against distinctions in quality, Sontagntakes average photographs for photography.nShe does not want standards. Innfact she thinks she is fascinated bynphotography because it appears to denynall standards. This desire to deny standards,nto deny judgments of quality isnat the heart of much of her work. It isnas if she wants to deny what she hasnmissed, as if she wishes to deny that realnaccomplishment takes hard work—andnthat some people make good use of theirntime, others do not.nxhis insistence on denying valuesnalso appears in her writing about illness.nShe argues against relating serious illness,nespecially cancer, to character andna way of life and insists, in somewhatnguarded terms, on a strictly chemicalnand biological understanding of the disease.nShe blames Wilhelm Reich, whosenwork she has not read with any care,nfor what she claims is a widespreadntendency to assume individuals have anmore than unlucky relation to their diseases.nHer tone is polemical, assertive,nstrident. Actually, she is deeply hurt atnthe ready contempt of some individualsnwho assume disease tells somethingnabout the sick. Easy psychologizingnabout disease which simply serves tonmask an incapacity for compassionnwhen compassion, only compassion, isnrequired is detestable. But Sontagnmakes it difficult for anybody to havencompassion for her, since she cries outnagainst it and accuses everybody—fornshe can never say anything withoutnapplying it to everybody—of assumingnthat the seriously sick are simply life’snlosers.nShe prefers pity to compassion—pitynfrightens her less. It confirms her prejudices.nCompassion would require hernto drop them. It would require her tonsee with her own eyes rather than withnthe eyes she thinks she ought to have.nIncapable of respect for things worthynof respect—that is what her resentmentnof values is all about—she has littlenrespect for her own suffering and littlencapacity to experience her own couragenand strength. For her doctors she feelsnsomething like gratitude, but even herenshe masks her feelings in a startling,nfor her, defense of professionals. Abovenall she fears to be admired at the samentime that she insists on attention—nattention she little deserves but, unfortunatelynfor her, gets.nShe has suffered but tries to dismissnher suffering in polemic—in a noise ofnwords. There are for her no simplenfacts—facts are always symbolic ofnsomething else. This means that in thenend she is always involved in propaganda—innpersuading people of somethingnshe must suspect is not so.nBecause she does propaganda, Sontag’snwriting presupposes you agree withnher prejudices in politics. She makesninfrequent but pointed references tonthese prejudices as matters about whichnthere can be no discussion. Withoutnsaying it openly, she is sympathetic tontotalitarianism, especially in mainlandnChina. This sympathy for totalitarianismnhas to do with her refusal to experiencenvalues—as if they reminded hernof the pain of unfulfilled love.nFor her, societies do not differ in kind,nonly in incidental characteristics: somenare rich, some are poor, some industrial,nsome agricultural, but the fact that innsome, men destroy each other, whilenin others they seek to respect each other,ndoes not make an impression on her andnher ever-ready contempt. She refers toncapitalism and to classes, as if they werencanned goods in a supermarket. She has,nhowever, the modesty to speak of freedomnrarely, and not without obviousnembarrassment and awkwardness —nwhich she, of course, denies. Her somewhatndisingenuous sympathy for totalitarianismnshows itself also in her readinessnto dismiss the distinction betweennprivate and public, without acknowledgingnthat it is precisely the respect fornthis distinction that, among othernthings, distinguishes free from totalitariannsocieties.nAt a time when Le Monde and somenFrench writers like Jean Lacouture arenfacing the consequences of their pastnnnopinions in the murder in Cambodia,nin the concentration camps in Laos andnVietnam, Sontag, who fancies herselfna connoisseur of France, does not questionnherself. She acknowledges the increasenof violence and war throughoutnthe world with resignation—as if itnhad nothing to do with what men (includingnherself) and governments saidnand did.nShe talks about her visits to mainlandnChina and Hanoi, about buying sneakersnin Hanoi in wartime, the way others talknabout resorts. At a time when we neednto face the recent past quickly, if wenare to survive with self-respect, she triesnto act as if not much is happening, certainlynnothing anybody can do muchnabout, as if she has nothing to do withnthe consequences of our past irresponsibility.nIn this refusal to look at herselfnand the present, she runs away—furtherninto the past: she has the effrontery,nin accordance with the until recentlynmainland Communist Chinese line, tonextend her pronouncements about thenVietnam war to the war in Korea andnto characterize as disgraceful the Americannpeople’s “unanimous . . . acquiescence”nin the United Nations’nreadiness to fight in effective supportnof Koreans who wanted freedom andnsuffered 1,600,000 deaths for it.nOontag’s poverty of world and selfnis most evident in her “stories” in I,netcetera. They are mostly about robots,nand when they are not expressly aboutnrobots, the people in them talk and act,nrather, behave like robots. In one ofnthese stories, “Old Complaints Revisited,”nshe comes tantalizingly close tonfacing these robots, to facing the rigiditynwhich keeps her from becoming annartist. It tells of a person trying to seenhis way out of an unnamed organizationnthat resembles the Communist Party.nIt is painful, like knowing a person whonrealizes he has no feeling but cannotnyield to the life within him and aboutnhim. In this story something beyondnher control and expectations almostnhappens. But she will not let go.nChronicles of Culturen