Long before she entered her current middlebrow-novelist phase, Susan Sontag was one of America's most important critics. A tireless crusader for the idea that the distinction between "high" and "low" culture is best forgotten, and that creating a "new sensibility" which is able to take in everything from pop music to avant-garde art, is essential, Sontag had an incredibly learned, original sensibility that was nevertheless makes for an enjoyable, engaging read.
Styles of Radical Will (originally published in 1969) is, perhaps, Sontag's most triumphantly expansive collection of essays, covering film (Bergman, Godard), politics (the famous "Trip to Hanoi" essay) and philosophy ("'Thinking Against Oneself:' Reflections on Cioran"). Sontag explores each of her subjects in a nuanced, objective, often opinionated, and always lively way.
Nearly all of the essays in Styles of Radical Will stand the test of time because Sontag's approach is irreproachably modern (she is certainly America's mother of modernism/postmodernism) in its absolute refusal to look at her subjects in any easy or expected way; Sontag is not afraid to criticize the banalities of some of our most celebrated culture-heroes, while propounding not what is "...embalmed, immortal, unequivocally (and merely) 'beautiful'," but work that retains its "...youthful power to offend, to appear 'ugly,' irresponsible, frivolous, pretentious, empty." In other words, Sontag looks beyond the immediate, easy, "acceptable" perception.
Styles of Radical Will is a treasure and a touchstone for any reader looking for a deep, invigorating, and unconventional exploration of culture through modern eyes.