Catherine Chimley – Finding Humanity in Human Suffering

In my reading of the two texts we are addressing in this unit of our Humes course, I initially found only one similarity between the views presented by Gourevitch and Sontag – both depictions of human suffering and our reactions to it were strikingly painful to read. As I read further into these texts, my understanding of the views presented by the authors grew, and I began to contemplate the initial reaction I had to texts that cover very different materials but explore common themes. Why was it difficult for me to read these texts without feeling sadness afterward? In my meditation on this question, I discovered that this question evokes the subjects being explored by Gourevitch and Sontag – human reactions to suffering felt by others with whom they can identify, as well as the pervasive dehumanization found in situations of genocide and warfare. While Gourevitch discusses a specific instance of this dehumanization and suffering, with the Tutsi genocide in Rwanda, Sontag explores this psychological contrast within the context of a variety of instances throughout history. Despite these differences in scope, the two texts are similar in their subject, as well as the choices they make in approaching the struggles of the human condition – the incredible capacity for empathy as well as the violent effects of dehumanization to “others.”

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