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Regarding the Pain of Others Study Guide & Plot Summary

This Study Guide consists of approximately 25 pages of chapter summaries, quotes, character analysis, themes, and more - everything you need to sharpen your knowledge of Regarding the Pain of Others.
This section contains 475 words
(approx. 2 pages at 300 words per page)
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Regarding the Pain of Others Summary & Study Guide Description

Regarding the Pain of Others Summary & Study Guide includes comprehensive information and analysis to help you understand the book. This study guide contains the following sections:

This detailed literature summary also contains Topics for Discussion and a Free Quiz on Regarding the Pain of Others by Susan Sontag.

Plot Summary

In Regarding the Pain of Others, Susan Sontag examines the manner in which war is perceived, taking into account such factors as sex, culture and status. She contends that war imagery is open to both interpretation and manipulation. Sontag rejects the notion that war imagery will necessarily compel a repudiation of war, instead arguing that war is itself perennial.

Sontag claims that a photo's meaning is based on interpretation, perhaps formed of ignorance. Images make events seem "real" to viewers, even as they seem "unreal" in their similarity to art. Images, however, have impeccable veracity to the human mind, representing as they do the basis of empirical truth. Sontag reminds the reader, however, that images are first filtered through image-takers.

Sontag explains that a picture's meaning is derived through a synthesis of artifice, context and experience. The viewer's prior experience and the context of the viewing, all play a part in how meaning is derived. There is also the matter of why the viewer is looking at the image. Sontag claims that people are drawn to images of suffering with an almost sexual interest.

Sontag considers the many ways that war is articulated through images, noting that artifice did not end with the advent of photography. Shots are often staged and events reenacted for the camera. Governments use photojournalists to put a positive face to unpopular wars. In some cases the camera's presence can influence what is captured.

Sontag addresses the issue of censorship with the idea that war photography is, usually, anti-war in nature. Governments clamp down on photojournalism to silence anti-war sentiment. Journalists, meanwhile, participate in a type of self-censorship based on unspoken ideals of "good taste."

Since the majority of people demand objectivity from photography, Sontag considers the subject of authenticity, examining the ways in which photography might be influenced by "art" to incite sentiment in the viewer. Sontag decides that a history based only upon images is a fiction, explaining that a general understanding of history is more important than images pertaining to one historical event.

Sontag revisits humankind's fascination with images of suffering, considering several theories as to why it exists. She notes, however, that interest is not necessarily accompanied with compassion. Viewers are more inclined to feel compassion toward subjects of their own race and nationality. Even so, the role of spectator makes many such viewers feel helpless to act upon what they are seeing.

Sontag recognizes that atrocious images can leave one with a sense of powerlessness, but nevertheless concludes that it is important for people to be aware of what humankind is capable. While each image is a mere token of a larger issue, they collectively represent a broad strokes understanding of mankind's problems. While most people cannot, will not, ever know what it means to suffer such horror, it is important that everyone understand that such nightmares are real.

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This section contains 475 words
(approx. 2 pages at 300 words per page)
Purchase our Regarding the Pain of Others Study Guide
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Regarding the Pain of Others from BookRags and Gale's For Students Series. ©2005-2006 Thomson Gale, a part of the Thomson Corporation. All rights reserved.
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