At the Same Time Essays and Speeches

Susan Sontag; Edited by Paolo Dilonardo and Anne Jump; Foreword by David Rieff

Farrar, Straus and Giroux




256 Pages



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"A writer is someone who pays attention to the world," Susan Sontag said in her 2003 acceptance speech for the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade, and no one exemplified this definition more than she. Sontag's incisive intelligence, expressive brilliance, and deep curiosity about art, politics, and the writer's responsibility to bear witness have secured her place as one of the most important thinkers and writers of the twentieth century. At the Same Time gathers sixteen essays and addresses written in the last years of Sontag's life, when her work was being honored on the international stage, that reflect on the personally liberating nature of literature, her deepest commitment, and on political activism and resistance to injustice as an ethical duty. She considers the works of writers from the little-known Soviet novelist Leonid Tsypkin, who struggled and eventually succeeded in publishing his only book days before his death; to the greats, such as Nadine Gordimer, who enlarge our capacity for moral judgment. Sontag also fearlessly addresses the dilemmas of post-9/11 America, from the degradation of our political rhetoric to the appalling torture of prisoners in Abu Ghraib.

At the Same Time, which includes a foreword by her son, David Rieff, is a work from an American writer at the height of her powers, who always saw literature "as a passport to enter a larger life, the zone of freedom."


Praise for At the Same Time

"At the Same Time, a posthumous collection of [Sontag's] speeches and essays, shows how her feeling for a vanished Europe deepened even as she grew more distrustful of an America she saw in the grip of a 'dangerous, lobotomizing notion of endless war.' Mostly written during the Bush administration, [the essays] reveal a darkening vision of America as well as the rest of the contemporary world . . . The amplified note of despair and loss in At the Same Time makes Sontag resemble one of the European 'last' intellectuals she often wrote about, 'that Saturnine hero of modern culture' standing along in the ruins of history . . . In her latter weariness with modern civilization, Sontag fulfilled a particularly American destiny. Gertrude Stein once claimed that America was the oldest country in the world, since it was the 'mother of the 20th-century civilization.' Sontag, who had a tragic sense of history rarely found among her peers, never failed to absorb the lessons of her country's old age and accumulated experience of modernity. It is why the melancholy and occasional bitter wisdom of her last writings appear to be of a mature and passionately engaged American rather than of a marginal and jaded European sensibility—one that has not only learned from the past but, by grappling vigorously with the present, can also divine, if gloomily, the future."—Pankaj Mishra, The New York Times Book Review

"The world lost a brilliant, passionate, and ethical thinker and writer when Susan Sontag died in December 2004. In his moving foreword to this collection of resonant essays and speeches, Sontag's son, David Rieff, writes that his mother 'was interested in everything. Indeed, if I had only one word with which to evoke her, it would be avidity.' But for all her arresting insights into photography and other arts, literature was Sontag's true love, and nowhere else has she so directly addressed what literature accomplishes. Sontag was working on this book at the end of her life, and it is a generously personal volume addressing her greatest ardors and gravest concerns. Here is Sontag on beauty, Russian literature, and the art of literary translation. Here, too, are Sontag's clarion writings on Israel, 9/11, and Abu Ghraib. Although Sontag was happiest writing fiction, she never failed to celebrate the work of others or protest injustice and brutality, and in this she was both artist and hero."—Donna Seaman, Booklist

"As a writer, late American literary luminary Sontag managed to cross genres with ease and grace. She received prizes and acclaim for her fiction . . . but also captured public attention through essays that brooked both political and literary spheres, elucidating their interconnectedness. This latest collection of sixteen essays written toward the end of her life continues that tradition. It ranges widely: Sontag references early Christian scholars, 17th-century painters, and contemporary political leaders. She breezily assumes the breadth of her readers' understanding and in doing so shocks them out of any national, and thus parochial, view of literature or current events. The preface is by David Rieff, Sontag's only son."—Maria Kochis, Library Journal

"Literature and politics are inextricably intertwined and unified by moral purpose in this powerful collection of pieces (a couple not previously published in English or at all) by iconic critic and novelist Sontag, who died in 2004. Sontag was a dedicated champion of literature in translation, and the book opens with several introductions to such works, led off by a meditation on beauty. The section might have been called 'Art and Ardor,' so laced is it with artistic passion, both Sontag's own and that of the writers she celebrates, such as Leonid Tsypkin and Anna Banti. Part three contains speeches Sontag gave in accepting the Jerusalem Prize and other awards, and honoring others whose moral courage she admired. But most striking is to re-read the pieces she wrote in the wake of 9/11 and the Abu Ghraib scandal, which constitute the book's middle section. Sontag's controversial attack on the Bush administration immediately after 9/11 may have been an act of courage or of folly, but from a distance of five years, her critique seems on the mark. Sontag's brilliance as a literary critic, her keen analytical skill and her genius for the searingly apt phrase (like her damning 'the photographs are us' in relation to the Abu Ghraib photos) are all fiercely displayed here."—Publishers Weekly (starred review)



  • Susan Sontag; Edited by Paolo Dilonardo and Anne Jump; Foreword by David Rieff

  • Susan Sontag was the author of four novels, including In America, which won the 2000 National Book Award for Fiction; a collection of stories; several plays; and seven works of nonfiction. She died in New York City on December 28, 2004.

  • Susan Sontag Mikhail Lemkhin