Susan Sontag created a sensation in the mid-1960’s with her essay “Against Interpretation.” Although she made it clear that she was not against all interpretation of works of art, her position quickly became associated with the idea of art for art’s sake—that is, with a concern only with form and style, not with morality and content. She later conceded that her approach was too polemical; she was attacking message-mongering critics but left herself open to the charge of being amoral. She later corrected her position in Under the Sign of Saturn (1980), a collection of essays in which she explicitly argues that a work’s style or aesthetic properties cannot be viewed in isolation from its creator’s moral sensibility.
“Sensibility” is a key term in Sontag’s vocabulary. As she points out in the paperback edition of Against Interpretation, and Other Essays, her work is actually the revelation of her evolving sensibility, of her way of looking at the world. She is not a critic who is especially interested in explicating works of art; rather, she explores art for what it says about the sensibility—the mindset—of its author. For example, her essay “Spiritual Style in the Films of Robert Bresson” is less concerned with his individual films than with his way of imagining the world.
Sontag has been lauded and attacked for her catholic tastes. Against Interpretation, and Other Essays contains essays on...
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