By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Carol Cheh
By Keegan Hamilton
By Bill Raden
Back in the ’70s, Sontag also wondered if our responsiveness to the pain of others was being numbed by ceaseless exposure to images of war. This is a specific variant of a “founding . . . critique of modernity” (as expressed by, among others, Wordsworth and Baudelaire): Namely, that sensational news habituates us to the very horrors it claims to alert us to. As evidence of this, Sontag quotes an acquaintance from Sarajevo who found that she could not be indignant about the world’s indifference to the suffering there because in her time she too watched footage of the destruction of Vukovar and then just changed channels. Bob Dylan provides a similarly ironic twist at the end of the epic narrative of “Black Diamond Bay” on Desire:
I was sittin’ home alone one night in L.A., Watchin’ old Cronkite on the 7 o’clock news. It seems there was an earthquake that Left nothin’ but a Panama hat And a pair of old Greek shoes. Didn’t seem like much was happenin’, So I turned it off and went to grab another beer.
By that point, of course, the Panama hat and Greek shoes are as emblematic of the reality of individual human frailty as the “useless fragment of a wooden bowl” that moved Wordsworth in “The Ruined Cottage.” This is a far cry from the idea — promulgated by Jean Baudrillard and others — that nowadays the Panama hat, the wooden bowl and the Gulf War only exist on TV, that reality has dissolved into its image. For Sontag this is “a breathtaking provincialism” that “universalizes the viewing habits of a small, educated population” living in an affluent part of the world where news has been converted to entertainment. The devastating simplicity and good sense of this particular rebuke put me in mind of Joseph Brodsky’s admiring verdict on the way that Sontag once took issue with Ezra Pound’s widow. “Now that,” reported Brodsky, “was one of the greatest returns I had ever heard.” Quite. Small wonder, then, that “we” return to her so readily.
Geoff Dyer, theWeekly's literary critic in residence, is the author of, most recently,Yoga for People Who Can't Be Bothered To Do It.
REGARDING THE PAIN OF OTHERS | By SUSAN SONTAG | Farrar Straus and Giroux | 144 pages | $20 hardcover