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06/24/2009

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Steven Augustine

Important post; I hope it generates a discussion. The legacy of Sontag's witty militancy needs rescuing (from her son -and the National Enquirer-luridity of the narrative of her death- among other distractions) about now, doesn't it?

"Either art needs no moral justification to strengthen its appeal or it is an impetus to moral action after all."

I have an idea about this but I have to put my daughter to beddy-bye before trying to peck it out...

Steven Augustine

"Either art needs no moral justification to strengthen its appeal or it is an impetus to moral action after all. Sontag wants to believe the first, but really seems to believe the second."


So, my (long-held, recently-sharpened) theory: somewhere on the continuum between a reader's usage and a writer's intended effects is the place called "text qua text"... it's the spot just before the spot that one consciousness (the writer's) flowers, suddenly, into the collective consciousness of everyone else who will ever read the thing (including the writer, his or herself, at a later point in life)... but after the spot at which the writer owns absolute authority. (To publish is the process of relinquishing authority, in exchange, possibly, for cash and/or admiration).

The critic *re-writes the book in critique* and owns the version she/he writes... until this new version is further diffused by reader usage. A "great" critic is a "successful" (ephemerality alert) re-writer.

Certainly, no particular reading (usage) of a text can be prevented/invalidated on a conceptual level.

*Isn't the endless debate on how/why to read just a futile search for absolute authority?*

Text-qua-text is a phantom (like the fleeting *still spot* on a trajectory on which an object has reversed direction). No text *requires* a moral reading... no text is impervious to one. This debate is really about minds, not words. (And minds are fuzzy).

Sontag's ambivalence indicates her awareness, I think, that a definitive statement was required (in a politically polarized era- the current Geist feels like full-spectrum concord in comparison)... where none was possible.

Which brings me to another notion: the writer as "idio-visionary" vs the writer-as-performer-with-audience. What performer, once she/he has scored the grail of a large audience, really wants to forfeit it all? Minor Faust-pact compromises are inevitably made, conscious or not. Life is compromise; Sontag lived: she compromised.

Andrew Utter

I find it troubling that Sontag wants to say that aesthetic response is moral to the extent that it is "enlivening". This is a vitalistic claim. This "enlivening" is surely an effect of the encounter with the work of art, something caused by it, something which happens to us, whereas the moral is linked closely to volition and judgment, to doing things. The taste of a strawberry might be enlivening, but that would hardly qualify it as moral. Her claim that sensibility "prompts our readiness to act" is given the lie gloriously by none other than Hamlet, who had sensibility to spare and nonetheless found action elusive. She wants to say that the aesthetic is necessarily defined by a certain type of experience, and this makes it moral, but experiences are not moral, actions are.

I heard Sontag speak a couple of years before she died, and she spoke emphatically of the need for art to instruct. IIRC she used the phrase "lessons of the heart". This was surpising given her earlier positions. When I asked her to autograph my hardbound copy of Under the Sign of Saturn, she looked askance at me, almost like I had mentioned a youthful indiscretion, and told me to read her recent works as she signed my book.

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