God, living is enormous!

Susan Sontag in 1979
Photo: Lynn Gilbert (CC BY-SA 4.0)

When she wrote the following entry in her journal and imagined fleeing college to venture into the unknown, Susan Sontag was a precocious sixteen-year-old studying English at the University of California, Berkeley. By the end of the year she had indeed left—not on a bus to an undecided destination, but to the University of Chicago as one of five Californians to be offered a scholarship. After graduating, married and now a parent, Sontag further enriched her mind with studies at Harvard and time spent in Paris and Oxford, accumulating a broad and deep scholarly knowledge that would inform her prolific writing career. Sontag went on to become one of the most influential critics and thinkers of her time, writing essays, novels, and plays that reflected her adventurous spirit, her intellectual curiosity, and her relentless pursuit of knowledge.

The Diary Entry


A thought occurred to me today—so obvious, so always obvious! It was absurd to suddenly comprehend it for the first time—I felt rather giddy, a little hysterical:—There is nothing, nothing that stops me from doing anything except myself … What is to prevent me from just picking up and taking off? Just the self-enforced pressures of my environment, but which have always seemed so omnipotent that I never dared to contemplate a violation of them … But actually, what stops me? A fear of my family—Mother, especially? A clinging to security and material possessions? Yes, it is both of those, but only those realities that keep me … What is college? I can learn nothing, for that which I want to know I can accumulate, and have done so, on my own, and the rest will always be drudgery … College is safety, because it is the easy, secure thing to do … As for Mother, I honestly don’t care—I just don’t want to see her—The love of possessions—books and records—those are two oppressions which have been very powerful in me the last few years, yet what, what bars me from putting my papers, notebooks, and a couple of books in a small box, sending them to a storage company in another city, getting into a couple of shirts and my levis, stuffing another pair of socks and a couple of bucks in my coat pocket, walking out of the house—after leaving an appropriately Byronesque note to the world— and taking a bus—anywhere?—Of course, I’d be caught by the police the first time and sent back to the bosom of my distraught family, but when I walked out the day after I was sent home, and did the same if I were returned again, they would leave me alone—I can do anything! Let me make a bargain with myself then—if I am not accepted in Chicago, I will leave in exactly this manner this summer. If I am accepted, then I will go for this next year, and if I am in any way dissatisfied—if in any sense I feel that most of me isn’t being used there, then I’ll take off—God, living is enormous!

Further Reading

The first volume of Susan Sontag’s journals was published in 2008 with the title Reborn: Journals and Notebooks, 1947-1963. The second installment followed in 2012, titled As Consciousness is Harnessed to Flesh: Journals and Notebooks, 1964-1980. Both were edited by Sontag’s son, David Rieff. The third and final volume is yet to be published.

Excerpted from Reborn: Journals and Notebooks, 1947-1963 by Susan Sontag. Copyright © 2008 by The Estate of Susan Sontag. Published in December 2008 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC. All rights reserved.

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