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Category Archives: dread

“…the general desire seems to be to make it blank if one cannot make it white. when it has become blank, the past as throoughly washed from the black face as it has been from ours, our guilt will be finished – at least it will have ceased to be visible, which we imagine to be much the same thing.”

– James Baldwin, Notes of a Native Son

“At this moment, the phrase ‘police reform’ has come into vogue, and the actions of our publicly appointed guardians have attracted attention presidential and pedestrian. You may have heard the talk of diversity, sensitivity traning and body cameras. These are all fine and applicable, but they understate the task and allow the citizens of this country to pretend that there is real distance between their own attitudes and those of the ones appointed to protect them. The truth is that the police reflect America in all of its will and fear and whatever we might make of this country’s criminal justice policy, it cannot be said that it was impressed by a repressive minority. The abuses that have followed from these policies are the product of democratic will. And so to challenge the police is to challenge the American people who send them into the ghettos armed with teh same self-generated fears that compelled the people who think they are white to flee teh cities and into the Dream. The problem with the police is not that they are fascist pigs but that our country is ruled by majoritarian pigs.”

– Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me

“I came to see the streets and the schools as arms of the same beast. One enjoyed the official power of the State while the other enjoyed its implicit sanction. But fear and violence were the weaponry of both. Fail in the streets and the crews would catch you slipping and take your body. Fail in the schools and you would be suspended and sent back to those same streets, where they would take your body…. Those who failed in the schools justified their destruction in the streets. The society could say, ‘He should have stayed in school,’ and then wash its hands of him.

“It does not matter that the ‘intentions’ of individual educators were noble…. No one directly proclaimed that schools were designed to sanctify failure and destruction. But a great number of educators spoke of ‘personal responsibility’ in a country authored and sustained by a criminal irresponsibility. The pint of this language of ‘intention’ and ‘personal responsibility’ is broad exoneration. Mistakes were made. Bodies were broken. People were enslaved. We meant well. We tried our best. ‘Good intention’ is a hall pass through history, a sleeping pill that ensures the Dream.”

– Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me

“…how do I live free in this black body? It is a profound question because America understands itself as God’s handiwork, but the black body is the clearest evidence that America is the work of man.”

– Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me

“The rain intensified as we marched from Union Square to Trump Tower… A sign floated above the crowd, flashing red, white and blue in the reflection of police lights: ‘Why Don’t Sexual Assault Victims Come Forward? Because Sometimes We Make Their Attackers the Leader of the Free World.’

“…my freedom was always conditional, and perhaps never very important to anyone but me. I’m afraid that the empathy and respect that I have always had to display to survive as a woman of color will never be required from men or from whites. I understand, now, that I mistook a decrease in active interference for progress toward a world in which my personhood was seen as inextricable from everyone else’s.”

– Jia Tolentino

There was a man of double deed,
Who sowed his garden full of seed;
When the seed began to grow,
‘Twas like a garden full of snow;
When the snow began to melt,
‘Twas like a ship without a belt;
When the ship began to sail,
‘Twas like a bird without a tail;
When the bird began to fly,
‘Twas like an eagle in the sky;
When the sky began to roar,
‘Twas like a lion at my door;
When my door began to crack,
‘Twas like a stick across my back;
When my back began to smart,
‘Twas like a penknife in my heart;
And when my heart began to bleed,
‘Twas death, and death, and death indeed.

Anonymous

” ‘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

“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

“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

“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.

“That a gory battlescape could be beautiful is a commonplace [criticism? sic] 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.

“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. The dual powers of photography – to generate documents and to create works of visual art – have produced some remarkable exaggerations about what photographers ought or ought not to do. Photographs that depict suffering shouldn’t be beautiful, as captions shouldn’t moralize. In this view, a beautiful photograph drains attention from the sobering subject and turns it toward the medium itself, thereby compromising the picture’s status as a document. The photograph gives mixed signals.

“Photographer-witnesses may think it more correct morally to make the spectacular not spectacular. But the spectacular is very much part of the religious narratives by which suffering, throughout most of Western history, has been understood. To feel the pulse of Christian iconography in certain wartime or disaster-time photographs is not a sentimental projection.”

– Susan Sontag, Regarding the Pain of Others

“Generally, the grievously injured bodies shown in published photographs are from Asia or Africa. This journalistic custom inherits the centuries-old practice of exhibiting exotic – that is, colonized – human beings: Africans and denizens of remote Asian countries were displayed like zoo animals in ethnological exhbitions mounted in London, Paris, and other European capitals from the sixteenth until the early twentieth century. The exhibition in photographs of cruelties inflicted on those with darker complexions in exotic countries continues… oblivious to the considerations that deter such displays of our own victims of violence; for the other, even when not an enemy, is regarded only as somone to be seen, not someone (like us) who also sees.”

– Susan Sontag, Regarding the Pain of Others

“The practice of representing atrocious suffering as something to be deplored, and, if possible, stopped, enters the history of images with a specific subject: the sufferings endured by a civilian population at the hands of a victorious army on the rampage. It is a quintessentially secular subject, which emerges in the seventeenth century…

“The ghoulish cruelties in The Disasters of War are meant to awaken, shock, wound the viwer. Goya’s art seems a turning point in the history of moral feelings and of sorrow. With Goya, a new standard of responsiveness to suffering enters art. The account of war’s cruelties is fashioned as an assault on the sensibility of the viewer. The expressive phrases in script below each image comment on the provocation. While the image, like every image, is an invitation to look, the caption insists on the difficulty of doing just that. A voice, presumably the artist’s, badgers the viewer: can you bear to look at this? One caption declares: One can’t look (No se puede mirar). Another says: This is bad (Esto es malo). Another retorts: This is worse (Esto es peor). Another shouts: This is the worst! (Esto es lo peor!). Another declaims: Barbarians! (Barbaros!). What madness! (Que locura!), cries another. And another: Why? (Por que?).”

– Susan Sontag, Regarding the Pain of Others

“What does it mean to protest suffering, as distinct from acknowledging it?

“The iconography of suffering has a long pedigree. The sufferings most often deemed worthy of representation are those understood to be the product of wrath, divine or human… The viewer may commiserate with the sufferer’s pain but these are destinies beyond deploring or contesting.

“It seems that the appetite for pictures showing bodies in pain is as keen, almost, as the desire for ones that show bodies naked. For many centuries, in Christian art, depictions of hell offered both of the elemental satisfactions… There is the satisfaction of being able to look at the image without flinching. There is the pleasure of flinching.

“…the gruesome invites us to be either spectators or cowards. Those with the stomach to look are playing a role authorized by many glorious depictions of suffering. Torment, a canonical subject in art, is often represented in painting as a spectacle, something being watched by other people.

“…Edmund Burke observed that people like to look at images of suffering. ‘I am convinced we have a degree of delight, and that no small one, in the real misfortunes and pains of others,’ he wrote in A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful. ‘There is no spectacle we so eagerly pursue, as that of some uncommon and grievous calamity.’ William Hazlitt, in his essay on Shakespeare’s Iago and the attraction of villainy on the stage, asks, ‘Why do we always read the accounts in the newspapers of dreadful fires and shocking murders?’ Because, he answers, ‘love of mischief,’ love of cruelty, is as natural to human beings as is sympathy.”

– Susan Sontag, Regarding the Pain of Others

“One finds in the midst of all this as hard to apply one’s words as to endure one’s thoughts. The war has used up words; they have weakened, they have deteriorated.”

– Henry James

“Photographs of the victims of war are themselves a species of rhetoric. They reiterate. They simplify. They agitate. They create the illusion of consensus.

“The destructiveness of war – short of total destruction, which is not war but suicide – is not in itself an argument against waging war unless one thinks (as few people actually do think) that violence is always unjustifiable, that force is always and in all circumstances wrong – wrong because, as Simone Weil affirms in her sublime essay on war, ‘The Iliad, or The Poem of Force’ (1940), violence turns anybody subjected to it into a thing…

“Photographs of an atrocity may give rise to opposing responses. A call for peace. A cry for revenge. Or simply the bemused awareness, continually restocked by photographic information, that terrible things happen.”

– Susan Sontag, Regarding the Pain of Others

“All photographs wait to be explained or falsified by their captions. During the fighting between Serbs and Croats at the beginning of the recent Balkan wars, the same photographs of children killed in the shelling of a village were passed around at both Serb and Croat propaganda briefings. Alter the caption, and the children’s deaths coul dbe used and reused.”

– Susan Sontag, Regarding the Pain of Others

“Trying to understand racist malignancy only feeds it, makes it balloon-fat and lofty floating high overhead fearful of sinking to earth where a blade of grass could puncture it letting its watery feces soil the entralled audience the way mold ruins piano keys both black and white, sharp and flat to produce a dirge of its decay.”

– Toni Morrison, God Help the Child

“…lonely people are usually lonely not because of hideous deformity or odor or obnoxiousness… Lonely people tend, rather, to be lonely because they decline to bear the psychic costs of being around other humans. They are allergic to people. People affect them too strongly.”

David Foster Wallace, “E Unibus Pluram”