Susan Sontag, who died in 2004, was one of the most venerated intellectuals of her generation, but her enemies found her arrogant and aloof, while even her admirers often saw her as forbidding and Olympian. The only time I met her, she explained to me with disdain that although she regarded herself as an authority on American popular culture, she had never owned a television set. Male and female gay activists, who appreciated her support for AIDS, nonetheless deplored her refusal to acknowledge her sexual relationships with women, including the photographer Annie Liebovitz, her partner for the last decades of her life. ‘My life is entirely private,’ she proudly declared in an 1989 interview in the New York Times.
Sontag’s image of remote and disciplined rationality was altered by Swimming in a Sea of Death (2008), her son David Rieff’s painful and dismaying memoir of her frantic, self-deluded fight against the leukaemia that killed her. It will be further changed by the publication of three volumes of her private