in which I jot notes as I read Sontag

by Feng

In an effort to bloat and galvanize my memory glands, I’m going to take notes while I read. I am currently reading Susan Sontag’s “Against Interpretation”.

Do you know that she was buddies with the late Paul Thek? Paul Thek is great. He makes sculptures of flesh encased in glass. And he paints. He also made some artifacts of the Pied Piper.

L introduced me to him, I think, and I fell in love with the meat man. Susan was also in love with him. It was a tumultuous, repressed kind of vibration that went on between them, with lots of affection and lots of fight. This book I’m reading is dedicated to Paul, whom she once asked to marry, and to have a child with. He complied too late. Eventually he died of AIDS, estranged. Paul used to say, “I’m against interpretation”, when annoyed by art critics. Criticism is boring, but boring can be rewarding.

Su says: “Interpretation, based on the highly dubious theory that a work of art is composed of items of content, violates art. It makes art into an article for use, for arrangement into a mental scheme of categories.”

Sometimes, I guess. Allegory and narrative/illustrative things seem eager for interpretation/explication. It is made to speak to, against, or from ideology. The stuff (like crazy modern stuff or avant garde) that is difficult to explain are what Su calls “flight from interpretation”, stuff that is born on the run. But this is somehow done through transparency. The less symbolic, the more flighty. The goal of criticism should be to show “how it is what it is” and not “what it means”.

“In place of hermeneutics we need an erotics of art.”

Su says content is an illusion.

I don’t feel a great distance between hermeneutics and erotics. Speaking of erotics eventually turns into a kind of hermeneutics or interpretation because it is about the relation between you and the object, you have to put words to sensations, name them, pattern them. It would be more consistent to not speak at all, if I want to leave the object as what it is. You can say it exists as what it is before I see it or before I say something about it, or you can say there is no such thing as “what it is”. This seems redundant to me. Perhaps she means something similar to the way Elizabeth Grosz speaks of art as the production of sensations, affects, and intensities rather than concepts or problems. The issue then, is subjectivity. Being subjected to art includes both planes, being jolted out of one (sense) or the other (concepts/language). You are the content, in other words.

One useful thing I got from this essay is Cocteu’s quote: “Decorative style has never existed. Style is the soul, and unfortunately with us the soul assumes the form of the body.” The style is the message, the medium is the massage.

I am also reading “Ordinary Sun” by M. Henricksen.

… She felt like flesh. She wasn’t hanging.

‘All answers are hells.’