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Regarding the Pain of Others [Hardcover]

Susan Sontag
3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)

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Book Description

March 15 2003
A brilliant, clear-eyed new consideration of the visual representation of violence in our culture--its ubiquity, meanings, and effects

Watching the evening news offers constant evidence of atrocity--a daily commonplace in our "society of spectacle." But are viewers inured -or incited--to violence by the daily depiction of cruelty and horror? Is the viewer's perception of reality eroded by the universal availability of imagery intended to shock?

In her first full-scale investigation of the role of imagery in our culture since her now-classic book On Photography defined the terms of the debate twenty-five years ago, Susan Sontag cuts through circular arguments about how pictures can inspire dissent or foster violence as she takes a fresh look at the representation of atrocity--from Goya's The Disasters of War to photographs of the American Civil War, lynchings of blacks in the South, and Dachau and Auschwitz to contemporary horrific images of Bosnia, Sierra Leone, Rwanda, and New York City on September 11, 2001.

As John Berger wrote when On Photography was first published, "All future discussions or analysis of the role of photography in the affluent mass-media societies is now bound to begin with her book." Sontag's new book, a startling reappraisal of the intersection of "information", "news," "art," and politics in the contemporary depiction of war and disaster, will be equally essential. It will forever alter our thinking about the uses and meanings of images in our world.


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From Publishers Weekly

Twenty-six years after the publication of her influential collection of essays On Photography (1977), Sontag (In America) reconsiders ideas that are "now fast approaching the status of platitudes," especially the view that our capacity to respond to images of war and atrocity is being dulled by "the relentless diffusion of vulgar and appalling images" in our rapaciously media-driven culture. Sontag opens by describing Virginia Woolf's essay on the roots of war, "Three Guineas," in which Woolf described a set of gruesome photographs of mutilated bodies and buildings destroyed during the Spanish Civil War. Woolf wondered if there truly can be a "we" between man and woman in matters of war. Sontag sets out to reopen and enlarge the question. "No `we' should be taken for granted when the subject is looking at other people's pain," she writes. The "we" that Sontag has come to be much more aware of in the decades since On Photography is the world of the rich. She has come to doubt her youthful contention that repeated exposure to images of suffering necessarily shrivels sympathy, and she doubts even more the radical yet influential spin that others put on this critique-that reality itself has become a spectacle. "To speak of reality becoming a spectacle... universalizes the viewing habits of a small, educated population living in the rich part of the world...." Sontag reminds us that sincerity can turn a mere spectator into a witness, and that it is the heart rather than fancy rhetoric that can lead the mind to understanding.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

The impact of violent images: Sontag's first full-length work on imagery since her acclaimed On Photography 25 years ago.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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First Sentence
In June 1938 Virginia Woolf published Three Guineas, her brave, unwelcomed reflections on the roots of war. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Timely and Powerful April 1 2003
Format:Hardcover
As I watch the constant war show on CNN, am I a spectator experiencing war vicariously as entertainment, and if so, should I not be watching? On the other hand, if I choose not to watch am I hiding from reality and turning my back on the soldiers who after all represent me?
If you experience any kind of discomfort with the constant coverage, then Sontag can offer some guidance.
She concentrates mainly on photographs rather than video, but this enables her to draw comparisons between the present and past conflicts. Her elegant potted history of war photography from the Crimean war to today is in some ways a rebuttal to the notion that the ubiquity of media renders modern war substantially different to historical war. If video footage defines our experience of war, photographs become our memories, and this is no less true now than in the 1860's.
If this sounds dry, then I do the book an injustice. First of all, Sontag is able to maintain page-turning readability without sacrificing scholarship. Second, even the most careful reading won't take more than 3 hours. Third, her arguments are forceful and in some cases passionate.
I found "regarding the pain of others" erudite, persuasive and strangely moving.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Regarding the Pain of Others Oct. 18 2009
Format:Paperback
Regarding the Pain of OthersSusan Sontag has presented us with a challenge. She asks us to examine the photographs of war, unimaginable suffering and death. (To catch a death actually happening and embalm it for all time is something only cameras can do, and pictures taken by photographers out in the field of the moment of (or just before) death are among the most celebrated and often reproduced of war photographs...There can be no suspicion about the authenticity of what is being shown...)Susan Sontag. This book, often as unrelenting in its prose as the exposing camera lens, discusses the consequences of looking at human suffering and degregation brought about by atrocities at a distance through photography and how it is different for (us) as onlookers than any other artform. (Images have been reproached for watching suffering at a distance, as if it were some other way of watching. But watching up close-without the mediation of an image-is still just watching.)Susan Sontag. She also discusses with length the causes and gender of war itself. The challenge is to become conscious, informed and intelligent viewers of what we see as it sometimes taps the very depths of our humanity and its many failings of sympathy and compassion.
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3.0 out of 5 stars War in the time of photography Oct. 26 2003
Format:Hardcover
It is photography, beginning with the Civil War, that almost exclusively provides us a window to the suffering of others. Ms. Sontag's essay explores the capacity of the photographic arts to convey such suffering. Throughout, she identifies photographs that have seemed to distill the image of war in a particularly unforgettable way, that is, to imprint elements of suffering, both uniquely associated with a specific war at a specfic point in time and more generally attributable to war. Although she refers to her book's "argument," it seems more precise to maintain that, like the subject of her essay, her aim here is to assess the power and the limits of photography to convey pain to those viewers who enjoy the luxury of being detached from the specific suffering so depicted. Stated differently, her essay itself develops an "image" of the art of photography and its effect on spectators who enjoy various degrees of detachment from images before them.
Having been one of the more "provincial" spectators she describes in her book, Regarding the Pain of Others appears to provide an excellent source to discover particularly powerful photographs, at least as commended by Ms. Sontag who has been seriously contemplating the "war image" in all its manifestations for at least two decades. It would have been helpful for the book to have included some of the examples she describes. (This is Art History without the art.) There are times, too, when she seems to forget that suffering is not a stranger in the so-called developed, modern world. The haunting images, captured by photographers on 9/11, of men and women jumping to certain death from the upper floors of the World Trade Center to avoid consumption in the inferno that it had become, will forever retain the sad distinction of being among this century's first "representations" of the continuing horror of suffering in war.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting points, but what is her "argument"? July 3 2003
Format:Hardcover
In my experience, a non-fiction book on history, sociology or politics generally does one of two things. It reports and/or it opines. However, it seemed to me that this little essay, though making a number of interesting observations about war and photography, did neither. Indeed, virtually the whole time, I kept waiting for her ultimate opinion on the issue to come out. By the end, I never saw it. And yet, in the very first sentence of her acknowledgments (and elsewhere therein), she refers to "the argument of this book." Even after reading the laudatory reviews of this book, I couldn't tell what others perceived the "argument" to be either. I am assuming that her "argument" has something to do with the effect that photography has on war. For example if I had to guess (and if it turns out that I am totally off base, it wouldn't shock me), it may be that too many photos of the suffering of others may numb the senses to it and thus should be discouraged. Or maybe, she is making the exact opposite "argument"--that we don't see enough such photos and thus people can't really appreciate how horrible war is. In addition, whatever her argument, is she suggesting that we as a people do something different than what we do now, or is she simply offering neutral observations on the way of the world as it exists now? I have no doubt that others smarter than I could answer all of these questions, but I would have appreciated a little synopsis of her self-described "argument" so I knew what it was.
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Most recent customer reviews
1.0 out of 5 stars meandering
I found this a difficult book to read.The author uses long meandering sentences frequently enough to distract attention;and her thesis is unclear. Read more
Published on May 28 2004 by nigel allison
5.0 out of 5 stars WELL-WRITTEN, TIMELY & THOUGHT-PROVOKING
I don't know why this book isn't at the top of Amazon's Susan Sontag's list of publications. It was very hard to put it down until I got to the end. Read more
Published on May 20 2004 by "finch334"
1.0 out of 5 stars Suan Sontag feels her own pain
And that's about it. She's a racist with a brilliant mind, and therefore most adept at propoganda. This book, as well as the rest of her work, to some extent and another... Read more
Published on March 22 2004 by Joanne Ravel
4.0 out of 5 stars The politics of suffering
In this insightful essay, Sontag springboards from an analysis of "Three Guineas" by Virginia Woolf into a discussion about the effects of photography and televised... Read more
Published on May 21 2003 by "blissengine"
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting and Timely
I couldnï¿t help but wonder what Susan Sontag would have to say about a friend of mine, and the manner in which he gets his daily news. Read more
Published on April 27 2003 by Arthur J. Boughan
5.0 out of 5 stars Timely, wise and informed
When Susan Sontag prepared and wrote her newest book REGARDING THE PAIN OF OTHERS, she probably did not know that at the time of its release to the public the world would once... Read more
Published on April 2 2003 by Grady Harp
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