Ken Tucker
May 21, 2004 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Sontag & Kael: Opposites Attract Me

type
Book
Current Status
In Season
author
Craig Seligman
genre
Nonfiction

We gave it an A

Seligman, former books editor of Salon.com, tells it all in his title. He explicates two great critics whose philosophies and styles seem opposed: Susan Sontag, deployer of dense, high-culture-rooted theory to critique mass phenomena, and Pauline Kael, defender, in accessible, demotic prose, of pop trash if it had brio and good humor. For Seligman, they form a yin-yang talisman to flip into the air like an invaluable coin and to discuss whichever side comes up. In the course of offering lively new interpretations of two idiosyncratic writers, Seligman recounts his own formation as a writer-critic. Sontag & Kael peaks with a brilliant examination of gay sensibility in pop culture and the ways Sontag, Kael, and Seligman have dealt with it in writing about everything from philosophy to movies to cancer. This is a critic’s criticism book that anyone will find moving and stimulating.

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