“Excursion Susan Sontag”

A Poem by Maureen N. McLane

July 20, 2021  By Maureen N. McLane

Now Susan Sontag was famous
among certain people—you know
who I mean—urban informed culturally
literate East Coast people and some West
a few in Chicago in Europe and elsewhere although
Susan Sontag came from Arizona
which is remarkable
only if you hold certain prejudices
about Arizona which I do
having been there twice
and disliking it both times
not that this was Arizona’s fault
it is majestic strange lunar orange desert
flat and then ravine-ridden but Phoenix
is heinous unless you have a certain
po-mo sensibility I associate with men
of a certain age and race and while
I share the supposed race I’m not a man although
there are men in Arizona but I forgot
to ask them what they thought
about the state or Susan Sontag
whose writings between 1964 and ’67
are marvels of incisive thought and style
so much so that you have to wonder
what happened to America
what happened to Susan Sontag
who later published historical novels
in a realist mode when earlier she
championed the nouveau roman
oh where art thou where art thou Robbe-Grillet
and did her execution fail
her once-held prose ideals
oh is it our fate thus to lapse
if lapse it was and where is Sontag
to show us how to read Sontag
a professorial enthusiast
ringingly declared one Sunday Susan
“is always of the moment”
and thus we must conclude that in 1965
the new novel and criticism and sexy brains and France
were of the moment and now degraded realism
is of the moment as is “ethnic cleansing”
which Susan Sontag denounced indeed “put her life
on the line” (viz. enthusiast) producing Beckett
in Sarajevo she among the few
who spoke truly after 9/11 while torpor
overtook so many everyone waiting
for American Special Forces to “smoke”
Osama bin Laden “out of his hole”
on this matter Susan Sontag
held strong views e.g. about the president’s
speech but she properly oriented us
to the club of men and one woman who advised him
since as she observed in an interview
on salon.com we are living in “a regency”
and we all know that regents are puppets
of their wily advisers cf. The Prince Regent
in England 1819 when aggrieved workers
gathered in Manchester and cavalry
trampled them tens dead hundreds injured
the papers covering up the massacre
whither media complicity is history now
and in England the people I met read several papers
expecting to compare and contrast each paper’s
“take” on the news they didn’t simply succumb
to the infantile American fantasy of media
“objectivity” the English and Irish
and Scots were like Burke unafraid
of prejudice they understood
you read through/with/against others’
prejudices and your own and thus Burke
against himself may be seen as an Enlightenment
theorist he supported the American Revolution
after all though he hysterically denounced
the French long before they guillotined anyone
o sweet Marie your fair chopped head
your luscious body the French pornographers
delighted in fucking tormenting reviling there
is a long affair between Enlightenment
philosophy and pornography as Cathleen Schine
explored in her spiky novel Rameau’s Niece
as Sontag explored in a brilliant essay
of 1967 why are we so afraid
of porn there are many reasons the obvious
Freudian ones the “porn is rape” ones
the “protecting our children” ones the fear
of desire for the tabooed the “jouissance
of transgression” the world could blow up
any time but at the end
of the day it may all come down
to this our desire for knowledge
rips open the throat whole countries
have been seized with murder when threatened
with free inquiry not that those
who aaliate themselves self-righteously
with knowledge are not guilty of their own
simplifications because knowledge cuts
and opens wounds and distances
between lovers parents children citizens the world
feels different for example if you know
that somewhere people think god is dead
if the earth revolves around the sun
if you have stolen the gift of fire
if you know where your clitoris is and what
it can do and if you’ve seen Mapplethorpe’s
whip stuck up his ass or his little devil’s horns
perkily perched atop his mop of hair
why does he look so innocently rakish
is it because he’s dead or that moment is or
is it my own perspective makes him so
not everything can be domesticated
or can it why did Proust avoid discussing
really discussing the mother now there is a crucial
evasion in an otherwise exhaustive
registration of the movements of consciousness
in society must old rockers and ACT UP veterans
and the Situationist International and Sontag all go
gentle into no that good that no that raging



From More Anon: Selected Poems by Maureen N. McLane. Used with the permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Copyright © 2021 by Maureen N. McLane.

Maureen N. McLane
Maureen N. McLane
Maureen N. McLane is the author of six books of poetry as well as two books on British romantic poetics. Her My Poets (FSG, 2012)—an experimental hybrid of memoir and criticism—was named a New York Times Notable Book and a Finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award in Autobiography. Her More Anon: Selected Poems is forthcoming from FSG in 2021.

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