Susan Sontag at Scandinavia House, Friday

Scandinavia House this week will host a series of events springing from the still-bright energies left to us by Susan Sontag.  First, on Friday from 3:30 to 4:30 there will be a seminar on the challenges of literary translation, with Sontag Translation Prize winner Benjamin Mier-Cruz, Sontag’s son and literary executor David Rieff, Susan Bernofsky, and Chad Post.  Then from 5:00 to 6:00 Mier-Cruz will speak about his prize-winning work on Finnish modernist poet Elmer Diktonius. Then at 8:30 Scandinavia house will screen Sontag’s little seen film, “Duet for Cannibals,” which she made in Sweden in 1969.

We hasten to say we are proud to be publishing in our forthcoming issue Mr. Mier-Cruz’s translations of Diktonius, early Finnish modernist, provocateur, itinerant, and agitator. And we’re also publishing the 2009 Sontag Prize winner: a short story by Juan José Saer translated by Roanne Sharp.  Stay tuned for ordering info!


We’ve also recognized the work of Chad Post, editor of Rochester’s prodigious Open Letter, which seems to manage to find another great foreign writer to introduce us to every week or so.  We thank them for bringing us the hilarious Jerzy Pilch, featured here last spring.  And by the way they are just now publishing … Juan José Saer!

To be reminded at Scandinavia House of just how many cultures Sontag was able to breathe in seems particularly apt. Her films, like her early novels Death Kit and The Benefactor, seem from the remove of years thrillingly engaged with the exacting rigors of modernism, ideas themselves that now have a kind of patina that adds to our affection for the lost styles and manners the films accidentally preserve. The Sweden of her film seems, like Sontag herself, at once available and ineffably superior.  How wise to remember her with a prize for translation—a promise that opens outward to ever new journeys and engagements.

In her hapless youth, Little Star’s humble editor was taken under Sontag’s wing for a while and has never been the same. Sontag’s affect on the thinking life of our city has been equally revelatory and we welcome this chance to celebrate it.

Sontag discusses “Duet for Cannibals” (while smoking!) with Agnes Varda and Jack Kroll in 1969 (the whole video is here)

Read Deborah Eisenberg’s characteristically delicate review of Sontag’s journals, edited by David Reiff

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