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Susan Sontag

Through her work as a literary and cultural critic, Susan Sontag called long-held assumptions and taboos into question. After her divorce in 1959, Sontag pursued her dream of becoming a writer, publishing twenty-six essays and a novel in a three-year period while teaching philosophy at various universities and editing for Commentary magazine. While she wrote novels, short stories, films, and plays, she was best known for her critical essays exploring a broad range of topics. In her first book, Against Interpretation, she argued that criticism should investigate a subject deeply, but without interpreting or judging it. Her award-winning On Photography explored the potential of the medium to awaken the conscience of the viewer and the danger of exploiting and violating its subjects. And in 1978, Illness as Metaphor examined the ways in which diseases are used as metaphors for social problems and vice versa, and the implications that has for how we treat both illness and social problems. In 1989, as president of the PEN American Center, Sontag rallied support for Salman Rushdie, and after the 9/11 attacks, she criticized the Iraq War and the American mistreatment of prisoners.

Susan Sontag, 2001
Full image

In her essays, or "case-studies," examining art and the "modern sensibility," Susan Sontag covered topics from photography to illness to fascism. One of the most widely read cultural critics of her generation, she is pictured here on a visit to Israel to receive the 2001 Jerusalem Prize, an event which engendered much debate regarding her relationship with the Jewish community.

Institution: Jerusalem International Book Fair

Date of Birth
January 16, 1933
Place of Birth
New York, New York
Date of Death
December 28, 2004

How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Susan Sontag." (Viewed on January 16, 2018) <>.


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