A.O. Scott’s essay about Susan Sontag: “what art does . . . is confront the nature of human consciousness at a time of historical crisis”

In an October 8, 2019 article for The New York Times, “How Susan Sontag Taught Me to Think,” A.O. Scott reflects on “the outsize influence Sontag has had on his life as a critic.” Sontag’s sentiments on the vital role of art in confronting “historical crisis” is at the core of PRISM Quartet’s Mending Wall project. (Learn more about the composers and the poems they’re inspired by here.)

From the article:

Right now, at what can feel like a time of moral and political emergency, we cling to sentimental bromides about the importance of art. We treat it as an escape, a balm, a vague set of values that exist beyond the ugliness and venality of the market and the state. Or we look to art for affirmation of our pieties and prejudices. It splits the difference between resistance and complicity.

Sontag was also aware of living in emergency conditions, in a world menaced by violence, environmental disaster, political polarization and corruption. But the art she valued most didn’t soothe the anguish of modern life so much as refract and magnify its agonies. She didn’t read — or go to movies, plays, museums or dance performances — to retreat from that world but to bring herself closer to it. What art does, she says again and again, is confront the nature of human consciousness at a time of historical crisis, to unmake and redefine its own terms and procedures. It confers a solemn obligation: “From now to the end of consciousness, we are stuck with the task of defending art.”

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