Before I read this book I had a lot of name recognition for Susan Sontag (thank you liberal arts degree) but wasn’t that familiar with her actual writing. At the Same Time is a collection of her essays and speeches, published posthumously in 2007, and comprising three categories: 1) essays about obscure literature; 2) essays about 9/11; and 3) speeches Sontag gave on varied themes (literature, courage, etc.).
Given that the major unifying thread for this collection is loose- essay or speech- my opinions on each section varied widely. The beginning section was my least favourite, as Sontag did deep dives into novels, largely Russian, that I had never even heard of, let alone read. While I appreciate her love for these novels, and appreciate knowing that these novels exist, it wasn’t a contagious love.
The best section was the middle section, Sontag’s essays about 9/11 and the war on terror. I was both young and Canadian when the twin towers came down (I remain Canadian, but not as young…), so this is the first time I’ve read Sontag’s essays about these events. I gather they were quite controversial at the time and my read now, much farther removed by time and nationality than Sontag would ever be, is that they are not wrong but in fact appropriately scathing. “Regarding the Torture of Others,” discussing the torture (and torture photos) that emerged out of Abu Ghraib, was the standout.
After the bright middle section, the last section was somewhat of a let down. Over the course of her life Sontag was given many honorary awards and asked to speak at a variety of awards ceremonies, and this chapter collects some of these speeches. They focus on topics like “Literature is Freedom” and the meaning of ‘courage’. This reading felt like work- it was like I was back in a college literary theory class trying to boil down what a theorist was saying to something more intelligible for the masses (read: for myself). I’d often find myself at the end of a page without understanding at all what I’d just read, and having to read it all over again with concentrated focus. For all that, I didn’t find that the ideas she was putting down were such unexpected or insightful gems as to merit so much brainpower after a day of work.
A quick note on the bingo tag: these essays did not have any content related to the CBR bingo square that I am enlisting it for, namely “Rainbow Flag”. Sontag was openly bisexual and her long term partner at the time of her death was the photographer Annie Leibovitz.
CBR11 Bingo- Rainbow Flag