When Susan Sontag passed away in 2004 after a thirty year argument with acute myelogenus leukaemia, the U.S. lost one of its greatest writers. I want to say public intellectuals, but would prefer to emphasize a writing that, despite influential texts like Against Interpretation (1966), On Photography (1977) and Illness as a Metaphor (1978), is most resonant in fiction -- or let us say an argument with fiction, where the author's discomfort with everything except cigarettes and black turtleneck sweaters achieved its greatest expression.
A couple years ago, when Jacqueline Zhong-Li Ross submitted to me her list of books to read in advance of our meetings, Sontag's short fiction collection I, etcetera (1978) was among them. I never got around to reading it at the time, but I am now, and sheesh -- does it feel fresh! Certainly the first story, "Project for a Trip to China", with its literary curlicue and dialectical why and wherefore em-dashed notes; a work that carries with it the sound of its own making, but a complete work all the same. "Fresh" not because of its style, which would pass for experimental in the 1970s, but its variegation of fiction and non-.
Here's a passage that reminds me of my own father's beginnings in China (Shanghai):
"A trip into the history of my family. I've been told that the Chinese are pleased when they learn that a visitor from Europe or America has some link with prewar China. Objection: My parents were on the wrong side. Amiable, sophisticated Chinese reply: But all foreigners who lived in China at the time were on the wrong side." (12)