I don't know how this program slipped by me so many months ago: I love Phillip Lopate – I think most people who love his work feel they love him, too; I do, at the very least –, I have an iTunes "subscription" to The Leonard Lopate Show, and I love siblinghood, both its fact and the notions thereof. Three months on, this recording – of Phillip Lopate on his brother Leonard's WNYC show – came to my attention; I dropped whatever I may have been doing – likely unimportant anyway – and listened to it immediately, hoping for the sentimentality and salaciousness I'd expected of a program dedicated to Phillip finally – although apparently he has been on the show before – appearing on air with his brother. Instead the show played – until Phillip's mid-show demand for further discussion of their relationship – as many of Leonard's do: a sober discussion of the topic at hand, its interest and value largely dependent upon the subject. Fortunately, Phillip makes a wonderful guest, and the primary topic at hand is his terrific essay Notes on Sontag; he here restates much of what is within his essay, but the work is so acutely observed and so deprived of the typical mutual exclusivity from which most Sontag-oriented appraisals and essays base their analyses – either in sheer adulation or in vehement dismissal – that I gladly reacquainted myself with it; I find it a joy to listen to the coherent clear-headedness that defines Phillip's analytical capabilities and will always jump at the opportunity to do so, no matter whether I feel I've heard him discuss the subject before. He does briefly address Sontag's recently published journals – which I hadn't heard him discuss before and had indeed been very interested to have his opinion on –, and I think his assessment of them as being ultimately of no great consequence to an understanding of her is correct, but it the rephrasings of Notes on Sontag's key points that are most fascinating. Phillip is capable, as is no other writer I know of who has written about Sontag's work, of unpretentiously considering the weight of her contributions, with no fear of couching his insights in elements of her personality and thought process – as gauged solely by the progression of her work – or of offering something that hints at – but warily, and wisely, never fully delves into – a speculatively psychological portrait of her. Notes on Sontag was a revelation for me; it was the work that allowed me to appreciate much of Sontag's work, which I had previously largely disregarded because of a few petty disagreements that occluded many of her unique abilities. I cannot recommend Notes on Sontag enough; and should anyone want to listen to further considerations of her work by Phillip, I highly recommend, once more, his discussion of the subject with Jonathan Lethem, which was recorded at 192 Books by AIR, Art International Radio and may be found here.
The second half of the program, at Phillip's entreaty, does discuss brotherhood – their brotherhood in particular – in greater depth; it is a fun discussion, if a bit circumspect, as per Leonard's understandable discomfort in publicly broaching the subject. But Phillip's curiosity, insight, and humanity are boundless, and this program offers modest tribute to it.
Below is a condensed video of the interview, which may pique your curiosity and hopefully cajole you into listening to the full thing. The photograph used for this post is Occassion for Dirmament, 1962, by Ralph Eugene Meatyard, and is used here merely to illustrate an idealistic reconstruction of the Lopate brothers' youth.