I dreamt about Susan Sontag last night.
Somehow I ended up in a small intimate room with a few other women. There were comfortable, soft chairs, warm wooden moldings and there may have even been a hint of some incense. We were sitting in a circle, discussing as friends might. Susan had our attention. She was a healthy older woman with silver hair. She spoke with a fervent decisiveness that evidenced her experience and learning. She was a woman who commanded attention, one whom you listened to, without distraction, because it was clear from the intensity of her expression that she was speaking truth.
If only I could remember what she was saying.
She was reading from one of her books at some point, and later she spoke to us on a particular subject (what it was, I can't recall). The last thing I remember was a poem that we were examining. There was some discussion about the last line of the poem. It was challenging to our sensibilities because it used the word "nigger" and so, seemed racist. One woman was questioning her understanding of the line as if to say incredulously, "Is the poem really saying this?". Susan's response clarified that the woman had misread the line and that in it's proper poetic reading, the meaning of the line was not derogatory. -- I'm not sure if I can explain it well, although I do have a sense of it from the dream --. The line was meant to be challenging. It intentionally presented this very loaded word in order to ask the reader to confront their emotions about it. The words in the poem were, themselves, meaningless, they were used because they could illicit a certain response in the reader; they could create a particular emotional state. The challenge of the poem was to ask the reader to be open and receptive while experiencing unpleasant and uncomfortable feelings. -- Interesting, hmm?--
(I admit, it is hard for me to be open and receptive to the dream, or even myself, for having a dream that uses such a hateful word. But I sense that this conflict is kind of the point. Dreams are like that poem, it is not the actual images or events that are necessarily important, but what you experience through them.)
Well, the only other notable observation from the dream is that I was the youngest person in the room. Whatever that might mean.
I am currently reading a book by Sontag: "On Photography" It's been on my bookshelf for years, and my mental list of "books to read" for longer. It's much more approachable than I had guessed. Like John Berger, she writes about history, philosophy, art, and culture, with an easy, unpretentious manner.
I've read another book by her, a novel, titled: "In America". It was fantastic. It presented an interesting historical picture of America at the end of the 19th century. The main perspective is from an Eastern European immigrant, a renowned actress in her home country, who comes to America, with an entourage, to start a new life. In addition to being a lovely journey into the past, and the minds of the different characters, the structure of the novel is surprising, and an adventure unto itself.