Led by Professor Tamura, this unit studied texts regarding human suffering and violence, specifically the human desire to look at violence and the innate distance between suffering and its documentation. This post connects two books from the unit by Philip Gourevitch and Susan Sontag.
Sontag & Gourevitch // Suffering & Gaze
These two texts discuss the act of looking at suffering. However, Sontag’s text is more general, with a focus on photography, while Gourevitch’s text is written within the specific context of the Rwandan Genocide. The assigned readings from the two texts connect in that they both discuss the witnessing of tragedy and the implied distance in observation. Sontag argues that photos have an innate distance and that while they may “seek our gaze” with “terrible distinctness”, ultimately, the viewer can never accurately understand the depicted tragedy (63, 135). Gourevitch argues a similar idea, describing the disconnect between the broadcasted images of the genocide and the viewers watching from other countries. The perception of the Rwandan Genocide from outsiders was generally inaccurate. There was confusion as to who was the victim and the murderers and whether to even classify the conflict as a genocide. The disconnect between image and viewer that is argued in Sontag’s text supports the lack of action that is reported in Gourevitch’s text.
Sontag, Susan. 2003. Regarding the pain of others. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
Gourevitch, Philip. 1998. We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with Our Families : Stories from Rwanda. New York: Picador.