zondag 7 juni 2015

quotes from

fragments from Against Interpretation (1964)
Susan Sontag

Whatever it may have been in the past, the idea of content is today mainly a hindrance, a nuisance, a subtle or not so subtle philistinism. (p. 5)

And, conversely, it is the habit of approaching works of art in order to interpret them that sustains the fancy that there really is such a thing as the content of a work of art. (p. 5)

Like the fumes of the automobile and of heavy industry which befoul the urban atmosphere, the effusion of interpretations of art today poisons our sensibilities. In a culture whose already classical dilemma is the hypertrophy of the intellect at the expense of energy and sensual capability, interpretation is the revenge of the intellect upon art. (p. 7)

To interpret is to impoverish, to deplete the world - in order to set up a shadow world of "meanings". It is to turn the world into this world. (p. 7)

In most modern instances, interpretation amounts to the philistine refusal to leave the work of art alone. Real art has the capacity to make us nervous. By reducing the work of art to its content and then interpreting that, one tames the work of art. Interpretation makes art manageable, comfortable. (p. 8)

But it could be noted that interpretation is not simply the compliment that mediocrity pays to genius. It is, indeed, the modern way of understanding something, and is applied to works of every quality. (p. 9)

Perhaps Tennessee Williams thinks Streetcar is about what Kazan thinks it to be about. (p. 9)

Interpretation, based on a 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. (p. 10)

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 perpetuated the very distinction between form and content which is, ultimately, an illusion.) (p. 11)

What would criticism look like that would serve the work of art, not usurp its place?
   What is needed, first, is more attention to form in art. If excessive stress on content provokes the arrogance of interpretation, more extended and more thorough descriptions of form would silence. (p. 12)

Transparence is the highest, most liberating value in art - and in criticism - today. Transparence means experiencing the luminousness of the thing in itself, of things being what they are. (p. 13)

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. (p. 14)

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. (p. 14)

In place of a hermeneutics we need an erotics of art. (p. 14; last phrase)

Susan Sontag, Against Interpretation, p. 3-14; Dell Publishers 1966.

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