Occassionally I find someone who helps me to resolve issues or conflicts that trouble me. This post from 2009 about George Polya, "George Polya-Problem Solving and Heuristics", is a case in point.
A recent story in Slate about Susan Sontag answered several questions that I have been pondering in recent years. Sontag was an acclaimed 20th century novelist and essayist. We shared a liberal period in the early 1970s, but for Sontag it was a life calling whereas for me it was just a period on the way to a more conservative outlook. I find it somewhat amusing that I draw so much insight from a gay, Jewish woman, which probably shows that none of that is relevant. Perhaps our common interests in philosophy, writing and teaching explain this "bond", but I think not. I suspect that we have just thought about some on the same questions and now I can probably consider some answered or at least resolved.
This description of Sontag I found particularly interesting.
"Sontag’s ongoing investment in the development and definition of herself always seemed less like self-obsession than a kind of existential industriousness....you get the sense of a person who was always working toward an ideal version of herself. The ideal changed in its particulars over time, but the ideal of change remained constant... a useful reminder that being a pseudo-intellectual is a necessary stage on the way to being a nonpseudo-intellectual, and that the two classifications aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive. Being an intellectual is often, after all, a matter of getting away with trying to be seen as one."
"The ideal of change remained constant" is comforting. While such an expression sounds like a cliche, it is not so mundane when the change is in large part in your mind and how it works. How to become an intellectual I also found to be very telling.
This description of her erudition was insightful for me.
“As I listened to her clear, authoritative, and direct responses to my questions, it was obvious that she had attained the conversational goal that she had set for herself many years before.” The idea of this persuasive fluency of speech as something constructed, something striven for and achieved"
This is the standard of speech that any thinking person should strive for. It is an amazing demonstration of discipline and intellect, especially when done everyday.
This quote about curiosity is the point missed in the education debate.
"The way in which she positions curiosity as not just a primary critical value, but a primary human value." To be curious is, in the most vital sense, to be serious."
Curiosity is the driving force behind all discovery but rarely used as a pedagogical device in most schools.
I think this quote from Sontag provides great insight into writing.
"I feel I’m changing all the time, and that’s something that’s hard to explain to people, because a writer is generally thought to be someone who’s either engaging in self-expression or else doing work to convince or change people along the lines of his or her views. And I don’t feel that either of those models makes much sense for me. I mean, I write partly in order to change myself so that once I write about something I don’t have to think about it anymore. And when I write, it actually is to get rid of those ideas. That may sound contemptuous of the public, because obviously when I’ve gotten rid of those ideas, I’ve passed them on as things that I believe— and I do believe them when I write them— but I don’t believe them after I’ve written them because I’ve moved on to some other view of things, and it’s become still more complicated ... or perhaps more simple."
I like the concept that writing rids one of the ideas and also that the ideas can evolve. This idea of evolution explains a great thinker like Friedrich Hayek, whose views on certain subjects change profoundly, in my opinion, over his lifetime. Of course, the talent shows itself in differentiating the half-baked idea from the foundational thinking.
Note: In the related article below, Sontag's views on photography are interesting. She explained my lack of interest in taking photos, something which I had been pondering for 40 years.