Against Interpretation and Other Essays, Paperback

Against Interpretation and Other Essays Paperback

Part of the Penguin Modern Classics series

3.5 out of 5 (2 ratings)


"Against Interpretation" was Susan Sontag's first collection of essays and is a modern classic. Originally published in 1966, it has never gone out of print and has influenced generations of readers all over the world.

It includes some of Sontag's best-known works, among them "On Style", "Notes on 'Camp", and the titular essay "Against Interpretation", where Sontag argues that modern cultural conditions have given way to a new critical approach to aesthetics.


  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd
  • Publication Date:
  • Category: Literary essays
  • ISBN: 9780141190068



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Penguin Books has included all of the work of Susan Sontag, including all essaistic work, in its series of Penguin Modern Classics. Against interpretation and other essays is the earliest collection of essays, published originally in 1966. Reading all volumes, six in all, one gets to know Susan Sontag herself pretty well, too. In an introduction or afterword in some of the collections of essays, Sontag looks back, and reflects on her style of writing or choice of subject matter at the time. While Sontag has a clear eye, and open, for what happens and develops in the cultural scene at home, that is in the United States, particularly in New York, her passion is with French and German literary culture, while her overall style and approach make her work attractive to international readers around the world.There is some merit, to read the essays backwards, so to say, i.e. start with some of the later volumes and turn last to Against interpretation and other essays. The later essays show Susan Sontag as a very contemplative, very mature and erudite writer. the essays in the later collections, for instance in Under the sign of Saturn. Essays tend to be longer, and the passion displayed in the choice of topic is expressed in depth, rather than scope. The later essays, focussing on writers, such as Artaud or Benjamin are very balanced compositions, which will inspire and interest readers both unfamiliar and familiar with the topic, at a length of 30 - 50 pages. The most recent essays tend to be book-length, such as Illness as metaphor, which is great because of its originality, and AIDS and its metaphors and Regarding the pain of others which seem too long, and losing unity and focus.Susan Sontag (1933 - 2004) studied English Literature, and pursued advanced higher education, closed with a doctorate in Philosophy. In 1958, she lived in Paris for a year, an experience she later described as "perhaps, the most important period of her life." Sontag has written both fiction and non-fiction. Her novels, also all re-issued by Penguin Classics seem to be undervalued.Against interpretation and other essays is passionate in its vigorousness and hunger to explore new themes and topics. Susan Sontag wrote that she would sometimes watch two or three films per day during those years in the early 1960s. She was to maintain a life-long interest in film and photography, and throughout her essaistic work there are many essays devoted to this branch of the arts. In her later career, Sontag was also active as a director, both on the stage and as a producer of films. Her approach to describing the French cinema is very analytic and besides technique, focused on French philosophy, tying trends in French thought, such as Sartre's existentialism to great film makers such as Godard. However, in her essays Sontag's focus is so much at depth and detail, that she fails to describe a more overall trend of so-called nouvelle vague as a binding element in her essays about the French cinema.Her interest in film and photography does not an interest in the theatre, as demonstrated in various essays drama, although drama in Sontag's essays is usually discussed in the broader context of literature and cultural philosophy.Written in the early 1960s, based on her experience during those years and the perhaps five or six years before that, Against interpretation and other essays focuses on cultural phenomena important or emergent during that period. There is a critical essay on Albert Camus's Notebooks and literary criticism on works by authors such as Michel Leiris, Sartre on Genet, and essays about Ionesco, "Going to the theatre" and "The death of tragedy".Against interpretation and other essays contains a number of landmark essays, such as "Notes on 'Camp'" (1963) and "Happenings: an art of radical juxtaposition", both essays in which Susan Sontag was one of the first to spot and highlight concurrent cultural trends during the 1960s. The essay collection begins with Sontag's two essays "Against interpretation" and "On style" which form a programmatic introduction to all of her essaistic work.The essays by Susan Sontag are very cerebral, and the choice of topics and her way of writing display a great erudition as befits a great author. The essays in Against interpretation and other essays, while originally published in 1966, have lost nothing in their power or importance as defining cultural trends. They are as important to readers who wish to develop a base of knowledge as an underpinning to understanding modern art today as they were half a century ago!An interesting detail, is the choice of the photo for the cover of the Penguin Modern Classics edition. It shows Susan Sontag as somewhat timid, but clearly holding her ground in a world dominated by man. In this early essay collection, Sontag went out to explore and develop her own, personal style. The essays speak of great passion and courage, daring to criticize even the greatest masters of arts in essays written with vigor. In Against interpretation and other essays showed herself as an author "with balls".Highly recommended.

Review by

A seminal collection of essays and reviews by Susan Sontag that serve as one of the quintessential text of the 1960s, in which Sontag discusses art, theatre, literature and film, all with a critical eye. Some of the better essays include the title one (Against Interpretation, standing against the contemporary and still prevalent view that it is what art contains vis-à-vis meaning, rather than what it does or says), Notes on Camp, On Style, and One Culture and the New Sensibility. The other essays are mainly reviews of books and films that, while interesting, often do not reach the levels of the aforementioned essays. Nevertheless, for Sontag's views of art criticism and on style, these essays are worthwhile reading and still are important today.

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