Notes On Attention Paid

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02 Regarding the Pain of Others, Chapter 6 Susan Sontag

All images that display the violation of an attractive body are, to a certain degree, pornographic. But images of the repulsive can also allure. Everyone knows that what slows down highway traffic going past a horrendous car crash is not only curiosity. It is also, for many, the wish to see something gruesome. Calling such wishes “morbid” suggests a rare aberration, but the attraction to such sights is not rare, and is a perennial source of inner torment.1

… all of it, but especially that violations of an attractive body are pornographic, that is, sexual, we respond sexually… why?… we feel guilty over this, i have…

… Georges Bataille, a great theorist of the erotic… kept a photograph taken in China or a man being dismembered and flayed on his desk… he found it both ecstatic and intolerable…2

… Sontag points out the religious nature of a fascination with suffering and its elevation to the ecstatic… one endures what one endures for a higher ideal…

… Sontag notes the growing indifference, the growing entertainment value of violence in mass culture…

… we can be brought images of suffering from far away, but it is easy to turn away from them, not do what we are being asked to do, because we are warm and safe and, at the end of the day, we are mostly impotent to help, what part of our resources we are willing to devote to assuaging cruelty, our consciences, is limited for most of us…

So far as we feel sympathy, we feel we are not accomplices to what caused the suffering. Our sympathy proclaims our innocence as well as our impotence.(Ibid)

… and…

To set aside the sympathy we extend to others beset by war and murderous politics for a reflection on how our privileges are located on the same map as their suffering, and may—in ways we might prefer not to imagine—be linked to their suffering, as the wealth of some may imply the destitution of others, is a task for which the painful, stirring images supply only an initial spark.3


  1. Sontag, Susan. Regarding the Pain of Others (pp. 95-96). Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Kindle Edition. [return]
  2. Ibid. [return]
  3. Ibid. [return]