I don’t think I fully agree with a lot of this book, but I do agree with plenty, and I also don’t think this book “inflicted” anything on us, and in some ways presaged some really awful things to come. I think the most important two things to recognize (at least for me) with this book is that the almost the whole of the book is situated in the two famous essays here: “Against Interpretation” and “Notes on Camp,” which are certainly in a top ten (if not top five) most famous/notable things Sontag wrote. The other thing is that this book is very much mired in the mid-1960s culturally. That’s not a bad thing at all, but it’s where it’s located and situated, and what this means is that a lot of her reference points are also within the cultural zeitgeist of the 1960s literary world, or are still-alive “Old World Gods” who in general I think the world moves away from before too long after. Also, the world is about to go through a moment, critically (post-structuralism), that Sontag doesn’t really see coming.
So those zeitgeist figures: Artaud, Norman Mailer, and Godard (to name a few).
Old World Gods: Levi-Strauss, Camus/Sartre, Lukacs.
So “Against Interpretation” among other things really predicts some of the true awfulness of the internet today. The application of “discourse” to every part of life is truly exhausting and lifeless in so many ways. The watering down of critical tools, the misuse of cultural analysis to particular cultural products (usually to label them broken, or problematic), as Sontag shows us here strips art from nuance and experience in lifeless and anticrtical ways. The reactionary elements of “hot takes” is the kind of interpretation I feel like she’s discussing here, even though the forms here and now are multiplied by the millions, and calls, like Sontag’s, to chill out and leave it alone are mocked. And worse, the people doing the criticism don’t even know what they’re doing most of the time.
And we learn from “Notes on Camp” that this kind of self-seriousness, no matter how serious, is not camp, which is fun, because of how convinced they are of their rightness. In “Notes on Camp,” we get camp as “failed seriousness” but not of the kind above, but of a kind of melodrama way. Not constructed failure either, but missing the mark, and turning badness into goodness. This is why we love a certain kind of bad movie and also hate a certain kind of bad movie. It’s why “The Room” is fun, but “Crash” is so awful.