Joyful noise
14 March 2010
Through the backstage door
15 March 2010

Susan Sontag in Paris

Susan Sontag

Susan Sontag

Alice Kaplan’s memoir of her embrace of the French language, “French Lessons,” is a beloved classic. She has continued to write books of history that explore her deep interests in justice and postwar France. Now a professor of French at Yale, Kaplan is at work on a book about three American women who, at different times in their young years, spent formative sojourns in Paris. The women could not be more different: Jacqueline Bouvier, Susan Sontag, and Angela Davis.

For a foretaste of what sounds like a fascinating and original book, check Kaplan’s (French-language) new review of Sontag’s journals in Liberation. The piece, heavy on Sontag’s agonizing sexual confusion and troubled marriage, sets the stage for the budding philosopher’s year in Paris (1958) when her personal dramas competed for her attention with the beginning of France’s turbulent endgame over Algeria.

Writes Kaplan: “Même en tenant compte de sa jeunesse, de son obsession amoureuse et de sa relative ignorance de la société française, il est quand même étonnant que celle qui allait devenir une critique féroce de la politique mondiale ne fasse aucune allusion, dans ce journal, au fait que la France, au moment où elle y vivait, était au bord d’une guerre civile… Tout comme les héroïnes de la Nouvelle Vague, elle a vécu cette saison mythique de 1958 hors de l’histoire, hors du temps et de l’espace politique.”

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