Susan Sontag's "particular Economy": Creative Accounting and the Labors of Subjectivity in the Journals and Notebooks

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The first edited volume of Susan Sontag's journals, Reborn, appeared in 2008, four years after her death from cancer; the second four years later, in spring 2012. Sontag knew she suffered no lack of talent, but that a perceived weakness of purpose was the mark of bad faith in one who wanted to serve Art, as a critic or as a practitioner. "I'm not sure what purpose my work serves" (295), she writes in 1948, and she expresses "disgust" in facing creative "sterility," though she is just 14 years old. What stands in the way of the revolution in aesthetic sensibility she eventually calls for? A model of creative economy that she does not yet know she needs to give up: the competitive psychic economy defined by Sigmund Freud. Reborn records Sontag's resistance to the Freudian "plot," in both the narrative and conspiratorial senses of that word. Even though her ideal conception of subjectivity might be envisioned as a "pleasure palace" and a "palace of art" under one roof, Sontag worries constantly about the state of the plumbing: "Freudian plumbing" (her term) to be exact, a system prone to leaks and blockages. This essay explores Sontag's efforts to "harmonize" (her word) these drives. The agon between the body's urgencies (especially sexual) and the mind's demands (especially aesthetic) motivates the work of her life-project: developing a "particular economy," as she puts it, that integrates the metaphoric systems of erotics and economics that characterize Sontag's early reflections on her career in art and criticism.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)330-347
Number of pages18
JournalContemporary Women's Writing
Issue number3
StatePublished - Nov 1 2015

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Gender Studies
  • Literature and Literary Theory


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