Against Interpretation by Susan Sontag - review by Frank Romany

Frank Romany

Heady Celebrations of Style

Against Interpretation


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The essays collected in Against Interpretation date from 1961-65, and created enough of a stir to be republished in book form in 1966. In the preface to that edition, Sontag points out that they belong to a ‘period of search, reflection, and discovery’ between the writing of her first and second novels, and she returns throughout to a set of preoccupations that lends coherence to the impressive variety of her subjects (though not without some repetition, which the generic groupings of the essays – on film, on theatre etc – rather exaggerate). But, as she says, their value, if they are ‘more than just case studies of my evolving sensibilities’, must lie in ‘the interestingness of the problems raised’, especially since she ‘wanted to expose and clarify the theoretical assumptions underlying specific judgements and tastes’.

Many of these pieces are appreciations of post-war European artists and thinkers for an audience somewhat suspicious of their politics and of their formalism, ‘a dedicated agnosticism about reality itself’ inimical to the American tradition (in practice, often, Arthur Miller) which she scorns for treating ‘art as a species of

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