Against Interpretation By Susan Sontag Susan Sontag, in “Against Interpretation,” takes a very interesting critical standpoint on the idea of literary interpretation. Unlike most literary critics, Sontag believes that literary criticism is growing increasingly destructive towards the very works of art that they, supposedly, so greatly “appreciate” and “respect.” Her standpoint could not be more accurate. Reading her work generates numerous questions, the most important of which is quite possibly, “How are we to take her final statement, In place of a hermeneutics we need an erotics of art.” In the light of her previous statements, made throughout the work, one could only see this particular statement as an attempt to reach through the fog that blinds the majority of modern critics. According to Sontag, no work of art, especially literature, can escape the surgical eye of the modern critic; therefore, what is to stop her own work from coming under this blade of criticism? Sontags preparation for this criticism shows in the inclusion of her final statement. She has, in effect, laid a trap for the modern critic (who just happens to be you, me, and practically every other reader) with her final statement as the bait.
Once the critic picks apart that last sentence, he will see, with greater clarity, the veracity of her work. Throughout this work, Sontag makes many statements that invite interpretation. Critics may analyze her repeated references to Greek literature or possibly her use of sexual imagery, but none could ignore the simplicity, brevity, and word choice that characterize the concluding sentence. The brevity of the final section is what catches the critical eye and the lurid choice of words is what pulls the critic in. The first question that the interpreter finds him/herself asking is, “Why hermeneutics and why erotics? There must be some significance to these terms.” Analysis of these terms reveals the two extremes which Sontag has been comparing throughout her piece; “hermeneutics” being an ideal term to describe the type of over-intellectualization that takes place with modern interpreters, and “erotics” being ideal for describing to just what extreme Sontag thinks art should be experienced.
When the critics finally”excavates” this statement and, “..digs behind the text, to find a sub-text, which is the true one,” he finds, low, and behold, the reinforcement of the very statement that Sontag has been inculcating throughout this piece. It does not take long for the critic to realize that he/she has been duped. However, should this critic feel guilty or bad in any way? The first instinct is to say, “Yes, Sontag meant to make just such a jab at the modern interpreter.” Nevertheless, when adequate thought is applied to the situation one is forced to ask how else she could have more effectively driven home her point. It is practically necessary to meet someone on their terms first if you hope to convert them to yours. Sontag has done this because she has little other choice. She has so effectively made her point, with the proper amount of respect, that her target, the modern critic, is in no position to resent Sontags statements without first acknowledging their veracity.