Susan Sontag’s Regarding the Pain of Others

Susan Sontag’s writing is for the passionate and the aloof. It’s for the performer and the audience. The tendencies of which exist in each of us. Her writing is the epitome of wisdom, knowledge, and most importantly, perspective.

The specificity of emotions when pitted against the suffering of others. And still, it evokes disgust, horror, sympathy – all summarized in a single second, a final memory – through the medium of photographs.

Photographs transform, they revivify, they infuriate, they provoke, but here’s what Susan Sontag considers in this beautifully intelligent book, Regarding the Pain of Others. And that is what if photographs anesthetize too?

Humans possess the ability to switch from one mechanism to another. And technology plays the role of God in that it is both an enabler of emotions and the antidote to it. We lean more on immediate gratification than empathetic self-discovery. Only to retire to the world of appearances and find in them the dull passivity of words. So what can offer meaning and soul to the aspects of life that are omnipresent?

A human is the loneliest person in a crowd. A human in a world of humans is a crowd. But Sontag’s writing paints a different picture. She wants you to imagine the limitations that manifest in a ‘humanity’ deprived of such a grotesque comparison. And the power of a photograph in a ‘humanity’ bred by it.

Regarding the Pain of Others examines the conciseness of war, suffering, and history in the world of photography. Its role, comparison, and the Last Judgment. According to Sontag, the Last Judgment is not the judging of the eyes that view the world, the mouths that speak, the ears that hear. Rather it’s the judgment of the degree of compassion we all possess and deny. Photographs are objects of contemplation, no more, no less. In light of all this, can their role also be to steel oneself against weakness? To make oneself more numb? To acknowledge the existence of the incorrigible?