Thursday, January 31, 2019

Books I'm Reading: Susan Sontag's Against Interpretation and Other Essays

I finally got around to reading Susan Sontag's Against Interpretation and Other Essays, which appears to have remained in print since its initial publication in 1966. I read a Picador paperback edition of uncertain date (pictured). It looks like 1990, but it's hard to tell from the front matter. Whatever the year, my copy is from the 21st printing in this format.

It's easy to see why this collection continues to interest readers—why the publishers continue to make it available: although the essays here are from 1961 to 1966, making even the most recent more than 50 years old, they've held up well. While they are clearly of their time (and, in part, fascinating for that reason), they do not feel dated in the sense of no longer having much relevance or of being outmoded in style. Sontag writes charmingly, her familiarity with a wide range of philosophy, literature, theater, and film is impressive, and her thinking is lucid. On top of that, she had pretty good taste. I found the essays engaging even when they dealt with writers I've never read (or never even heard of in a couple of instances) and films I've yet to see. Reading Against Interpretation and Other Essays has given me another reason to delve into classic French cinema and to get around to reading Sartre, Camus, and their ilk. So many books, so little time, as they say. I most enjoyed the title essay, "Against Interpretation," her discussion of science fiction films, the piece about "happenings," and the collection of thoughts entitled "Notes on 'Camp'." Next, I plan to read Sontag's On Photography, a book I've been meaning to read for years.

Coincidentally, I recently (just this week) stumbled upon kanopy, an online film-streaming service that gives free access to a large selection of high-quality films through the public library system. All that's required is a public library card to get a pass to watch up to 10 films a month free (at least with a San Francisco Library card; limits differ from library to library apparently). Once you select a film, you can watch it as many times as you want for three days. I've already added most of the classics of French cinema Sontag discusses to my watch list.

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