The Venus of Interpretation: Susan Sontag is “Against Interpretation” and for the Sensual Love of Art

venus_of_willendorf_by_artofthemystic-d3glif3In the beginning, art was religion.

“The earliest experience of art,” Susan Sontag writes in “Against Interpretation,” “must have been that it was incantatory, magical” (Sontag 1). With her round belly and mammoth breasts, The Venus of Willendorf, one of the earliest known human figurines from 30,000 BCE, was some kind of invocation, whether of fertility, childbearing, sex, the harvest, or the earth we cannot know, but she is undeniably an invocation.

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Fiction Precedes and Defines Non-Fiction

Yet even fiction is a fiction, a word which developed out of the Latin fingere, “to fashion or form.” In the Oxford English Dictionary, the first definition of “fiction,” now obsolete, is “the action of fashioning or imitating,” and is related to the verb “to feign.” The word first referred to all kinds of art,  “The . . . Art of Painting . . . surpassing by so many Degrees . . . all other Human Fiction, or imitative Art” (Lord Shaftesbury in his Characteristicks).

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