Remaking the Body
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It was ironic that Sontag, who argued strenuously against metaphoric understandings of bodily illness, would end up approaching bodily necessities and pleasures as metaphors for even deeper needs—for love and intimacy—and for the shame of being vulnerable, fallible, mortal. The struggle to reconcile mind and body is one of the structural dilemmas of literary biography itself: How can we make sense of the relationship between a famous mind and the life of its body? Moser continually peels away the mythology of Sontag—as a single-name icon, like Cher or Madonna—to reveal the beating heart of a mortal woman underneath.
The book takes this larger-than-life intellectual powerhouse—formidable, intimidating, often stubbornly impersonal in her work—and makes her life-size again, calling her back to the quotidian vulnerability of inhabiting an actual body, in all its desire and fragility.
Remaking Fear: Evolution of the Body Snatchers () - Trivia - IMDb
Sontag was deeply obsessed with the idea of reinvention. But while this urge toward continual reinvention was a catalyst driving her intellectual voracity and her resistance to stasis, it was also a tyrannical voice telling her she needed to banish her inner child for good. The dark side of her continual remaking was the harshness with which she would disavow herself, and others by proxy: trying as a young woman to fellate her way into heterosexuality and—as an older writer—vehemently disowning her earlier work.
She often returned to old diaries to write in the margins—to chastise her younger self, or argue with her conclusions. It was as if Sontag could only accept a version of herself that was turning on itself, a snake not consuming its own tail but perpetually trying to bite it off. Moser frames her time in Sarajevo as the narrative culmination of her intellectual development, her sustained commitment bringing all her conceptual chords into a triumphant fugue:.
It was the place where the interests that Sontag had pursued throughout her life coincided. The political role, and the social duty, of the artist; the attempt to unite the aesthetic with the political, and her understanding that the aesthetic was political; the link between mind and body; the experience of power and powerlessness; the ways pain is inflicted, regarded, and represented; the ways images, language, and metaphor create—and distort—whatever people call reality: these questions were refracted, and then literally dramatized, during the nearly three years she spent coming and going from the worst place in the world.
Instead, it finds her stuck in recurring patterns dictated by the lingering emotional residue of her unhappy childhood: her dead father and her absent mother. In her romantic relationships, she finds herself playing the part of either the one who is perpetually neglected in her passionate love for women who treated her cruelly or else the one who cruelly disparages, as in her fascinating, boggling, sadistic but devoted relationship with Leibovitz, to whom she was notoriously belittling.
That stubborn constancy—the ways in which we are gripped by our tendencies, and our patterns—holds a truth far more uncomfortable than the tidy arcs of realization and redemption to which we often turn for solace. But Moser refuses to rest easy on any simple portrait of Sontag as an inadequate or absent mother. His analysis is stubborn in its nuances.
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None of the words or the ways of characterizing her behavior really fit. Just as we get prepared to settle into certain satisfying grooves of indignation, her version of motherhood thwarts our judgment.
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He honors the ways in which her life was never just one thing at once. It was always multiple and contradictory, a collection of confounding simultaneities. Moser is constantly turning the easy verdict on its head. Her motherhood was repetition and transformation at once.
It participated in a cycle it also liberated her from. We had so many great experiences together.
I felt like a person who is taking care of a great monument. I found myself almost taking pleasure in this judgment—like the pleasure of pushing on a bruise—and the ways it became a consolidation, a shoring-up of selfhood: I am not that. Why did it feel good for me to judge Sontag as a mother? Perhaps it helped mitigate whatever envy I brought to the pages of her biography—as a female writer from the next generation, destined to live in her shadow? Maybe it felt good to entertain the notion that her motherhood had been a kind of blood sacrifice in service of her intellectual legacy?
Remaking the Body: Rehabilitation and Change
Sure, she was one of the defining voices of her generation, but at what price? At a certain point, I began to suspect that my own drama of righteous judgment and self-questioning—Sontag was a terrible mother! And then, Why am I invested in thinking Sontag was a terrible mother?
Joan Tumblety teaches History at the University of Southampton. Her recent research has focused on the cultural and gender history of early to mid-twentieth century France, with a special interest in masculinity. Her current project examines the interface between scientific discourse and popular culture. This is her first book and I am already looking forward to her next one. Reggiani, Journal of Gender Studies. Oxford University Press is a department of the University of Oxford. It furthers the University's objective of excellence in research, scholarship, and education by publishing worldwide.
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Oxford Scholarship Online Available in Oxford Scholarship Online - view abstracts and keywords at book and chapter level. Commemorating World War I. Remaking the Male Body Masculinity and the uses of Physical Culture in Interwar and Vichy France Joan Tumblety The first full-length study to explore the imagined link between male athletic prowess and national strength in interwar France Brings a study of interwar and Vichy sporting and body culture to an Anglophone audience Explores the interface between body culture and scientific especially medical discourse.
Also of Interest. The Ethics of Sport Arthur L. Caplan, Brendan Parent.