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Category: Susan Sontag

“From Socrates forward, there are countless witnesses to the value of irony for the private individual: as a complex, serious method of seeking and holding one’s truth, and as a method of saving one’s sanity. But as irony becomes the good taste of what is, after all, an essentially collective activity — the making of art — it may prove less serviceable. One need not speak as categorically as Nietzsche, who thought the spread of irony throughout a culture always signified the floodtide of decadence and the approaching end of that culture’s vitality and powers. In the post-political, electronically connected cosmopolis in which all serious modern artists have taken out premature citizenship, certain organic connections between culture and “thinking” (and art is certainly now, mainly, a form of thinking) may have been broken, so that Nietzsche’s diagnosis no longer applies. Still, there remains a question as to how far the resources of irony can be stretched. It seems unlikely that the possibilities of continually undermining one’s assumptions can go on unfolding indefinitely into the future, without being eventually checked by despair or by a laugh that leaves one without any breath at all.” – Susan Sontag, “The Aesthetics of Silence”

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“A landscape doesn’t demand from the spectator his ‘understanding,’ his imputations of significance, his anxieties and sympathies; it demands, rather, his absence, that he not add anything to it. Contemplation, strictly speaking, entails self-forgetfulness on the part of the spectator: an object worthy of contemplation is one which, in effect, annihilates the perceiving subject.” – Susan Sontag, “The Aesthetics of Silence”

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“There remains the inescapable truth about perception: the positivity of all experience at every moment of it. As John Cage has insisted, ‘there is no such thing as silence. Something is always happening that makes a sound.’ (Cage has described how, even in a soundless chamber, he still heard at least two things: his heartbeat and the coursing of the blood in his head). Similarly, there is no such thing as empty space. As long as a human eye is looking there is always something to see. To look at something that’s ’empty’ is still to be looking, still to be seeing something — if only the ghosts of one’s own expectations. In order to perceive fullness, one must retain an acute sense of the emptiness which marks it off; conversely, in order to perceive emptiness, one must apprehend other zones of the world as full.” – Susan Sontag, “The Aesthetics of Silence”

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