Paulina Borsook (loris) Thu 23 Sep 04 09:43
i -loved- conspirators, but it grew on me. patience! funny, was amusing myself by thinking that kael, with her emotions evident on the skin and sparkiness, is the archetype of those dwf who list personals in the nyrb who describe themselves as 'vivacious and articulate' sontag is the archetype of serious political jewish woman, you know, who is the pioneer/activist/underground organizer... but i agree, her emotions are no less there. she uses ideas to express feelings...
Craig Seligman (craigseligman) Thu 23 Sep 04 11:29
But I don't think, David, that either of those quotations applies at all to Sontag and Kael. They don't consider themselves outsiders interpreting someone else's culture. They feel -- and quite justifiably -- that the culture they're interpreting (and not just American culture, either) is *their* culture. They're humanists, and what they're really doing is not explaining culture to others but explaining the world to themselves (while allowing us to listen in).
Wagner James Au (wjamesau) Thu 23 Sep 04 14:17
> They feel -- and quite justifiably -- that the culture they're > interpreting (and not just American culture, either) is *their* > culture. That strikes me as true. The interesting contrast I think you put across well in your book, Craig, is Kael as an advocate of quintessential *American* culture, even (or especially) in all its coarse, populist vulgarity, which Sontag is plainly uncomfortable with, both as a subject and a worldview. They both embraced the world's culture, but Kael is at heart an American critic looking at the world as an American*, while Sontag is more like a mid-Atlantic critic whose citizenship as a political and cultural identity is secondary. That sound like a fair reading? * One example that springs to mind is Kael's review of *Rashomon*, where she opines that the woman's constant crying "is enough to drive you out of the theater", or words to that effect. No sensitivity to different cultural norms there, just a reflexively populist American, "Shaddup, ya big crybaby!" reaction.
Paulina Borsook (loris) Thu 23 Sep 04 21:01
hmm, how important are the grades we assign to degrees of ethnocentrism? otoh, how important is it that we only and always respond to art on the terms of the culture that created it, as opposed to our own? strictly from my pov, i suspect kael is probably a more tolerant/inquisitive character than sontag, who to me has a kind of severity (which is fine with me)
Cynthia Dyer-Bennet (cdb) Fri 24 Sep 04 12:39
It's amazing how fast two weeks swooshes by. This has been a fascinating discussion. Thanks to Craig for joining us, thanks to Andy for serving as moderator, and thanks to all the other participants for joining in. The virtual spotlight has turned to another discussion, but that doesn't mean this one has to end. The topic will remain open, not frozen, so please feel free to continue talking as long as you like.
Craig Seligman (craigseligman) Fri 24 Sep 04 13:01
That's a very fair reading, James. One thing I love about Kael is the permission she gives us to trust our reactions. And in fact, once you see enough, say, Japanese movies (to use your example), you realize that no matter how different certain cultural markers may be, culture is culture and people is people and you react to what happens on screen pretty much as you'd react if the movie were Norwegian, or Basque or American.
Wagner James Au (wjamesau) Fri 1 Oct 04 14:08
Has Craig left the building?
Craig Seligman (craigseligman) Sun 3 Oct 04 21:32
No, I'm still around ... for a bit ...
Wagner James Au (wjamesau) Mon 4 Oct 04 14:45
Cool. Well, to take an earlier dive into Sontag's political thought, I wondered if you could talk more about her remark that communism was "fascism with a human face". I found that section of your book particularly fascinating, partly because while I was aware of that remark, I never quite knew about the firestorm on the left that came in response. This was a bit before my time, so it struck me as bizarre that it would provoke such outrage. This is in the 80s, long after revelations of Stalin's pogroms and forced starvation, long after Prague Spring, long after *The Gulag Archipelago*, and very shortly after the invasion of Afghanistan. So how could a sizeable number of non-communist leftists possibly dispute or be offended by Sontag's remark, basically saying that communism was just another totalitarian system with better PR? If you're feeling spry, maybe you could connect this with your thoughts on Sontag's landmark "Fascinating Fascism". It's a great essay, but I did find her distinction between fascist art and communist propoganda art to be unconvincing. They both seem to partake of the pseudo-humanist sexualization of the human body that she was complaining about in Riefenstahl's work.
Craig Seligman (craigseligman) Fri 8 Oct 04 07:50
Ooh, what an interesting question. Thanks, James. The truth is, I think, that they weren't offended by her remark. I agree with you: how could they have been? They were offended by the accusatory tone in which the speech was delivered, and since that remark was the rhetorical climax of the speech, it was the point at which they went wildest. But if you look at all the attacks on Sontag afterward, there's something very scholastic (in the medieval sense) about them. Writer after writer took her to task, explaining why communism isn't fascism -- I don't think I learned much from any of those sober, measured rebuttals -- but what you really get from all those attacks is "Who does she think she is?" Which is, in fact, probably a more legitimate question, and if they'd attacked her for using an inappropriate tone rather than an inappropriate comparison, they'd have been on much firmer ground. The way I see it, most of her antagonists came out of the contretemps looking like boobs because they hadn't really confronted what it was about the speech that antagonized them. (An exception is Julius Jacobson, whom I mention in the book and who wrote by far the best analysis of the event that I came across.) On the difference between fascist and communist art: I'm hardly an authority, but it seems to me that Sontag is on to something when she argues, "In contrast to the official chasteness of official communist art, Nazi art is both prurient and idealizing." I remember an old Stamaty (I think) cartoon in the Village Voice of two gay guys, one saying to the other, "One thing you've got to hand to the Nazis: they certainly understood leather." And they did. As you know, the coda to "Fascinating Fascism" is about the sexual allure of Nazism, at least as it morphed into the gay leather culture of the '70s. Sontag is disapproving, but quite apart from value judgments, it seems seems clear that there was something highly sexualized (and homoerotic) in Nazi culture, at least (I'm not sure how much it extends to the fascist cultures of Italy and Spain), that you can't find a trace of in communist culture. Socialist realism is about the least arousing school of art I've ever encountered.
Wagner James Au (wjamesau) Mon 11 Oct 04 11:09
For the most part, yes-- but then, I've seen East German and Soviet statuary can get just as sexual, at times. There's even some overlap there in the chaste socialist realism, what with their square-jawed, broad-shouldered factory workers, and their decidedly pretty male Red Guard soldiers with slim waists and cherub lips. Anyway, I take your (and Sontag's) larger point. Thinking back on it more, however, I'm not sure how her distinction applies to Riefenstahl's Nazi and post-Nazi work. The physicality in her *Olympiad* and her mountain films strikes me as pretty chaste, in more of a socialist realism sense-- just as her Nuba photographs do, decades later. More fascinating insights on the "fascism with a human face" imbroglio, Craig, thanks for them.
Not Jet Li (saiyuk) Wed 29 Dec 04 03:05
Susan Sontag, R.I.P.
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