'Susan Sontag: Reborn' turns intellectual evolution into drama
The first thing you see as the lights go down at Sontag: Reborn, the clever and affecting one-woman show now playing at New York Theatre Workshop, is a billow of cigarette smoke. I happened to see the play not long after watching the new movie Hannah Arendt, in which Arendt's smoking is a leitmotif, practically an obsession, and it was suggestive to see how Sontag, too, is defined by her cigarettes. Early on, we hear Moe Angelos—who adapted Sontag's published journals, and plays her—tell the cherished Sontag anecdote about her pilgrimage, as an awed and precocious 15-year-old, to Thomas Mann, then living in Los Angeles. Mann thinks nothing of offering the teenager a smoke, and Sontag, desperate for a souvenir of her brush with greatness, makes off with the butt. In this way, the light of culture is passed on, one glowing tip to another.
The wisdom of a poet in nature and in war
Edward Thomas began to write poetry when he was 36. Three years later he was dead, killed in battle in the First World War. Yet in that short span of time he produced the hundred-odd poems that make him one of the most beloved poets of the twentieth century.
An important, new Auschwitz survivor's diary
A worthy addition to the library of eyewitness testimonies.
The essay as reality television
When writers such as David Sedaris write personal essays about their personas, they turn realism into reality television.
IN THE SPRING of 1958, the West German novelist Wolfgang Koeppen came to see America. His sightseeing tour took him from New York to Los Angeles and back, with stops along the way in New Orleans, Salt Like City, Chicago, Boston, and other cities and towns. And like so many European writers before him—from Tocqueville on down—he sought to turn his hastily gathered impressions into a book that would do nothing less than explain the essence of America, that envied, admired, feared, and hated civilization, to the Old World.
Before 2013 begins, catch up on the best of 2012. From now until the New Year, we will be re-posting some of The New Republic’s most thought-provoking pieces of the year. Enjoy. Why Lyrics Last: Evolution, Cognition, and Shakespeare’s Sonnets By Brian Boyd (Harvard University Press, 227 pp., $25.95) Wired for Culture: Origins of the Human Social Mind By Mark Pagel (W.W. Norton, 416 pp., $29.95) The Age of Insight: The Quest to Understand the Unconscious in Art, Mind, and Brain, from Vienna 1900 to the Present By Eric R.