A Glimmer of Sontag

Back when I was sure all living essayists and poets worth reading and painters worth viewing were from The Village, I remember reading Susan Sontag’s “Against Interpretation,” and only half understanding it.  Now it reappears at the close of a wonderful blog-post, cited below.  Thinking and wording are indeed communal.  Here are the excerpts from Sontag (and montaigbakhtinian) that raise her from the dead and make my past live in my present, and a common world start to sing.  (p.s.  Thoreau does not interpret, he senses, and shares what he sees, and hears, and smells, tastes, and touches.)

  • The task of interpretation is virtually one of translation. The interpreter says, Look, don’t you see that X is really—or, really means—A? That Y is really B? That Z is really C?
  •     The old style of interpretation was insistent, but respectful; it erected another meaning on top of the literal one. The modern style of interpretation excavates, and as it excavates, destroys; it digs “behind” the text, to find a sub-text which is the true one. The most celebrated and influential modern doctrines, those of Marx and Freud, actually amount to elaborate systems of hermeneutics, aggressive and impious theories of interpretation. All observable phenomena are bracketed, in Freud’s phrase, as manifest content. This manifest content must be probed and pushed aside to find the true meaning—the latent content—beneath. For Marx, social events like revolutions and wars; for Freud, the events of individual lives (like neurotic symptoms and slips of the tongue) as well as texts (like a dream or a work of art)—all are treated as occasions for interpretation. According to Marx and Freud, these events only seem to be intelligible. Actually, they have no meaning without interpretation. To understand is to interpret.
  •     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. [Cf., Henry Adams: “Like all great artists, St. Gaudens held up the mirror and no more.”]
  •     What is important now is to recover our senses. We must learn to see more, to hear more, to feel more.
  •     [I]nterpretation is the revenge of the intellect upon art. Even more. It is the revenge of the intellect upon the world. To interpret is to impoverish, to deplete the world—in order to set up a shadow world of “meanings.”

See the entire post, from which I excerpt,  An End of Thinking at montaigbakhtinian.


2 comments on “A Glimmer of Sontag

  1. dmf says:

    “For instance, a black snake comes in a dream, a great big black snake, and you can spend a whole hour with this black snake talking about the devouring mother, talking about anxiety, talking about the repressed sexuality, talking about the natural mind, all those interpretive moves that people make, and what is left, what is vitally important, is what this snake is doing, this crawling huge black snake that’s walking into your life…and the moment you’ve defined the snake, you’ve interpreted it, you’ve lost the snake, you’ve stopped it.… The task of analysis is to keep the snake there.…”

    -James Hillman

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