Brain Pickings

Susan Sontag’s List of Beliefs at Age 14 vs. Age 24


“The only difference between human beings is intelligence.”

The first installment of Susan Sontag’s published diaries, Reborn: Journals and Notebooks, 1947-1963 (public library), has already given us her views on life, death, art and freedom and her list of “rules + duties for being 24″ and her 10 rules for raising a child.

In an entry dated November 23, 1947, 14-year-old Susan lists her core beliefs, many of which — including her cult of the intellect, her pursuit of freedom, and her views on government — remained strikingly consistent, if not exponentially engrained, over the course of her life.

I believe:

(a) That there is no personal god or life after death

(b) That the most desirable thing in the world is freedom to be true to oneself, i.e., Honesty

(c) That the only difference between human beings is intelligence

(d) That the only criterion of an action is its ultimate effect on making the individual happy or unhappy

(e) That it is wrong to deprive any man of life [Entries ‘f’ and ‘g’ are missing.]

(h) I believe, furthermore, that an ideal state (besides ‘g’) should be a strong centralized one with government control of public utilities, banks, mines, + transportation and subsidy of the arts, a comfortable minimum wage, support of disabled and age[d]. State care of pregnant women with no distinction such as legitimate + illegitimate children.

Then, a decade later, in 1957, she revisits the subject, shifting away from a certain absolutism and towards a more balanced, even romantic ethos:

What do I believe?

In the private life
In holding up culture
In music, Shakespeare, old buildings

What do I enjoy?

Being in love

My faults

Never on time
Lying, talking too much
No volition for refusal

Reborn was followed by the excellent As Consciousness Is Harnessed to Flesh: Journals and Notebooks, 1964-1980, which gave us Sontag’s views on love, writing, censorship, boredom, and aphorisms

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