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Against Interpretation: And Other Essays Paperback – August 25, 2001

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First read by millions worldwide in The New York Times. Gratitude brings together four essays written over the last two years of Sacks' life. Check out "Gratitude". | See more by Oliver Sacks
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Editorial Reviews


“Susan Sontag's essays are great interpretations, and even fulfillments, of what is really going on.” ―Carlos Fuentes

“A dazzling intellectual performance.” ―Vogue

“Susan Sontag is a writer of rare energy and provocative newness.” ―The Nation

“The theoretical portions of her book are delightful to read because she can argue so well. . . . Her ideas are consistently stimulating.” ―Commentary

“She has come to symbolize the writer and thinker in many variations: as analyst, rhapsodist, and roving eye, as public scold and portable conscience.” ―Time

From the Publisher

The first collection of essays by the brilliant critic and writer to be published in book forrn, containing her best writings between 1961 and 1965. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Picador; 1st edition (August 25, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312280866
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312280864
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.9 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #49,777 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Susan Sontag was born in Manhattan in 1933 and studied at the universities of Chicago, Harvard and Oxford. She is the author of four novels, a collection of stories, several plays, and six books of essays, among them Illness as Metaphor and AIDS and Its Metaphors. Her books are translated into thirty-two languages. In 2001 she was awarded the Jerusalem Prize for the body of her work, and in 2003 she received the Prince of Asturias Prize for Literature and the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade. She died in December 2004.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

38 of 39 people found the following review helpful By Steiner VINE VOICE on June 11, 2006
Format: Paperback
This may be Sontag's most rigorous and important collection of essays, complete with topics ranging from Levi-Strauss to Godard. In it is her famous essay "On Camp," which would later make her a superstar in the New York artistic community.

Sontag is worried about intellectual interpretation, the erudite and narrow approach to understanding a work of art. She calls on us to "show how it is what it is, even that it is what it is, rather than to show what it means." Her approach is far reaching and yet acute and highly attuned to the intellectual aspects of the fine arts.

This collection includes fabulous essays on Sartre, Bresson, Beckett, Lukacs, Resnais, and many others. It is evidence of her astonishing ability to think seriously and with tremendous beauty about that which is most important.
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49 of 54 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on November 11, 2003
Format: Paperback
This is historically the first delivery of the now world-renowned essays by Susan Sontag. Mrs Sontag considers herself primarily a novelist: and,of course, she has every right to do so, but I have the feeling that her novels do not come near in any way to her essays' quality.
In this batch, which is arguably her most famous one, although probably not her best, you can feel all young Sontag's vigour and fire. She is often far nastier in tone than in her later works. She tears to pieces John Gielgud's staging of Hamlet, Gyorgy Lukacs's literary criticism, calls George Steiner "superficial"(!), and destroys contemporary American novelists (they're obsessed with "content" intended as a discussion of moral issues).
The most beautiful piece in this collection are probably the "Notes on Camp". Camp is something which should not be either too beautiful or too ugly; it moves the "connaisseur" because, through its outdated or timelessly ridiculous exterior, it can be felt as the product of an earnest endeavour, a result of the investment of human passion.
Some other essays are more superficial than accustomed, and in the Preface, Sontag aknowledges that she maybe could have taken away some, which were written as simple reviews for magazines. But we can still find the characteristic quality of Sontag's "writing" (meaning "écriture" as defined by Roland Barthes, for those who follow...); an endless redefining, putting into perspective each word or concept introduced, which means that really everything is left in suspence and subject to caution, pointing towards new research to be done.
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68 of 81 people found the following review helpful By T. Baughman on December 6, 2003
Format: Paperback
To begin with: It is time for people to stop ranting about Ms. Sontag's opinions about 9-11. LET IT GO, PEOPLE! Shut up and read this book. It will open a whole world of art and ideas for you. You will discover a series of brilliant discussions of Sartre, Beckett, Claude Levi-Strauss, Godard, Robert Bresson, Michel Leiris, Alain Resnais and Norman O. Brown. Moreover, read and consider the famous essays "Against Interpretation," "On Style" and "Notes on Camp." In the end, you will find that these essays have greatly influenced your aesthetic sensibilities. You will also find yourself seeking out the works of the writers and filmmakers discussed in this book. What more can a reader ask for?
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20 of 22 people found the following review helpful By fm on December 4, 2005
Format: Paperback
I went to this collection after recently purchasing Camille Paglia's latest critical reading of forty-three poems in Break, Blow, Burn. In the dust cover notes, Paglia is described as "America's premier intellectual provocateur." I had always thought that honor belonged to Sontag.

Sontag's collection contains some of her most famous essays and some rather obscure ones. Instead of the most famous, I found myself re-reading the less widely discussed ones, like the essay "Godard's Vivre Sa Vie" and "Happenings: an art of radical juxtaposition" and "A note on novels and films." These essays gave me something new to think about and re-introduced me to Sontag's renowned intellect. They inspired me to buy a few Godard DVDs from Amazon, to attend the Festival of New French Cinema here in Chicago this past weekend and they caused me to ruminate on the contemporary examples of "happenings."

Whether you agree with Sontag's opinions or not, you will probably agree after reading this selection that the depth and breadth of her interests and knowledge is impressive. And she thought and wrote about things that most, even academics, had not been willing to take on. For that, we should be appreciative. For her willingness to be a true public intellectual, we should be grateful. For her legacy to the realm of critical theory, we are indebted.
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25 of 30 people found the following review helpful By David Schweizer VINE VOICE on July 21, 2007
Format: Paperback
America has very few independent intellectuals, that is, intellectuals free of academic responsibilities and tenure. Most grub for life-long jobs and then throw away their careers on campus duties and teaching. Gore Vidal, Richard Rodriguez, Susan Sontag...there are others, I'm sure, but not many. It's nearly impossible to make a living now in journalism, so the call to academic prostitution is great. Sontag got through and deserves our praise. God knows, like other free-lance intellectuals she lacked manners and never learned to grovel the way our teachers do, trained as they are to please the young. Much like Sartre, she could be dumb and silly and arrogant, but in the end she survived the culture wars, praising excellence for its own sake and refusing to bestow the title of greatness on to every bestselling author reviewed in the NY Times. She was great and her genius lay in one small area, as far as I can see. She introduced American readers to some very exciting European film makers, theorists, and writers. She herself is a forgettable author of fiction. She had limited talent as an artist, if any, but like Edmund Wilson she brought the latest European thinkers to the attention of American readers of the New York Review of Books and other periodicals. She wrote breathlessly and exhaustively on authors of all sorts. She was capable of passion and insight. She made you fall in love with writers as diverse as Sartre, Barthes, and Canetti. For this we should be grateful. I am.
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