Friday, November 06, 2009

"The habits and the aura of a student"

At the Rumpus, Jeremy Hatch provides wonderful excerpts from Sigrid Nunez's memoir about Susan Sontag. Nunez's thoughts on Sontag's contempt for teaching strike me as very perceptive (I come at it, of course, from quite a different point of view!).

(NB I was teaching Sontag's "Notes on Camp" in class this week, together with the demented style miscellany - it is truly a bravura performance...)

(Further thought: I was party to a recent discussion about Kenneth Koch that included the suggestion that he must have been one of the most influential teachers of his generation, not least though also not exclusively in terms of significant writers thinking of themselves as his students after having officially or unofficially studied with him at Columbia - it gave me cause to think about how influence passes strongly through contact inside and outside the classroom as well as through published books - I think that I have sometimes undervalued teaching as opposed to writing, but that the two are in a best-case scenario truly complementary. Of course, student-teacher relationships at Columbia or otherwise are often complex! The letter in which Trilling expresses his dislike for his former student Ginsberg's Howl was described to us very vividly last week [we were having a session for the seminar I'm teaching this semester on Richardson's Clarissa] by the Curator for Literature at the Rare Books and Manuscripts Library at Columbia, which is what caused me to look for that piece just now....)


  1. Interesting! Saul Bellow said the same thing about Sontag: that she was a professional graduate student or permanent graduate student, or something like that. Someone complained about a review Sontag wrote of his or her book and Bellow answered don't worry, she's only a permanent graduate student - or something to that effect.

    Though I fervently dislike almost everthing I've by her, I really admire the piece she wrote about going to visit Thomas Mann at age 15. I've read it several times. Makes me sometimes think I'm missing something in the rest.

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