Susan Sontag questions the empathy for which we, notably from this reader's perspective as an American, question the well being of affairs abroad and as so foreign policy. The book highlights importantly how war in nations far away our own, or even close, affect our perceptions of the world and how we should attack them aesthetically. The book makes a sound argument for photography being the strongest representation of humanity maiming one another for causes out of their control and causes directly in the control of their superiors. I personally limit this not just to war itself.. as a possible means of not acknowledging it.. even though it is clearly there.
But I acknowledge natural disaster and economic woes as well. The latter can be attributed to war (not argument here) but a tsunami on Pacific shores certainly cannot. So how do we treat these then? Even the pain not caused by a firm hand (war) but arguably God's hand (natural disaster) out of control? Where do we feel more empathy than the other? Do we look at pain caused by war with more disgust because we can control it, or ignore it more because its a construct of humanity and we can't 'look at ourselves' that way? Just the same with natural disaster... look firmly with lament because no one is to blame for it or turn away because for the very same reason?
Its hard to look, yes. But its the 21st damn century.
You can write these people 'get well' cards for 5 minutes.
There's no guilt in looking at these images. No one's to blame.
In regard with Susan Sontag's "Regarding the Pain of Others", I notice a strong characteristic of photography (more specifically, the documentative photography witnessed) that removes the artist his/herself from their perception of fantasy and places it in a realm of reality. Even going so far as to give the artist another occupation from the certain techniques these daunting images need to be handled. It could be asked if photographer or documentarian is a blanket term for a certain amount of emotional or social counseling, and thus, having empathy for pain of others.
A quote on page 42. "Perhaps the only people with the right to look at images of suffering of this extreme order are those who could do something to alleviate it- say, the surgeons at the military hospital where the photograph was taken- or those who could learn from it." The more this fermented in my mind, the more being a photographer in this postmodern or 'reality' era entails stepping outside of the self as an artist and accepting alternative occupations for proper rendering of this newfangled reality.
It could be argued concerning pain for other's through art is a form of being a lawyer… in which one might, against their natural or cosmic self, have to side with an erroneous or painful thought in order to prosper in society. Just as with the surgeon analogy… analyzing the organs which should not be seen by any decent human but themselves.
Surgeons. Artists of the ongoing 21st century?
In a precarious time of growing war and dystopia?
A book read too by this collective panel is "The Railway Journey" by Wolfgang Schievelbusch. In regard to this statement, the book makes a bold claim about the annihilation of time and space in between cities through the development of the steam engine through the 19th century. This is relevant in the 21st century, for with the death of space in between spaces, the idea of taking time to create an artistic or even romantic sense of fantasy is becoming more difficult to attain. Immediacy is key, especially in a precarious world, leaving not just the artist to render but the nearest possible citizen to analyze the proverbial spectacle, or flavor of the month.
The discerning of the photographer as an occupation from all other occupations becomes more and more difficult as the craft itself is commodified. This could be argued for all art as well, I suppose, in an age of DIY. The question I might pose, that is if photographers (or artists) who want to empathize with the pain of the world, can they accept the ideology or technique of another job's purposes to truly 'feel sorry for' or can they simply be the machine and no more?
This robot clearly doesn't have feelings.
Perhaps its up to the person operating
the robot to give it feelings. Like in that
episode where he was implanted with an
empathy chip and went into the sewers..
In the end, the Marxist's believed that art should not be contained without the self in fantasy (Sontag argues that to be part of the issue) but out in public as art imitating life and sharing a collective whole imagination with society. We could even throw a big part of that aside. It shouldn't even be a question if art should or should not have feelings for humans or even things. Humans always should. Prime rule. For modernists and post-modernists alike. Its hard for either class to go against the grain so vehemently.. as in life.