Unreal Nature

January 7, 2016

Animals in a Zoo

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:52 am

… The responsibility of the viewer is co-extensive with the lack of self-evidence of the image: it dictates nothing, compels nothing.

This is from the essay ‘Publicity and Indifference: Media, Surveillance and ‘Humanitarian Intervention” by Thomas Keenan, found in Killer Images: Documentary Film, Memory and the Performance of Violence edited by Joram Ten Brink & Joshua Oppenheimer (2012):

… Visiting Sarajevo at Christmas in 1993, less than a year into its suffering, the Archbiship of Paris Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger noted the strikingly public or visible character of the carnage there. In an interview with Zlatko Dizdarevic of Sarajevo’s Oslobodjenje, he compared the siege of the city to the horros of World War II, but with a significant difference:

Here, however, there are no secrets. There are journalists here, from here pictures are transmitted, there are satellite communications, all of this is known. In this city there are soldiers of the United Nations, well armed, and nonetheless it all continues to happen. This is unbelievable; this is overwhelming. One man yesterday told me that everyone here feels like they are animals in a zoo that others come to look at, to take pictures of, and to be amazed. And then, those up in the mountains also treat them like animals, killing them and ‘culling’ them.

Dizdarevic asked how it was possible that, ‘all of this goes on without any end in sight, in spite of the fact that we are surrounded by hundreds of cameras [and] that everyone knows everything and sees everything?’ Lustiger responded: ‘There is no answer for that — I really do not have an answer. However, that means that it is always possible to get worse and worse.’

… [Two years later] Giles Rabine, reporting live from France 2 from Sarajevo on 14 July 1995, just after the fall of Srebrenica, commented simply that, after thirty-nine months of televised siege, ‘the Sarajevans have had enough of being interviewed, being filmed, being photographed; they’ve had enough of us watching them die, live, without trying to do anything to save them.

[ … ]

… The image has no guaranteed meaning, and remains only to testify, to demand, to induce a responsibility — even if, as Avital Ronell argues about the video-tape of Rodney King being attacked by the LA police, ‘it is a responsibility that is neither alert, vigilant, particularly present, nor informed.’ The responsibility of the viewer is co-extensive with the lack of self-evidence of the image: it dictates nothing, compels nothing.

[line break added] It can always be used though, which is to say that it can and must always be interpreted, and the terrible failure of Bosnia was that a certain understanding of the public sphere — ‘the thought that once [people] have the relevant information, they will act’ — allowed or even produced an interpretive complacency.

… We cannot simply say, ‘warning! slow down!’ — as if the distortions of speed could be undone and the self-identity of the present reinstated, and with them an anachronistic definition of the political, the public and the instance of decision. We can say, though, that the vertigo of deceleration — the slow motion of even the fastest and most ‘compelling’ image — tears us apart from our solid selves and opens the possibility of a decision, even of a properly political relation to others, in the question it poses. We are not quite out of time, but the image does not provide the answer for us either.

-Julie

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