Image of Violence


 The Third of May 1808

Thinking about the Augustine and Sontag reading comes the prominent theme of how humans are drawn to violence. This is not necessarily through committing acts of violence, but by witnessing it. Why is it so hard to tear your gaze away from an act of violence once it begins? Why is there this primal curiosity associated with watching it through the end even if the viewer may have an inkling of how negative the outcome is? There often seems to be a delay in processing as well where many witnesses recount standing as an atrocity occurred, but not being able to do anything at the moment since they were almost frozen in time as they watched. The story that Plato recounts involving Aglaion’s Leontius mentions how both he and Piraeus came along some corpses. As they approached, Plato writes, “He felt the desire to look at them at one moment and turned away in disgust at the next. For a time he struggled and covered his face; then, overcome by his desire he opened his eyes and ran toward the corpses. ‘Look for yourself, you wretches,’ he shouted, ‘and fill yourselves with an image of the beautiful'” (Plato 421). This response of looking away in horror but being overcome with the desire to find out what exactly the spectacle is is something that all humans deal with. However, something that seems so natural also appears to be something that causes humans shame.

 Why is it that once a person has looked upon an atrocity, they are often overcome with disgust? Is it because humans believe that the death and violence committed are inherently wrong? In Sontag’s piece as well, when discussing Virginia Woolf’s images of war there is a theme of general disgust towards acts of violence and mutilated bodies. Sontag writes that these images, “show a particular way of waging war, a way at that time routinely described as ‘barbaric,’ in which civilians are the target'” (Sontag 9). Again the reader is shown how depictions of violence are captured and explained as barbaric but are still captured anyways. Why is it that something so horrific of an act has to be recorded? Sontag later writes that Woolf used the photos to condemn war and bring experience to those who have not experienced war a glimpse into what it may look like (12), but is there something else associated with the necessity of having to look at something so dreadful? 

~ Cassidy and Donna

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