I’m currently reading Susan Sontag’s Against Interpretation, and though I don’t agree with her, I must say she is classy. The above photo is on the back of this book and I’ve become more and more interested in my criticism. I fight an awful lot with my critical self, my friends like to say I’m too hard on myself, and then I think about the exterior things I do criticize.
For her she invalids critics who psychoanalyze; who try to ground the art of the text to a writer’s persona, that in some way this is an attempt to bring the art down to a human level when it should not.
By reducing the work of art to its content then interpreting that, one tames the work of art. Interpretation makes art manageable, comformable.
This philistinism of interpretation is more rife in literature than in any other art. For decades now, literary critics have understood it to be their task to translate the elements of the poem or play or novel or story into something else. Sometimes a writer will be so uneasy before the naked power of his art that he will install within the work itself—albeit with a little shyness, a touch of the good taste of irony—the clear and explicit interpretation of it.
When I read a book, I feel like I come to know a writer, and want to know more about them as a person, which is often why I’m attracted to their non-fiction. I don’t think it’s limiting to psychoanalyze a piece of art, but I don’t think you should take on one against the other. Instilling meaning on top of a text frustrates me, I hate it. It’s like high school English so I agree with Sontag when she writes, “Those who read Kafka as as psychoanalytic allegory see desperate revelations of Kafka’s fear of his father, his castration anxieties, his sense of his own impotence…”
My preference is to find out who the writer is, what makes them tick, and examine how their work can affect a reader. I feel that enhances the book itself. Does it take some of the magic away as Sontag believes? I prefer not to think so. Humanizing a piece of writing, that something can affect you in a deep human way, and trying to come to understand who that writer is that arrived at this state of mind is not limiting. It’s respecting who they are as a person, and an artist. That’s what writers are at the end of the day—a person, and I’m not sure but I like connecting with a person who has affected me through writing, it’s not philistinism or limiting a piece of art through interpretation and applying the human qualities of a writer to their work, it’s being human, and knowing we’re not alone.