Art and Revolution

Perception and the Limits of Empathy

Sabrina Skau

For any artist particularly invested in using his or her work for political or social change or revolutionary action, a central question is always this: How can I best reach my viewer? How can I move her, convince her of the necessity and urgency of my cause, and further, motivate her to act? Those artists who work primarily with the image have always seemed to have a special advantage in this regard; human beings have long believed in a certain power of the image—and the photographic or filmic image in particular—to capture and represent reality, as well as (crucially) to invoke a visceral response. As Susan Sontag relates in Regarding the Pain of Others, Virginia Woolf had such faith in the power of the photograph and in the depth and similarity of our response to it that she, in the letters published in Three Guineas, “professes to believe that the shock of [pictures of war] cannot fail to unite people of good will” (Sontag 6). Indeed, for a long time some people believed that photographs as shock therapy could bring about an end to war. In 1924, for example, Ernst Friedrich published Kreig dem Kriege! (War Against War!), an album of over one hundred and eighty photographs collected from German military and medical archives (Sontag 14). Friedrich’s book, despite its immense popularity and worldwide circulation, of course did not manage to prevent war, and we are now certainly more jaded in our belief in any kind of ontological power of the image.

For many artists, however, it has become a question of doing more, of finding ways to ramp up the shock value for an audience that has seemingly become too accustomed to seeing terrible things. Director Michael Haneke, for example, speaks of his desire to create a “terrible realism” in his film Caché, using a bloody suicide scene (which he calls the “most important shot of the film”) as a “special effect” meant to assault and shock the viewer into feeling a very specific set of emotions (quoted in Celik 2010). For Haneke, violence can no longer be merely present, but must be calculated and deployed consciously and skillfully in order to achieve the desired effect. More and more, the viewer is configured as a passive recipient knowledge that must be worked upon by the powers of the image and transformed into an active participant of a social cause. And, it seems, in contemporary times those images—and the artists that wield them—must work harder to convince and motivate us.

“It has become a cliché of the cosmopolitan discussion of images,” writes Sontag, “to assume that they have little effect, that there is something innately cynical about their diffusion” (Sontag 111). It has also become a cliché to assume that we have, as a consequence of the deluge of images (and often horrifying images, at that) characteristic of contemporary times, lost that bit of that innocence or humanity necessary for us to be shocked or moved by them. We have been desensitized. Images of war and other atrocities, whether in the form of photographs on the front page of The New York Times (or, more likely, the homepage of its online incarnation) or scenes from violence-saturated movies and television shows, seem to attack us from all corners. The familiar and all-too ubiquitous diagnosis, as Sontag accurately notes, is that, “flooded with images of the sort that once used to shock and arouse indignation, we are losing our capacity to react” (Sontag 109). But is this actually the case? Sontag does not seem to think so, and I am inclined to agree with her. “It is probably not true that people are responding less,” she writes, and to that I would add that it is probably also not true that people are feeling less (Sontag 116). If the outpouring of support and aid in the wake of January 2010 earthquake in Haiti is any indication, compassion and empathy are still alive and well in this world. George Clooney’s “Hope for Haiti Now” telethon, which was just one fundraising event among hundreds, raised a record-setting $57 million in a single night.

But what does $57 million “when it really counts” or sympathy in the face of crisis really amount to? As much as we can be relieved that—even in the wake of a global economic recession that has left the majority of the world population reeling—we can still find it in our hearts to care for distant strangers, we cannot be content with these occasional affirmations of our humanity. Even if the clichés are not true, they do—as the saying often goes—seem to speak to a certain truth. That is to say that, even if we do not actually feel or respond less, the fact that we say or think that we do is symptomatic of something. What does it mean that we insist that our over-exposure to images of suffering have robbed us of the ability to care about that suffering—that in regarding the pain of others we have lost the capacity to really regard that pain? “In modern life,” Sontag notes, “…it seems normal to turn away from images that simply make us feel bad” (Sontag 116). The picture of a wounded Pakistani civilian, his eyes staring out across space and time into our own, invites us to consider the conditions of his life and brush with death, but instead we quickly avert our gaze. It is the normalization of this act of aversion and the corresponding reluctance or even refusal to hold in our minds knowledge of such suffering that we lament when we say that we are becoming desensitized. It is the understanding that we should be feeling and responding even more that so disturbs us. To be shocked into caring only by crisis is, we innately recognize, inadequate; the troubling truth is that human pain and suffering are daily occurrences, and much of it goes unnoted, ignored, or forgotten even as it reveals itself to us on our kitchen tables, in our living rooms, and at our desks. The superfluity of things that demand our attention has brought us face to face with the very limits of our empathic abilities.

If the question is no longer simply one of a supposedly diminishing inherent or ontological power of the image or of our similarly supposedly diminishing capacity to respond to that power, but rather one of the limits of our ability to respond—that is, the limits of empathy—then what is at stake is not just our response to the pain of others, but the very possibility of regarding that pain. In this essay, I examine what is at stake in our contemporary relationship with the image and with art that uses the image to intervene politically and socially in the world. I examine how our perception of the image is constructed and consider the methods of coping symptomatic of our (largely unconscious) recognition that we are stretched to the limits of our empathy on a daily basis. Finally, I argue that the project at hand is not to convince or be convinced that we—as viewers, spectators, or simply as human beings—must feel or respond more to images, and thus must be ever more cognizant of the ways in which we are responsible to the knowledge produced and disseminated through them, but is actually a question of the very condition of possibility of such a relationship to the image. The condition of possibility is, in fact, not the limit of the image’s power, but rather the limit of our own empathic capacities. Further, I posit that the very possibility of such a revolutionary relationship to the image, one that would allow it as well as ourselves to realize our full potential as political actors in this world, requires first and foremost a recognition that what we perceive as the natural finitude of empathy is not entirely (or at all) natural; the limits of empathy, like the limits of perception, are socially and historically situated and constructed.

What is at stake in our contemporary relationship with the image is not only or even the possibility of collective action that would ideally come through the deployment of the image as a tool of political or social awareness. In the contemporary moment, we are inundated with images from the moment we wake up (as all those whose first act in the morning is to turn on the computer or check a smart phone are well aware) to the moment we turn off our digital gadgets and go to bed; what is really at stake then, is our very relationship to the world. We exist as never before in image-centric times, and our relationship to the world is mediated by the images through which we experience even the most far-flung parts of the globe. The primacy of direct, bodily experience of being physically present in both space and time has been superseded by a virtual bringing into presence. As Paul Virilio declares in his 2002 article “The Visual Crash,” we are on the verge of (or perhaps have already entered) an era of “tele-presence” (Virilio 109). The twentieth century’s dominant mode of knowing and experiencing the world at large, the “classic news network’s model of vision at a distance,” is now on its deathbed as webcams and other forms of live streaming over the Internet offer us an even more overwhelming, and overwhelmingly direct, digital “liveness” (Virilio 109). The Internet has brought with it a globalization of time that threatens to shatter the primacy of and the distance preserved by local time. “Up until now,” Virilio explains, “history has taken place within local times, local frames, regions and nations;” the “one-time system” of global time is now about to subsume all of local time into real or universal time. Whether or not a rise of panoptic tele-surveillance of the scale Virilio depicts will or already has come to pass, what is significant is that we have become increasingly aware and expectant of the ability to experience even the most far-off events in real time. Never before have we experienced such extensive access to events around the world, or been able to experience them in real time to the extent that is now possible. Indeed, the world has never seemed more accessible, or its inhabitants more connected, than now. We are experiencing a “visual crash”—a veritable deluge of images that demand to be seen—the implications of which are far more significant than we dare acknowledge.

As much as we can, and should, laud the unprecedented access to knowledge that is characteristic of our present state of digital saturation, we feel just as emphatically the agony of such knowledge. This is not only the agony of witnessing suffering, but also that visceral understanding that we are indeed witnessing. According to Frances Guerin and Roger Hallas, who write on the special attention paid by cultural and trauma studies to the act of bearing witness through images, the image brings into presence events for those who did not directly experience or participate in them and opens up a new space for witnessing (Guerin and Hallas 12). Especially in this era of tele-presence, in which the distancing barrier of time (and, to a certain extent, of space) has been obliterated, we are ever more aware that in viewing images we are not merely spectators, but witnesses, with all the moral and ethical implications that come with inhabiting such a position. Witnessing is not just a sensory experience; it is not simply the act of experiencing an event with one’s own eyes and ears but is a “distinct mode of perception” that carries with it an ethical imperative to bear witness, in multiple senses of the word (Peters 709). Following John Ellis, whose book Seeing Things examines the role of live television in making witnesses of home viewers, John Durham Peters writes, “To witness an event is to be responsible in some way to it… ‘We cannot say we do not know’” (Peters 708). For Peters, to bear witness is not only to passively see and receive knowledge of an event, but also to say—to perpetuate knowledge of that event. Similarly, Guerin and Hallas assert that in bearing witness, one actually “assumes responsibility to perpetuate the imperative to bear witness…for the sake of collective memory” (Guerin and Hallas 11).

It is this injunction that ‘we cannot say that we do not know’ and the responsibility tied to this knowledge that agonize us as we stagger beneath the weight of the image-knowledge-responsibility heaped upon us. We are more cognizant than ever of the desperate conditions of violence, poverty, and injustice in which our fellow human beings live. We are also more aware than ever of the necessity of serious consideration of the image, of asking, as Sontag urges us to, “Who caused what the picture shows? Who is responsible? It is excusable? Was it inevitable? Is there some state of affairs which we have accepted up to now that ought to be challenged?” (Sontag 111). We know that we are responsible to, and perhaps even responsible for or complicit in, what we see, but even the task of figuring out how to account for this responsibility (much less act on our accountability) is almost too daunting. We are crushed not only by magnitude of the things we are beholden to, but also by the feeling that it is all simply too much.

It is this same weighty phenomenological capacity of the image that is central to its utility as a tool of (revolutionary) political or social action. If the image brings into our presence temporally and/or geographically distant events and people, imparts upon us a certain knowledge, and requires that we then take on some responsibility to that knowledge, the logical next step is that we should act on that knowledge. The idea, then, is that if enough people are exposed to a certain injustice through the image and if they, furthermore, recognize that their knowledge implicates them (in that they can no longer claim that they do not know), they will then engage in critical examination of their own position vis-à-vis the injustice (and perhaps discover their own complicity) and will, finally, mobilize in the kind of collective action necessary to rectify the injustice. The image confronts us to say, “This is an injustice that occurs in the world,” to which our humanity replies, “It is something that should not!” The political and social activists who deploy the image then ask, “Now will you join us in working towards the necessary solution or change?” This is, of course, an account of an ideal process. Mobilizing collective action for real political or social change, much less revolution, is hardly ever as simple as wielding an image and the image itself runs up against what appears to be a problem of the limit of its motivating powers. As I contended above, however, the problem is not actually the limit of the image’s power, but rather the limit of our perception of the image. The productive question to ask is not, “What is the extent of the image’s ability to move and motivate us?” but rather, “What is the extent of our capacity to be moved and motivated?” Further, in addressing this question it is necessary to acknowledge that perception itself is not only naturally but also socially and historically constructed.

In order to both return to the question of art and understand the ways in which our perception is constructed, I turn to Walter Benjamin. While the focus of Benjamin’s essay “The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technological Reproducibility” seems to be primarily the history of the production of art and the possibilities inherent to the age of its technological reproducibility, I want to stress—and push even further—the attention he actually pays to human perception:

Just as the entire mode of existence of human collectives changes over long historical periods so too does their mode of perception. The way in which human perception is organized—the medium in which it occurs—is conditioned not only by nature but by history (23).

This is to say that the way in which we perceive art, which includes not only how we understand or contextualize the work but also the medium through which perception occurs, is largely constructed through our relationship to art’s changing functions and modes of production. Benjamin does not draw out the distinctions between those aspects of our perception which are natural or inherent and those that are historically conditioned, but I would venture to posit that the only thing that is categorically “natural” about perception is the physical act of perceiving reflections and refractions of light. More productive than drawing the exact lines of this nature/history divide, however, is an investigation—in which Benjamin engages—of the intertwining of (re)production and perception and the changes that each one impels in the other.

According to Benjamin, the changes in our present-day perception of the work of art are characterized by the decay of what he calls “aura” as a result of technological reproduction. For Benjamin, aura encompasses three traits of the artwork: its “here and now”, or “unique existence in a particular place”; the authenticity that this quality of the here and now of the original underlies; and its authority, or the “weight that it derives from tradition”—that is, embeddedness in historical tradition and the historical testimony it carries as a result of its physical duration (Benjamin 21, 22). Benjamin also writes that aura is “a strange tissue of space and time: the unique apparition of a distance, however near it may be” (Benjamin 10). This distance is in fact a separation of the work of art from the viewer and may manifest itself as a physical or temporal distance, or even as a fetish quality or certain psychological remoteness—the (magical) inability of a work of art to be completely apprehended no matter how close one may come to it. The earliest works or art, rooted as they were in these auratic notions of uniqueness, authenticity, and tradition, “originated in the service of rituals—first magical, then religious” (Benjamin 24). Art in the service of ritual is not created by humans entirely for their own pleasure, education, or enlightenment; rather, these artworks are intended for the spirits or gods. “What matters [for these artworks],” Benjamin explains, “is that the spirits see [them] ;…[They are] exhibited to others only coincidentally” (Benjamin 25).

The advent of technological reproduction revolutionizes the social function of art in that it emancipates art from the service of ritual. The decay of aura is driven by the “desire of the present-day masses to ‘get closer’ to things, and…their concern for overcoming each thing’s uniqueness” (Benjamin 22). Technological reproduction facilitates both in that it allows for the closing of physical distance through the mobility of the image (a photograph of a cathedral allows the cathedral to meet the viewer in her own home) and for the creation of exact copies (“extracting sameness from all that is unique”) (Benjamin 23). Especially with the introduction of photography and film to the realm of art, “the work reproduced becomes the reproduction of a work designed for its reproducibility” (Benjamin 24). These shifts in the production and reproduction of the work of art and the decay of aura are important in understanding the changes in perception of art because they elucidate the changing relationship between humans and art. The highly auratic artwork is valued for its magical or religious purpose and belongs to the spirits and the gods, not the people. Since the technologically reproduced work of art, as a reproduction, loses the authenticity-uniqueness-tradition (in short, the aura) at the core of art’s ritualistic value, it is open to new functions. The shift in perception then, is the shift between the perception of art as belonging to the spirits or gods and the understanding of art in the service of humans and their own projects and aims. This is also a shift from perceiving art as the bearer of mainly magical, religious, or aesthetic value to the possibility of perceiving art as a privileged bearer of new kinds of knowledge and information.

Technological reproduction revolutionizes art not incidentally in that it emancipates art from the service of ritual, but significantly in that it opens art to the possibility of a revolutionary function. In order to grasp the nature of these revolutionary possibilities, we must first understand the importance of this quality of reproducibility, as well as the relationship between art and viewer that technologies of reproduction make possible. According to Benjamin, pre-machine age artworks were created primarily with what he deems simply the “first technology.” The first technology was one that “existed only in fusion with ritual…[and] made maximum possible use of human beings”; it sees the culmination of its achievements “in human sacrifice” (Benjamin 26). In contrast, “our technology,” what Benjamin calls the “second technology,” uses human beings to their minimum and sees the culmination of its achievements in “the remote-controlled aircraft that needs no human crew” (Benjamin 26). We can understand the first technology as largely human manual labor and the second as including our advanced mechanical, electronic, and computer technologies; all art is linked to both the first and second technologies, to varying proportions. As Benjamin stresses, however, to understand the aim of the second technology as simply “mastery over nature” would be to misread and overlook its true significance, which is that it actually “aims at an interplay between nature and humanity” (Benjamin 26, emphasis mine). Indeed, the “primary social function of art today”—that is, of art that draws largely on the forces of the second technology—“is to rehearse that interplay” (Benjamin 26).

Art, and film especially, allows human beings to see themselves within their world; it should illuminate before them the conditions in which they live, the nature of their relationships to each other, and the ways in which they interact with, respond to, and are constrained by existing natural and social structures. The great revolutionary capacity of art lies in its ability to serve as a medium through which human beings can not only depict the world as they see it, but also form creative critiques on the conditions of humanity and present to each other visions of alternative presents and futures. Technological reproduction awakens this latent characteristic of art and vastly expands its reach across space and time through/as photographs, recordings, and—to recall Virilio—live streaming on television or over the Internet. This (world)wide dissemination and the mass viewership made possible by the movie theater and by our ever-growing giant screens are of course crucial to the task of informing, educating, and mobilizing for collective action or revolution. Additionally, since the second technology frees human beings from the “drudgery” characteristic of the first technology, “the individual suddenly sees his scope for play, his field of action, immeasurably expanded” (Benjamin 27).

People today should be more capable of perceiving and acting in response to revolutionary art than people who existed under the hegemony of the first technology. In fact, photography and film have veritably exploded the scope of our possibilities for seeing and perceiving. This is what Benjamin calls the optical unconscious. The camera, “with all its resources for swooping and rising, disrupting and isolating, stretching or compressing a sequence, enlarging or reducing and object,” reveals to us all those parts of the world that escape human perception (Benjamin 37). As Benjamin points out, although we have an idea of “what is involved in the act of walking (if only in general terms), we have no idea at all what happens during the split second when a person actually takes a step” (Benjamin 37). Consider the work of Eadward Muybridge, for example, who used photography to capture all the intimate mechanics of animal and human locomotion. It is thanks to Muybridge that we now know that all four of a horse’s hooves do not, in fact, leave the ground at the same time during a gallop. Of course, the optical unconscious does not only allow us to discern those moments that elude the realm of normal human physical perception. It also brings us face to face with all the people and events that, in an immensely overwhelming and expansive world, would otherwise too easily escape our consideration. The optical unconscious confronts us with knowledge of ongoing violence and human struggle; we may know that war exists but it is often not until we see something like a photograph of a girl who has been burned by napalm that we can even begin to grasp the extent of the suffering and devastation it involves (though to experience through a photograph is to only infinitesimally approach first-hand experience of such horror). We can say, then, that technological reproduction—and the second technology on which in primarily draws—serves as the condition of possibility for people to both produce and perceive revolutionary art, as well as to perceive the world more broadly.

It would seem that we currently have in place the ideal set of social conditions for not only a revolutionary relationship with art, but also for more radically empathic relationships between people, specifically as mediated through (and here we return to the questions that open this essay) the image. The image, as the individual unit of photography and film (to which we can add digital photography and video today), bears all the potential of these two most technologically reproducible—and thus most revolutionary capacious—art forms. What is most significant about Benjamin’s discussion of these revolutionary possibilities of art in the age of its technological reproduction, however, is his assertion that art has not yet realized the full potential of its revolutionary capabilities. For Benjamin, film especially finds itself shackled to a parasitic system of production that threatens to recapitulate the conditions of art’s original subservience to ritual. This system is of course film capital in the form of the studio system of Benjamin’s critique and the major backer-distributors that exist today. Benjamin insists that “until film has liberated itself from the fetters of capitalist exploitation,” it will never realize its political advantage (Benjamin 33).

A discussion of the constraints placed on the modes of artistic, and specifically filmic, production is necessary because the fetters placed on the production of the work of art similarly constrain the revolutionary possibilities of the perception of the work of art and the image more broadly. The political advantage of film, according to Benjamin, lies in its control by the masses. It should be the masses, or the people, and not capital who should control the production and distribution of film. As it stands, the most sophisticated means of production and worldwide distribution remain in the hands of a small cadre of companies for whom financial profit, not revolution, is the driving factor. If, as I described above, the great revolutionary potential of art lies in its capacity to depict humans and their world, then we can also say (and for Benjamin this is key), that this same revolutionary potential stems from the new possibilities of human beings to be depicted. This is, for Benjamin, the advantage of the human being’s self-alienation, of which the photographic or filmic image makes the most productive use (Benjamin 31). The estrangement of the human being from herself before the apparatus of the camera is “basically of the same kind as the estrangement felt before one’s appearance in a mirror[;]…but now the mirror image has become detachable from the person mirrored, and is transported…to a site in front of the masses” (Benjamin 33). Further, since to be depicted in an image requires no special skill (one only needs to be captured by a camera—any person today can lay claim to being photographed or filmed), the possibilities of seeing ourselves and each other within our world should be nearly unbounded.

Although the recent proliferation of digital picture and video cameras in such things as cell phones and photo-sharing over the Internet have done much to position the revolutionary capabilities of the image within the realm of large swathes of the general population, the specter of capitalist production continues to attempt to foreclose a truly revolutionary relationship between human beings and the image. Film capital “uses the revolutionary opportunities implied by [the control of the image by the masses] for counterrevolutionary purposes” (Benjamin 33). This is the fostering of the cult of the movie star, which, as Benjamin writes, “preserves that magic of personality which has long been no more than the putrid magic of its own commodity character” (Benjamin 33). This cult of the celebrity serves to distract and fixate the audience who, in the throes of their adoration, are configured only consumers of the film industry’s two great commodities—the movie star and blockbuster motion picture. We have here an entertainment industry that preserves around the image a sense of triviality or frivolity. Art, which had only just begun to realize its potential as more than art in the service of ritual or art for art’s sake, does not achieve its function as a recognized bearer of vital knowledge of human beings and the world, but instead becomes entertainment. Art is “just” art, or even more problematic, “just entertainment.” This feeling of a certain inconsequence of art bleeds into our perception of the image more broadly, rearing its ugly head as a certain form of skepticism toward the image. If authenticity in Benjamin’s sense of the aura has been vitiated by technological reproduction, in contemporary times it has been replaced by a desired core of “truth” or “trustworthiness.” Especially in a world in which the line between the virtual and the real becomes increasingly blurred, we are never quite sure that we can trust what we see in an image. In our age of advanced technological sophistication, images are not only easily reproduced, but they are also quite easily altered or even produced without original referent. We are wary of the possibility that images have been “doctored”; we are both amazed and unnerved by the near-likeness of digitally-rendered images to our physical world. Here, once again, production intervenes to shape perception.

The current socio-historical conditions of production and perception, then, both open and foreclose the possibility of the image as a means of fostering human mutuality—that is, of generating greater empathic feeling. It would not be enough, however, to simply remove the (capitalist) fetters on production. While this would also remove the limitations currently placed on perception, what is at stake is not just the ability to see or perceive more, but in fact the possibility of a radically different interactive relationship with the image and, more crucially, with each other. If, as I explained above, our relationship to the world is mediated largely through the image, then this is not simply a question of realizing the possibilities of the image as a tool for political or revolutionary action. This is a question of redefining or reimagining the possibilities for relationships of greater care for the world and for each human life within it. Ultimately, what is at stake is the limit—or rather, the delimitation—of empathy. The contemporary structures of production and perception may offer us all too many opportunities to discount or dismiss the image, the knowledge it bears, and the possibility of mutuality that it offers, but the truth is that we are only too eager to accept these opportunities. Even if we could, after all, shatter the shackles that inhibit our perception, how could we possibly find it within ourselves to generate even more care when we already feel our empathic capacities taxed to the limit? Are we not already confronted with too much knowledge, with too many people who demand our consideration? When we already feel that we hardly have the time, energy, or resources for our own daily survival, how can expected to take on even a modicum responsibility for the lives of others? It is far easier—perhaps even necessary in this world—to question, lambast, and disregard the image than to take acknowledge the imperative to bear witness and to engage in serious consideration of our responsibility to the people or complicity in the circumstances we experience through the image. We know that we should feel more, but we also feel that we simply cannot. We have reached the limits of empathy.

But have we really? As I have argued, there is nothing completely natural about the way in which we perceive the image. Would it be much of a leap, then, to posit that there is nothing completely natural about the limits of empathy, as we currently perceive them, either? We say that we do not have enough time, that we do not have enough energy, that we must focus on improving ourselves before we can even consider helping others. But why do we say this? What are the socio-historical forces that make us feel that we do not have enough time or energy, that convince us that time spent on self-improvement or self-care is time most advantageously spent, that by (over)working vigorously now we can will be in a better position to improve conditions later—even if that later never seems to arrive? In fact, what are the forces that configure us into the kinds of subjects who say that time is spent, who believe that thinking in terms of utility, benefit, efficiency, cost-effectiveness is simply the most natural way in which to navigate the world?

These questions are unpleasant and their answers even more unpalatable, but it is more necessary than ever to determine and upend the social forces—the forms of governmentality, even—that currently dominate in this world. These forces are not “merely” social; even if what we perceive as natural structures are actually social constructs, this does not make us feel their effects any less strongly as empirical fact. We really do not have enough time. We really do not have enough energy. People all around the world really are suffering needlessly. This world demands too much of all of us; we are constantly pushed to work to the extent of our physical, mental, and emotional capabilities, leaving us with little time to stop and ask if this is really the kind of world in which we want to live. I think it is not. The technologies of tele-surveillance reveal to us on an unprecedented scale the magnitude of human suffering in the world. We have never been more aware than now of the terrible things that human beings do to one another; it is becoming increasingly clear that the structures we currently have in place benefit few to the detriment of many. What we need more than ever is to foster relationships of greater care and mutuality. We must challenge the structures that limit our empathic capacities and convince ourselves of our ability to remake them. If we are to create a world in which each and every human being can flourish, it is crucial that we begin with empathy unbounded.

Works Cited

Benjamin, Walter, Michael William. Jennings, Brigid Doherty, Thomas Y. Levin, and E. F. N. Jephcott. “The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technological Reproducibility.” The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technological Reproducibility, and Other Writings on Media. Cambridge, MA: Belknap of Harvard UP, 2008. 19-55. Print.

Celik, Ipek A. “”I Wanted You to Be Present”: Guilt and the History of Violence in Michael Haneke’s Caché.” Cinema Journal 50.1 (2010): 59-80. Print.

Felman, Shoshana, and Dori Laub. Testimony: Crises of Witnessing in Literature, Psychoanalysis, and History. New York: Routledge, 1991. Print.

Guerin, Frances, and Roger Hallas. The Image and the Witness: Trauma, Memory and Visual Culture. New York: Wallflower, 2007. Print.

Peters, John Durham. “Witnessing.” Media, Culture & Society 23.6 (2001): 707-23. Print.

Sontag, Susan. Regarding the Pain of Others. New York: Picador, 2004. Print.

Virilio, Paul. “Red Alert in Cyberspace!” The Watson Institute for International Studies. Web. 29 Oct. 2010. <;.

Virilio, Paul. “The Visual Crash.” Ctrl [space]: Rhetorics of Surveillance from Bentham to Big Brother. By Thomas Y. Levin, Ursula Frohne, and Peter Weibel. Karlsruhe, Germany: ZKM Center for Art and Media, 2002. 108-13. Print.


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