Andrew Denny – Sontag

Chapter 1 – In the first chapter, Sontag discusses the duality of opinions that images depicting war can elicit. Sontag dismisses the notion that all images of the consequences of war will bring about antiwar sentiments. She does this by first bringing up author, Virginia Woolf’s work Three Guineas. She claims that Woolf asserts although war is a male driven enterprise, images of the horror and destruction of war will bring about the same anti-war sentiment in all humans. Sontag agrees that these photos will bring about the same horrors and disgust in all humans, but disagrees on the type of conclusions people will form from them. Sontag asserts that photos of horrors will only help to reinforce the pre-held opinions that people already have. Images of destruction can bring about feelings of revenge, hatred, or peace. It depends on the context and the person that views the images. Finally, Sontag by discussing the work Krieg dem Kriege, shows how the meaning of images can be changed or enhanced based on the content of their caption, or an omission of one altogether.

One sentence meaning: In Chapter 1, Sontag asserts that human response to photos of atrocity/war depend on the context, and personal agenda/beliefs that the viewer holds to be important.

Chapter 6: In this chapter, Sontag discusses the dulling of public reception to images of mass violence and war. Sontag begins this chapter by emphasizing that it is human nature to want to look or investigate the suffering of others. Sontag similarly to Gourevitch mentions Socrates story of Leontius. A man who attempts to fight the urge to look upon the dead bodies but ultimately fails. This story along with the inclusion of the quotes such as, ” love of mischief, love of cruelty, is a as natural to human beings as is sympathy,” help Sontag show a lust for gore and morbid images is in human nature. However, Sontag asserts the modern overflow and prevalence of violence in society has dulled our natural reactions to violence. Violence’s prevalence means that images must be so overtly morbid or shocking to gain our attention. Sontag further explains our lessened sensitivity to violence by discussing the limits of human compassion. Humanity has a hard time relating to the scope of an issue if it is not happening to them in the moment. This dismissal is portrayed by Sontag’s inclusion of the woman who flips the channel after seeing images of violence. Additionally, Sontag asserts that human compassion if not acted upon dies. In this age of large governmental involvement, people are often less often to feel as if they can do anything to help or change anything so there reaction to images are dulled.

One Sentence: In this chapter, Sontag rationalizes modern society’s dulling response to images of mass violence attributing it to the increased abundance of these type of images in all aspects of society, and the limitations of human compassion when one is not faced or can have any effect on the tragedies or horrors taking place.

Chapter 8: In this chapter, Sontag asserts what role images play in society. She attempts to prove this by first discussing human’s propensity and attitudes towards remembrance and forgetting. Sontag states that human’s view of remembrance is as an ethical act. In fact, we do our best to remember because we know one day we will cease to exist as well. However, Sontag says that there is too much injustice and atrocities in this world to remember and hold grudges. To make peace is to forget and have a clean slate. In some ways, Sontag says that images have made this process more difficult. However, images according to Sontag are not intented to seal memories in our minds but are an invitation to rethink and learn from atrocities that have occurred. Additonally, Sontag dismisses the viewing of images as viewing others suffering from a distance. She does this by demonstrating the power of sight and by having the ability to view something multiple times; it forces one to think about what has occurred in the photo and why it has occurred. Or as she ends the chapter, “Nobody can think and hit someone at the same time.”

One Sentence: Images of suffering are not a way to view suffering at a distance, it is a way to give those who are suffering an audience, and to give that audience the ability/ invitation to think, and investigate the content and message of the image.

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