By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Carol Cheh
By Keegan Hamilton
By Bill Raden
In your essay about Pauline Kael and her followers, you made New York intellectual life sound pretty intolerant.
It’s absurd the way it is in New York: William Buckley‘s phrase, the “averted gaze” -- “I notice you, but I’m not going to look at you.” Or, “I‘m going to snub you and make it a point that you know I snubbed you.” A lot of people get demonized. Hilton Kramer in person is incredibly agreeable, funny, and knowledgeable about New York intellectual life of the past 50 years, but if you were to mention him in certain circles -- it’s not that they don‘t want to read Hilton Kramer, it’s [that they believe] people like him should not be allowed to exist. Why can‘t he just go away? Oh yeah, let’s just leave it all up to Arthur Danto and the October crowd! I don‘t take my disagreements with people personally, I really don’t. If someone disagrees with me about a movie or a writer, I don‘t pretend they don’t exist if I‘m introduced to them. I thought New Yorkers supposedly thrived on give-and-take. All this stuff you read about the Partisan Review gang, how they would argue into the late hours and get vocal but still keep coming to each other’s parties. Now it‘s like, “Oh no, you won’t be invited if you say something that somehow doesn‘t fit.”
As I remember in your Paulettes piece, that was true when you first arrived in New York. That’s not a recent development.
I think it‘s gotten worse. I wasn’t around during the Vietnam period, which I‘m told really did turn people against each other, but I saw it happen when things really did become much more P.C. I think it’s been more and more true. It was certainly true of the movie critics. All of a sudden they would do this thing of sniffing, “Oh, you didn‘t get it.” My wife and I walked into this book party, and there were two of Pauline Kael’s proteges, and they saw us and they went for the door. That article was taken as the biggest sacrilege I‘ve ever committed. Because I let out secrets.
Are you still friends with Kael?
Oh no, this was the end. She once said to me, “I don’t tell them what to write.” And I was thinking, “Oh, Pauline, they don‘t have to be told. They’ve known you for 10 or 15 years.” F.R. Leavis didn‘t have to tell his followers what to write. They knew at a certain point. They knew who they were expected to be in favor of and not in favor of. You know, Pauline played her favorites, and it was clear, and it was okay, but if you disagreed with someone about a movie, they would literally fall dead silent and turn their head away. Like you had made a joke about their dead mother or something.
Do you ever feel bad about past remarks?
I thought I was much too personally severe with Michael Kinsley when I wrote about Slate. I was a little rough there. I feel bad that Pauline Kael took it as deeply as she did, because we’re all independent critics, we‘re all strong-willed critics, and it’s not as if Pauline hasn‘t had scrapes with her friends before, a lot worse than this. So, I regret it, but if that’s how it plays out I‘m not going to change it. If you start pulling your punches in advance, that’s deadly. So I don‘t try to go out of my way to be nasty, but at the same, a lot of times I think, “Okay, I’m just going to say it, and if the person gets upset, they get upset.”