Saturday, May 29, 2004

Michael Wood (again) is a little flustered (at first) as to why Craig Seligman bothers to find comparisons between Pauline Kael and Susan Sontag. To me it makes a kind of obvious sense, though: for all their differences, both women always seemed to me to kind of signify everything I ever thought was conjured up by "intimidatingly brilliant New York intellectual." The writing of both is distinguished by a supreme confidence in their own opinions -- a confidence that at the end of the day their opinions will prove more searching, more substantial and more on target than anyone else's. So often when you read an old review of Kael's in Reeling or Going Steady(my original paperback of which is held together with rubber bands), you're reading the opinion that everyone else eventually comes to, after the original blurbs have withered away and all the dust has settled. Can't say the same is exactly true for Sontag, but "being right" isn't neccessarily her game, is it? With her it's more a matter of taking a different approach to seeing the same thing we're used to -- like photography or disease or whatever else crosses her mind.

Wood: Seligman's openness and fluency, his willingness to roll out his doubts and change his mind, take us to a place we couldn't have reached without him. He contrasts Kael's recurring ''we'' with Sontag's recurring ''they.'' He sees that both writers have an acutely concerned take on what is happening to American culture. Sontag, he says, asks: Is it just to call photographs art? While Kael asks: Is it sane to call movies art? ''Sontag finally can't live with what she knows,'' he says. ''She has to do something. Kael doesn't suffer the same compulsion.''

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