Saturday, 24 February 2018

9/52: Susan Sontag. Stories


Hope you are having a great weekend my dear friends! Today I decided to wake up a little earlier to get things done from my to do -list. You know when small, relatively easy tasks begin to pile and start an annoying noise in the back of your head? That happened to me and that is why I wanted to get rid off the background mumble that distracts creative work and work in general. Empty table every now and then feels amazing. And now I literally have an empty table after cleaning the whole house and finishing projects. The 13th of this month was a pancake day and I had bought ingredients to bake pancakes. I didn't and something as silly as the cream getting spoiled in the fridge was one of the annoying noises. Well now, tummy full with pancakes and cream I am writing this post from cleaned table that is in beautifully organized tiny home. Weekend happiness and small pleasures of life in it's best. And can you believe that the next book I will be reading completes the first ten of 52 books in 52 weeks challenge!


9/52 Susan Sontag: Stories (2017). The ninth book is a complete collection of Susan Sontag's stories. I haven't read anything from Sontag before and chose this particular book based on tree factors: I have seen her books on bookstagram accounts. This was in the local library's novelties. It has the most beautiful cover that is Howard Hodgking's painting Artificial Flowers. Inspiring and gorgeous cover being not the least of reasons why I was so motivated to read this book. After reading this collection of stories I have put Susan Sontag to my list of authors I want to read more. Stories brought up current issues that are now discussed and important moments in human life. I would say Sontag describes turning points in life in a way that is easy to relate, from small moments that shape our future to conscious life decisions.

In The Letter Scene turning points have been described in small moments when people write letters from different situations. The writers go through strong emotions they try to put in words. Task that is not easy when you never know how the person in the other end is processing your message. It is the same as in every writing, you never know who and in what kind of environment is reading your thoughts and what kind of meanings (that are different from your intentions) is put to your words. Story also makes you wonder how small things can have so big influence. Influence that cannot be reversed or changed. A moment's decision can affect your life in a way you never intended and you are to see it only years after. Maybe we don't always even notice or know the moments that shape our future but take the present as it is handed to us. Sometimes we might think over your decisions in life and wonder what we would have become is we chose a different path.

In Old Complaints Revisited the main character is making a big life decision. The person has been a part of unnamed Organization and wishes to part what they sees challenging. In this story Sontag pictures in a fine way what it is to go deep in an ideology and how all demanding it is to become a part of a group. The initiation process pictured in the story might sound extreme but is not actually that rare in social relationships. Like the main character quite many of us have a need to be something special and not like everybody else. We seek a group of people who are like minded and who we share same values with. Then after a while we might notice that little by little we are being changed by the group. We accept it's norms and unwritten rules like the main character gives an example how philosophical interests were encouraged and sports to develop physical appearance were undermined. For an outsider the unwritten rules might seem irrational or too restricting but inside a group it might not be that clear to see. It might not be unnamed and secret organization like the one in the story but an ordinary hobby group. I for example did running for few years as a hobby and noticed it influenced to my mind in a quite powerful way. There was a certain way of speaking and acting in running events for example. I also noticed that during the years of running I developed a skill to tolerate more pain. I might run and without noticing my toe was bleeding for example. To an outsider it might sound extreme but I am now only referring to few years of hobby running. We modify ourselves without even noticing and it is possible to see how we have changed only when we take distance  from what we keep as normal or mundane. If what we see then is something we want to get rid off it is complex situation as the main character in the story explains, the best years of life have gone with a certain pattern and lots have been sacrificed for the cause. And that sacrifice becomes visible only when you are outside the system. But the rewards of the sacrifice are only inside the organization.

The Dummy speaks 2018 so strongly that it scares. A man builds a dummy to live his life or those parts in his life he doesn't prefer. He wants the dummy to make his performance at work, take part in dull hobbies, be a husband to his wife and father to his children. What I thought in this point is what is left of life after all those things? What is actually better way to spend a life? The man in the story is so frustrated to his everyday life that he is ready to give it to a dummy. Tragic I think. The dummy, or dummies as he is forced to create two dummies eventually, begin to develop the life they are given to their own directions. In the end the man has become a shadow that as I see it has no life at all. The dummies both lead a content life. I wonder when life goes to the point that you feel powerless to change it to a direction you want and you are ready to leave all relationships and interests you have had before. I read from Twitter some weeks ago that it is possible to pay for a person to live your life so you can just stay at home and watch your life through the lenses of the actual person living. In some cases it makes sense, for example in tourism it could be used in virtual travel for example. But I think it is rather horrible future plan to stay alone at home and watch through the scene when someone does the things for you. Not every moment in life is wonderful and splendid and amazing. Still for me it is essential to do things in old fashioned way, walk, go to places, see people, interact face to face. Actually one novel I read last Autumn comes to my mind. Courtney Maum's Touch (2017) is about this theme, a human beings need for touch and interaction with other people. The man in Sontag's story is a tragic figure, he is so tired, and maybe depressed even, that he finds it comforting not to take part in his own life and just rest in emptiness. What is wrong in life or the way we are pushed to live if it results like that? Too many demands? Too many activities to take a part? Too much everything so that nothing feels special anymore? Or is it that we think our life should be an enormous experience like no one else's and it stresses us out when we notice we are as boring as the rest of the folk? This story really bought up so many questions and different angles to the subject.

To the end I still want to lift up two more stories that I especially enjoyed. Baby is a story about parenthood. It is both hilarious and very serious. I found it interesting to read how parents describe the events of baby's life so that it is not clear how old the baby they refer actually is. In same speech they tell how baby got his first tooth and how he should get a job. It describes perfectly the relationship between a child and a parent. One is always someone's child, no matter how old. Time goes rapidly and happenings begin to blur together, first tooth and first job are not so far from each other.

If you are an avid reader like me Pilgrimage might also have some resonance to you. It describes deliciously the joy of binging books and passionate relationship with literature. In the story an avid reader meets her literary hero, Thomas Mann. The meeting between the fans and the author makes you think whether great books are bigger than their authors. Maybe one who writes can't always express themself in physical way or in speech but needs a pen and paper to have their thoughts transmitted from mind to other people. As an introvert I oppose the thought that everyone needs to be a show person to sell their work, no matter the nature of the work. It is amazing that someone can write a whole world. Sometimes the ability to see the life around us and it's details demand a person who is more still and inside their mind pondering all the happenings rather that creating fuss and events.


If you need something challenging and thought provoking I highly recommend this collection of stories. One or two stories per day will give lots to think about and train your mind to see things around us in different manner.

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