Sunday, September 10, 2006

Leaving Home + Susan Sontag's Diaries + Drawing: Jeffrey Wright

Leaving Home, Off to Chicago
This is always the most difficult period of my year, leaving C., our home, and our two little cats, the spaces and places where I feel most comfortable, settled, at home, and creative, and returning to Chicago. Wrenching is putting it mildly. When I was younger, I thought a peripatetic life would at the very least be interesting, but I've come to realize that there's a huge difference between journeying out from one set place and living in two discrete places, one of which is in a city you're not particularly fond of, especially during the long, cold, isolating winter months. I love my job, especially teaching my classes and working with my superb students, but increasingly more complicated process of airplane commuting, the regular reorienting myself to a completely different place, and the act of recentering myself in order to live and write all take their toll.

I'm at the airport now, waiting to board the plane and overhearing a woman sitting next to me talking loudly, with a mix of both exasperation and astonishment, about how she had to surrender bottles of water and perfume! One man noted that he'd had to take his laptop out of his bag. (Where has he been the last half-decade?) I tend to imagine that everyone is aware of what's going on, but I guess not. As usual, I just heard that the flight to Chicago has been delayed by forty-five minutes, which is par for the course (they haven't used the usual preposterous excuse of "wind" in Newark or Chicago so far, so perhaps they're casting about for something equally implausible.)

Susan Sontag's Diaries
Today's New York Times Magazine features excerpts from Susan Sontag's late 50s and early 60s diaries. (I surreptitiously snapped the photo at left at the Met Museum's tiny but enthralling On Photography: A Tribute to Susan Sontag exhibit earlier this summer.) They are, to put it mildly, riveting--or at least I think so. In them she states unequivocally what many of us knew but which she did equivocate on publicly and even after death. Here are her words on the subject:

Dec. 24

My desire to write is connected with my homosexuality. I need the identity as a weapon, to match the weapon that society has against me.

It doesn’t justify my homosexuality. But it would give me — I feel — a license.

I am just becoming aware of how guilty I feel being queer. With H., I thought it didn’t bother me, but I was lying to myself. I let other people (e.g. Annette [Michelson, film scholar]) believe that it was H. who was my vice, and that apart from her I wouldn’t be queer or at least not mainly so.

. . .

Being queer makes me feel more vulnerable.

You can't be more definitive than that. I've only skimmed the entries, but her wrestling with her self, her record of the struggle of self and artistic creation, her ever lapidary appraisals, and her accounts of her social life (all sorts of people make appearances, including a young but even then cringe-inducing Allan Bloom, her early lover [Maria] I[rene] Fornes, and a nutty Robert Lowell (how fascinating to read her brief entry and compare it to the accounts in the Lowell-Bishop letters, or the biographies of him), are magnetic, and in their specificity and mundanity render her even more appealing. I can't wait till the full book is published (in 2008 or 2009, according to the brief preface), and I am hoping that the New Yorker, the New York Review of Books, or some other entity will publish even more of them. They also remind me that there's something to be said for keeping private records, for the power of revelation (after death or at least late in life), as opposed to the simultaneous, public, continuous baring of the self--or at least performances of various kinds of selves, the theatricality of self-presentations--that's so common today, especially online.

Drawing: Jeffrey Wright

Here's the drawing of Jeffrey Wright, I mentioned yesterday, from the staged reading of excerpts of Topdog/Underdog in the summer of 2001. As the drawing reminded me, I was drawing in the dark, but it still came out okay, I think. C. took me to see the Broadway production for my birthday, so I'm guessing that must have been the following year.


  1. J:
    Sorry that your wonderful time at home is at and end. All my best wishes for a great semester in Chicago.

    As for the Sontag Journals -- I CAN'T WAIT! I'm swooning already (and SO wish I could have made that show of photos at the Met)

  2. With your comments on Sontag's diaries, are you suggesting that we should anticipate with great relish posthumous revelations from you? Will it all turn out to have been impossibly fraught, messy and incandescently passionate behind the cool, measured skrim of the persona you maintain on the blog???? Can't wait!

    Kai in NYC

  3. Good luck to you in Chicago this semester. It seems to be a bitch to get there physically, mentally and in the sense of a writer's state of mind (lord, knows that can be hard to maintain); but, I am sure you will turn it out in the end.

  4. Reggie and Bill, thanks for the good wishes on the new quarter. It's going to be a wild bull, I can already see....

    Kai, all I can say is, if you only knew.... And you know, given that students, colleagues, and so on do read these blogs, I sometimes wonder what sorts of answers some bloggers will give about the information they've posted that really ought to have been kept private (or at least limited to a private circle of family, friends and associates). I know we live in a society in which people are expected to bare everything in bids for authenticity, popularity and celebrity, but at the same time, we don't really need to know, well, everything, do we?