Jim Morrison and Susan Sontag
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Jim Morrison is the lead singer of the classic rock and roll band "The Doors". Jim
Morrison not only was the lead vocalist in the famous sixties band, he was also the writer of most but not all of The Doors songs and the author of many poems. Susan Sontag is an accomplished author. Some of Susan Sontag's works include essays, reviews, editing, novels and short stories. Although at first Jim Morrison and Susan Sontag appear to have nothing or very little in common, both because of Jim Morrison's main influence coming from author Friedrich Nietzsche, who believed in existentialism (a body of ethical thought centering about the uniqueness and isolation of individual experiences in a universe indifferent or even hostile to man, regarding human existence as unexplainable, and emphasizing man's freedom of choice and responsibility for the consequences of his acts), and Susan Sontag's writings following a style of existentialism, both Jim Morrison and Susan Sontag's works focus constantly on relating
the message of placing blame on oneself in order to obtain a more perfect soul.
Born James Douglas Morrison on December 8 1843 in Melbourne Florida to parents Steve and Clara Morrison(Hopkins, Sugerman 5). A few months after the birth of Jim Morrison,
Jim's father Steve and his mine layer were sent off to fight in World War Two. For the next three years Jim's mother Clara, was forced to raise Jim with only the help of sympathizing relatives who believed in ideas such as "Children should be seen and not heard ... Ignore something unpleasant and it will go away... "(Hopkins, Sugerman 5).
This constant barrage of negativity may have been one of the first factors leading to Jim's beliefs in existentialism. The way in which the negativity lead to Jim's belief is that through the constant attack, Jim began to feel as if he were responsible for all of the mishaps occurring in the family. This feelings that Jim had, showed his first signs of becoming an existentialist, because feelings of responsibility are one of the common characteristics of many existentialist authors, musicians and artists.
A second event in Jim Morrison's life, that may have been a reason for Jim becoming a
existentialist occurred while Steve Morrison, Jim's father, was driving through New Mexico when "They [The Morrison Family] came upon an overturned truck, and saw injured and dying Pueblo Indians lying where they had been thrown on the asphalt" (Hopkins, Sugerman 6).
After seeing the Indians, Jim felt an urge to have Steve Morrison pull over and attempt to help the dying Indians but, Steve did not share the same feelings with Jim and continued to drive by saying "It was a dream Jimmy, it didn't really happen, it was a dream"(Hopkins, Sugerman 6). This scene was considered to be one of the most influential in Jim Morrison's life as the story of the Pueblo Indians is constantly referred to in many of the songs written by Jim. One of the songs, where Jim uses the Indian reference, is Dawn's Highway where Jim says "Indians scattered on dawn's highway bleeding / Ghosts crowd the young child's fragile eggshell mind./ Indian, Indian what did you die for?/ Indian says, nothing at all." (Morrison 4). The dying Pueblo Indians helped to create the existential side of Jim Morrison because in his mind he felt as if he were responsible for the deaths of the Indians, once again placing blame on himself, a key role in existentialism.
Although events played a large role in Jim's journey towards existentialism, author
Friedrich Nietzsche who is often considered to be one of the few forefathers of existentialism played an equally if not more important role in the journey. Nietzsche played a large role in Jim becoming an existentialist because "Dennis and Jim would sit discussing Nietzsche for hours, arguing occasionally but generally agreeing ardently, reading long passages from the philosopher's works aloud to each other" (Hopkins, Sugerman 45). Through these readings Jim learned about Nietzsche philosophies including the ideal of The Superman and how to become an existentialist.
By the time Jim Morrison turned 23 he had become an existentialist and it was because
of his psychological views of the world that inspired Jim's lyrics in his poems and music. The first of example of Jim involving existentialism in his lyrics comes from the song "An American Prayer" where Jim says "Grant us one more hour to/ perform our art/ and perfect our lives".
When Jim mentions the previous lines, he is making a reference to asking God for "one more hour" and in this hour Jim plans to "perfect our lives", in these lines it can be assumed that Jim has realized he is not flawless, which is admitting guilt, and that the only way to perfect his soul is by admitting his sins, or placing blame on himself.
Another song where existentialism shines in Jim's works is in the poem "Dawn's Highway".
In "Dawn's Highway" Jim rants "Indian, Indian what did you die for?/ Indian says, nothing at all." These lyrics refer back to one of Jim Morrison's earlier life experienced where Jim sees the overturned truck of Pueblo Indians. As stated earlier it was known that Jim felt as if it was his fault for the death of the Indians because
his father refused to pull over and let Jim out in order to help the Indians. The thoughts that Jim experienced as a result of the accidents are a good representation of existentialism because once again Jim is placing guilt on himself.
Jim's existential words are shown once again in the song "The Hitchhiker". The song
"The Hitchhiker" is a song about a man, assumed to be Jim, who has just killed a man and is telling his story to a stranger "Hey, listen, man, I really got a problem/ I don't know how to tell you,/ but, ah, I killed somebody." Jim later goes on to say how he is not fearful of being caught "It's no big deal, ya know,/ I don't think anybody will find out about it.". Although Jim seams to be confident about getting away with his crime, he still feels a need to blame himself. As a result of this confession Jim has expressed his existential side because of his realization of guilt and his need for blaming himself so he can achieve a more perfect soul.
Just as Jim Morrison was an existentialist writer, so was Susan Sontag. Susan Sontag
was born on January 16 1933 in New York City, Susan Sontag was the oldest daughter in her Polish Jewish family. Susan Sontag was an author of many novels, short-stories and screen plays(American Writers 451). Susan was, like Jim Morrison, raised by his aunts, uncles and other relatives. The reason for why Susan was raised by her relatives is because when she was young her father was on constant trips to the orient and her mother would go along with her father on the trips. When Susan was only six years old, her father died on one of his fur trading trips in the China. As a result of the death of her father and the absence of her mother Susan was often considered to be "a psychologically abandoned child" (Sontag). As Susan Sontag's life continued she became more isolated than when she was a kid and often found her only escape from society in books. As a result of her isolation and absence of parents Susan started her journey towards becoming an existentialist style author.
Sontag's existential style is often present in much of her work, one such example come
from an essay she wrote in 1966 "The white race is the cancer of human history; it is the white race and it alone -- its ideologies and inventions -- which eradicates autonomous civilizations wherever it spreads, which has upset the ecological balance of the planet, which now threatens the very existence of life itself" (What's Happening In America, Sontag). The quote from "What's Happening In America" shows how Susan is taking the view of existentialism to an extreme by not only blaming herself, but by blaming her entire race for the threaten of life.
Sontag once again displays her existential style when she writes "The human mind
possesses now, almost a second nature, a perspective on its own achievements that fatally undermines their value and their claim to truth" (Thinking Against Oneself: Reflections on Cioran, Sontag). In this second quote Sontag displays her feelings about the need for placing blame on yourself in order to improve on your soul. The title of the work "Thinking Against Oneself: Reflections on Cioran" also reflects her views by stating the need to place blame on oneself.
Susan Sontag and Jim Morrison both show a similar pattern in there writing, both of the
authors constantly write about the need for self blame in order to ascertain a better soul.
Although both Sontag and Morrison tell the same idea there ways of presenting the ideas are different. Jim Morrison would often blame just himself and then make an attempt to resolve his mistakes, while Susan Sontag would blame entire groups which she was involved in such as the white race but, she unlike Jim often did not write about her ways to resolve the issues. Susan and Jim share one other similarity, both were raised by relatives and not by there parents. As a result of the self reliance both learned to believe that they were responsible for most events around them. Therefor because of the similar lifestyles and raising Jim Morrison and Susan Sontag can both be considered alike through existentialism.