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Regarding the Pain of Others Paperback – February 1, 2004


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 131 pages
  • Publisher: Picador; Reprint edition (February 1, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312422199
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312422196
  • Product Dimensions: 8.3 x 5.5 x 0.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (38 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #36,772 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

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. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

More About the Author

Susan Sontag was born in Manhattan in 1933 and studied at the universities of Chicago, Harvard and Oxford. She is the author of four novels, a collection of stories, several plays, and six books of essays, among them Illness as Metaphor and AIDS and Its Metaphors. Her books are translated into thirty-two languages. In 2001 she was awarded the Jerusalem Prize for the body of her work, and in 2003 she received the Prince of Asturias Prize for Literature and the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade. She died in December 2004.

Customer Reviews

This is certainly a book to read and if possible read again!
Paul Scott
This book was very eye opening for me and helped me think a lot about what it means for us to look at photos of atrocity.
Jason Rodich
She shows a great deal of sensitivity to what pain is caused by war, and how senseless it is.
Thomas Hofer

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

86 of 98 people found the following review helpful By Arthur J. Boughan on April 27, 2003
Format: Hardcover
I couldn�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. First thing, each day, when he gets to work, he logs into his computer, surfs to Yahoo, and looks at a slide show of all the top news photos for the day. He never reads any articles. At most he reads a caption or two, but mainly he looks at the pictures. How many others perceive the world through Yahoo slideshows? It�s a bit scary. I think Sontag would agree that many people view the world primarily through the images they receive through the media.
In her revealing book, Regarding The Pain of Others, Susan Sontag examines the many issues associated with the photography of warfare, genocide, and atrocity. She discusses the history of such images, why they are produced, the importance of the viewer�s perspective, censorship, and many other related topics. In presenting her ideas, Sontag moves through a wide variety of history and literature ( Plato�s Republic, the Crimean War, the Khmer Rouge, the Nazi concentration camps, Bosnia). Oddly enough, there are no photos in the book. Many photographs that are referred to are described enough to understand what is being said, but the actual photos would have been a much better addition. (Most of the photos referenced are well known and can easily be located online.) It would have been revealing to know why no photos were included.
Many insights regarding war and photography are put forth. Some seemed like just well explained common sense, others were revealing. As a photographer, one concept that was mentioned, I found very profound. I�ve often wondered why photography hasn�t been replaced by video in the manner in which photography displaced painting.
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57 of 67 people found the following review helpful By Professor Presto on 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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24 of 30 people found the following review helpful By "blissengine" on May 21, 2003
Format: Hardcover
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 imagery on modern culture and ideas about war and violence. Weaving excerpts from works by Leonardo da Vinci, Plato, Wordsworth, and others, including her own previous work "On Photography", she leads readers on a journey into our own psyches and ways of thinking and viewing the world, and pushes us to examine with conscious knowledge the usage of images. I was especially taken with the idea that it is entirely human to turn away from these pictures of suffering, which are often used as a form of entertainment in the modern world. Sontag rightfully doesn't offer answers or platitudes, but instead indicates a welcoming of our own humanity's foibles as a way to deal with the obligations of conscience and the limits of sympathy.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Sondra McClendon on April 14, 2014
Format: Paperback
How do you cope with violent imagery depicted on the news, in documentaries, and even in fiction? War and violence are pervasive aspects of the culture we live in. In Susan Sontag's Regarding the Pain of Others, the author explores the impact of visual representations of suffering on the world. This book explores the concept of spectacle as it relates to cruelty and violence. Sontag explores photographs from America's Civil War, the attacks on the World Trade Center, racial hate crimes, and other events throughout history.

One of the most compelling features of this book is the opening, which uses an essay written by Virginia Woolf, "Three Guineas," to introduce the reader to the gruesome nature of war. It poses an intriguing question that will make you want to continue reading. Sontag addresses the topic with sincerity and looks beyond the "emblems of suffering" to address the ethics and psychology behind the photos.

Sontag is well-equipped to write this book, which has been researched thoroughly. She studied at major universities like Oxford and Harvard before writing collections of essays and several novels. One of her previous works, "On Photography," also addresses the impact cameras have had on our lives. Here, the focus on images of violence, hits home for me with several lingering questions: does the publication of violent photos encourage the public to oppose war or take a passive position? Do the images objectify the injured in a way that shapes our opinions of their life's value. It also built on my current interest of how photographs have been used in health, and in particular mental health. I am real fan of Sander Gilman's books, of which Face of Madness felt like a real gem but Seeing the Insane is definitely my favorite.
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