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The Actual Pauline Kael Quote—Not As Bad, and Worse

The clearest example of the bizarrely naive quality of hermetic liberal provincialism was attributed to the New Yorker film critic Pauline Kael almost 40 years ago, and has been discussed in right-wing circles ever since. It went something like this: “I can’t believe Nixon won. I don’t know anyone who voted for him.” Several years ago, I went on an admittedly desultory search for the original quote and was unable to locate it.

On Friday, on the New Yorker’s website, the magazine’s film editor Richard Brody offers what may be the first accurate version of the quote I’ve ever seen (I’m assuming it’s accurate because it comes from the New Yorker itself): “Pauline Kael famously commented, after the 1972 Presidential election, ‘I live in a rather special world. I only know one person who voted for Nixon. Where they are I don’t know. They’re outside my ken. But sometimes when I’m in a theater I can feel them.'”

Obviously, the paraphrase is far juicier than the original, but actually, if you think about it, the version quoted by Brody is even worse, as it indicates that Kael was actually acknowledging her provincialism (“I live in a rather special world”) and from its perch expressing her distaste for the unwashed masses with whom she sometimes had to share a movie theater. What this indicates is that, even then, liberal provincialism was as proud of its provincialism as any Babbitt.



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