cover image Sontag and Kael: Opposites Attract Me

Sontag and Kael: Opposites Attract Me

Craig Seligman. Counterpoint LLC, $23 (256pp) ISBN 978-1-58243-311-0

Though both were Berkeley-educated single mothers, critics Susan Sontag and Pauline Kael could not have been more different on the page. Where Sontag's tone was""formal and rather icy,"" Kael's was""verbal bebop""; where Sontag's diction was dense and meticulously worked, Kael's was colloquial and straightforward. Former New Yorker editor Seligman, however, applauds both approaches and exuberantly celebrates his""reverence"" for the former writer and""love"" for the latter in this engaging book. Writing with a tangible joy that oozes from his first paragraph to his last, Seligman begins his paean to Sontag and Kael by documenting their controversy-filled rise to prominence as writers in the 1960s. A supporter--and later a critic--of""camp"" and a dissector of Leni Riefenstahl's fascist aesthetics, Sontag is the more criticized of the two, and Seligman spends a great deal of time justifying her ideological flip-flops and her comparatively unemotional response to 9/11. Kael, on the other hand, is a veritable goddess to Seligman. A late-comer to film criticism, she wrote her first review (of Chaplin's Limelight) at age 32 and was decrying screen violence and declaring Orson Welles a monster for the New Yorker by 1968. Replete with emotional asides, textual excerpts and personal anecdotes, Seligman's text often loses its focus. But what his stream-of-consciousness narrative lacks in organization, it more than makes up for in lyrical enthusiasm.