W(h)ither the New Sensibility

Against_Interpretation_(Sontag_book)Rochelle Gurstein at The Baffler:

Who would have thought that Susan Sontag’s “One Culture and the New Sensibility”—widely regarded as an opening salvo in the long culture war against “elitist” standards”—is now fifty years old?

I revisited Sontag’s celebrated essay because I was reading a new book by George Cotkin called Feast of Excess: A Cultural History of the New Sensibility (Oxford University Press, 2015). Making my way through Cotkin’s twenty-three short chapters about the life and times of the many, many diverse figures he offers as representative of the new sensibility, I was surprised to find how elastic the concept had become. Cotkin locates its roots in the “minimalism” of John Cage in 1952, followed by Robert Rauschenberg’s early experimental work, Marlon Brando’s style of rebellion inThe Wild One, and six more predecessors. He then traces how it “exploded” in the 1960s—this is where Sontag appears (he calls her “the queen of the New Sensibility,” and its “cheerleader”), in between chapters on Lenny Bruce and Andy Warhol on one side and John Coltrane and Bob Dylan on the other, along with three more exemplars. Cotkin goes on to show how the new sensibility became a “cultural commonplace” by the 1970s, beginning with the plays, poetry, and radical political activism of the black nationalist Amiri Baraka, and then, after three more vignettes, his account comes to a close with Erica Jong’s Fear of Flying, followed by Chris Burden’s performance pieces of 1974.

more here.