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“I don’t think of myself at my core, as cynical. So much of it is location. Who is Muslim? WHo is a Catholic? Who is a Christian? Who’s Buddhist? Ninety-nine-point-nine percent of it is where you happen to be born. So how can one be right and another be wrong? It seems pretty clear to me that it’s a coping mechanism for people who cannot handle the not knowing of things. I am okay knowing I will never be able to comprehend the world.”

– Sarah Silverman

“Our world is mostly mapped, its common species mostly named. For a while, video games filled the gap, presenting new, uncharted virtual lands to satisfy players’ wanderlust…. Why do we explore? There’s the thrill of novelty, sure, but in some baser part of the brain, below the realm of language, the game demonstrates that we are also drawn to the promise of finding somewhere better.”

– Simon Parkin, “All Alone in No Man’s Sky

“If I’ve learned anything getting older, it’s the value of moment-to-moment enjoyment. When I was young, all my career was ‘If I do well tonight, that means that Wednesday will be better. That means I can give this tape to my agent and…’ It was this ongoing chess game. And that is a really disappointing game, because when you get to checkmate, it never feels like it should. And there’s another board that they never told you about.”

– Albert Brooks

“Harry Nilsson used to say the definition of an artist was someone who rode way ahead of the herd and was sort of the lookout. You don’t have to be that, to be an artist. You can be right smack-dab in the middle of the herd. If you are, you’ll be the richest.”

– Albert Brooks

“When you’re testing a movie, if it’s a comedy, you hear the laughs and you go, That scene works. But if it’s a sad scene and you’ve watched it two hundred times, it’s a little trickier to go, How did we do there? Did you feel something? I wish there was a noise for feeling. Then I could go, Okay, they made the weird noise.

– Judd Apatow

” ‘It won’t bring them back,’ Will said, ‘to merely complain.’

” ‘But it will,’ Gob said. ‘Don’t you understand? What’s grief if not a profound complaint? It’s what the engine will do; it will complain. It will greive with mechnical efficiency and mechanical strength. It will grieve for my brother and for your brother and for the six hundred thousand dead of the war. It will grieve for all the dead of history, and all the dead of the future. Man’s grief does nothing to bring them back, but just as man’s hands cannot move mountains, but man’s machines can, our machine will grieve away the boundaries between this world and the next. And then, sure as the rails run to California, the way will be open.’ ”

– Chris Adrian, Gob’s Grief

“I wondered if the American penchant for self-invention was somehow related to the seminal immigrant experience, in which one had to renounce the past, give up the old culture, language, history, religion, even one’s birth name, and replace the old self with American ideals, language, a new name and new ways.

“A major aim in writing Accordion Crimes was to show the powerful government and social pressures on foreigners that forced them into the so-called melting pot. The social pressures were enormous, and the cost of assimilation was staggering for the immigrants—their lives were often untimely truncated. They did not belong, they were ridiculed outsiders, they worked at the most miserable and dangerous jobs. They gave up personal identification and respect. The successes went to their children, the first generation of American-born. These American children commonly rejected the values, clothing, language, religion, food, music of their parents in their zeal to be 100 percent American.”

– Annie Proulx

“Metaphors — a complex subject. What is involved in constructing them seems not so much a matter of seeking similitude or trying for explanation or description as multilevel word and image play. Metaphors set up echoes and reflections, not only of tone and color but of meaning in the story. The use of running metaphors in a piece — all related in some way to indigestion or water or loneliness or roller skates, or with a surrealistic or violent cast — will guide the reader in a particular direction as surely as stock can be herded. For me, metaphors come in sheets of three or four at once, in floods, and so metaphor use often concerns selection rather than construction. There are private layers of meaning in metaphor that may be obscure to the reader but which have —beyond the general accepted meanings of the words — resonance for the writer through personal associations of language, ideas, impressions. So the writer may be using metaphor to guide the reader and deepen the story, for subtle effects but also for sheer personal pleasure in word play.

“I was very young, about three years old, when introduced to metaphor, and I remember the first sharp pleasure I felt in playing what seemed a kind of game. I was with my mother in the kitchen of our small house. Classical music came out of the radio. I was not consciously listening until my mother, who was a skilled watercolorist, said, ‘What does this music make you think about, what do you see?’ Immediately I translated the music I heard into an image. ‘A bishop running through the woods,’ I answered. I had no idea what a bishop was but liked the word for its conjunction of hiss and hiccup. What the music made me see in my mind’s eye was a tall, glassy, salt-cellar figure — the bishop — gliding through a dark forest dappled with round spots of light. The connections of perception between the sounds of the music and the image of trees / slipping figure / broken light had been made. Thereafter, and forever more, I found myself constantly involved in metaphoric observation.”

– Annie Proulx

“Writing is thinking. To write well is to think clearly. That’s why it is so hard.”

– David McCullough

“The cradle rocks above an abyss, and common sense tells us that our existence is but a brief crack of light between two eternities of darkness. Although the two are identical twins, man, as a rule, views the prenatal abyss with more calm than the one he is heading for (at some forty-five hundred heartbeats an hour). I know, however, of a young chronophobiac who experience something like panic when looking for the first time at homemade movies that had been taken a few weeks before his birth… What particularly frightened him was the sight of a brand-new baby carriage standing there on the porch, with the smug, encroaching air of a coffin; even that was empty, as if, in the reverse course of events, his very bones had disintegrated.

“Nature expects a full-grown man to accept the two black voids, fore and aft, as stolidly as he accepts the extraordinary visions in between. Imagination, the supreme delight of the immortal and the immature, should be limited. In order to enjoy life, we should not enjoy it too much…

“Over and over again, my mind has made colossal efforts to distinguish the faintest of personal glimmers in the impersonal darkness on both sides of my life. That this darkness is caused merely by the walls of time separating me and my bruised fists from the free world of timeless is a belief I gladly share with the most gaudily painted savage.”

– Nabokov, Speak, Memory

“The states when they black out and lie there rolling when they turn
To something transcontinental move by drawing moonlight out of the great
One-sided stone hung off the starboard wingtip some sleeper next to
An engine is groaning for coffee and there is faintly coming in
Somewhere the vast beast-whistle of space. In the galley with its racks
Of trays she rummages for a blanket and moves in her slim tailored
Uniform to pin it over the cry at the top of the door. As though she blew

The door down with a silent blast from her lungs frozen she is black
Out finding herself with the plane nowhere and her body taken by the throat
The undying cry of the void falling living beginning to be something
That no one has ever been and lived through screaming without enough air
Still neat lipsticked stockinged girdled by regulation her hat
Still on her arms and legs in no world and yet spaced also strangely
With utter placid rightness on thin air taking her time she holds it
In many places and now, still thousands of feet from her death she seems
To slow she develops interest she turns in her maneuverable body

To watch it. She is hung high up in the overwhelming middle of things in her
Self in low body-whistling wrapped intensely in all her dark dance-weight
Coming down from a marvellous leap with the delaying, dumfounding ease
Of a dream of being drawn like endless moonlight to the harvest soil
Of a central state of one’s country with a great gradual warmth coming
Over her floating finding more and more breath in what she has been using
For breath as the levels become more human seeing clouds placed honestly
Below her left and right riding slowly toward them she clasps it all
To her and can hang her hands and feet in it in peculiar ways and
Her eyes opened wide by wind, can open her mouth as wide wider and suck
All the heat from the cornfields can go down on her back with a feeling
Of stupendous pillows stacked under her and can turn turn as to someone
In bed smile, understood in darkness can go away slant slide
Off tumbling into the emblem of a bird with its wings half-spread
Or whirl madly on herself in endless gymnastics in the growing warmth
Of wheatfields rising toward the harvest moon. There is time to live
In superhuman health seeing mortal unreachable lights far down seeing
An ultimate highway with one late priceless car probing it arriving
In a square town and off her starboard arm the glitter of water catches
The moon by its one shaken side scaled, roaming silver My God it is good
And evil lying in one after another of all the positions for love
Making dancing sleeping and now cloud wisps at her no
Raincoat no matter all small towns brokenly brighter from inside
Cloud she walks over them like rain bursts out to behold a Greyhound
Bus shooting light through its sides it is the signal to go straight
Down like a glorious diver then feet first her skirt stripped beautifully
Up her face in fear-scented cloths her legs deliriously bare then
Arms out she slow-rolls over steadies out waits for something great
To take control of her trembles near feathers planes head-down
The quick movements of bird-necks turning her head gold eyes the insight-
eyesight of owls blazing into the hencoops a taste for chicken overwhelming
Her the long-range vision of hawks enlarging all human lights of cars
Freight trains looped bridges enlarging the moon racing slowly
Through all the curves of a river all the darks of the midwest blazing
From above. A rabbit in a bush turns white the smothering chickens
Huddle for over them there is still time for something to live
With the streaming half-idea of a long stoop a hurtling a fall
That is controlled that plummets as it wills turns gravity
Into a new condition, showing its other side like a moon shining
New Powers there is still time to live on a breath made of nothing
But the whole night time for her to remember to arrange her skirt
Like a diagram of a bat tightly it guides her she has this flying-skin
Made of garments and there are also those sky-divers on tv sailing
In sunlight smiling under their goggles swapping batons back and forth
And He who jumped without a chute and was handed one by a diving
Buddy. She looks for her grinning companion white teeth nowhere
She is screaming singing hymns her thin human wings spread out
From her neat shoulders the air beast-crooning to her warbling
And she can no longer behold the huge partial form of the world now
She is watching her country lose its evoked master shape watching it lose
And gain get back its houses and peoples watching it bring up
Its local lights single homes lamps on barn roofs if she fell
Into water she might live like a diver cleaving perfect plunge

Into another heavy silver unbreathable slowing saving
Element: there is water there is time to perfect all the fine
Points of diving feet together toes pointed hands shaped right
To insert her into water like a needle to come out healthily dripping
And be handed a Coca-Cola there they are there are the waters
Of life the moon packed and coiled in a reservoir so let me begin
To plane across the night air of Kansas opening my eyes superhumanly
Bright to the damned moon opening the natural wings of my jacket
By Don Loper moving like a hunting owl toward the glitter of water
One cannot just fall just tumble screaming all that time one must use
It
she is now through with all through all clouds damp hair
Straightened the last wisp of fog pulled apart on her face like wool revealing
New darks new progressions of headlights along dirt roads from chaos

And night a gradual warming a new-made, inevitable world of one’s own
Country a great stone of light in its waiting waters hold hold out
For water: who knows when what correct young woman must take up her body
And fly and head for the moon-crazed inner eye of midwest imprisoned
Water stored up for her for years the arms of her jacket slipping
Air up her sleeves to go all over her? What final things can be said
Of one who starts her sheerly in her body in the high middle of night
Air to track down water like a rabbit where it lies like life itself
Off to the right in Kansas? She goes toward the blazing-bare lake
Her skirts neat her hands and face warmed more and more by the air
Rising from pastures of beans and under her under chenille bedspreads
The farm girls are feeling the goddess in them struggle and rise brooding
On the scratch-shining posts of the bed dreaming of female signs
Of the moon male blood like iron of what is really said by the moan
Of airliners passing over them at dead of midwest midnight passing
Over brush fires burning out in silence on little hills and will wake
To see the woman they should be struggling on the rooftree to become
Stars: for her the ground is closer water is nearer she passes
It then banks turns her sleeves fluttering differently as she rolls
Out to face the east, where the sun shall come up from wheatfields she must
Do something with water fly to it fall in it drink it rise
From it but there is none left upon earth the clouds have drunk it back
The plants have sucked it down there are standing toward her only
The common fields of death she comes back from flying to falling
Returns to a powerful cry the silent scream with which she blew down
The coupled door of the airliner nearly nearly losing hold
Of what she has done remembers remembers the shape at the heart
Of cloud fashionably swirling remembers she still has time to die
Beyond explanation. Let her now take off her hat in summer air the contour
Of cornfields and have enough time to kick off her one remaining
Shoe with the toes of the other foot to unhook her stockings
With calm fingers, noting how fatally easy it is to undress in midair
Near death when the body will assume without effort any position
Except the one that will sustain it enable it to rise live
Not die nine farms hover close widen eight of them separate, leaving
One in the middle then the fields of that farm do the same there is no
Way to back off from her chosen ground but she sheds the jacket
With its silver sad impotent wings sheds the bat’s guiding tailpiece
Of her skirt the lightning-charged clinging of her blouse the intimate
Inner flying-garment of her slip in which she rides like the holy ghost
Of a virgin sheds the long windsocks of her stockings absurd
Brassiere then feels the girdle required by regulations squirming
Off her: no longer monobuttocked she feels the girdle flutter shake
In her hand and float upward her clothes rising off her ascending
Into cloud and fights away from her head the last sharp dangerous shoe
Like a dumb bird and now will drop in SOON now will drop

In like this the greatest thing that ever came to Kansas down from all
Heights all levels of American breath layered in the lungs from the frail
Chill of space to the loam where extinction slumbers in corn tassels thickly
And breathes like rich farmers counting: will come along them after
Her last superhuman act the last slow careful passing of her hands
All over her unharmed body desired by every sleeper in his dream:
Boys finding for the first time their loins filled with heart’s blood
Widowed farmers whose hands float under light covers to find themselves
Arisen at sunrise the splendid position of blood unearthly drawn
Toward clouds all feel something pass over them as she passes
Her palms over her long legs her small breasts and deeply between
Her thighs her hair shot loose from all pins streaming in the wind
Of her body let her come openly trying at the last second to land
On her back This is it THIS
All those who find her impressed
In the soft loam gone down driven well into the image of her body
The furrows for miles flowing in upon her where she lies very deep
In her mortal outline in the earth as it is in cloud can tell nothing
But that she is there inexplicable unquestionable and remember
That something broke in them as well and began to live and die more
When they walked for no reason into their fields to where the whole earth
Caught her interrupted her maiden flight told her how to lie she cannot
Turn go away cannot move cannot slide off it and assume another
Position no sky-diver with any grin could save her hold her in his arms
Plummet with her unfold above her his wedding silks she can no longer
Mark the rain with whirling women that take the place of a dead wife
Or the goddess in Norwegian farm girls or all the back-breaking whores
Of Wichita. All the known air above her is not giving up quite one
Breath it is all gone and yet not dead not anywhere else
Quite lying still in the field on her back sensing the smells
Of incessant growth try to lift her a little sight left in the corner
Of one eye fading seeing something wave lies believing
That she could have made it at the best part of her brief goddess
State to water gone in headfirst come out smiling invulnerable
Girl in a bathing-suit ad but she is lying like a sunbather at the last
Of moonlight half-buried in her impact on the earth not far
From a railroad trestle a water tank she could see if she could
Raise her head from her modest hole with her clothes beginning
To come down all over Kansas into bushes on the dewy sixth green
Of a golf course one shoe her girdle coming down fantastically
On a clothesline, where it belongs her blouse on a lightning rod:

Lies in the fields in this field on her broken back as though on
A cloud she cannot drop through while farmers sleepwalk without
Their women from houses a walk like falling toward the far waters
Of life in moonlight toward the dreamed eternal meaning of their farms
Toward the flowering of the harvest in their hands that tragic cost
Feels herself go go toward go outward breathes at last fully
Not and tries less once tries tries ah, GOD—”

– James L. Dickey, “Falling”

“The first two rooms she looked in were empty. But in the room called Sage she found all three anorexics gathered together vomiting in the moonlight. Their families were all gone; none of them had been the sort to get many visitors, especially during bad weather. They had only each other and Thelma, whose great wonderful fatness they could look at no longer than they could stare into the sun. They restricted more and more, and as the weeks passed began to binge, something all three, high, pure anorexics, who had defeatedt their bodies by becoming creatures of pure will, would have disdained in the dry world…

“By the time Jemma visited them they had made themselves ghastly-beautiful. From the door she saw them gathered under the window, around a plastic tub that stored toys by the bushel in the playrooms. They held hands and brusehd up against one another languidly, arching their necks and throwing back their heads to swallow their fingers before adding another unit of barf to the big bucket. They were surrounded by the remains of their feast, vanilla-ice-cream puddles glowing in glass dishes shaped like leaves; candy-bar wrappers in neat heaps; chicken skin and chicken fat glistening in patches aorund them in a circle, and bones under their feet. Jemma trod on two large cupcakes as she approached them, her green hands clasped behind her back. They did not notice her until she ws quite close. their pajamas, altered, short, hanging dresses of sage, pumpkin, and ocher, and their hair, brittle but long and styled with particular care into identical sets of heaped and cascading curls, their dramatic poses, their bare feet among bones, their long, sharp nails, and finally their number all gave them an ancient Greek air; though they were exquisitely frail, and close to dying, they seemed as powerful as they were pathetic, three purgies discharging their eternal duty. Jemma, nearly upon them, felt a little afraid, but still laughed out loud. They all turned at once, and spoke from left to right.

” ‘It’s a stomach flu,’ said the first one, defiantly. ‘Who are you?’ asked the second, more meek. The third, finger in mouth, merely stared.

” ‘I am the great fatty,’ Jemma announced, then brought her hands forward, and struck. Green fire spilled into the air as she grabbed at them. They all shrieked identically, and tried to escape, but she was too close for them to eavde her, and they were too weak to break away. They were so thin she could hold all of them in her arms. In three blows she made them right, all four of them burning together. First she restored their organs, heart and lungs and guts ruined with months of self-consumption; no sooner had she wanted it done than it was done, the three girly shrieks climbing into song as Jemma pushed with her mind and her spirit. Then she restored their flesh. She filled them with fire that burned for an instant and was gone, leaving muscle and fat in its place; they popped out of her arms, but remained bound to her by fire. Lastly she restored their minds – already they felt covered with abomination. She weeded their brains, reaching in with fire fingers to rip out that perception; right or wrong, truth or distortion, it was hers to command, and must come out with her, and when she commanded it to scatter on the dark air it must do it.

“When she released them they threw up their arms, as if in praise or surrender, and then fell to the ground, strong bones cushioned by newly upholstered fat. She left them sleeping beside the vomit tub, scattering candy wrappers back and forth between them with their breath. She wiped her feet and moved on.”

– Chris Adrian, The Children’s Hospital

“I see him, too. Oh yes, hello little thing. It wasn’t really so long ago when there seemed to me no greater disaster than a baby in the womb, a seed of corruption and an innocent who would be abused even by the very air of his first breath. Go back! Undivide, involute, and shrink back to safety… Still, I listen, and speak. Hello, little one. Let me be the one to tell you it is finally good news again, to be born.”

– Chris Adrian, The Children’s Hospital

“It all comes from me – circles and circles of corruption and regret and depravity, but before it was in me it was in them – my mother and my father. And before it was in them it was in their parents. And I say – and everyone says – I will not put it in my chid, and yet everybody does. I make promises, I keep lists: this and this and this I will surely never do, because I never want to uncover in my child the sort of hatred my parents uncover in me with even the most innocent and benevolent action. But as surely as the moon rises and the sun sets, depravity passes down through the ages, because there is always a gap between who we are and who we should be, and our parents, molested by regret, conceive us under the false hope that we will be better than them, and everything they do, every hug and blow, only makes certain that we never will be.”

– Chris Adrian, The Children’s Hospital

“Mortals covet. They covet flavorful tea and dark chocolate and silver ladles and fluffy comforters and the fat bottoms of women bending over to tie a shoe. They covet wide green fields and open skies and even hulking mountains of ice and stone. Nothing – nothing in creation has ever been safe from them.”

– Chris Adrian, The Children’s Hospital

“Praise their ignorance, my sister sings.
Praise their fear, I sing.
Praise their hatred.
Praise their envy.
Praise their bitter grief.
Praise them and put them aside.
They are eating the last tainted bread of the earth.
Praise their unhappy fate.
And praise their hours of joy.
Praise their good work.
And praise the sickness of children.
Praise all the tumors.
And praise the bad blood.
Praise the tired livers.
Praise the ailing spleens.
And praise the high colonic ruin.
Praise the drowning waters.
And all the drowned beneath them…”

– Chris Adrian, The Children’s Hospital

“To designate a hell is not 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. Someone who is perennially surprised that depravity exists, who continues to feel disillusioned (even incredulous) when confronted with evidence of what humans are capable of inflicting in the way of gruesome, hands-on cruelties upon other humans, has not reached moral or psychological adulthood.

“No one after a certain age has the right to this kin dof innocence, of superficiality, to this degree of ignorance, or amnesia.

“There now exists a vast repository of images that make it harder to maintain this kind of moral defectiveness. Let the atrocious images haunt us. Even if they are only tokens, and cannot possibly encompass most of the reality to which they refer, they still perform a vital function. The images say: This is what human beings are capable of doing – may volunteer to do, enthusiastically, self-righteously. Don’t forget.

“This is not quite the same as asking people to remember a particularly monstrous bout of evil. Perhaps too much value is assigned to memory, not enough to thinking. Remembering is an ethical act, has ethical value in and of itself. Memory is, achingly, the only relation we can have with the dead. Heartlessness and amnesia seem to go together. But history gives contradictory signals about the value of remembering. There is simply too much injustice in the world. And too much remembering embitters. To make peace is to forget. To reconcile, it is necessary that memory be faulty and limited.

“If the goal is having some space in which to live one’s own life, then it is desirable that the account of specific injustices dissolve into a more general understanding that human beings everywhere do terrible things to one another.”

– Susan Sontag, Regarding the Pain of Others

“People can turn off not just because a steady diet of images of violence has made them indifferent but because they are afraid. It is because, say, the war in Bosnia didn’t stop, because leaders claimed it was an intractable situation, that people abroad may have switched off the terrible images. It is because a war doesn’t seem as if it can be stopped that people become less responsive to the horrors. 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.

“And it is not necessarily better to be moved. Sentimentality, notoriously, is entirely compatible with a taste for brutality and worse… If we consider what emotions would be desirable, it seems too simple to elect sympathy… 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. It can be (for all our good intentions) an impertinent – if not inappropriate – response. To set aside the sympathy we extend to others beset by war and murderous politics for a reflection of how our privileges are located on the same map as their suffering, and may 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.

“…It is often asserted that ‘the West’ has increasingly come to see war itself as a spectacle. To speak of reality becoming a spectacle is a breathtaking provincialism. It universalizes the viewing habits of a small, educated population living the rich part of the world, where news has been converted into entertainement. It suggests, perversely, unseriously, that there is no real suffering in the world. But it is absurd to identify the world with those zones in the well-off countries where people have the dubious privilege of being spectators, or of declining to be spectators of other people’s pain, just as it is absurd to respond to the sufferings of others on the basis of the mind-set of those consumers of news who know nothing at first hand about war and massive injustice and terror. There are hundreds of millions of television watchers who are far from inured to what they see on television. They do not have the luxury of patronizing reality.

“It has become a cliche of the cosmopolitan discussion of images of atrocity to assume that they have little effect, and that there is something innately cynical about their diffusion. As important as people now believe images of war to be, this does not dispel the suspicion that lingers about the interest in these images, and the intentions of those who produce them. Such a reaction comes from two extremes of the spectrum: from cynics who have never been near a war, and from the war-weary who are enduring the miseries of being photographed.

“Citizens of modernity, consumers of violence as spectacle, adepts of proximity without risk, are schooled to be cynical about the possibility of sincerity. Some people will do anything to keep themselves from being moved. How much easier, from one’s chair, far from danger, to claim the position of superiority. In fact, deriding the efforts of those who have borne witness in war zones as ‘war tourism’ is such a reccurent judgment that it has spilled over into the discussion of war photography as a profession.

“…That news about war is now disseminated worldwide does not mean that the capacity to think about the suffering of people far away is significantly larger. In modern life – a life in which there is a superfluity of things to which we are invited to pay attention – it seems normal to turn away from images that simply make us feel bad. But it is probably not true that people are responding less.

“That we are not totally transformed, that we can turn away, turn the page, switch the channel, does not impugn the ethical value of an assault by images. It is not a defect that we are not seared, that we do not suffer enough, when we see these images. Neither is the photograph supposed to repair our ignorance about the history and causes of the suffering it picks out and frames. Such images cannot be more than an invitation to pay attention, to reflect, to learn, to examine the rationalizations for mass suffering offered by established powers. Who caused what the picture shows? Who is responsible? Is it excusable? Was it inevitable? Is there some state of affairs which we have accepted up to now that ought to be challenged? All this, with the understanding that moral indignation, like compassion, cannot dictate a course of action.”

– Susan Sontag, Regarding the Pain of Others

“Photographs of the suffering and martyrdom of a people are more than reminders of death, of failure, of victimization. They invoke the miracle of survival. To aim at the perpetuation of memories means, inevitably, that one has undertaken the task of continually renewing, of creating, memories – aided by the impress of iconic photographs. People want to be able to visit their memories. Now many victim peoples want a memory museum, a temple that houses a comprehensive, chronologically organized, illustrated narrative of their sufferings…

“But why is there not already, in the nation’s capital, a Museum of the History of Slavery? This is a memory judged too dangerous to social stability ot activate and to create. The Holocaust Memorial Museum and the future Armenian Genocide Museum and Memorial are about what didn’t happen in America, so the meory-work doesn’t risk arousing an embittered domestic population against authority. To have a museum chronicling the great crime that was African slavery would be to acknowledge that the evil was here. Americans prefer to picture the evil that was there, and from which the United States is exempt. That this country, like every other country, has a tragic past does not sit well with the founding, and still all-powerful, belief in American exceptionalism. The national consensus on American history as a history of progress is a new setting for distressing photographs – one that focuses our attention on wrongs, both here and elsewhere, for which America sees itself as the solution or cure.

“The familiarity of certain photographs builds our sense of the present and immediate past. Photographs lay down routes of reference, and serve as totems of causes: sentiment is more likely to crystallize around a photograph than around a verbal slogan. And photographs help construct – and revise – our sense of a more distant past. Photographs that everyone recognizes are now a constituent part of what a society chooses to think about. It calls these ideas ‘memories,’ and that is, over the long run, a fiction.

“All memory is individual, unreproducible – it dies with each person. What is called collective memory is not a remembering but a stipulating: that this is important, and this is the story about how it happened, with teh pictures that lock the story in our minds. Ideologies create substantiating archives of images, representative images, which encapsulate common ideas of significance and trigger predictable thoughts, feelings. They commemorate, in no less blunt fashion than postage stamps, Important Historical Moments; indeed, the triumphalist ones become postage stamps.”

– Susan Sontag, Regarding the Pain of Others