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Unit Seven Text I Beauty by Susan Sontag

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1 Unit Seven Text I Beauty by Susan Sontag

2 About the author – Susan Sontag
Susan Sontag ( ), U.S. essayist, philosopher, novelist, short-story writer, and filmmaker, was a leading observer of new trends in literature, art, film, photography, and culture. She was educated at the University of California, the University of Chicago, Harvard University, and St. Anne’s College of Oxford University. She worked for several years as an instructor and writer in residence at universities in the New York City area. Her publications include: Against Interpretation (1960), On Photography (1976), Illness as Metaphor (1978), The Benefactor (1964) and Death Kit (1967), the latter two being novels. In “Beauty”, first published in Vogue magazine in 1975, Sontag traces the history of a word which was once defined as general excellence but which has often been used to characterize female appearance.

3 苏珊·桑塔格 苏珊·桑塔格(Susan Sontag, 1933年1月16日—2004年12月28日)生卒于纽约,是美国著名的作家和评论家著名女权主义者,她被认为是近代西方最引人注目,最有争议性的女作家及评论家。   她的写作领域广泛,以其才华、敏锐的洞察力和广博的知识著称。著作主要有《反对阐释》(Against Interpretation),《激进意志的风格》(Styles of Radical Will),《论摄影》(On Photography),《艾滋病及其隐喻》(Aids and Its Metaphors)和小说《火山情人》(The Volcano Lover)。   2000年,她的历史小说《在美国》获得了美国图书奖(National Book Awards)。她还是一位社会评论家和文学评论家,她对时代以及文化的批评包括摄影、艺术、文学等,被誉为“美国公众的良心”。此外,她也是一位反战人士,1960年代反对越南战争,也写文章批评过伊拉克战争。 (FROM Wikipedia维基百科)


5 Awards and honors 1978: National Book Critics Circle Award for On Photography 1990: MacArthur Fellowship 1992: Malaparte Prize, Italy 1999: Commandeur de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, France 2000: National Book Award for In America 2001: Was awarded the Jerusalem Prize, which is awarded every two years to a writer whose work explores the freedom of the individual in society. 2002: Received her second George Polk Award, for Cultural Criticism for "Looking at War," in The New Yorker 2003: Received the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade (Friedenspreis des deutschen Buchhandels) during the Frankfurt Book Fair (Frankfurter Buchmesse). 2003: Won the Prince of Asturias Award on Literature.

6 Praise for Susan Sontag
"Susan Sontag is a powerful thinker, as smart as she’s supposed to be, and a better writer, sentence for sentence, than anyone who now wears the tag 'intellectual.' " -- New York Observer "We wouldn’t recognize our postwar intellectual history without Susan Sontag." --Talk magazine “Sontag’s incisive intelligence, expressive brilliance, and deep curiosity about art, politics, and the writer’s responsibility to bear witness have secured her place as one of the most important thinkers and writers of the twentieth century.” -- The New Yorker

7 Major Books Collections of essays
(1966) Against Interpretation《反对阐释》 (includes Notes on “Camp”《关于坎普的札记》) √ (1969) Styles or Radical Will (1980) Under the Sign of Saturn (2001) Where the Stress Falls《重点所在》 √ (2007) At the same time: essays and speeches Fiction (1963) The Benefactor《慈善家》 (1967) Death Kit (1977) I, etcetera (Collection of short stories) (1991) The Way We Live Now (short story) (1992) The Volcano Lover 《火山情人》 (1999) In America 《在美国》(National Book Award for fiction in 2000) Monographs (1977) On Photography《论摄影》 (1978) Illness as Metaphor《疾病的隐喻》 √ (1988) AIDS and Its Metaphors (a continuation of Illness as Metaphor) (2003) Regarding the Pain of Others

8 Quotations from Sontag
Aids AIDS obliges people to think of sex as having, possibly the direst of consequences: suicide. Or murder. (AIDS and its Metaphors) Beauty What is most beautiful in virile (有男子气概的) men is something feminine; what is most beautiful in feminine women is something masculine.(Against Interpretation) Books are funny little portable pieces of thought. Truth The truth is always something that is told, not something that is known. If there were no speaking or writing there would be no truth about anything. There would only be what is. (The Benefactor)

9 Quotations from Sontag
Racism in America: I do not think white America is committed to granting equality to the American Negro. This is a passionately racist country; it will continue to be so in the foreseeable future. Art: Real art has the capacity to make us nervous. By reducing the work of art to its content and then interpreting that, one tames the work of art. (Against Interpretation: people should not attempt to find the 'meaning' in a work of art but experience it as a thing in itself. )

10 Major argumentative devices:
1) Definition: etymological connection between beauty and virtus 2) Contrast: Greek tradition vs. Christian tradition; classic concept (of “beauty”) vs. modern concept; women vs. men (different self-recognition, different social roles, different expectations on one’s own appearance) (Refer to the Students’ Book p )

11 Quotations from Naomi Wolf’s The Beauty Myth: How Images of Beauty are Used Against Women
Beauty The more legal and material hindrances women have broken through, the more strictly and heavily and cruelly images of female beauty have come to weigh upon us. Feminism The beauty myth of the present is more insidious(阴 险的)than any mystique of femininity yet: A century ago, Nora slammed the door of the doll's house...where women are trapped today, there is no door to slam. Feminism We are in the midst of a violent backlash against feminism that uses images of female beauty as a political weapon against women's advancement: the beauty myth.

12 Organization of the text
Section 1 (Para 1-3): Contrast the ancient notion of “beauty” with the modern concept to introduce the topic

13 Section II (Para 4-7) Illustrating how women and men are viewed/treated differently to support the argument: the oppression of women – Section III (Para 8-9 ) Pointing out how society’s gender stereotypes have affected adversely the development of women (e.g. encouraging narcissism, dependence, immaturity, passive acceptance …etc) Section IV (Para. 10) Calling on women and the whole society to get out of the trap created by the “myth of beauty” and the resulting oppression of women.

14 Comprehension questions
Paragraph 1 What’s the purpose of citing the example of Socrates in paragraph 1?

15 Paragraph 2 What does the sentence “We do not” mean?
In what sense is the word “beauty” used in the sentence “we are more wary of the enchantments of beauty”? How do you interpret the sentence? What point is the author trying to state here?

16 Paragraph 3 Did the limitation Christianity placed on the meaning of the word “beauty” give it any sexual bias? What does the author mean by “And beauty has continued to lose prestige”? What gives sexual bias to the meaning of “beauty”?

17 Paragraph 3 Why does Sontag think that “ associating beauty with women has put beauty even further on the defensive, morally”?

18 Paragraphs 1-3 Can you show how “beauty” was degraded through history?

19 Paragraph 4 Do you think Sontag will agree that “handsome” mean to men what “beautiful” mean to women? Why does Sontag think that regarding women as beautiful sex is detrimental to both the notion of beauty and that of women?

20 Paragraph 5 Narcissism describes the trait of excessive self-love, based on self-image or ego. The term is derived from the Greek mythology of Narcissus. Narcissus was a handsome Greek youth who rejected the desperate advances of the nymph Echo. As punishment, he was doomed to fall in love with his own reflection in a pool of water. Unable to consummate his love, Narcissus pined away and changed into the flower that bears his name, the narcissus. In psychology and psychiatry, excessive narcissism is recognized as a severe personality disorder. The terms narcissism, narcissistic, and narcissist are often used as pejoratives, denoting vanity, conceit, egotism or simple selfishness. Applied to a social group, it is sometimes used to denote elitism or an indifference to the plight of others. Sigmund Freud believed that some narcissism is an essential part of all of us from birth and was the first to use the term in the reference to psychology. Andrew Morrison claims that, in adults, a reasonable amount of healthy narcissism allows the individual's perception of his needs to be balanced in relation to others.

21 Paragraph 5 What’s the point of this paragraph?
What does the use of passive “women are taught to be involved with beauty…” imply? What does Sontag refer to by “stereotypes” in the last sentence of para.5? And what have “these stereotypes” to do with the “mixed reputation” beauty enjoys? How does Sontag show linguistically that social convention plays a role in maintaining feminine stereotypes?

22 Paragraph 6 What does “a flattering idealization of their sex” mean? Can you think of any concrete example? What effect does such idealization have on women?

23 Paragraph 6 & 7 Contrasting para. 6 with 7, do you think ( Sontag’s) society is fair in its expectations of men and women with regard to their looks?

24 Paragraph 8 What critical view does Sontag take of Cocteau’s remark “The privileges of beauty are immense”?

25 Paragraph 9 Interpret the sentence “If a woman does real work – and even if she has clambered up to a leading position in politics, law, medicine, business, or whatever – she is always under pressure to confess that she still works at being attractive.”

26 Paragraph 9 Interpret the sentence “but in so far she is keeping up as one of the Fair Sex, she brings under suspicion her very capacity to be… thoughtful.” But as long as she is trying to become a beautiful woman as is required by the whole society, people will be suspicious of her abilities, because a beautiful woman is more likely to be thought as superficial, inability, stupid, etc.

27 Paragraph 9 Interpret the last sentence “Damned if they do—women are. And damned if they don’t”. We have to think at this in two ways (within the context provided in paragraph 9): women work at being attractive & women work with capacity to be professional. Women are condemned (criticized) if they do work at being attractive and are questioned about their abilities. If women are capable of being attractive, as well as competent in their work (show their abilities by climbing up to a leading position), they are condemned because people are most likely to doubt how they get promotion to a leading position. And women are condemned (criticized severely) if they don’t work at being attractive, no matter whether they are competent or not, because being attractive is thought to be their duty and their work. To preen or not to preen, that is a question. What can save women from criticism?

28 Paragraph 10 Interpret the first sentence:
The story of the oppression of women, which has had a long history and seems to be going on endlessly, is both lamentable and laughable; it serves as the most powerful evidence to show how harmful it can be to judge a person by refusing to put into consideration both inner beauty and outer beauty together. (… by putting one’s inside and outside at two opposite ends and regarding them as incompatible.)

29 Paragraph 10 To get women out of the trap they are caught in, Sontag suggests that they “get some critical distance from that excellence and privilege which is beauty” (para. 10). What do you think this means?

30 Paragraph 10 What does “the mythology of feminine” mean (para. 10)?

31 Paragraph 10 How do you interpret the last sentence of the essay?

32 Interpret the sentences from l.70-l.74
Women should disassociate themselves as far as possible from the conventional, biased notion of beauty which seems to flatter but in fact belittle women, and see what the full meaning of beauty is, and how its implication of overall excellence has been narrowed so as to support the traditional but false notion of what women should be like. With its original meaning in Greek to denote a total , integrated concept of excellence, the word “beauty” should be saved from merely functioning as a compliment (with certain demeaning overtones) for women. Only when the reputation of this word has been restored can it be possible that women will be beautiful in the true sense of the word.

33 Organization of the text
Section 1 (Para 1-3): Contrast the ancient notion of “beauty” with the modern concept to introduce the topic

34 Organization of the text
Section II (paras. 4-7) : The oppression of women derived from the degraded, split-off notion of “beauty” and social convention about how men and women are viewed differently. Beautiful VS. handsome Social pressure: women’s identity depends largely on how she looks – encouraging narcissism, dependence, immaturity (in contrast to men, whose identity depends on what he IS or DOES) Women’s voluntary acceptance: women are trapped in and willing to accept the stereotyped obligation to aim at a “perfect” appearance. (in contrast to men, whose “imperfection” in appearance is considered preferable.)

35 Organization of the text
Section III (paras. 8-9) : Dilemma of the Fair Sex -- beauty as a catch-22 for women Beauty: a power to negate itself 2) Beauty: an obligation neither to be engaged in nor to be disposed of Section IV (para. 10) : A call on women to get out of the trap and the whole society to get rid of the trap.

36 Organization and development
Sontag begins her essay by defining the ancient Greeks’ attitude toward beauty, and goes on in subsequent paragraphs to trace the changes in the meaning of the word. What can you infer from this etymological(词源学的) study of the word?

37 Answer To Sontag, the change that occurred in the meaning of the word “beauty” is not merely an instance of semantic narrowing, but, more significantly, an instance of the distortion of lexical meaning of a word inflicted upon it by social prejudice (社会偏见强加于这个词上而使这个词产生词义降格). It seems that the ultimate aim of the essay is to expose and denounce such prejudice. Perhaps it is not difficult to agree that “beauty” is just a topic through which Sontag is actually exploring very much a feminist issue that demands public attention.

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