Susan Sontag, an influential cultural critic with a Harvard master's degree in philosophy, is noted for taking radical positions and venturing outrageous interpretations. Proclaiming a "new sensibility," she supported the cause of pop art and underground films in the 1960s. Her reputation as a formidable critic has been established by numerous reviews, essays, and articles in the New York Review of Books, the N.Y. Times, Harper's, and other periodicals. Against Interpretation (1966) includes her controversial essay "Notes on Camp," first published in Partisan Review. The title of the book introduces her argument against what she sees as the distortion of an original work by the countless critics who bend it to their own interpretations. "The aim of all commentary on art," she writes, "should be to make works of art---and, by analogy, our own experience---more, rather than less, real to us." Sontag has a mature modernist sensibility, but manages to depict the avant-garde in language accessible to any reader. She has lectured extensively around the United States and has taught philosophy at Harvard, Sarah Lawrence, and Columbia. She is a frequent and popular television discussion personality, particularly on contemporary issues of illness or feminism, although many feminists are unhappy that she does not declare herself to be a "feminist critic." She is also, less successfully, a fiction writer.
Machado de Assis's achievement in both novels and poetry make him Brazil's paradigm of a writer. His novels are characterized "by a psychological insight as well as a broad view of social conditions in Brazil and the world. The seriousness of the realistic view is highlighted with ironic humor." Beginning as a romantic, Assis developed a style that embraced realism, naturalism, and symbolism. "Epitaph for a Small Winner" (1881) reveals his essential pessimism, as the only consolation for Bras Cubas is that he has not passed on his misery to any offspring. About his writing in "Dom Casmurro" (1900), it was said "No satirist, not even Swift, is less merciful in his exposure of the pretentiousness and the hypocrisy that lurk in the average good man and woman." Born in the slums of Rio de Janeiro, Machado de Assis was orphaned early in life. He advanced from typesetter, to proofreader and finally to journalist before entering the Brazilian civil service. He was the author of nine novels, more than 200 short stories, opera libretti, drama, and lyric poetry.