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Regarding the Pain of Others [Paperback]

Susan Sontag
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
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Book Description

26 Aug 2004

Regarding the Pain of Others is Susan Sontag's searing analysis of our numbed response to images of horror.

From Goya's Disasters of War to news footage and photographs of the conflicts in Vietnam, Rwanda and Bosnia, pictures have been charged with inspiring dissent, fostering violence or instilling apathy in us, the viewer. Regarding the Pain of Others will alter our thinking not only about the uses and meanings of images, but about the nature of war, the limits of sympathy, and the obligations of conscience.

'Powerful, fascinating. Sontag is our outstanding contemporary writer in the moralist tradition' Sunday Times

'A coruscating sermon on how we picture suffering' The New York Times

'A far-reaching set of ruminations on human suffering, the nature of goodness, the lures, deceptions and truth of images . . . in short, a summary of what it means to be alive and alert in the twentieth century' Independent

'Sontag is on top form: firing devastating questions' Los Angeles Times

'Simple, elegant, fiercely persuasive' Metro

One of America's best-known and most admired writers, Susan Sontag was also a leading commentator on contemporary culture until her death in December 2004. Her books include four novels and numerous works of non-fiction, among them Regarding the Pain of Others, On Photography, Illness as Metaphor, At the Same Time, Against Interpretation and Other Essays and Reborn: Early Diaries 1947-1963, all of which are published by Penguin. A further eight books, including the collections of essays Under the Sign of Saturn and Where the Stress Falls, and the novels The Volcano Lover and The Benefactor, are available from Penguin Modern Classics.

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Regarding the Pain of Others + On Photography + Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography (Vintage Classics)
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Product details

  • Paperback: 128 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin; New Ed edition (26 Aug 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0141012374
  • ISBN-13: 978-0141012377
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 12.5 x 19.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 26,034 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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"Wise and somber. . .Sontag's closing words acknowledge that there are realities which no picture can convey." --"Los Angeles Times Book Review" "The history of sensibility in a culture shaped by the mechanical reproduction of imagery....has always been one of the guiding preoccupations of her best work, from "Against Interpretation" to "The Volcano Lover."...Regarding the Pain of Others invites, and rewards, more than one reading." --"Newsday" "For 30 years, Susan Sontag has been challenging an entire generation to think about the things that frighten us most: war, disease, death. Her books illuminate without simplifying, complicate without obfuscating, and insist above all that to ignore what threatens us is both irresponsible and dangerous." --"O, The Oprah Magazine" "A timely meditation on politics and ethics. . .extraordinary . . .Sontag's insight and erudition are profound." --"The Atlanta Journal-Constitution" ""Regarding the Pain of Others" bristles with a sense

About the Author

Susan Sontag's most recent books are a collection of essays, Where the Stress Falls, and a novel, In America, for which she won the National Book Award in 2000. Her earlier books include three novels, a collection of stories, a play, and five works of non-fiction, among them On Photography and Illness as Metaphor, both published by Penguin. In 2001 Susan Sontag was awarded the Jerusalem Prize for the body of her work, and in 2003 she received the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade. She lives in New York City.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
In June 1938 Virginia Woolf published Three Guineas, her brave, unwelcomed reflections on the roots of war. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

4.5 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Regarding Susan Sontag 27 Feb 2010
This book is a pure revelation on how we, the viewer, are subjected to images of war and suffering. She takes us on an arguemental debate that covers all aspects of visual imagery through descriptive text. Shes talks of the shock and horror seen by some in photography, to how others see it as a political lever. What this book does, is to make us understand that one photogaphic image can have a double purpose, and that not all in a war image is truth.

Do not expect to see grim images of death and carnage. This book is not about the image, it is about the images' intent.

A thoroughly absorbing read from Susan Sontag
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Regarding the pain of others 11 Aug 2008
By Xena
It's an essay about what effect images of human suffering have on us. The author considers images of conflicts from the Spanish Civil War to the war in Bosnia, from Goya's paintings to the first war photographs of the Crimean War and the American Civil War.

The traditional perception is that such images arouse sympathy in the viewer. They make the war real to the audiences remote from the military conflicts. They drive unconcerned spectators towards indignation and action.

Sontag argues that the real state of affairs is far more complex than that. Human reaction to the images of sufferings varies from voyeurism to the comfort of knowing that you're far from the danger, from sympathy and indignation to indifference.

In fact, sympathy may not be the most desirable reaction, because sympathy comes with passivity. That impenetrable screen between the viewer and the victim triggers the reaction of apathy and moral anaesthesia in the former. It dulls feelings and delays or abolishes responses to them.

The author goes further suggesting that sympathy serves a very selfish purpose. It's used by the viewer to proclaim his innocence: `So far as we feel sympathy, we feel we are not accomplices to what caused the suffering.' In that it becomes an inappropriate response. Once you've proclaimed your innocence, you deny any involvement with the evil and you feel no obligation to remedy it. The author suggests setting sympathy aside for a reflection `on how our privileges are located on the same map as their suffering and may - in ways we might prefer not to imagine - be linked to their suffering.' She says that the painful images can `supply only an initial spark', the rest is your own positive effort and conscious choice.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Easy to read, good conclusion. 25 Mar 2010
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Is a small book, well written, and in depth how we look at painful images from photojournalists, she analyzed our reaction to mass media, and how we receive bad news about war, even how we look at religious paintings.

The reader needs some life experience, to live in between ex soldiers, to listen to their memories, and then to look around and compare, to look at their misfortune, now, now when they aged, to observe their handicap movements which limits their daily live, and observe if it has been done enough for them, to help them with their struggle. A simpler example is; just think how heavily we rely on Social Services in UK, and wonder why?

The book has a realistic point of view of how we perceive this images, a cruel reality we live in, and perhaps a wake-up call to a generation of blind people, driven only by glory or materialistic possessions, and comfort.

Although it is easy to read, you need some knowledge of history from paintings to photography which depicts pain, death, and distress captured either with a brush by painters, or with the camera by photographers. Is well worth to have this book and meditate, a deep thinker will enjoy Sontag statement as much as I did.

Totally recommended.
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