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In the Archive of Longing

Susan Sontag's Critical Modernism

Mena Mitrano

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Reads modernism and theory through Susan Sontag’s archive

This adventurous critical inquiry into Sontag's archive illuminates the intimate link between modernism and theory while also providing a fascinating reintroduction to these two movements and concepts. Mena Mitrano explores three core ideas in this study: the confusion of terms between modernism and theory; the concept of an ‘unwritten theory’ suggested by Sontag's subterranean engagement with the foremost theorists of our time (Derrida, Foucault, Deleuze, Lacan, Jameson and others) in the rawness of her journals and notebooks; and Sontag's identity as a non-traditional philosopher, through the extraordinary discipleship to Walter Benjamin. The book is driven by new archival research and will have a multi-layered impact, changing our perception of Sontag as a post-Cold War public intellectual as well as interrogating key concepts in the Humanities.

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Introduction: The archival relation
1. Thoughts about Thinking: Approaching Sontag
2. Aesthetic Experience and Critical Theory
3. The Public Intellectual
4. Modernism and Theory
5. Iconologies
6. Aura, Dread, and the Amateur
7. Interlocution.

About the Author

Mena Mitrano is an Adjunct Professor at Loyola University Chicago. She is the author of Gertrude Stein: Woman Without Qualities (Ashgate, 2005) and Language and Public Culture (Edizioni Q, 2009). She also co-edited and introduced the volume The Hand on the Interpreter: Essays on Meaning After Theory (Peter Lang, 2009). She is currently on the Editorial Board of the RSA Journal (Rivista di Studi Americani).


Through detailed archival investigation and sensitive textual interpretation, In the Archive of Longing offers us a different Susan Sontag than we have seen previously: a Sontag with an unappreciated depth and breadth of engagement with major figures of European literary theory and philosophy.

- Tyrus Miller, University of California at Santa Cruz

Sontag returns to us in this heartfelt, deeply thought, re-evaluation of her critical legacy and intellectual creativity. Mitrano illuminates Sontag's debt to the Frankfurt School and deconstruction in writing a new kind of criticism that is personal and full of culturual insights.

- E. Ann Kaplan, Stony Brook University

An invaluable contribution to the new wave of Sontag scholarship. Sontag rarely wrote—at least not publically—about the grand masters of contemporary theory but thanks to Mitrano’s archival sleuthing, we now know that Sontag’s personal papers and marginalia display no such reticence. More than merely excavating these tantalizing nuggets of intellectual history, Mitrano deploys them to trace Sontag’s metamorphosis from a precocious student of philosophy into a great aesthetic voluptuary and public intellectual.

- Roger Copeland, author of Merce Cunningham: The Modernizing of Modern Dance

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