Susan Sontag

United States of America

Author and cultural theoretician

DAAD Artists-in-Berlin Programme 1989–1990

Susan Sontag DAAD

At the age of ten, she read about Marie Curie and adopted the scientist as a role model. At 14, she was invited to tea by Thomas Mann. At 16, she went to university to study philosophy. Susan Sontag was not only a “child prodigy”, she has also retained a special aura throughout her life – whether as a journalist or essayist, a novelist or cultural philosopher, a critic or filmmaker. In 2003, she received the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade for her work.

I'm the world’s leading German studies expert that speaks no German.
Susan Sontag

“In a world of falsified images and distorted truths,” read the statement explaining why she was awarded the prize, she had “stood up for the dignity of free thought.” Continuing, the statement said that Sontag, who had rendered outstanding services as an intermediary of European – and in particular German – literature, had become the “foremost intellectual ambassador between the two continents”.

The American, who described herself as “the world’s leading German studies expert that speaks no German”, has written a great deal about German-speaking authors such as Brecht, Benjamin, Kleist, Kafka, Celan and Canetti. And it was she who made the German writer W.G. Sebald, who died in 2001, famous in the United States. Incidentally, Sebald was himself a DAAD scholarship holder, in England.

Sontag, who was born the daughter of a middle-class Jewish family in New York in 1933, constantly influenced public awareness, whether in the 1960s with her theoretical writings on the aesthetics of modernism, or with her books on cancer and AIDS, or with her most recent, often rigorously critical statements on politics, war and human rights.

In June 2003, she was held a lectureship in poetics in Tübingen, where she was awarded an honorary doctorate by the university. She was presented with the Peace Prize, worth 15,000 euros, in Frankfurt’s St Paul’s Church on 12 October 2003 as part of the Frankfurt Book Fair events.

Susan Sontag died at the age of 71 in New York.