From Publishers Weekly
Though both were Berkeley-educated single mothers, critics Susan Sontag and Pauline Kael could not have been more different on the page. Where Sontags tone was "formal and rather icy," Kaels was "verbal bebop"; where Sontags diction was dense and meticulously worked, Kaels 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 supporterand later a criticof "camp" and a dissector of Leni Riefenstahls 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 Chaplins 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, Seligmans text often loses its focus. But what his stream-of-consciousness narrative lacks in organization, it more than makes up for in lyrical enthusiasm.
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Two resounding critical voices made sense of the creative ferment of the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, two opposing forces of high-octane intellect and demanding aesthetics, two outspoken and revolutionary women: Susan Sontag and Pauline Kael. Seligman has drunk deeply at the well of both of these seminal and controversial thinkers, but his adoration takes different forms: he loves Kael and reveres Sontag. This crucial difference underlies his bravura inquiry into their ethos and influence, a dazzling performance of close reading in which he so vigorously parses each critic's style, ideas, temperament, politics, and emotional valence it's almost as though he's broadcasting color at a boxing match. And he's no slouch himself when it comes to piquant and exacting language and thought as he analyzes Sontag's mutability, austerity, and iciness versus Kael's puckishness, abundance, and pugnacity. Seligman's brilliant and far-ranging critique of two paradigm-altering critics inspires the reader to think hard about art's place in life and criticism's role in culture, and to renew delight in blazingly bold interpretative writing. Donna SeamanCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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