In Maestros & Monsters: Days & Nights with Susan Sontag & George Steiner, Robert Boyers recounts his experiences with the two influential Jewish writers of the title. Adam Kirsch, in his review, focuses on their shared “intellectual style,” which, he writes, was formed by the mostly-Jewish New York intellectuals of the mid-century:
In defining their Jewishness in secular and literary terms, Steiner and Sontag were following a path long familiar to German Jewish intellectuals, from Heine and Marx to Walter Benjamin. In Europe, the intellectual vocation appealed to assimilated Jews who found themselves socially marginalized and spiritually homeless, because it turned these deficits into assets. The intellectual took pride in being what Hannah Arendt, another great example of the type, called a “pariah”: because he belonged nowhere, he could see the world truly, free from parochialism and self-interest; . . . ironically, they earned greater fame and even wealth than earlier Jewish “pariahs” could have hoped for.
At the same time, neither had much interest in defending actual Jews from ostracism. Sontag, as Michael Weingrad wrote in Mosaic, “became prone to sloppy Holocaust analogies” later in her career, which she invoked in “her uncritical acceptance of bogus Palestinian claims of a 2002 Israeli ‘massacre’ in the West Bank city of Jenin during the second intifada.” As for Steiner, his extreme anti-Zionism often bled into apologetics for anti-Semitism.