Essay: Susan Sontag’s ‘Against Interpretation’

An oldie but a goodie, and always worth revisiting. Sontag’s rallying cry is a persuasive essay that challenges the modern form of  interpretation. Calling for ‘an erotics of art’ in place of a hermeneutic one, Sontag prioritises the sensual or perceptual experience over the interpretive intellect.

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.

An interesting argument to consider in terms of Walter Benjamin’s ‘On the mimetic faculty‘ and, in relation to THE VOICE IS A LANGUAGE, the idea of presenting alternative or sensuous art forms that rely less on the use of language (words) than on the the quality of language (voice).

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