Against Interpretation By Susan Sontag


Against Interpretation By Susan Sontag

Susan Sontag, in "Against Interpretation," takes a very interesting critical
standpoint on the idea of literary interpretation. Unlike most literary critics,

Sontag believes that literary criticism is growing increasingly destructive
towards the very works of art that they, supposedly, so greatly "appreciate"
and "respect." Her standpoint could not be more accurate. Reading her work
generates numerous questions, the most important of which is quite possibly,

"How are we to take her final statement, ‘In place of a hermeneutics we need
an erotics of art.’" In the light of her previous statements, made
throughout the work, one could only see this particular statement as an attempt
to reach through the fog that blinds the majority of modern critics. According
to Sontag, no work of art, especially literature, can escape the surgical eye of
the modern critic; therefore, what is to stop her own work from coming under
this blade of criticism? Sontag’s preparation for this criticism shows in the
inclusion of her final statement. She has, in effect, laid a trap for the modern
critic (who just happens to be you, me, and practically every other reader) with
her final statement as the bait. Once the critic picks apart that last sentence,
he will see, with greater clarity, the veracity of her work. Throughout this
work, Sontag makes many statements that invite interpretation. Critics may
analyze her repeated references to Greek literature or possibly her use of
sexual imagery, but none could ignore the simplicity, brevity, and word choice
that characterize the concluding sentence. The brevity of the final section is
what catches the critical eye and the lurid choice of words is what pulls the
critic in. The first question that the interpreter finds him/herself asking is,

"Why ‘hermeneutics’ and why ‘erotics’? There must be some significance
to these terms." Analysis of these terms reveals the two extremes which Sontag
has been comparing throughout her piece; "hermeneutics" being an ideal term
to describe the type of over-intellectualization that takes place with modern
interpreters, and "erotics" being ideal for describing to just what extreme

Sontag thinks art should be experienced. When the critics finally"excavates" this statement and, "...digs ‘behind’ the text, to find a
sub-text, which is the true one," he finds, low, and behold, the reinforcement
of the very statement that Sontag has been inculcating throughout this piece. It
does not take long for the critic to realize that he/she has been duped.

However, should this critic feel guilty or bad in any way? The first instinct is
to say, "Yes, Sontag meant to make just such a jab at the modern
interpreter." Nevertheless, when adequate thought is applied to the situation
one is forced to ask how else she could have more effectively driven home her
point. It is practically necessary to meet someone on their terms first if you
hope to convert them to yours. Sontag has done this because she has little other
choice. She has so effectively made her point, with the proper amount of
respect, that her target, the modern critic, is in no position to resent

Sontag’s statements without first acknowledging their veracity.

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