opinions & ViewsnScenes de la Vie in ProvincenSusan Sontag: I etcetera; Farrar,nStraus & Giroux; New York. OnnPhotography; Farrar, Straus & Giroux;nNew York. Illness as Metaphor;nFarrar, Straus & Giroux; NewnYork.nby Leo F. RaditsanM iss Sontag lives off her talent thenway some of the rich live off their capital—becausenthey fear the pleasure, andnthe responsibility, of work and learning.nShe takes important things for grantednand makes a fuss over unimportantnthings—like everyday photographs ornwayward remarks about death-dealingndisease. She leaves important mattersnundiscussed, because she assumes wenagree about them, when actually shenis afraid of changing her mind and facingnher mistakes. She is half-educated,na true product of American educationnwith passing acquaintance with manynnovels and an undergraduate reading ofnPlato still in her head unchanging andnnot about to change. She surroundsnherself with words and things and, Inbet, people who will not challenge hernassumptions. She feeds the hunger fornintelligence by teasing it with superficialnbrilliance. She parodies academicnmethod, but does not know she is parodyingnit, at a moment when, alas, withnsome exceptions it is beyond parody.nShe wastes herself and others.nCaught without clear experience ofneither philosophy or history, Sontagntries to learn both philosophy and historynfrom novels—not even from poetsnwho are more demanding and do notnlend themselves to the easy generalizationsnshe takes for knowledge. Shenyearns for philosophy but will not darenbe true to her yearning—and appealsnto people who also yearn for philosophynbut do not know it. This makes her anDr. Raditsa teaches at St. John’s Collegenin Annapolis, Maryland.n6nChronicles of Culturenpatsy for political propaganda, whichnsubstitutes for conviction and for thenuneasy sense that one does not knownenough to judge. She is pernicious, becausenshe confirms people in their inadequacies,nbecause she tries tonconvince her readers that their inadequaciesnare all in the world we have.nOf these books. On Photography isnmore worthy of comment, although itnis deeply flawed. Photographs fascinatenSontag in a way the other things,nlike illness, she writes of do not. In thisnbook she comes closest to a real subject,nto something she cares about—but shenevades it—with categorical judgmentsnand haste.nWhat she really wants to talk aboutnis seeing, but somehow she does notnfind her way to her real subject. As anresult she denies her subject: she arguesnthat it makes little sense to distinguishnbetween photographers who can actuallynsee and those who photograph becausenthey cannot see. She will not, innthe end, distinguish between photographersnlike Walker Evans and EdwardnWeston who can see—and the hundredsnof others who cannot. She will notnmake judgments of value.nJrhotography, which looks so easynbecause its techniques are quickly mastered,nis actually a demanding and limitednart. It requires narrower disciplinenthan any other art. As Paul Goodmannused to say of the movies, it is good forntwo things only: documentary andndreaming.nEvans used to limit himself as severelynas a symbolist poet. I saw that vividlynwhen he criticized a piece of my prosenwhen I was about nineteen. He wentnover every word and phrase with a carenI had never imagined lived. Throughnall that severity I had the unmistakablenimpression that this was how he sawnand photographed: that he was teachingnme to give words the regard he tooknto the world and the discipline he gavennnto his camera. He was severe, but itnwas a severity full of warmth, not ofncruelty. As a result it awakened awe innme: I had never before sensed the delicacynthat came with the strength ofnwords. There was, too, a lot of unnecessarynfastidiousness that, I think, camenfrom his refusal to yield to the facilitynof cameras. He was careful, almost fearful,nin his struggle to make the cameranserve his eyes—not his eyes the camera.nHis eyes were full of sight—of delight,njoy and wit.nBecause Sontag argues that photographynis not an art, she is careless innher aesthetic judgments. She takesnWeston’s nudes much too much forngranted—and this at a time when few ifnany painters, for whom it is a vastlyneasier subject, can paint a nude! Shenis also too uncritical in her praise ofnRobert Frank’s photographs.nTwenty years ago, with the publicationnof The Americans, Frank’s photographsnseemed to show something aboutnthe United States which we had beenndenying. Evans spoke of a “new” eye.nNow in looking at those photographsnI am struck both by how much they owento Evans and how different they arenfrom Evans’ work—how awkward, distant,nand hostile. Unlike Evans, Frankntried to make the medium do more thannit could. As a result his photographsnnow seem to me to tell more about himself—andnat the same time deny it —nthan they do about the United States.nWhat they see in the United States isnimportant, but it is often confused bynthe stubbornness of Frank’s insistencenon his eye as his own.nFor Sontag the chief characteristicnof photographs is that they are both intimatenand distant—at the same time. Innshort they are promiscuous. But this contrastnbetween intimacy and distance isnnot inherent in photography: it occursnbecause so many people take photographsnwithout looking, because theynare unable to see. Because she arguesn