Monthly Archives: August 2017

Under the Sign of Sontag

This book review, which I’ve alluded to previously on this site, appeared in the November 2, 1980 issue of The Soho News. —J.R.

Under the Sign of Sontag

Under the Sign of Saturn

By Susan Sontag

Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $10.95

If, dialectically speaking, every book can be said to have an unconscious — a repressed subtext — one can find glimpses of the unconscious of this one in the misleading flap copy¬† that quotes from an interview (“Women, the Arts, and the Politics of Culture,”¬† Salmagundi 31-32) and mentions the inclusion of a “famous exchange on fascism and feminism” (apparently with Adrienne Rich, in the March 20, 1975 New York Review of Books), both regrettably missing from this slim volume of seven essays.

These omissions betray the absence of a gritty, indecorous social context — a sense of Sontag existing in the world, not merely staging grand Platonic shadow-plays in the theater of her mind. Much as Illness as Metaphor (1978) was partially structured around her refusal to allude once to her own personal struggle, this book discreetly, indirectly dances around the notion that the subject of every essay proposes a different kind of mirror to the author, a speculative self-portrait. Read more

Deep Blues

From the Chicago Reader (January 15, 1993). — J.R.

DeepBlues

Blues buffs have some genuine cause for rejoicing: Robert Mugge’s 1991 documentary about blues performers in the Mississippi Delta, made for England’s Channel Four, contains some of the best blues I’ve ever heard or seen on film. Using blues critic and historian Robert Palmer — accompanied by Dave Stewart (of the Eurythmics) — as tour guide, the film proceeds from a sadly gentrified Beale Street in Memphis to funky Mississippi outposts like Holly Springs, Greenville, Clarksdale, and Betonia, where we’re treated to brief interviews with and extended live performances by Booker T. Laury, R.L. Burnside, Jessie Mae Hemphill, Junior Kimbrough, Roosevelt “Booba” Barnes and the Playboys, “Big” Jack Johnson, Jack Owens, Bud Spires, and Lonnie Pitchford. Palmer wears his erudition lightly, but he’s very good on the African origins of such things as the word “juke” and the homemade blues instrument called the diddly bow. This isn’t anything special as cinema, but if you’re into blues it’s a bonanza. (Music Box, Friday through Thursday, January 15 through 21)

Deep-Blues-DVD-9 Read more