I met Susan Sontag just once, at a literary festival, and it was an unsettling experience. I was sitting in the kitchen at Charleston, the house in East Sussex that used to be owned by Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant, when Sontag swept in. The atmosphere around the table was convivial – tea and cakes had been provided for authors waiting to do their turn – but Sontag couldn’t have been more aloof. An inoffensive question from another writer prompted a fierce glare and a steely put-down. It was towards the end of her life and she might have been having a bad day, but I wondered why she needed to establish her intellectual superiority in such a brutal fashion.
Sontag’s diaries offer some answers. This second volume spans a turbulent period of history, including the antiwar movement (she visited Hanoi in 1968), les événements in Paris, and the second wave of feminism; it also covers significant moments in her own life, including publication of Against Interpretation in 1966, and