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Phillip Lopate's recently released essay Notes on Sontag is one of the loveliest, most profound, most tremendously moving essays on any theorist or writer's work I've recently read; that it's so short makes it all the more remarkable.  Lopate is one of my favorite contemporary writers: his criticism is cogent, coherent, humane, thoughtful, and somewhat unplaceably poignant, as if the kindness of its uniquely acute author and his subtle understanding of the sweetness of sorrow were cozied deep into his clear, fluid prose.  That his work is so approachable has, I think, made him less valued than he should be, and it may be that – like some of Sontag's work – the true profundity and acuity of his criticism is obscured by the gentle, inclusive manner in which it is written.


Lopate spoke with Jonathan Lethem about Susan Sontag's oeuvre and his essay this past summer.  It is a beautiful, insightful discussion, and has made me appreciate Sontag significantly more than I had before: their careful consideration of her critical powers and flaws – to me, her analytical work often reads too simplistically, as if she happened upon a striking or provocative idea and just went with it, before fully considering its full implications – is taken in tandem with her life, a method that is considered quite uncouth in modern literary criticism but which Lopate, thankfully, does not even seem to consider.  The result is quite moving; I've listened to this recording a number of times, and never cease to be grateful, and somewhat teary-eyed.  You can listen to AIR, Art International Radio's recording of the event by following this link and clicking the "listen" link at the top of the page.  For those looking for further Lopate essays, I greatly recommend his essay collection Against Joie de Vivre.


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