Tl;dr: Susan Sontag’s “Against Interpretation”


Reading Sontag Against Interpretation

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I came to Sontag late. Her “On Photography” is amazing. But the first piece of criticism is “Against Interpretation.”

What does it say? That art seems to be hijacked by critics. They want to know what a work says, if that content is true. A work of art is an argument. You have to figure it out, say the meaning, then evaluate its quality from that.

She doesn’t agree. Few artists actually do. She’s a novelist and thinking of literature and film. She could be speaking about painting. She could be writing now. This piece is from 1961. It doesn’t seem the situation has improved since then.

She recommends something else, in a memorable line at the end of this short essay:

“In place of a hermeneutics we need an erotics of art.”

Love and desire for the work itself. Critics, show us what to love about the work. Stop laboring to interpret it.