Against Interpretation: And Other Essays (Anglais) Broché – 25 août 2001
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Sontag is worried about intellectual interpretation, the erudite and narrow approach to understanding a work of art. She calls on us to "show how it is what it is, even that it is what it is, rather than to show what it means." Her approach is far reaching and yet acute and highly attuned to the intellectual aspects of the fine arts.
This collection includes fabulous essays on Sartre, Bresson, Beckett, Lukacs, Resnais, and many others. It is evidence of her astonishing ability to think seriously and with tremendous beauty about that which is most important.
In this batch, which is arguably her most famous one, although probably not her best, you can feel all young Sontag's vigour and fire. She is often far nastier in tone than in her later works. She tears to pieces John Gielgud's staging of Hamlet, Gyorgy Lukacs's literary criticism, calls George Steiner "superficial"(!), and destroys contemporary American novelists (they're obsessed with "content" intended as a discussion of moral issues).
The most beautiful piece in this collection are probably the "Notes on Camp". Camp is something which should not be either too beautiful or too ugly; it moves the "connaisseur" because, through its outdated or timelessly ridiculous exterior, it can be felt as the product of an earnest endeavour, a result of the investment of human passion.
Some other essays are more superficial than accustomed, and in the Preface, Sontag aknowledges that she maybe could have taken away some, which were written as simple reviews for magazines. But we can still find the characteristic quality of Sontag's "writing" (meaning "écriture" as defined by Roland Barthes, for those who follow...); an endless redefining, putting into perspective each word or concept introduced, which means that really everything is left in suspence and subject to caution, pointing towards new research to be done.
Sontag's collection contains some of her most famous essays and some rather obscure ones. Instead of the most famous, I found myself re-reading the less widely discussed ones, like the essay "Godard's Vivre Sa Vie" and "Happenings: an art of radical juxtaposition" and "A note on novels and films." These essays gave me something new to think about and re-introduced me to Sontag's renowned intellect. They inspired me to buy a few Godard DVDs from Amazon, to attend the Festival of New French Cinema here in Chicago this past weekend and they caused me to ruminate on the contemporary examples of "happenings."
Whether you agree with Sontag's opinions or not, you will probably agree after reading this selection that the depth and breadth of her interests and knowledge is impressive. And she thought and wrote about things that most, even academics, had not been willing to take on. For that, we should be appreciative. For her willingness to be a true public intellectual, we should be grateful. For her legacy to the realm of critical theory, we are indebted.