Sontag has once again compiled an intelligent collection of essays on widely varying aesthetic topics. Though she begins with a rather artificial and patronizing obituary for the late man of letters Paul Goodman, whose body of work she is evidently less than enthused with, though she feels obliged to compare him to Sartre. The essay rings of false piety.
She moves into an expansive and favorable essay on Antonin Artaud, the great playwright and artist of the avant-garde movement. Sontag reviews the developments of his great career within the context of moralistic philosophic aesthetics, liking him with Nietzsche, then Sade, then Breton.
Yet the most impressive essay in Under the Sign is titled `Fascinating Fascism,' and it is truly fascinating. In it, Sontag overviews the work of filmmaker, actress, and photographer Leni Riefenstahl, the Nazi propagandist whose body of work includes the esteemed documentaries Triumph of the Will, and Olympia, the latter about the 1936 Olympic games. Sontag reviews Riefenstahl's book of photography on the Nuba tribe in Sudan, which is apparently breathtaking. Sontag concludes that Reifenstahl, despite her `de-Nazification' and renunciation of her political past is still enamored with a fascist ideal, valuing the masculine strength of the male Nuba and placing their bodies in the foreground, while the women remain vulnerable and tucked away in shadowy corners. The essay is highly provocative.
The title essay is about the great philosopher and literary critic Walter Benjamin, whom she reviews favorably. This essay provides some interesting tidbits of information that Hannah Arendt neglects to include in her introduction, such as Benjamin's apparent hatred for Heidegger's philosophy.
Also included in this volume is an excellent and terse review of Roland Barthes, and the fine novelist Elias Canetti, whom she holds in great esteem.