Let the Atrocious Images Haunt Us

Two bodies in the rubble of the Rana Plaza building in Dhaka, Bangladesh, on 24 April 2013. Photo: Taslima Akhter

“To designate a hell is not, of course, to tell us anything about how to extract people from that hell, how to moderate hell’s flames. Still, it seems a good in itself to acknowledge, to have enlarged one’s sense of, how much suffering caused by human wickedness there is in the world we share with others. Someone who is perennially surprised that depravity exists, who continues to feel disillusioned (even incredulous) when confronted with evidence of what humans are capable of inflicting in the way of gruesome, hands-on cruelties upon other humans, has not reached moral or psychological adulthood.

“There now exists a vast repository of images that make it harder to maintain this kind of moral defectiveness. Let the atrocious images haunt us. Even if they are only tokens, and cannot possibly encompass most of the reality to which they refer, they still perform a vital function. The images say: this is what human beings are capable of doing – may volunteer to do, enthusiastically, self-righteously. Don’t forget.”

(Susan Sontag, Regarding the Pain of Others)