Thursday, March 05, 2009

Susan Sontag

from Regarding the Pain of Others

Ch 5

“That a gory battlescape could be beautiful—in the sublime or awesome or tragic register of the beautiful—is a commonplace about images of war made by artists. The idea does not sit well when applied to images taken by cameras: to find beauty in war photographs seems heartless. But the landscape of devastation is still a landscape. There is beauty in ruins…Photographs tend to transform, whatever their subject; and as an image something may be beautiful—or terrifying, or unbearable, or quite bearable—as it is not in real life” (76).

“Transforming is what art does, but photography that bears witness to the calamitous and the reprehensible is much criticized if it seems “aesthetic”; that is, too much like art” (76).

Ch 6

“One can feel obliged to look at photographs that record great cruelties and crimes. One should feel obliged to think about what it means to look at them…” (95).

“Compassion is an unstable emotion. It needs to be translated into action, or it withers. The question is what to do with the feelings that have been aroused, the knowledge that has been communicated” (101).

Ch 8

“To designate a hell is not, of course, to tell us anything about how to extract people from that hell, how to moderate hell’s flames. Still, it seems a good in itself to acknowledge, to have enlarged, one’s sense of how much suffering caused by human wickedness there is in the world we share with others” (114).

“The images say: This is what human beings are capable of doing—may volunteer to do, enthusiastically, self-righteously. Don’t forget” (115).

“Perhaps too much value is assigned to memory, not enough to thinking” (115).

Judith Butler

from Undoing Gender

“If I have any agency, it is opened up by the fact that I am constituted by a social world I never chose. That my agency is riven with paradox does not mean it is impossible. It means only that paradox is the condition of its possibility” (3).

“As a result, the “I” that I am finds itself at once constituted by norms and dependent on them but also endeavors to live in ways that maintain a critical and transformative relation to them. This is not easy because the “I” becomes, to a certain extent unknowable, threatened with unviability, with becoming undone altogether, when it no longer incorporates the norm in such a way that makes this “I” fully recognizable” (3).

“I may feel that without some recognizability I cannot live. But I may also feel that the terms by which I am recognized make life unlivable. This is the juncture from which critique emerges, where critique is understood as an interrogation of the terms by which life is constrained in order to open up the possibility of different modes of living; in other words, not to celebrate difference as such but to establish more inclusive conditions for sheltering and maintaining life that resists models of assimilation” (4).

Butler responds to the question of the usefulness of “increasing possibilities for gender” that “possibility is not a luxury; it is as crucial as bread. I think we should not underestimate what the thought of the possible does for those for whom they very issue of survival is most urgent” (29).