Susan Sontag (1933–2004) was a novelist, playwright, filmmaker, and one of the most influential critics of her generation. Her books include Against Interpretation, On Photography, Illness as Metaphor, and The Volcano Lover.


Illness as Metaphor

Illness is the night-side of life, a more onerous citizenship. Everyone who is born holds dual citizenship, in the kingdom of the well and in the kingdom of the sick. Although we all prefer to use only the good passport, sooner or later each of us is obliged, at …


We linger unregenerately in Plato’s cave, still reveling, our age-old habit, in mere image of the truth. But being educated by photographs isn’t like being educated by older, more crafted images. For one thing, there are a great many more images around claiming our attention. Daguerre started the inventory, with …

The Ideal Husband

Notebooks, 1935-42

by Albert Camus, Translated from the French by Philip Thody
Great writers are either husbands or lovers. Some writers supply the solid virtues of a husband: reliability, intelligibility, generosity, decency. There are other writers in whom one prizes the gifts of a lover, gifts of temperament rather than of moral goodness. Notoriously, women tolerate qualities in a lover—moodiness, selfishness, unreliability, brutality—that they would never countenance in a husband, in return for excitement, an infusion of intense feeling. In the same way, readers put up with unintelligibility, obsessiveness, painful truths, lies, bad grammar—if, in compensation, the writer allows them to savor rare emotions and dangerous sensations. And, as in life, so in art both are necessary, husbands and lovers. It’s a great pity when one is forced to choose between them.


Simone Weil

Simone Weil in Marseilles, early 1940s
The culture-heroes of our liberal bourgeois civilization are anti-liberal and anti-bourgeois; they are writers who are repetitive, obsessive, and impolite, who impress by force—not simply by their tone of personal authority and by their intellectual ardor, but by the sense of acute personal and intellectual extremity. The bigots, the hysterics, the destroyers of the self—these are the writers who bear witness to the fearful polite time in which we live.

In Jerusalem

The writer’s first job is not to have opinions but to tell the truth…and refuse to be an accomplice of lies or misinformation. Literature is the expression of nuance and contrariness against the voices of simplification. The job of the writer is to make it harder to believe the mental …

On Wei Jingsheng

The following remarks were made at the PEN press conference in December 1995 at which Robert Stone read the above statement. I have been in China only two times, neither of them recent. The first time was in the early 1970s, at the end of the Cultural Revolution, when relatively …

Godot Comes to Sarajevo

“Nothing to be done.” “Nista ne moze da se uradi.” —opening line of Waiting for Godot I went to Sarajevo in mid-July to stage a production of Waiting for Godot not so much because I’d always wanted to direct Beckett’s play (although I had), as because it …