“Susan Sontag was America’s last literary star” – Present

If literature were a sporting event, someone would say that American Benjamin Moser has the breath and determination of long-distance runners. At age 45, Texan, a history graduate from Brown University, brought a huge bibliography into his curriculum, containing two memorable biographies: Clarice Lispector, a Brazilian author.Why this worldPortuguese version of Relógio de Água) and another about his compatriot, Susan Santag (Purpose Edition), which won him a Pulitzer Prize. In impeccable Portuguese (he studied it at university and perfected it after spending 20 years studying and translating Clarice), he describes how it has been to “live” daily life with two women who are in a bigger situation, always more comfortable, in their existence.

Benjamin Moser, author.
Photograph: Beowulf Sheehan

What is life and writing like after so many years of dedication in the lives of two such notable women?

I still feel married to Clarice (and, to a certain extent, I still do because I continue to translate her work into English) and there was already one more powerful woman in my life like Susan. I think I’m married to these two women because they have a daily relationship, with a certain level of intimacy: I talk to their personal writings, letters, friends and acquaintances. I think about them every day, which makes them very missing.

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Both are very dense personalities, with many levels, some public, some private …

I always felt like I was unraveling a mystery because there was a public figure that I was going to try to get to the root of. Susan Santag (1933-2004) was the last American literary star and I went in search of the individual because it could read more of her work from him.

Susan Santag
Susan Santag

What did you discover while reading the unpublished author’s personal writings? As you wrote in the book, Susan was a diva – do you think she wanted to create a certain image for her descendants?

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Yesterday I went to the Fados here in Lisbon and I heard someone sing a verse that almost said: “As the poet is born, so is a Fadista born”. Susan Santag knew from a very young age that she was going to be famous. It is amazing to see in his diary that, at the age of 12, he has already told a posthumous biographer that he knows he will be there. Extraordinary people know that they are born with a certain destiny. Susan knew it. With the same subtlety she realizes that she is a lesbian but does not want to be. Already at the university, the professors were very impressed with him. It was a mystery to me how he became famous so quickly for his very conceptual shoot, which was obviously not a huge blockbuster. At a very young age he befriended Jackie Kennedy, Leonard Bernstein and other great personalities of New York society, why? Because he knew to be a “star” and attracted “stars” – that’s a law of physics. No one can define charisma – it’s not about beauty, it’s not about intelligence, it’s not about money, but we all know how we see it. Susan Sontag It was the spade.

In his two biographies, he has focused on the childhood of the writers. What is the key to understanding what comes next?

Childhood defines a lot. In Susan’s case, the mother was a very unhappy woman, whose husband had died too early and who had a difficult relationship with her mother and children, which led her to resort to drinking and appearance. Susan and her mother and grandmother were both fascinated by Hollywood and The The They are the system. For this they went to California. They had a huge fascination with great divas like Betty Davis, Greta Garbo or Joan Crawford.

Susan Santag
Susan Santag

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This book was commissioned after the publication of the biography he dedicated to Clarice Lispector. How was your relationship with SonTag’s work as a reader?

Every American (and even in other countries) trained in Letters or Arts has read an essay of his. But from beginning to end until I read the whole work, I realized all the greatness – it’s a combination that makes it as deep as we can deepen it. I wish this biography could be a gateway to understanding this beauty that many avoid because people often refer to it as too scholarly. He, in fact, knew it and was sarcastic about it. One day, someone asked him if the public knew him the most, to which he replied: “The white line of his black hair.” He knew he had transformed into a brand.

Did he like it?

He thought it was inevitable. But it is still a work and a reduction in a personality to something less relevant.

Books about Susan Sontag
Books about Susan Sontag

Does this biography address the author’s personal life, even showing that he was more Athena than Aphrodite, with many shady regions?

Susan was mostly an unhappy person.

And control?

I have tried to be, which is to say that I have always been successful. Susan’s son David invited me to do this biography, I found myself in a fight because she fell into a great emotional violence with her mother’s partner, the photographer Ann Leibovits. Her friends don’t talk to her friends. Since I was invited by her, the people associated with Anne didn’t want to talk to me. But I couldn’t work that way. In fact, my perception of their relationship was related to the stories I was told about how Susan Ann was abused in public. But I don’t understand how she allowed herself to be abused like this, a woman so strong and successful in her career. Finally, after 5 years of insistence, I was able to talk to him. And I realized that she didn’t feel abused, but rather that she made Ann’s behavior relative. In fact, the relationship lasted because there was so much love and solidarity between them that was not always noticeable to outsiders.

In the case of Clarice Lispector, have you tried to do justice to the biography of a great writer who is very unknown to the Brazilian public?

I still try to do this justice. Throughout the 20th century, only three Brazilian authors made a living from books: Jorge Amado, Erico Vericimo and Fernando Sabino. And no woman, of course. Clarice was known to very few people. This biography has reversed that situation, I am aware of that.

Has an American student come in contact with his work?

I studied at a college in France and after returning to the United States, my ambition was to study an Asian language, in this case Mandarin. But even though I had no relations with Brazil or Portugal at that time, I chose the Portuguese out of fear of the difficulties. When I found out Star hour, Clarice Lispector’s last novel, My life has changed forever. I was completely in love. We are talking here because I am in Lisbon, maybe because I was in Kazakhstan or somewhere else.

After writing the biography, he is translating the whole work into English. What is the point of the situation?

We have already completed thirteen volumes. This year, we have children’s books and chronicles. There are plans to do this next year Apples in the darko and the latest novel. There are lots of scattered things. I am so proud to have been able to do this for over 20 years.

The tragedy of Clarice’s childhood in Ukraine, where she was born and from where she had to flee to Brazil with her family, has sadly reappeared …

Clarice has never fully recovered from this experience, especially after witnessing her mother’s rape. More than 100 years later, these gang rapes continue to be used as weapons of war and people come out of the same streets, the same shortcuts from Ukraine. This experience with Clarice gave me a great love for that country, which is still very unknown to people, even though it is the largest in Europe.

Susan Sontag also writes about the war situation, such as in Bosnia …

Susan had a very active citizenship, she was willing to die for it if necessary. But when he was in Sarajevo, many in Europe and the United States did not take him seriously. They thought he was driven by careerism, but he didn’t.

He started our conversation by saying that he hoped they would be recognized for their work wherever they were. Believe in this knowledge so to speak Post mortem Or is it an image of style?

With Clarice, I have felt this a lot, especially since there is a strong connection with the outside of Brazilian culture. But also about Susan Sontag, a Buddhist friend told me that when I was writing I had to help her get to the next level of her destiny. Regardless, I try to make sure that people live in my BIOS and that it’s not just published job names and lists.


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