I Can't Believe I'm Quoting Susan Sontag

I must be experiencing a major shift to the left because I find myself agreeing with the late Susan Sontag. In an interview republished in May's issue of PAJ: Performing Arts Journal, Sontag is quoted in the following exchange.

You have written in one essay that "the history of art is a series of succesful transgressions." If, as you say, the ante of shock and surprise is always being upped, what is left to transgress?

The idea of trangression, perhaps. . . . Trangression presupposes successful notions of order. But transgressions have been so successful that the idea of transgression has become normative for the arts--which is a self-contradiction. Modern art wished to be--maybe even was, for a brief time--in an intractable, adversary relation to the established high culture. Now it is identical with high culture, supported by a vast bureaucracy of museums, universities, and state and private foundations. And the reason for this success story is that there is a close fit between many of the values promoted by modernism and the larger values of our capitalist consumer society. This makes it difficult, to say the least, to continue thinking of modernist art as adversary art. And that's part of what lies behind the disenchantment with modernism I spoke of earlier.

You seem discouraged by this situation.

Yes and no. Rebellion does not seem to me a value in itself, as--say--truth is. There's no inherent value in transgression, as there is no inherent value to being interesting. My loyalty is not to the transgression but to the truth behind it. That the forms of life in this society, having become increasingly permissive, corrupt, vulgar, and disgusting, thereby deprive artists of the taboos against which they can, comfortably, heroically, rebel--that seems far less dismaying than the fact that this society itself is based on lies, on untruths, on hallucination.

What should artists do now?

In a society that works and enriches itself by means of organized hallucination, be less devoted to creating new forms of hallucination and more devoted to piercing through the hallucinations that nowadays pass for reality. (9)

Susan Sontag; artistic transgression; modernity; authenticity.