Remembering an intellectual heroine.
But even this insecurity had its affirmative side. If she was sometimes a little permissive, launching a trial balloon only to deflate it later (as with her change of heart on the filmic aesthetic of Leni Riefenstahl) this promiscuity was founded in curiosity and liveliness. About 20 years ago, I watched her having an on-stage discussion with Umberto Eco in downtown New York. Eco was a bit galumphing—he declared that his favorite novel was Lolita because he could picture himself in the part of Umberto Umberto. Susan, pressed to define the word "polymath," was both sweet and solemn. "To be a polymath," she declared, "is to be interested in everything—and in nothing else." She was always trying to do too much and square the circle: to stay up late debating and discussing and have the last word, then get a really early night, then stay up reading, and then make an early start. She adored trying new restaurants and new dishes. She couldn't stand affectless or bored or cynical people, of any age. She only ventured into full-length fiction when she was almost 60, and then discovered that she had a whole new life. And she resisted the last malady with terrific force and resource, so that to describe her as life-affirming now seems to me suddenly weak. Anyway—death be not proud.
Christopher Hitchens (1949-2011) was a columnist for Vanity Fair and the author, most recently, of Arguably, a collection of essays.
Photograph of Susan Sontag by Jens-Ulrich Koch/AFP/Getty Images; on Slate's home page by Sophie Bassouls/Corbis Sygma.