Susan Sontag Chapter 6

In Susan Sontags writings in chapter 6 she discusses how people are fascinated to disturbing images that depict torment, and mutilated bodies because it arouses a purient interest.  She discusses how despite how gruesome certain images are, we aren’t able to look away and find ourselves oddly fascinated by them.  One example that she gives about us having an odd attraction with disaster and death is the one about a car crash.  When a car crashes on the side of the road, people tend to become excited to see what happened to the car and the people inside.  We as humans have a weird fascination with tragedy, and can’t help but find ourselves intrigued by it.  Plato contributes our attraction to mutilated bodies as a description of mental conflict, and his book examines how the reason may be overwhelmed by an unworthy desire with the self to become angry with part of its nature.

Another example Sontag gives in her book is when she meets a women from Sarajevo who talked about the destruction of her home when the Siberians invaded Croatia.  Her unwillingness to engage with the images of the war from her past are out of fear.  Unlike her, people in America who are privileged and never witnessed war in person want to see these images because they don’t have the proper context of the situation, never having to have actually experienced war ourselves.  The imaginary proximity to suffering of others provides mystification to us and we find ourselves enticed when shown images from war depicting mutilation and death. Edmund Burke also wrote in his book a philosophical enquiry into the origin of our ideas of the sublime and beautiful and said, “there is no spectacle we so eagerly pursue, as that of some uncommon and grievous calamity.”  As humans we are drawn to things that confuse and scare us.  Hazlitt says humans love mischief, love the cruelty, and its as natural as empathy is to humans.  Being privileged people who haven’t actually experienced the tragedies of war makes us unaware of the really pain behind a lot of the work, and which is why it’s so fascinating to us as humans.


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