Lizaveta Ivanovna No. 2
The Murder of the Image
“As objects of contemplation, images of the atrocious can answer to several different needs. To steel oneself against weakness. To make oneself more numb. To acknowledge the existence of the incorrigible.”
Susan Sontag, “Regarding the Pain of Others”
While we look into the eyes of women, men, and children, eternally wronged and forever condemned to die, the victims look at their executioner through an invisible operator, thus erasing the traces of control. We have internalized the power of control, making ourselves immune to the violence of the image. We have co-witnessed the grotesque obliteration of around 1.7 million people from history (21% of the country’s population 1975-1979) on a new superficial dimension, annihilating all others. Our numbness mimics Lizaveta’s encounter with Raskolnikov before the axe descended upon her.
In October 1991 I was here in my nice apartment in peaceful Sarajevo when the Serbs invaded Croatia, and I remember when the evening news showed footage of the destruction of Vukovar, just a couple of hundred miles away, I thought to myself, 'Oh, how horrible,' and switched the channel. So how can I be indignant if someone in France or Italy or Germany sees the killing taking place here day after day on their evening news and says, 'Oh, how horrible,' and looks for another program.
We are far beyond the unilateral violence perpetrated by Dostoyevsky's “bronze people”, eternalized in altars throughout history. We have replaced our memory with a collective one, social media images where what is trending is what gets to be remembered, an institutionalized memory, where the process of elegy is almost impossible. As Sontag points out: “To remember is, more and more, not to recall a story but to be able to call up a picture. Even a writer as steeped in nineteenth-century and early modern literary solemnities as W. G. Sebald was moved to see his lamentation-narratives of lost lives, lost nature, lost cityscapes with photographs.”
We are lost in this labyrinth of meanings. We have lost our capacity to react and have become flâneurs on a lifeless dimension saturated with meanings. We are at the point where Orpheus is drifting down the river after trying to catch a glimpse of Eurydice's image.