Anne K. Yoder of The Millions blog recently reviewed Susan Sontag’s early journals, Reborn: Journals and Notebooks, 1947-1963. I haven’t had a chance to pick up the book yet, but Yoder’s review, entitled “The Girl’s Guide to Becoming an Intellectual”, obligingly distills Sontag’s entries into seven helpful doctrines: read and live voraciously; cultivate your ego; keep a journal; “all the world’s a stage”; make time for good sex; betray others but be true to yourself.
Before becoming the mythic intellectual the world is familiar with, Sontag was, as it turns out, an astonishing, hedonistic teenager. Particularly striking are her notes on physical appearance: “With Sontag as the lodestar,” Yoder writes, “the young, aspiring intellectual won’t be led astray. No, not every girl will be endowed with such a capacity for insight and analysis, nor will she necessarily share Sontag’s unremitting energy, seriousness, or articulate thought. She may, however, feel reassured that by following Sontag’s steps she’s on the right path and that, in her awareness of beauty and image, she already has conquered one step, as Sontag reflects: ‘physical beauty is enormously, almost morbidly, important to me.’ “
Yoder, it seems, finds this natural-born intellectual’s flippant thoughts encouraging: even rigid advocates of the imagination such as Sontag are not immune to the strains of such widely heralded feminine aesthetics.