How To Be Really Annoying By Emulating Susan Sontag


Wondering how to become a brilliant public intellectual? Anne K. Yoder at The Millions has some tips, culled from the journals of Susan Sontag.

After such universally applicable advice as, “go off to college at 16 – if not at first to a prestigious academic institution, then transfer to one on scholarship. Become a research assistant to a dazzling young professor, and within ten days, get engaged, then marry him,” Yoder offers seven specific tips for Sontag-style living, backed up by quotes from Sontag herself.

For instance, Yoder advices her readers to “live voraciously,” and offers this Sontagian support: “A thought occurred to me today – so obvious, so always obvious! It was absurd to suddenly comprehend it for the first time – I felt rather giddy, a little hysterical: – There is nothing, nothing that stops me from doing anything except myself…”

Another tip:

Be confident, ambitious, and cultivate your ego: “Good writers are roaring egotists, even to the point of fatuity.” And: “With a little ego-building – such as the fait accompli this journal provides – I shall win through to the confidence that I (I) have something to say, that should be said.”

You might think that with all this ego floating around your head, you might want to get outside yourself occasionally — perhaps through physical contact with another person. But for the Sontag-disciple, such contact is just a means to an end:

Make time for good sex: “The orgasm focuses. I lust to write. The coming of the orgasm is not salvation, but, more, the birth of ego. Yet the only kind of writer [I] could be is the kind who exposes himself… To write is to spend oneself, to gamble oneself. But up to now I have not even liked the sound of my own name. To write, I must love my name. The writer is in love with himself…”

In a world where women are still supposed to be giving and nurturing, Sontag’s self-absorption is kind of charming . . . but that’s partly because she’s Susan Sontag, and egotism is a lot more forgivable in a genius. Should wannabe intellectuals really be using her words as a guide? We know these tips are tongue-in-cheek, but we can’t help thinking that anyone who modeled her life on them would turn out pretty annoying. And really, does anyone need tips on how to be an egomaniac? We know plenty of people who figured that one out on their own.

A Girl’s Guide To Becoming An Intellectual: Susan Sontag’s Journals
[The Millions]

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