On Susan Sontag’s “Regarding the Pain of Others:” Unit 3 Assignment 2 by Alec Stimac

Chapter 1

Susan Sontag dives deep into the implications photography has on culture and how it depicts war. She utilizes the lens of Virginia Woolf, a famous author, who through her “brave, unwelcome reflections on the roots of war” genders and simplifies violence. Woolf believes war is perpetuated by men and people can never truly see eye to eye on this issue. In addition, Sontag provides examples of how photographs are rhetoric as they reiterate, simplify, and agitate certain situations. They not only create illusory group consensus but also are a means of making “real” matters that privileged and safe people ignore visible (pg. 7). In the end, “we” are not monsters but rather have failed imaginations and a lack of empathy. To break this, we must ask questions about these photographs we are disturbed and intrigued by: whose deaths are not being shown? what are the hidden meanings?

Susan Sontag

Sentence Summary: Human beings’ failure to understand our heavy reality ensures violence (such as war) endures and quickly constructs the illusion the world is good as long as we come to terms with what we see from afar or hide our empathy.

Chapter 6

Human beings consistently struggle to choose between reason and desire (which can create inner-torment). Hence, these violent photographs not only mortify our feelings but liberate our minds to new knowledge while allowing personal and societal growth. The suffering displayed can transfigure how we see the world and approach living our lives (calling out violence and trying to find peace). However, the “this is not happening to me” mindset can always set us back and regress out progress. We can loose what is means to be sympathetic – not proclaiming our innocence or impotence, but actually feeling for others. This is in part due to the fact that whenever people feel safe they become indifferent towards the subject matter being shown. Hence, the chaos is the world is entertaining rather than shocking.

Sentence Summary: Indifference will always be present when looking at violence images, not only because people feel safe and find mayhem entertaining but also since they will never fully understand what it means to be sympathetic; however, it is our duty to stop being complacent and find reality.


Chapter 8

Human beings ARE capable of inflicting pain, even if society tends to ignore the fact people can be inherently violent. To see and understand this capability, one must grow up morally and psychologically. In addition, we assign too much value to memory and forget to think (question why things happen and reflect upon the past). Sontag realizes we do not suffer enough when we see these horrifying images; instead, we become numb to them. And while our sight is effortless and can be turned off, we still choose to look. However, change is not a result of our memory or new viewpoint as we cannot think and continue starting violence at the same time.

Sentence Summary: Disturbing images can be used to reflect upon the world rather than simply allowing us to forget through memory.

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