Wednesday, December 29, 2004

From combined dispatches

Susan Sontag, a critic, novelist and essayist who blamed America for the September 11 terror attacks and once declared that “the white race is the cancer of human history,” died in New York yesterday at age 71.

Mrs. Sontag died at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in Manhattan. The hospital did not release the cause of death, although Mrs. Sontag was first treated for breast cancer in the 1970s.

Mrs. Sontag was 31 when her essay “Notes on ‘Camp’” established her as a prominent critic. Her essays on art, culture and politics were published in influential journals, including the New York Review of Books.

“The white race is the cancer of human history,” she wrote in a 1967 essay in Partisan Review. “It is the white race and it alone — its ideologies and inventions — which eradicates autonomous civilizations wherever it spreads, which has upset the ecological balance of the planet, which now threatens the very existence of life itself.”

Such comments led novelist Tom Wolfe to dismiss Mrs. Sontag as “just another scribbler who spent her life signing up for protest meetings and lumbering to the podium encumbered by her prose style, which had a handicapped parking sticker valid at Partisan Review.”

An outspoken admirer of communist revolutionaries, including Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh and Cuba’s Fidel Castro, Mrs. Sontag was a fierce opponent of U.S. foreign policy. She angered many Americans in 2001 when, less than two weeks after the terrorist hijackings of September 11, she wrote an article that suggested the United States deserved to be attacked.

“Where is the acknowledgment that this was not a ‘cowardly’ attack on ‘civilization’ or ‘liberty’ or ‘humanity’ or ‘the free world,’” Mrs. Sontag wrote, “but an attack on the world’s self-proclaimed superpower, undertaken as a consequence of specific American alliances and actions?”

She added: “In the matter of courage (a morally neutral virtue): whatever may be said of the perpetrators of [the September 11] slaughter, they were not cowards.”

In 2000, Mrs. Sontag won the National Book Award for the historical novel “In America.”

Born Susan Rosenblatt in New York in 1933, she later described her childhood as “one long prison sentence.” Her father died when she was 5, and her mother later married an Army officer, Capt. Nathan Sontag.

At age 17, she married social psychologist Philip Rieff, then 28, just 10 days after meeting him at the University of Chicago. The couple had a son, David, born in 1952, but divorced in the 1960s. In later years, she described her lesbian relationship with photographer Annie Leibowitz as “an open secret.”

Ex-radical author David Horowitz noted yesterday that in 1969, he published the Sontag essay, “On the Right Way (For Us) to Love the Cuban Revolution” in Ramparts magazine.

“There is no right way to love the Cuban Revolution. That was my second thought. It’s a pity [Mrs. Sontag] never had second thoughts, too,” Mr. Horowitz said.

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