Brain Pickings

Susan Sontag on Censorship and the Three Steps to Refuting Any Argument


“A just/ discriminating censorship is impossible.”

As a deep admirer of Susan Sontag, I’ve been ravenously devouring the newly released As Consciousness Is Harnessed to Flesh: Journals and Notebooks, 1964-1980 (public library) — an extraordinary look at the inner world of a genius, oscillating between conviction and insecurity in the most beautifully imperfect and human way possible. From detailed notes on her formidable media diet of literature and film to her intense love affairs and infatuations to her meditations on society’s values and vices, the hefty volume is a true cultural treasure.

Among its many highlights is an entry from September 16, 1965, written during a trip to Paris:

The main techniques for refuting an argument:

Find the inconsistency
Find the counter-example
Find a wider context

Instance of (3):  

I am against censorship. In all forms. Not just for the right of masterpieces— high art— to be scandalous.  

But what about pornography (commercial)?
Find the wider context:
notion of voluptuousness à la Bataille?
But what about children? Not even for them? Horror comics, etc.
Why forbid them comics when they can read worse things in the newspapers any day. Napalm bombing in Vietnam, etc.  

A just/ discriminating censorship is impossible.

As Consciousness Is Harnessed to Flesh is a follow-up to the 2008 tome Reborn: Journals and Notebooks, 1947-1963, also a pricelessly intimate lens on one of modern history’s greatest minds. Complement it with Sontag on our “aesthetic consumerism,” literature and freedom, the writer’s role in society, the problem of interpretation, boredom, sex, aphorisms, why lists appeal to us, and the joy of rereading beloved books.

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