Susan Sontag, Regarding the Pain of Others, (2003).

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Chapter learn pages
1   3-17
Chapter learn pages
2   18-39.
Chapter learn pages
3   40-58
Chapter learn pages
4   59-73
Chapter learn pages
5   74-94
Chapter learn pages
6   95-103
Chapter learn pages
7   104-113
Chapter learn pages
8   114-118
Chapter learn pages
9   119-126



Virginia Woolf, June 1938, and Simone Weil, French philosopher– The Iliad or the Poem of Force (1940)


photography of war

"War tears, war rends. War rips open, eviscerates. . . .War ruins."

"not to recoil" -- "these for Woolf, would be the reactions of a moral monster."

p. 8.

repulsion or reinforcement of warfare?

"They show a particular way of waging war, a way at that time routinely described as 'barbaric.' in which civilians are the target."

p. 9.

She mentions from the Crimean War and American Civil War and World War One, onward pictorial evidence, especially from:

    1. Spanish Civil War
    2. Arab Israeli conflict
    3. Serbo-Croatian war in Yugoslavia

"Images of dead civilians and smashed houses may serve to quicken the hatred of the foe...."

p. 10.

". . . might reply, that the photographs supply no evidence, none at all, for renouncing war–except to those for whom the notions of valor and sacrifice have been emptied of meaning and credibility."


"If the horror could be made vivid enough, most people would finally take in the outrageousness, the insanity of war."


Kriege dem Kriege (1924) German antiwar photographic collection, Weimar Republic


Referring to the film "J'accuse" the 1938 version by Abel Gance, a French director.

In the film his protagonist says:

"Fill your eyes with this horror! It is the only thing that can stop you!"

And the following year the war came."

pp. 16-17


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She story of war scenes and war correspondents in 1850s - 1890s and now.

"Being a spectator of calamities taking place in another country is the quintessential modern experience, the cumulative offering by more than a century and a half's worth of those professional, specialized tourists known as journalists."

p. 18

"...combat itself was beyond the camera's ken."

p. 20

"The war America waged in Vietnam, the first to be witnessed day after day by television cameras, introduced the home front to new tele-intimacy with death and destruction. Ever since, battles and massacres filmed as they unfold have been a routine ingredient of the ceaseless flow of domestic, small-screen entertainment."

"The understanding of war among people who have not experienced war is now chiefly a product of the impact of these images."


"To seize death in the making was another matter,"

p. 24

"The Great War" 1914-1918

"The nightmare of suicidally lethal military engagement,"

"from which the warring countries were unable to extricate themselves."

Hiroshima and Nagasaki, 1945

p. 25

Walter Lippmann's comment on photograph's power.


"when Capa's moment-of-death picture of the Republican soldier appeared in Life on July 12, 1937, it occupied the whole right page;"

"facing it on the left was a full page advertisement for Vitalis, a men's hair cream, with a small picture of someone exerting himself at tennis and a large portrait of the same man in a white dinner jacket sporting a head of neatly parted, slicked-down, lustrous hair."

Life Magazine and the Vitalis, hair care product advertisement

The advertisement's juxtaposition with the war picture "–Seems not just bizarre but curiously dated now."

p 32-33

"Absent such a protest, the same antiwar photograph may be read as showing pathos, or heroism,admirable heroism, in an unavoidable struggle that can be concluded only by victory or defeat."

p. 38-9.

"The photographer's intentions do not determine the meaning of the photograph, which will have its own career, blown by the whims and loyalties of the diverse communities that have use for it."

p. 39.


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III. Iconography of suffering

"The iconography of suffering has a long pedigree."

But artists do not render portraits or scenes depicting the suffering of women in childbirth or "caused by accident," or misadventure.

p. 40.

“showing bodies in pain is as keen, almost, as the desire for ones that show bodies naked.” (41)

"The practice of representing atrocious suffering as something to be deplored, and, if possible, stopped, enters the history of images with a specific subject: the suffering endured by a civilian population at the hands of a victorious army on the rampage. . . .in the seventeenth century, when contemporary realignments of power become material for artists."

Pp. 42-43

1633. Jacques Callot -"Les Miseres et les Malheurs." depicted "atrocities committed against civilians by French troops during the invasion and occupation of his native Lorraine in the early 1630s."

appeared in 1635

p. 43

¾ Images of the sufferings endured in war

“brutally legible pictures of dead soldiers.”

“The camera is the eye of history.” M. Brady


child burning from napalm taken by Huynh Cong Ut, in 1972.


Photographers and cameras ". . . Now had to compete with and endure the proximity of TV crews: the witnessing of war is now hardly ever a solitary venture. Technically. the possibilities for doctoring or electronically manipulating pictures are greater than ever–almost unlimited. But the practice of inventing dramatic news pictures, staging them for the camera, seems on its way to being a lost art."

p. 58.


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The embalming of death by instant photography (59)

"shooting a Vietcong suspect in the street in Saigon"

p. 59

The Civil War in the United States, 1861-1865.

“The camera brings the viewer close, too close; supplemented by a magnifying glass–the terrible distinctness of the pictures gives unnecessary, indecent information.” (63)

“There is no war without photography, thereby refining the irrepressible identification of the camera and the gun, ‘shooting’ a subject and shooting a human being.” (66)

"But surely the wounded Taliban soldier begging for his life whose fate was pictured prominently in the New York Times also had a wife, children, parents, sisters, brothers, some of whom may one day come across the three color photographs of their husband, father, son, brother being slaughtered--if they have not already seen them."

p. 73


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Leonardo Da Vinci's battle scene painting instructions.

"he insists that artists have the courage and the imagination to show war in all its ghastliness:"

p. 74

”Central to modern expectations, and modern ethical feeling, is the conviction that war is an aberration.”

“The concern is that the images to be devised won’t be sufficiently upsetting: not concrete, not detailed enough.” (75)

“was bound to goad viewers into feeling more.” (79)

¾PHOTOGRAPHS OBJECTIFY: they turn an event or a person into something that can be possessed. And photographs are a species of alchemy, for all that they are posed as a transparent account of reality.” (81)

“Habituation is not automatic, for images obey different rules than real life.”


“Photographs of atrocity illustrate as well as corroborate.... The photograph gives the indelible sample.”

p. 84.

¾EVEN IN THE ERA of cybermodels, what the mind feels like is still, as the ancients imagined it, an inner space–like a theatre–in which we view a picture, and it is these pictures that allow us to remember.”

Pp. 88-89.

“but they remember only the photographs.” 



"Most depictions of tormented, mutilated bodies do arouse a prurient interest."

"All images that display the violation of an attractive body, are to a certain degree, pornographic. But images of the repulsive can also allure."

p. 95.

“The capacity to actually assimilate what they show.”

getting used to depravity

Sentimentality and brutality are linked


A key link to effectively tie her to Postman
“To set aside the sympathy we extend to others beset by war and murderous politics for a reflection on how our own 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, as the wealth of some may imply the destitution of others is a task...."


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"Consider two widespread ideas


On Photography, Susan Sontag, 1977:
“I argued that while an event known through photographed certainly becomes more real than it would have been had one never seen the photographs, after repeated exposure it also becomes less real.”

As much as they create sympathy, . . . photographs shrivel sympathy.”

THE ARGUMENT THAT modern life consists of a diet of horrors by which we are corrupted and in which we gradually become habituated is a founding idea of the critique of modernity”

“we are losing our capacity to react.”

“Compassion, stretched to the limits, is going numb.”

“Since On Photography, many critics have suggested that the excruciations of war–thanks to television–have devolved into a nightly banality.”

“More generally, that we work toward what I called for in On Photography an ecology of images?”

“THE VIEW PROPOSED in On Photography– that our capacity to respond to our experiences with emotional freshness and ethical pertinence is being sapped by the relentless diffusion of vulgar and appalling images–-might be called the
conservative critique of the diffusion of such images.”
p. 109.

“It has become a cliché of the cosmopolitan discussion of images of atrocity to assume that they have little effect, and that there is something innately cynical about their diffusion.”
p. 111.

“Such a reaction comes from two extremes of the spectrum: the cynics who have never been near a war, and from the war-weary who are enduring the miseries being photographed.”
p. 111.

“The feeling persists that the appetite for such images is a vulgar or low appetite; that it is commercial ghoulishness.”

Sarajevo residents yell: “Are you waiting for a shell to go off so you can photograph some corpses.”
“But they want the suffering to be seen as unique.”

“It is intolerable to have one’s own sufferings twinned with anybody else’s.”



"To designate a hell, is not, of course to tell us anything about how to extract people from that hell, how to moderate hell's flames."

p. 114

“PARKED IN FRONT of the little screens–television, computer, palmtop–we can surf images and brief reports of disasters throughout the world. It seems as if there is a greater quantity of such news than before.”

“There’s nothing wrong with standing back and thinking.”

“Sight is effortless; sight requires spatial distance; sight can be turned off.”

“It is felt that there is something morally wrong with the abstract of reality offered by photography; that one has no right to experience the suffering of others at a distance, denuded of its raw power; that we pay too high a human price for those hitherto admired qualities of vision–the standing back from the aggressiveness of the world which frees us for observation and for selective attention.”

“Nobody can think and hit someone at the same time.”




“Certain photographs–emblems of suffering, such as the snapshot of a little boy in the Warsaw Ghetto in 1943,. . . –can be used as memento mori, . . .–as objects of contemplation to deepen one’s sense of reality, as secular icons if you will.

“It seems exploitive to look at harrowing photographs of other people’s pain in an art gallery. Even those ultimate images whose gravity, whose emotional power seems fixed for all time, the concentration camps. . . .”

“So far as photographs with the most solemn or heartrending subject matter are art–and this is what they become when they hang on walls, whatever the disclaimers–they partake of the fate of all wall-hung. Or floor-supported art displayed in public places.”

“In which war is seen and commented upon.’’

“The strong emotion will become a transient one.”

“The photographer’s intentions are irrelevant to this larger process.”

What is the effective “antidote to the perennial seduction of war?”

“IS THERE AN ANTIDOTE to the perennial seductiveness of war? And is this a question a woman is more likely to ask than a man?

Jeff Wall, 1992 “Dead Troops Talk

(A vision after an ambush of a Red Army Patrol near Moqor, Afghanistan, Winter 1986.)”

Metropolitan Museum of Art. NYC.

p. 123-124.

“ ‘We’–this ‘we’ is everyone who has never experienced anything like what they went through-–don’t understand.”


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Memento mori -- recollection of the dead, "reminder of death" -- death's memento

Ambiance of distraction -- the outcome of museums and galleries displaying art works

p. 120.

empathy versus sympathy -- the ability to share feelings with another versus the expression of pity or sorrow in concert with others for their suffering, loss or pain.

prurient, of a sexually arousing character, a 16th century French derived word for encouraging an excessive interest in sexual considerations. Taken from the Latin verb pruire, meaning to itch, or long for.




Walter Lippmann – first among American journalists from 1914 to 1965.

Neil Postman



chemieWater- private property or public good?

The ten lessons of Postman and Sontag

Overseas, or Foreign Press a sampling

USA print media, daily newspapers

William , Come Home, America

George Lakoff, The Political Mind

Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, Walker Evans and James Agee, 1941.


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