The first 2-3 essays of the book are just astonishing. I've been perusing Sontag's journals for the past year or so, and her intellectual range leads...moreThe first 2-3 essays of the book are just astonishing. I've been perusing Sontag's journals for the past year or so, and her intellectual range leads you perilously near to pure jealousy, but then you concede her anomalous mind and simply admire it instead. This seemingly limitless curiosity and brute capacity for knowledge is best exhibited in those first 2-3 essays (particularly the first two, which is why I keep saying "2-3"), and also remains less cloyingly didactic there. For example, her consideration of Diane Arbus at length maintains a level of contemplation and engagement - a recognition of both the potentially nihilistic and exploitative registers of Arbus's "freak" work and its power of imagination and sidewise cultural commentary - that falls by the wayside in the latter half of the book, where I felt lectured to in a more dogmatic mode. The later essays tend to sound polemical, in the negative sense of that word, rather than exploratory.
This, for me, is the key difference between someone like Sontag and someone like Didion, to whom comparisons - at least I've noticed this lately - are often drawn. Sontag centers her self in the essays; Didion seeks always to efface herself, though this effacement can be even more telling than Sontag's calling her own bluff. Point being, Sontag can sometimes irk me because her sexy essayistic writing begins to feel claustrophobic; I feel as if I've been seduced into agreeing necessarily with points that aren't as fully developed as they could be. I want to feel that a claim is arguable, and that the writer has enabled dialogue. In the later essays of this book, Sontag writes her readers into a corner. Either way, certainly the most exciting writing on photography I've read.(less)
Very smart; beautiful close readings of the poetry, and a really wonderful attempt to account for anxieties concerning the commodification of "authent...moreVery smart; beautiful close readings of the poetry, and a really wonderful attempt to account for anxieties concerning the commodification of "authenticity" in the literary mode.(less)
You really can't go wrong with Atwood, though I must confess that I found the book a bit uneven in quality. The long essays at the beginning of the bo...moreYou really can't go wrong with Atwood, though I must confess that I found the book a bit uneven in quality. The long essays at the beginning of the book were fascinating inasmuch as they attempted to blueprint Atwood's own relationship with the genre questions surrounding SF and speculative fiction, etc., but perhaps didn't follow through on their promises in any thorough way. She states up front that the book is not intended to be comprehensive, exhaustive, or even particularly academic, but I think to a point, the long essays themselves set up that sort of a tone and then don't necessarily answer or truly engage with some of their fundamental questions. I also would have loved a bit more on the writing process: Atwood teases us with a few scintillating details about Handmaid's Tale, Oryx & Crake, and Year of the Flood, but then breezes right through those sections, as though they don't actually have a great deal of importance for outlining her understanding of genre-boundaries (or lack thereof).
I have to say that the mini-stories at the end were basically throwaways. The best of the bunch was the excerpt from The Blind Assassin but that was also, as far as I know, the only one culled from earlier work. The really fascinating portion of the book was the one that collected reviews of other works, introductions, short essays on authors like Swift, H.G. Wells, Ursula Leguin, and so forth. Seems to me that these are the places where one really begins to recognize the questions Atwood seems most invested in in genre fiction, and how other authors and works have shaped her relation to those questions. Those were the moments where I really felt I was able to pick her brain on the topic at hand, to use a shitty but somewhat related pun. I also felt lucky enough to be able to put together another mini-reading list from the works discussed there.
Oh! Last but not least! The artwork is really fantastic. Childhood drawings and other miscellany. You'd think that would be just a silly tangent, but I loved accessing those as another sort of insight into Atwood's art-process. Any rate, the middle section of the book is basically worth the price of admission alone, but do read it in its entirety. Maybe there'll be a follow-up one day!(less)