One of the commonalities I have been thinking about since reading these two texts has been the theme of looking at the little things in the midst of a large catastrophe.
When it comes to events that impact millions of people, like wars, genocide, and disasters, it can be easy to get lost in the facts. Overlooking the stories for the statistics. Watching the death toll rise like a new high score. 6 million Jews killed. Bar set. Oh, this atrocity had only 800,000 deaths. At least it wasn’t as bad.
As harsh as this sounds, I think this is a subconscious coping mechanism that most people today experience. What these stories do differently is they make the case for telling stories, not just listing facts. We learn names, imagine places, make connections to actual people. Sontag makes an argument for the power of a photograph and looking at a pair of human eyes. She explains the pitfalls of not being able to smell, hear, and taste the realities of other people’s lives. Gourevitch, on pages 111-112, decides to tell us about an old man who really loved watching TV because he was handicapped. These seemingly inconsequential details allow us to understand the reality of events we didn’t personally experience.