Regarding the Pain of Others by Susan Sontag - review by Bryan Applyeard

Bryan Applyeard

On Horror

Regarding the Pain of Others

By

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'BEING A SPECTATOR of calamities taking place in another country', writes Susan Sontag, 'is a quintessential modern experience, the cumulative offering by more than a century and a half3 worth of those professional, speciahsed tourists known as journalists.'

Daily - in fact, hourly - we can find new images of unimaginable suffering in print or on screen. We can turn over or turn away, but they are still there, plucking at our sleeve, demanding that we respond either with indignation or pity. This visual proximity of suffering is unprecedented. So what does it do to us? What is it for?

Sontag lists three possible responses to these images: 'A call for peace. A cry for revenge. Or simply the bemused awareness, continually restocked by photographic information, that terrible things happen.' So, though the picture itself may be unambiguous in its horror and the journalist may be clear about his own motive as a truth-teller, the response is unpredictable, perhaps the opposite of the one intended.

There are two other possible responses. The first is indifference. We become jaded by the sheer weight

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