This week we are sharing, in celebration of 92Y Unterberg Poetry Center’s 75th anniversary, five new installments—one per day—of our 75 at 75 project, which features recordings from the Poetry Center’s archive and personal responses by contemporary authors. Today it’s Dubravka Ugrešić on a recording of Susan Sontag from 1992. Susan Sontag: The Complete Rolling Stone Interview will be published next week.
Asked what a writer is, Sontag pauses for a second and cautiously responds that “there are all kinds of writers” and that “every definition of a writer is true,” before clearly articulating her own definition: “A writer is someone who pays attention to the world.” “A writer is a professional observer,” she adds. And onwards, like a flash flood, as if to assert her manifesto in a single breath, Sontag speaks of the loneliness that is a prerequisite to writing (“writing does require solitude”); about political activism (how writers “should allow themselves to be drafted”); of how the contemporary writer is “a handworker in the era of mass production”; of how one becomes a writer simply because one “couldn’t help not to be a writer”; of writing as obsession and “auto-slavery”; of both American anti-intellectualism and the trap of elitism, not infrequently a mask for anti-intellectualism. “A writer is someone who creates or tries to create literature,” says Sontag, yet “literature is a tiny percent of what is produced in book form.”