Thursday, October 16, 2014

Something I Read #5 — Sontag, "Against Interpretation"

I've been doing a bit grab-off-the-shelf, spot reading, and today opened to Sontag's "Against Interpretation" in an anthology of criticism/theory. (It is a repeatedly anthologized piece, and with reason. And I have the book, yes, but it is apparently somewhere in a box.)

This is not a famous moment; but, a worthwhile moment.

[. . .] Ingmar Bergman may have meant the tank rumbling down the empty night street in The Silence as a phallic symbol. But if he did, it was a foolish thought. ("Never trust the teller, trust the tale," said Lawrence.) Taken as a brute object, as an immediate sensory equivalent for the mysterious abrupt armored happenings going on inside the hotel, that sequence with the tank is the most striking moment in the film. Those who reach for a Freudian interpretation of the tank are only expressing their lack of response to what is there on the screen,


If I were to chose one text . . . . well that's an absurdity, as I could begin a quip about Nietzsche's The Birth of Tragedy with the same words. But there is a truth in the phrase in that if I were making a class on literary/theory criticism, I would be faced with that question: "If I were to chose a handful of texts, necessary in their importance but also sufficient to the purposes of the class . . . . ." Now, the opening question "If I were to chose one text . . . ." is mostly synchronic, and there is within the deciding for the class the diachronic play of "this semester I will do X, but next semester I will change the list a touch and do Y" which extends the list beyond any one class. But I digress.

In considering the class of texts that are those very few that should be read by everyone with interest in writing or reading literature as literature, this is one of the most insistent. In truth, every time I have returned to it I am myself reconvinced of its value. Not as a text that carries important theoretic arguments or such, but in that it is a text which demands with every re-reading that you question just how you approach literature and the arts, and condemns what is the dominant currents in literature and the art – both in criticism and in writing – even now, five decades later. Perhaps, even more so now, what with the rise of social criticism, which is nothing if not the forcing of interpretation upon texts to the detriment of the experience – the art – of the text itself.

That is, to the detriment of the erotics of the text. But also to the detriment of the psychical and intellectual sophistication of the culture of art and literature in the U.S.


Note: I have a essay about "Against Interpretation" which is in a cue of things to brought to the Cabinet. Perhaps I might move it to the front for processing.

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