November 09, 2011
In trying to answer the question, and after I have re-read the piece, I do not see any overtly political stance in Susan Sontag’s article, Against Interpretation, but I recognize that she feels a radical opposition to the search for meaning in works of art, and the defense of intuition as a means to approach the experience of theartistic phenomenon.
I infer from Against Interpretation that Sontag is a liberal, politically and socially, so if there is a political stance in her article it is because of her personal political stance; the essay lies within that context. To explain how this political stance emerges, I will point out some of her comments about her point of view. In her article Sontag behaves as an independentwriter and free thinker, I think that if a person writes in this way it does not mean that he/she does have not a political stance.
In section 1, the last two paragraphs of her article shows the beginning of this stance. “And it is the defense of art which gives birth to the odd vision by which something we have learned to call “form” is separated off from something we have learned to call“content,” and to the well-intentioned move which makes content essential and form accessory,” […] “art as representation of an outer reality in favor of the theory of art as subjective expression” […] “Whether we conceive of the work of art on the model of a picture (art as a picture of reality) or on the model of a statement (art as the statement of the artist), content still comes first.” After these lines,she continues to argue her point of view on this topic.
In section 2, there are several discussions of when art does not need to justify itself without asking the work of art what it ‘says’, because the observer knew or thought what it ‘said’. Sontag says that art must be defended, and it does not matter if the idea of content is essentially a hindrance, a nuisance, a subtle or not so subtlephilistinism. She also says that if we exaggerate the idea of content in art it involves the never consummated project of “interpretation.” It is the routine of observing works of art in order to interpret them that supports the flights of imagination are necessary for there to be such a thing as content in a work of art.
In section 3, Sontag writes that the traditional style of interpretation waspersistent, but respectful. It created another meaning beside the literal one; in contrast, the modern style of interpretation excavates and destroys, it digs “behind” the text, to find a sub-text which it hopes is the real one. These phenomena are bracketed in Freud’s phrase, “manifest content” which must be probed and pushed aside to find the real meaning – the “latent meaning” – beneath.Interpretation must be evaluated in a historical view of human consciousness, and in some cultural contexts interpretation is a liberating act. So, it is an action of revising, of trans-valuing, of escaping the dead past. In other cultural contexts “interpretation” is rigid, irrelevant, and oppressive.
In section 5, Sontag writes that different critics have analyzed the work of Kafka, discussing thosewho read Kafka as a social allegory, those who read Kafka as a psychoanalytic, and those who read Kafka as a religious allegory, but reached different interpretations. The same result happens with Joseph K. in The Trial and Samuel Beckett’s delicate dramas of the withdrawn consciousness, which are read as a statement about modern man’s alienation from meaning or from God, or as an allegory ofpsychopathology. Another example is Kazan’s play A Streetcar Named Desire, where Director Elia Kazan had to discover that Stanley Kowalski symbolized the sensual and spiteful barbarism that was inundating our culture, meanwhile Blanche Du Bois was Western civilization, poetry, etc.
In section 6, the first paragraph continues to give other examples of different meanings for Cocteau’s films The...