Interpretation is the revenge of the intellectual upon art.—Susan Sontag
Someone posted the above quote without a reference. Likely it comes from Sontag’s great essay “Against Interpretation.” However, I do want to quibble with her statement. Of course 'experience' should be regarded as being of a higher order than 'interpretation'. But then one realizes in the dialog with others how odd and even cockamamie experience can be, which drags experience down to the level of opinion. (Opinion being what we all have, as the saying goes.) So I think there are smart people (call them intellectuals, if you will) who we should look to for interpretation. Not that we must accept their interpretations at face value, but they give us something worthy with which to argue over, and challenge us to refine our own thinking about the work/art.
This feels uncomfortably close to the view of a professor I had as an undergraduate in a class called Writing the Essay. He claimed that critics are more important than creators because without them readers would have only their experience to go by, and their experiences were not to be trusted. As a poet, I hold almost the opposite view. The meaning of a poem is the reader's experience of the poem. Presumably there are as many meanings as there are readers. When readers disagree over a work of art, they have to return to their experience of the work itself, not to an interpreter who, after all, is interpreting based on his/her own experience. I'm not opposed to critics, but they can be as wacky as any reader. (See Yvor Winters' "Robert Frost: or, The Spiritual Drifter as Poet".) Moreover, our experience of a work changes with every reading. Which experience is "true"? They're all true—in the moment. The better the work, the more varied the reading experiences it provides. The experience of a critic is just one among thousands....
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