '79 was truly excellent live with their discofunk galore (I interviewed Sami Liuski, the other member of Putsch '79 in April 2003). Pavan from Sweden was nice too, made me think of his fellow countrymen Pluxus somehow. (But we could have used more crowd at Telex anyhow: where were all you lazy people, at home dwiddling with your Playstations, bongs and unnamed body parts...? Anyway, thanks
to all who were there.


17 December 2004,
Swäg IX
@ Café Valo, Tampere

da eklektik anyding goes set

Lalo Schifrin: Theme from Enter The Dragon
Add N to (X): Revenge of the Black Regent
Wagon Christ: How You Really Feel
Tom Tyler: No Dice
DJ Food: Scratch Your Head (Squarepusher mix)
David Bowie: Sons of the Silent Age
Scott Walker / The Walker Brothers: Orpheus
Manuel Göttsching: E2-E4 - Ruhige Nervosität
Itäväylä: Black Diamond Express
Vainio Väisänen Vega: Medal
Green Velvet: Flash
Autechre: Flutter
Aphex Twin: Children Talking
Nilsson: Everybody's Talking


17 December 2004,
Club Telex
@ Yo-Talo, Tampere

da relentless elektro trainspotta fanboy set

Yellow Magic Orchestra: Computer Game
Analog Fingerprints: Taxes For Trash
Mesak: Back To The Future
Carl A. Finlow: Electro Commando
D.I.E.: 313Frequency
Max Durante & Keith Tucker: Digital System
Mojojojo: Krak@tak
Auxmen: We Rock Like This
Drexciya: Depressurization
69: Ladies & Gentlemen
Blastromen: Sexy Droid
Aux 88: I Need To Freak (Microknow Vocal Remix)
VCS-2600: Debug Scan
Imatran Voima: Commando
Club Telex Noise Ensemble: KVY (Legowelt mix)
Dave Clarke: No One's Driving
Dynamix II: Pledge Your Allegiance To Electro Funk
Bass Junkie: Deep Bass Matrix (vocal)

Saturday, December 11, 2004

Reindeer Disko 2 by DJ pHinn

Since our Estonian friends liked so much the Reindeer Disko selection I made for their Net radio Kohviradio.Com last June, they asked me for another selection (not an actual mix), so click "reindeer disko 2 by dj phinn" at:

The tracks:

1. Munich Machine: La Nuit Blanche
2. Yello: Daily Disco
3. Propaganda: P-Machinery
4. Blake Baxter: Forever And A Day
5. Unidentified Sound Objects: AAEagle 2
6. Dick Hyman: Give It Up Or Turn It Loose
7. Perrey & Kingsley: One Note Samba - Spanish Flea
8. Prince: Bob George
9. Blastromen: Sexy Droid
10. Kompleksi vs Citizen Omega: Bioluminescence
11. Der Zyklus: Biometric ID
12. Calico Wall: I'm A Living Sickness
13. Coil: Love's Secret Domain
14. Chicks on Speed & The No Heads: Madalyn Albright's Answer
15. Carola & Heikki Sarmanto Trio: The Flame