sontag: intimate criticism


Critics are not often enthusiasts. There is a sense of keeping cool or detached, and even a phrase to describe it: critical distance. Sontag had the opposite impulse: critical intimacy. She claims in the introduction to Against Interpretation that she can write only about what truly engages her—“passionate interest” is her formulation. What it comes down to is that she criticizes what she loves—which made her work and her life a matter of such great intensity. As Craig Seligman wrote in his remembrance of her, “The greatness was in her cool, hardheaded essays on aesthetic matters; as an aesthete defending the senses against the intellect, the new against the established, silence against noise, she was magnificently coldblooded. But she was hotblooded and hotheaded when she turned to politics.” Sontag was hot, sharp, passionate about her subjects, though the prose in her essays is always careful, deliberate, and calm.

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