Saturday, August 27, 2011

Art vs. Nature

From Sempre Susan, a memoir of Susan Sontag by Sigrid Nunez 

I never knew anyone who was more appreciative than Susan was of the beautiful in art and in human physical appearance – "I'm a beauty freak" was something she said all the time – and yet I never knew anyone less moved by the beauties of nature. To her, it could not have been more obvious: art was superior to nature as the city was superior to the country. Why would anyone want to leave Manhattan – "the capital of the twentieth century" as she loved to say – for a month in the woods?

When I said I could easily imagine moving to the country, maybe not right then but when I was older, she was appalled. "That sounds like retiring." The very word made her ill.

Because it was where her parents lived, she sometimes had to fly to Hawaii. When I said I was dying to visit America's most beautiful state, she was baffled. "But it's totally boring." Curiosity was a supreme virtue in her book, and she herself was endlessly curious – but not about the natural world. Though she often spoke admiringly of the view from her apartment, I never knew her to cross the street to go into Riverside Park.

Once, when we were walking together on a campus outside the city, a chipmunk zipped across our path and dove into a hole at the base of an oak tree. "Oh, look at that," she said. "Just like Walt Disney."

Photograph of Susan Sontag by Peter Hujar, 1975