Susan Sontag takes a fresh look at the effects of violent images for Assembly Series talk

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

Over a quarter-century ago the 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 returns to this theme in her recent collection of essays, Regarding the Pain of Others, and will discuss it for Washington University’s Assembly Series at 11 a.m. on Wed., March 24 in Graham Chapel. She also will participate in a panel discussion of her work at 2 p.m. in the Women’s Building Formal Lounge. Another event will take place at 8 p.m. on Tues., March 23 in Holmes Lounge, featuring a 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 to Washington University is co-sponsored by the Center for the Study of Ethics and Human Values and the Department of English, both 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 emphathy. In her recent essay collection, 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.”

In addition to these two essay collections, Sontag has 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. 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.

Washington University faculty will participate in a panel discussion of Sontag’s work at 2 p.m. March 24 in the Women’s Building Lounge, just north of Graham Chapel. Panelists include Dennis DesChene, Ph.D., professor of philosophy in Arts & Sciences; Jonathan Gitlin, Ph.D., Helene B. Roberson Professor of Pediatrics in the School of Medicine; Leila Sadat, Ph.D., professor of law in the School of Law; and William Wallace, Ph.D., Barbara Murphy Bryant Distinguished Professor and chair of the department of art history in Arts & Sciences. Each will present their thoughts on Sontag’s work and provide her with an opportunity to respond.

For more information call 314-935-5285 or visit the Assembly Series Web site at