Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Susan Sontag (1933 - 2004)

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Author and social critic Susan Sontag, one of the most powerful thinkers of her generation, died on Tuesday at a New York cancer hospital. She was 71. - Claudia Parsons

In her 1963 essay "Against Interpretation," Sontag wrote:
Interpretation takes the sensory experience of the work of art for granted, and proceeds from there. This cannot be taken for granted, now. Think of the sheer multiplication of works of art available to every one of us, superadded to the conflicting tastes and odors and sights of the urban environment that bombard our senses. Ours is a culture based on excess, on overproduction; the result is a steady loss of sharpness in our sensory experience. All the conditions of modern life--its material plenitude, its sheer crowdedness--conjoin to dull our sensory faculties. And it is in the light of the condition of our senses, our capacities (rather than those of another age), that the task of the critic must be assessed.

What is important now is to recover our senses. We must learn to see more, to hear more, to feel more.

Our task is not to find the maximum amount of content in a work of art, much less to squeeze more content out of the work than is already there. Our task is to cut back content so that we can see the thing at all.

The aim of all commentary on art now should be to make works of art--and, by analogy, our own experience--more, rather than less, real to us. The function of criticism should be to show how it is what it is, even that it is what it is, rather than to show what it means.

In place of a hermeneutics we need an erotics of art.


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