The Witness in Contempt: Reflections on Overfamiliarity, Pain and Desecration

Maria Tumarkin


There are many opportunities for lying and cheating in engaging with, what Susan Sontag called, ‘the pain of others’. One of them is the gradual emergence of the feeling that you know what happened, what it was like to go through it. Yet overfamiliarity can, at times, injure more than contempt or blatant disregard. With so many recent tragedies, the experts who know how it feels and what it’s like, send tropical medications to war-torn continental countries, offer free art therapy classes in place of bread and water, write reports about the ‘atmosphere of fear and uncertainty’ that can neither produce the most negligible of changes nor console even the most naive of souls. It’s possible to counter contempt and indifference with knowledge, laughter and moral courage, but what is the defence against the thick web of assumptions?


psychology; assumptions; overfamiliarity; pain; war; contempt; reflection

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