Assembly Series: Sontag to address effects of violent images

Do images of the injured and dead have any effect on their viewers? Do images of suffering and violence generate compassion, arouse hunger for revenge, or do nothing?

More than a quarter-century ago, preeminent writer and cultural critic Susan Sontag wrote a seminal work on the power of imagery that established her as one of America’s most perceptive thinkers. She returned to this theme in her recent collection of essays, Regarding the Pain of Others, and will discuss it for the Assembly Series at 11 a.m. March 24 in Graham Chapel.

She will join University faculty members in a panel discussion of her work at 2 p.m. in the Women’s Building Formal Lounge.

And at 8 p.m. March 23 in Holmes Lounge, there will be a featured conversation between Sontag and William Gass, professor emeritus and award-winning author. All three events are free and open to the public.

Sontag’s visit is co-sponsored by the Center for the Study of Ethics and Human Values, the Department of English in Arts & Sciences and the University Libraries’ Carl Neureuther Fund.

An extraordinarily gifted and prolific writer, Sontag’s body of work includes essays, short stories, novels, plays and films.

In 1977, she wrote a collection of essays called On Photography, widely considered among the most influential works on the subject of camera-mediated images. At the time, Sontag thought that overexposure to images of suffering and pain of others diminishes the viewer’s empathy.

In Regarding the Pain of Others, Sontag reconsiders her youthful impressions and takes a fresh look at what violent images do to a viewer’s psyche.

The renowned art historian and painter John Berger noted in a review that Sontag’s new book is “a startling reappraisal of the intersection of ‘information,’ ‘news,’ ‘art’ and politics in the contemporary depiction of war and disaster. It will forever alter our thinking about the uses and meanings of images in our world.”

Sontag has also written several works of nonfiction — including The Style of Radical Will, Against Interpretation, Illness as Metaphor and Where the Stress Falls — and one collection of short stories, I, Etcetera: Stories.

Her novels are The Benefactor, Death Kit, The Volcano Lover and In America, for which she won the National Book Award in 2000. Also included in her oeuvre are scripts for plays and films.

Her stories and essays have appeared in many national magazines, and her short story “The Way We Live Now” has been anthologized in The Best American Short Stories of the Eighties and The Best American Short Stories of the Century.

University faculty who will participate in the panel discussion are Dennis DesChene, Ph.D., professor of philosophy in Arts & Sciences; Jonathan Gitlin, Ph.D., the Helene B. Roberson Professor of Pediatrics; Leila Sadat, Ph.D., professor of law; and William Wallace, Ph.D., the Barbara Murphy Bryant Distinguished Professor and chair of the Department of Art History in Arts & Sciences. Marilyn Friedman, Ph.D., professor of philosophy, will serve as moderator.

For more information, call 935-5285 or go online to

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