The Dilettante and the Polymath

Laura Nelson
21 min readJun 11, 2024
Susan Sontag and George Steiner (Wikimedia Commons)

Review of Robert Boyers, Maestros and Monsters: Days and Nights with Susan Sontag and George Steiner (Mandel Vilar Press/Dryad Press, 2023)

“It’s not bragging if you can back it up.” — Muhammad Ali

“Perhaps you’d like two more chairs to contain your giant intellect?” — Dick Cavett to Norman Mailer


Quite a long while ago, longer than I care to remember, I was enrolled in an Information Technology job training program, where I was learning how to program mainframes. (That alone should date me, but I hasten to add that mainframes are still around, if less ubiquitous than they once were, and will be around for some time to come.) Two of the instructors there bore a strong resemblance to characters in the underground comic The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers. The junior faculty member was reminiscent of Phineas, the curly, dark-haired freak who was politically active. The senior member was the doppelganger of the blonde and mustachioed Fat Freddy, who just liked eating and getting high.

Fat Freddy’s Clone was the kind of programmer who could rapidly flip through two hundred pages of green-bar paper printouts, stop suddenly, point to a line of code, and remark, “That’s where your program bombed.” His facility with software development was matched only by his arrogance. “Listen up,” he crowed…



Laura Nelson

Writer, philosopher, information technologist,guitarist, neurotic, polite radical, avid and indiscriminate reader, Episcopalian, trans woman.