Sontagulation

Susan Sontag’s essay, “Against Interpretation” discusses art and how it should and shouldn’t be experienced. Sontag states, “Indeed, we have an obligation to overthrow any means of defending and justifying art which becomes particularly obtuse or onerous or insensitive to contemporary needs and practice” (Sontag 691). While I agree with this statement in general, Sontag uses this statement to justify the overthrow of the concept of content in art (Sontag 692). However, the Oxford English Dictionary defines fine art as “the creative arts, including the visual arts, poetry, music, rhetoric, etc., whose products are intended to be appreciated primarily or solely for their aesthetic, imaginative, or intellectual content” (OED). Therefore, art and content cannot be separated from one another.

Looking at literature as an example of art, Sontag’s proposition to remove content from art is shown to be impossible. The format of a work of literature such as a short story is content. The “story” of the short story is content. The words and the sentences are content. The letters of the words are content. Even something as abstract as random letters on a page is content. In fact, even a blank sheet of paper, if it is named “literature,” is content although the lack of content would be its content. But the inability to separate art from content is not really a problem for Sontag because what she is truly averse to is the interpretation of the art’s content as a way to make the content safe or otherwise alter the experience of it.

Sontag reveals her feelings about the aggressive interpretation of art in her discussion about The Bible. She states, “Interpretation thus presupposes a discrepancy between the clear meaning of the text and the demands of the (later) readers” (Sontag 692). I agree with Sontag that art should be experienced as it is and that one should be skeptical of those who claim to have the correct interpretation. However, I do not agree that interpretation of art has no value. Each interpretation is unique to the individual who made the interpretation. The interpretation of art only has value in showing how individuals make sense of art.

 

 

Works Cited

“fine art, n.” OED Online, Oxford University Press, September 2019.

Sontag, Susan. “Against Interpretation.” Against Interpretation and Other Essays. 1966.

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