About the Book

Sontag and Kael

Sontag and Kael

Opposites Attract Me
May 2004
Hardcover · 256 Pages
$23.00 U.S. · £13.99 U.K. · €16.99 E.U.
ISBN 9781582433110


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With wit and style worthy of his subjects, Craig Seligman explores the enduring influence of two critics who defined the cultural sensibilities of a generation: Susan Sontag and Pauline Kael. Though outwardly they had several things in common—they were both Westerners who came east, both schooled in philosophy, both secular Jews, and both single mothers—they were polar opposites in temperament and approach. From the very beginning Seligman makes his sympathies clear: Sontag is a writer he reveres; but Kael is a writer he loves.He approaches both critics through their work, whose fundamental parallels serve to sharpen their differences. Tone is the most obvious area where they're at odds. Kael practiced a kind of verbal jazz, exuberant, excessive, intimate, emotional, and funny. Sontag is formal and a little icy—a model of detachment. Kael never changed her approach from her first review to her last, while mutability has been one of the defining motifs of Sontag's career. Moral questions obsess Sontag; they interested Kael but didn't trouble her. Then there's the matter of self-revelation. Under Sontag's aloofness smolders an impulse toward autobiography so strong that it isn't an exaggeration to call it confessional. Kael seems to be terribly intimate and forthcoming, and yet she turns out, when you peer closely, to be surprisingly guarded.But the question that Seligman keeps coming back to is: Can criticism be art? In seeking to answer it, he performs an unusual and remarkable feat: he has produced a nuanced, luminously written examination that stands as an answer in itself.

About the Author

Craig Seligman was born in Louisiana and educated at Stanford and Oxford. He has been an editor of The New Yorker, Food & Wine (executive editor), and Salon.com (books editor) and has written criticism for the San Francisco Examiner (where he was a staff film and book critic in the 1980's), The New Yorker, Salon, The New Republic, the Threepenny Review, the Village Voice, Artforum, Bookforum, and the New York Times Book Review (where he remains a frequent contributor). He lives in Brooklyn with his partner Silvana Nova.