Regarding the Pain of Others Hardcover – 7 Aug 2003
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'Probably the most intelligent woman in America' Jonathan Miller
About the Author
Susan Sontag's works include ON PHOTOGRAPHY and ILLNESS AS METAPHOR, five novels, a collections of stories and a play. She lives in New York.
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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.Read more ›
This is a tiny book (110 A5 pages)- hardly more than the lecture out of which it has been spun. And although it makes specific reference to photos throughout, it is unillustrated.
Sontag's earlier "On Photography" is justifiably regarded as a classic. This book is promoted as revising some of its more important arguments. Readers are likely to be disappointed. Like the earlier book this is mainly a summary of points with which most teachers, and students, in this area are likely to be familiar. It is useful to have the arguments drawn together. Without doubt, Sontag's is a concerned intelligence. But I cant see that this book takes us much further in reflection on these issues.
I was surprised to learn that Sontag has never been tempted to take photos.
If anyone knows of a more successful meditation on looking at photos of war and disaster, I would be greatful to hear.
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
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.
Xena's review is lengthy and one with which I generally agree so there is no need for repetition. Suffice to say it is an extremely pertinent book in these days when bad news is good news for the mass media and, increasingly, we are faced with "news" nightly from all parts of the world, much of which involves needless suffering; it raises many questions about what should be considered news, how we steel ourselves against it or react in other ways which, from some perspectives, may appear inhuman. A fascinating (brief) examination and criticism of an increasingly important feature of modern life.
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