Ways of Looking


Moser’s deep dive into Sontag’s personal life and her work includes exploration of published and unpublished writings. Credit Sonny Figueroa/The New York Times.

Benjamin Moser has published “Sontag,” a biography of Susan Sontag. This favorable review of it left me mulling the following remark:

“Biography is a metaphor,” Moser said. “It’s not the person’s life; it’s writing about a person’s life. Just like a photograph — lots of people have taken photographs of [Sontag], and they’re all different. You have to find your way of looking at her, and this is my way of looking at her.”
(Nina Siegal, “A Big New Biography of Susan Sontag Digs to Find the Person Beneath the Icon,” NYTimes, 9-15-19)

Calling biography “metaphor” is interesting. In an age when persons blithely deny the nose on their faces, it would be comforting to fantasize that biography recounted events in a person’s life more than ways of looking at the person. It must be inevitable that biography would assume its place next to politics, history, and climate in this gaslit moment of counterfactual perspectivism.

(c) 2019 JMN

About JMN

I live in Texas and devote much of my time to easel painting on an amateur basis. I stream a lot of music, mostly jazz, throughout the day. I like to read and memorize poetry.
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2 Responses to Ways of Looking

  1. The events recounted are first selected by the biographer and prioritised. Strands are extracted or imposed, possibly to illustrate the biographer’s ultimate view or views of the person. It’s essay writing on a theme with supporting evidence!

    Liked by 1 person

    • JMN says:

      But is it metaphor? Your summary’s very well put. My comment in the post is simplistic and slightly dyspeptic, owing perhaps to current events. I know objectively that the biographer, like the historian, necessarily shapes his subject by what he chooses to tell and how he tells it. So-called facts and events don’t recount themselves. I believe that good biography achieves the stature of good literature. Thanks for your insightful comment.

      Liked by 1 person

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