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<nettime> Susan Sontag on The Photographs
eveline lubbers on Wed, 26 May 2004 02:54:27 +0200 (CEST)


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<nettime> Susan Sontag on The Photographs



Following the posting on the pornographic associations
the Abu Ghraib images referred to, I would like to invite
you to read this long & winding article by Susan Sontag about 
the meaning of these pictures, the West, the banality of evil,
on photograping horror, the essence of the digital age, all
modern (media) theory in one.
A few quotes.
grz
eveline


What have we done? 
Susan Sontag

Monday May 24, 2004
The Guardian 
http://media.guardian.co.uk/broadcast/comment/0,7493,1223395,00.html

The horrific images from Abu Ghraib have come to define the ill-starred
occupation of Iraq, but what do they really tell us about America? Are
they simply the work of a few rogue soldiers, or the result of the new
foreign and domestic policies of the Bush administration, which find ready
approval in an increasingly brutalised society? Susan Sontag on the ugly
face of the war on terror


(....)

So, then, the real issue is not the photographs but what the photographs
reveal to have happened to "suspects" in American custody? No: the horror
of what is shown in the photographs cannot be separated from the horror
that the photographs were taken - with the perpetrators posing, gloating,
over their helpless captives. German soldiers in the second world war took
photographs of the atrocities they were committing in Poland and Russia,
but snapshots in which the executioners placed themselves among their
victims are exceedingly rare. (See a book just published, Photographing
the Holocaust by Janina Struk.) If there is something comparable to what
these pictures show it would be some of the photographs - collected in a
book entitled Without Sanctuary - of black victims of lynching taken
between the 1880s and 1930s, which show smalltown Americans, no doubt most
of them church-going, respectable citizens, grinning, beneath the naked
mutilated body of a black man or woman hanging behind them from a tree.
The lynching photographs were souvenirs of a collective action whose
participants felt perfectly justified in what they had done. So are the
pictures from Abu Ghraib.

(....)

It's likely that quite a large number of Americans would rather think that
it is all right to torture and humiliate other human beings - who, as our
putative or suspected enemies, have forfeited all their rights - than to
acknowledge the folly and ineptitude and fraud of the American venture in
Iraq. As for torture and sexual humiliation as fun, there seems little to
oppose this tendency while America continues to turn itself into a
garrison state, in which patriots are defined as those with unconditional
respect for armed might and for the necessity of maximal domestic
surveillance. Shock and awe was what our military promised the Iraqis who
resisted their American liberators. And shock and the awful are what these
photographs announce to the world that the Americans have delivered: a
pattern of criminal behaviour in open defiance and contempt of
international humanitarian conventions. But there seems no reversing for
the moment America's commitment to self-justification, and the condoning
of its increasingly out-of-control culture of violence. Soldiers now pose,
thumbs up, before the atrocities they commit, and send off the pictures to
their buddies and family. What is revealed by these photographs is as much
the culture of shamelessness as the reigning admiration for unapologetic
brutality. Ours is a society in which secrets of private life that,
formerly, you would have given nearly anything to conceal, you now clamour
to get on a television show to reveal.

(....)

The pictures will not go away. That is the nature of the digital world in
which we live. Indeed, it seems they were necessary to get our leaders to
acknowledge that they had a problem on their hands. After all, the report
submitted by the International Committee of the Red Cross, and other,
sketchier reports by journalists and protests by humanitarian
organisations about the atrocious punishments inflicted on "detainees" and
"suspected terrorists" in prisons run by the American military, have been
circulating for more than a year. It seems doubtful that any of these
reports were read by Mr Bush or Mr Cheney or Ms Rice or Mr Rumsfeld.
Apparently it took the photographs to get their attention, when it became
clear they could not be suppressed; it was the photographs that made all
this "real" to Mr Bush and his associates. Up to then, there had been only
words, which are a lot easier to cover up in our age of infinite digital
self-reproduction and self- dissemination.

(...)

The pictures will not go away. That is the nature of the digital world in
which we live. Indeed, it seems they were necessary to get our leaders to
acknowledge that they had a problem on their hands. After all, the report
submitted by the International Committee of the Red Cross, and other,
sketchier reports by journalists and protests by humanitarian
organisations about the atrocious punishments inflicted on "detainees" and
"suspected terrorists" in prisons run by the American military, have been
circulating for more than a year. It seems doubtful that any of these
reports were read by Mr Bush or Mr Cheney or Ms Rice or Mr Rumsfeld.
Apparently it took the photographs to get their attention, when it became
clear they could not be suppressed; it was the photographs that made all
this "real" to Mr Bush and his associates. Up to then, there had been only
words, which are a lot easier to cover up in our age of infinite digital
self-reproduction and self- dissemination.

------------------------------------------

Mobiel:	06 479 669 05
Mobile:	++ 31 6 479 669 05

http://www.evel.nl

Postbus 15059
1001 MB Amsterdam


------------------------------------------

Mobiel:	06 479 669 05
Mobile:	++ 31 6 479 669 05

http://www.evel.nl

Postbus 15059
1001 MB Amsterdam

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