File Name: susan sontag against interpretation and other essays .zip
- [Susan Sontag] Against interpretation and other es(BookZZ.org)
- Against interpretation : and other essays
- Susan Sontag
[Susan Sontag] Against interpretation and other es(BookZZ.org)
A short summary of this paper. Perhaps Tennessee Williams thinks Streetcar is about what Kazan thinks it to be about. It may be that Cocteau in The Blood of a Poet and in Orpheus wanted the elaborate readings which have been given these films, in terms of Freudian symbolism and social critique. But the merit of these works certainly lies elsewhere than in their "meanings. From interviews, it appears that Resnais and Robbe-Grillet consciously designed Last Year at Marienbad to accommodate a multiplicity of equally plausible interpretations.
But the temptation to interpret Marienbad should be resisted. What matters in Marienbad is the pure, untranslatable, sensuous immediacy of some of its images, and its rigorous if narrow solutions to certain problems of cinematic form. Again, Ingmar Bergman may have meant the tank rumbling down the empty night street in The Silence as a phallic symbol. But if he did, it was a foolish thought.
Taken as a brute object, as an immediate sensory equivalent for the mysterious abrupt armored happenings going on inside the hotel, that sequence with the tank is the most striking moment in the film. Those who reach for a Freudian interpretation of the tank are only expressing their lack of response to what is there on the screen. It is always the case that interpretation of this type indicates a dissatisfaction conscious or unconscious with the work, a wish to replace it by something else.
Interpretation, based on the highly dubious theory that a work of art is composed of items of content, violates art. It makes art into an article for use, for arrangement into a mental scheme of categories.
Interpretation does not, of course, always prevail. In fact, a great deal of today's art may be understood as motivated by a flight from interpretation. To avoid interpretation, art may become parody. Or it may become abstract. Or it may become "merely" decorative.
Or it may become nonart. The flight from interpretation seems particularly a feature of modern painting. Abstract painting is the attempt to have, in the ordinary sense, no content; since there is no content, there can be no interpretation.
Pop Art works by the opposite means to the same result; using a content so blatant, so "what it is," it, too, ends by being uninterpretable.
A great deal of modern poetry as well, starting from the great experiments of French poetry including the movement that is misleadingly called Symbolism to put silence into poems and to reinstate the magic of the word, has escaped from the rough grip of interpretation.
The most recent revolution in contemporary taste in poetry-the revolution that has deposed Eliot and elevated Pound -represents a turning away from content in poetry in the old sense, an impatience with what made modern poetry prey to the zeal of interpreters.
I am speaking mainly of the situation in America, of course. Interpretation runs rampant here in those arts with a feeble and negligible avant-garde: fiction and the drama.
Most American novelists and playwrights are really either journalists or gentlemen sociologists and psychologists. They are writing the literary equivalent of program music. And so rudimentary, uninspired, and stagnant has been the sense of what might be done with form in fiction and drama that even when the content isn't simply information, news, it is still peculiarly visible, handier, more exposed. To the extent that novels and plays in America , unlike poetry and painting and music, don't reflect any interesting concern with changes in their form, these arts remain prone to assault by interpretation.
But programmatic avant-gardism-which has meant, mostly, experiments with form at the expense of content-is not the only defense against the infestation of art by interpretations. At least, I hope not.
For this would be to commit art to being perpetually on the run. It also perpetuates the very distinction between form and content which is, ultimately, an illusion.
Ideally, it is possible to elude the interpreters in another way, by making works of art whose surface is so unified and clean, whose momentum is so rapid, whose address is so direct that the work can be … just what it is. Is this possible now? It does happen in films, I believe. This is why cinema is the most alive, the most exciting, the most important of all art forms right now. Perhaps the way one tells how alive a particular art form is, is by the latitude it gives for making mistakes in it, and still being good.
For example, a few of the films of Bergman-though crammed with lame messages about the modern spirit, thereby inviting interpretations-still triumph over the pretentious intentions of their director.
In Winter Light and The Silence, the beauty and visual sophistication of the images subvert before our eyes the callow pseudo-intellectuality of the story and some of the dialogue. The most remarkable instance of this sort of discrepancy is the work of D.
In good films, there is always a directness that entirely frees us from the itch to interpret. Once upon a time say, for Dante , it must have been a revolutionary and creative move to design works of art so that they might be experienced on several levels. Now it is not. It reinforces the principle of redundancy that is the principal affliction of modern life. Once upon a time a time when high art was scarce , it must have been a revolutionary and creative move to interpret works of art.
What we decidedly do not need now is further to assimilate Art into Thought, or worse yet Art into Culture. Interpretation takes the sensory experience of the work of art for granted, and proceeds from there. This cannot be taken for granted, now.
Think of the sheer multiplication of works of art available to every one of us, superadded to the conflicting tastes and odors and sights of the urban environment that bombard our senses. Ours is a culture based on excess, on overproduction; the result is a steady loss of sharpness in our sensory experience.
All the conditions of modern life-its material plenitude, its sheer crowdedness-conjoin to dull our sensory faculties. And it is in the light of the condition of our senses, our capacities rather than those of another age , that the task of the critic must be assessed. What is important now is to recover our senses. We must learn to see more, to hear more, to feel more. Our task is not to find the maximum amount of content in a work of art, much less to squeeze more content out of the work than is already there.
Our task is to cut back content so that we can see the thing at all. The aim of all commentary on art now should be to make works of art-and, by analogy, our own experience-more, rather than less, real to us.
The function of criticism should be to show how it is what it is, even that it is what it is, rather than to show what it means.
On this issue a pious consensus prevails. Everyone is quick to avow that style and content are indissoluble, that the strongly individual style of each important writer is an organic aspect of his work and never something merely "decorative.
Most of the same critics who disclaim, in passing, the notion that style is an accessory to content maintain the duality whenever they apply themselves to particular works of literature.
It is not so easy, after all, to get unstuck from a distinction that practically holds together the fabric of critical discourse, and serves to perpetuate certain intellectual aims and vested interests which themselves remain unchallenged and would be difficult to surrender without a fully articulated working replacement at hand.
In fact, to talk about the style of a particular novel or poem at all as a "style," without implying, whether one wishes to or not, that style is merely decorative, accessory, is extremely hard. Merely by employing the notion, one is almost bound to invoke, albeit implicitly, an antithesis between style and something else. Many critics appear not to realize this. They think themselves sufficiently protected by a theoretical disclaimer on the vulgar filtering-off of style from content, all the while their judgments continue to reinforce precisely what they are, in theory, eager to deny.
Another is the frequency with which a very complex style is regarded with a barely concealed ambivalence. Contemporary writers and other artists with a style that is intricate, hermetic, demanding-not to speak of "beautiful"-get their ration of unstinting praise.
Still, it is clear that such a style is often felt to be a form of insincerity: evidence of the artist's intrusion upon his materials, which should be allowed to deliver themselves in a pure state.
Whitman, in the preface to the edition of Leaves of Grass, expresses the disavowal of "style" which is, in most arts since the last century, a standard ploy for ushering in a new stylistic vocabulary.
I will have nothing hang in the way, not the richest curtains. What I tell I tell for precisely what it is. Sartre has shown, in his excellent review of The Stranger, how the celebrated "white style" of Camus' novel-impersonal, expository, lucid, flat-is itself the vehicle of Meursault's image of the world as made up of absurd, fortuitous moments. What Roland Barthes calls "the zero degree of writing" is, precisely by being anti-metaphorical and dehumanized, as selective and artificial as any traditional style of writing.
Nevertheless, the notion of a style-less, transparent art is one of the most tenacious fantasies of modern culture. Artists and critics pretend to believe that it is no more possible to get the artifice out of art than it is for a person to lose his personality. Yet the aspiration lingers-a permanent dissent from modern art, with its dizzying velocity of style changes. Like all discourse about totalities, talk of style must rely on metaphors.
And metaphors mislead. Take, for instance, Whitman's very material metaphor. By likening style to a curtain, he has of course confused style with decoration and for this would be speedily faulted by most critics.
To conceive of style as a decorative encumbrance on the matter of the work suggests that the curtain could be parted and the matter revealed; or, to vary the metaphor slightly, that the curtain could be rendered transparent. But this is not the only erroneous implication of the metaphor.
What the metaphor also suggests is that style is a matter of more or less quantity , thick or thin density. And, though less obviously so, this is just as wrong as the fancy that an artist possesses the genuine option to have or not to have a style. Style is not quantitative, any more than it is superadded. A more complex stylistic convention-say, one taking prose further away from the diction and cadences of ordinary speech-does not mean that the work has "more" style.
Indeed, practically all metaphors for style amount to placing matter on the inside, style on the outside.
Against interpretation : and other essays
A series of provocative discussions on everything from individual authors to contemporary religious thinking, Against Interpretation and Other Essays is the definitive collection of Susan Sontag's best known and important works published in Penguin Modern Classics. Against Interpretation was Susan Sontag's first collection of essays and made her name as one of the most incisive thinkers of our time. Sontag was among the first critics to write about the intersection between 'high' and 'low' art forms, and to give them equal value as valid topics, shown here in her epoch-making pieces 'Notes on Camp' and 'Against Interpretation'. Originally published in , this collection has never gone out of print and has been a major influence on generations of readers, and the field of cultural criticism, ever since. Susan Sontag was born in Manhattan and studied at the universities of Chicago, Harvard and Oxford. Her books are translated into thirty-two languages.
Phone or email. Don't remember me. The Bell Jar. SUSAN SONTAG was an American writer and filmmaker, professor, literary icon, and political activist who became a role-model for many feminists and aspiring female writers during the s and s. She wrote extensively about photography, culture and media, AIDS and illness, human rights, and communism and leftist ideology.
Skip to search form Skip to main content You are currently offline. Some features of the site may not work correctly. Sontag Published History. A series of provocative discussions on everything from individual authors to contemporary religious thinking, Against Interpretation and Other Essays is the definitive collection of Susan Sontag's best known and important works published in Penguin Modern Classics. Against Interpretation was Susan Sontag's first collection of essays and made her name as one of the most incisive thinkers of our time.
Against Interpretation. As well as the title essay and the famous Notes on Camp, Against Interpretation includes original, provocative, and When I first read Against Interpretation and Other Essays in grad school, I fell in love with Sontag's defiant excess and excessive Additional Information. Content is a of approaching works of art in order to interpret them that sustains spectful; it erected another meaning on top of the literal one.
Against Interpretation is a collection of essays by Susan Sontag published in