Susan Sontag, the author, activist and self-defined "zealot of seriousness" whose voracious mind and provocative prose made her a leading intellectual of the past half century, died Tuesday. She was 71. Sontag died Tuesday morning, officials at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center said. She had been treated for breast cancer in the 1970s. Sontag called herself a "besotted aesthete," an "obsessed moralist," and a "zealot of seriousness." She wrote a best-selling historical novel, The Volcano Lover, and in 2000 won the National Book Award for the historical novel In America. But her greatest literary impact was as an essayist.
The 1964 piece "Notes on Camp," which established her as a major new writer, popularized the "so bad it's good" attitude toward popular culture, applicable to everything from Swan Lake to feather boas. In "Against Interpretation," this most analytical of writers worried that critical analysis interfered with art's "incantatory, magical" power. Sontag's sexuality was a subject she rarely addressed, although Time magazine referred to her and photographer Annie Leibovitz as "companion[s]" in November 2001 when Leibovitz's daughter was born. (AP, with additional reporting by Advocate.com)