Like Mother, Like Son

Is Susan Sontag's son keeping the real Susan Sontag hidden from the public with his edit of his late mother's journals? Sontag biographer Carl Rollyson sure seems to think so.

BY Carl Rollyson

May 20 2009 11:00 PM ET

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And it is hardly a quibble when Daniel Horowitz, writing the best review of Rieff's book, points out how Sontag's marriage and sexual history have been misrepresented: "Beginning in early 1950, in Chicago, Sontag had a series of sexual relationships with men, not discussed in entries in the published version of her journals. That omission makes it seem that she was a lesbian and not bisexual during this period. In a passage that appears only in the unpublished papers, writing at a time when she was sexually involved with a man, in April 1950, she said that she had fewer 'fears about' her sexual 'normality now.'"

Thus the spring of 1950, not long before she married David's father, Philip Rieff, was a difficult time for Sontag, combining anxieties over finances [her mother might not be able to support her] and sexuality.

Horowitz took the trouble to examine the unpublished journals at UCLA and called me to discuss Rieff's troubling omissions and errors in chronology. His report in The Chronicle of Higher Education demonstrates what a truly independent editor or biographer could make out of the raw material of Sontag's journals.

A puzzle remains. Why does the published journal accelerate Sontag's move to lesbianism? Is Rieff looking ahead to later journals where Sontag's long-term relationships with several women, especially Annie Leibovitz, dominate her love life?

Is Rieff's rush to publish the journals an effort to establish his mother's lesbian brand? His silence on the subject of his mother's sexuality and yet his effort to shape how that sexuality unfolds in the diaries is disturbing.

Unfortunately, it is already too late to rectify Rieff's hasty contrivance since he plans to see through to publication two more volumes of the journals under the auspices of Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, the ever-faithful firm at the service of Sontag & Son.

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