You can’t feel angry at nature. You can’t feel angry at biology. We’re all going to die — that’s a very difficult thing to take in — and we all experience this process.
It feels as if there’s this person — in your head, mainly — trapped in this physiological stock that only survives 70 to 80 years, normally, in any decent condition. It starts deteriorating at a certain point, and then for half of your life, if not more, you watch this material begin to fray. And there’s nothing you can do about it. You’re trapped inside it; and when it goes, you go.
I think the sense of a self trapped in something is impossible to get over. That’s the origin of all dualisms — Platonic, Cartesian or whatever. There’s no way that we can be conscious and not feel ‘I am in my body.’
Of course, you can try to come to terms with death, try to shift the axis of your activities to things that are less body-dependent as you get older: your body neither is as attractive to other people nor does it function in the way that is pleasurable to you.
But it also should be said that a lot of our ideas about what we can do at different ages and what age means are so arbitrary — as arbitrary as sexual stereotypes. People say all the time: ”Oh, I can’t do that. I’m 60. I’m too old.” Or ”I can’t do that. I’m 20. I’m too young.” Why? Who says so?
I think that the old-young polarization and the male-female polarization are perhaps the two leading stereotypes that imprison people. The values associated with youth and with masculinity [and I must add here cis-het whiteness] are considered to be the human norms, and anything else is taken to be at least less worthwhile or inferior. Old people have a terrific sense of inferiority. They’re embarrassed to be old. What you can do when you’re young and what you can do when you’re old is as arbitrary and without much basis as what you can do if you’re a woman or what you can do if you’re a man…
…This may be my limitation — and it probably is — but I cannot understand the truth except as the negation of falsehood. I always discover what I think to be true by seeing that something else is false: the world is basically full of falsehood, and the truth is something carved out by the rejection of falsehood. In a way, the truth is quite empty, but it’s already a fantastic liberation to be free of falsehood.
– Read the full interview here: Susan Sontag to Jonathan Cott, in Rolling Stone,1978.