Largely an erudite conversation between two learneds, but various slices worth exposing here. Cott met with Sontag in Paris in February 1978 and in NYC in November 1978, with a shortened version of this piece published in 1979 Rolling Stones issue. Cott has done his homework for the interview, quoting Nietzsche, Shakespeare, the Bible, Simone de Beauvoir, Rilke, Emily Dickinson, William Blake, Wilhelm Reich, Octavio Paz, Thomas Mann, Italo Svevo, Stendhal, as well as extensive knowledge of Sontag’s books and essays.
Authors to read: Mina Loy, Link Gillespie, Harry Crosby, Laura Riding (progress of stories), Paul Goodman (Johnson stories)
Someone once told me that you used to read a book a day.
I read an enormous amount and, in large part, quite mindlessly. I love to read the way people love to watch television, and I kind of nod out over it. If I’m depressed, I pick up a book and I feel better. Reading is my entertainment, my distraction, my consolation, my little suicide… my reading is not in any way systematic. I’m very lucky in that I read rapidly, and I suppose that compared to most people I’m a speed reader, which has its great advantages in that I can read a lot, but it also has its disadvantages because I don’t dwell over anything. I just take it all in and let it cook somewhere.
(In the 1950s) there was this total separation between those who were tuned into popular culture and those who were involved in high culture. There was nobody I ever met who was interested in both, and I always was, and I used to do all sorts of things by myself because I couldn’t share this with anybody else. But then, of course, all of that changed. And that’s what was interesting about the sixties. But now because high culture is being liquidated, one wants to take a step backward and say, Whoa, wait a minute, Shakespeare is still the greatest writer who ever lived, let’s not forget that.
I think the world should be safe for marginal people. One of the primary things that a good society should be about is to allow people to be marginal. What’s so awful about countries that call themselves communist is that their point of view does not allow for dropouts or marginal people.