Imagination of Images

Susan Sontag makes many very interesting points in Looking at War, among them the idea that written accounts will have more of an impact due to the increased attention and detail they require and can provide. I tend to agree with this point as text requires a bit more engagement to make sense of whereas images can leave us without context or coherence.

She also criticizes the sort of grand and perhaps abstract philosophizing of those such as Guy Debord in The Society of the Spectacle. This point left me a bit confused, as from what little I have read of the Spectacle his argument seemed to be more that in western society reality or relationships are inevitably becoming ever more media-ted by images. Almost like we live in an image-in-nation, nation of images. She goes on to state that no one can know what war is actually like: “Can’t understand, can’t imagine.” This seems to be in the same vein as what Debord might argue about the Spectacle and its unreality or mediation of reality via images.

Overall I enjoyed this article but it sort of leaves me aching for further analysis. It seems like she could have gone a bit further beyond culture and individuals to include the state, which is inextricably tied up with war, passivity, consumption, spectacle, and cultures of domination. Without this piece of the puzzle it almost feels like the article inadvertently obscures some of the context for war—the competing rulers’ positions—solely with a lack of comprehension of the true atrocity of war in a way reminiscent of the naivety of the peace movement that has little analysis of private property, wage slavery, borders and centralization of power.

I actually think one of the main problems is our lack of imagination in conceiving of alternate worlds, which is partly due to the narratives and images we are inundated with constantly. Those interested in such alternatives are more likely to search, find and create them, like a fire that has been lit and needs fuel. But those who have no concept of alternative seem less likely to fundamentally question what’s in front of them and do something about it.