ADDRESSES: Home—Brooklyn, NY. Agent—c/o Author Mail, Counterpoint Press, 387 Park Avenue South, New York, NY 10016.
Sontag and Kael: Opposites Attract Me, Counterpoint Press (New York, NY), 2004.
SIDELIGHTS: Craig Seligman is a New York-based author, critic, and editor who has been an editor for the New Yorker magazine as well as a critic for Salon. com. In his book Sontag and Kael: Opposites Attract Me, he examines in depth the lives and careers of Pauline Kael and Susan Sontag, two of the most prominent voices in American cultural criticism in the second half of the twentieth century. Seligman seeks to put Kael's and Sontag's works into perspective, both in contrast with each other and within the larger context of arts and culture in the United States. At its base, the book is "a dense, meta-level work of criticism by one critic about two other critics," commented Washington Post Book World reviewer Philip Kennicott. The "strength of this delightful little book is that it is about much more than its title suggests," Kennicott continued. "It is about the way people experience and understand art and culture; it is about criticism not just as practiced by professional critics, but as lived by all of us who try to make sense of art; and it delves deeply into the ever-tortuous way in which the rhetoric of populism threads through American culture."
Kael, who died in 2001, and Sontag are considered to be on roughly equal footing among their generation's heavyweights of cultural criticism and intellectual discourse. Kael's arena was the movies, while Sontag worked on a broader canvas that encompassed the arts and intellectual culture. While Seligman was a close friend of Kael's, this friendship did not impede his critical appreciation of her work, in the opinion of critics such as Variety's Allison Burnett, who wrote: "His love for Kael is so powerful that it is never diminished by his clear-eyed understanding of her foibles as a human being and a writer." "Seligman's very good book isn't flawed by its prejudice for Kael; rather, it's rendered more human," Kennicott added. In contrast, while he had not met Sontag when he wrote his book, Seligman still attempted to defend her importance, "and he pretty much succeeds." This task was all the more challenging, in the opinion of a Kirkus reviewer, because Seligman "isn't the only person in America who thinks the author of Against Interpretation and other groundbreaking works of criticism is arrogant, humorless, and charmless." "Seligman's respect for Sontag as a thinker is vast, but it is his misgivings about her as a human being that make for good reading," Burnett added. His "admiration for Sontag's writing is genuine, and his close reading of her work imparts a rich understanding of her intentions in a manner that would compliment any writer," agreed Chris Navratil in his review of Sontag and Kael for the Boston Globe.
John Newlin, writing in the New Orleans Times-Picayune, called Sontag and Kael "an elegant and adroit performance," while Harper's reviewer John Leonard dubbed the book "lucid and affectionate." In Booklist, reviewer Donna Seaman declared the work to comprise a "bravura inquiry into [the] ethos and influence" of the two cultural critics. "Seligman's style is so engaging . . . that he's a pleasure to read for his own sake," David Kipen remarked in the San Francisco Chronicle.
Even though reviewers such as Atlantic Monthly critic David Thompson had some misgivings about Sontag and Kael—Thompson called it "a magazine essay stretched out to book length"—praise for Seligman himself has remained high. He is "smart, gracious, and so good a writer that you know he needs to get a first book out of the way so that he can turn to something more compelling or grounded," Thompson commented. Seligman's "openness and fluency, his willingness to roll out his doubts and changes his mind, take us to a place we couldn't have reached without him," observed Michael Wood in the New York Times Book Review.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Atlantic Monthly, July-August, 2004, David Thompson, review of Sontag and Kael: Opposites Attract Me, p. 159.
Booklist, March 1, 2004, Donna Seaman, review of Sontag and Kael, p. 1130.
Boston Globe, June 6, 2004, Chris Navratil, review of Sontag and Kael, p. L7.
Entertainment Weekly, May 21, 2004, Ken Tucker, review of Sontag and Kael, p. 85.
Harper's, May, 2004, John Leonard, review of Sontag and Kael, p. 85.
Kirkus Reviews, March 1, 2004, review of Sontag and Kael, p. 214.
Library Journal, May 1, 2004, Maria Kochis, review of Sontag and Kael, p. 108.
New York Times Book Review, May 30, 2004, Michael Wood, "The Perils of Pauline and Susan," p. 7.
San Francisco Chronicle, June 1, 2004, David Kipen, "Critical Look at Critics Sontag, Kael," p. E1.
Times-Picayune (New Orleans, LA), September 5, 2004, John Newlin, "The Perils of Pauline Worship," p. 8.
Variety, August 9, 2004, Allison Burnett, review of Sontag and Kael, p. 36.
Washington Post Book World, June 13, 2004, Philip Kennicott, "Poles Apart: A Passionate Look at Two Influential Writers," p. T8.*