Pierpont is right to say that Sontag’s essay is “a strong argument about intention: a refusal to separate the artist from the art.” But it’s far more than that. It’s powerfully analytical. Most people, leafing through Riefenstahl’s The Last of the Nuba, would probably see it as one more lament for vanishing primitives. Not Sontag. She carefully examined the photographs in conjunction with Riefenstahl’s text and showed they’re “continuous with her Nazis work.” Sontag’s “Fascinating Fascism” is a compelling argument against Riefenstahl’s rehabilitation. It’s an important argument to keep in mind when pondering the possibility floated in Pierpont’s piece that “Riefenstahl might have been both a considerable artist and a considerable Nazis.”
Postscript: Paul Farley’s “Poker,” in this week’s issue, is one of the best poems I’ve read in a long time. It’s an inspired unpacking of the possible history of three old decks of playing cards. The decks are stunningly described with a tactile specificity (“shuffled and dealt to a soft / pliancy, greased with lanolin”; “dark-edged with mammal sweat”) that enables me to feel them in my own hands. “Poker” makes me hungry for more Farley.