Many of us cannot help looking because of what Susan Sontag has called “the perennial seductiveness of war.” It is a kind of rubbernecking, staring at the bloody aftermath of something that is not an act of God but of man. The effect, as Ms. Sontag pointed out in an essay in The New Yorker in 2002, is anything but certain.
“Making suffering loom larger, by globalizing it, may spur people to feel they ought to ‘care’ more,” she wrote. “It also invites them to feel that the sufferings and misfortunes are too vast, too irrevocable, too epic to be much changed by any local, political intervention.”
So now that war comes to us in real time, do we feel helpless or empowered? Do we care more, or will the ubiquity of images and information desensitize us to the point where human suffering loses meaning when it is part of a scroll that includes a video of your niece twerking? Oh, we say as our index finger navigates to the next item, another one of those.
As war becomes a more remote, mechanized activity, posts and images from the target area have significant value. When a trigger gets pulled or bombs explode, real people are often on the wrong end of it. And bearing witness to the consequences gives meaning to what we see.
The recent past has seen the amplification of Florida as America’s most prominent locus of ignominy. Florida’s lavish multitude of embarrassments are mostly trivial and comic, yet often enough also deeply disappointing. It provides the background for a disproportionate number of cable news stories or is, in television and film, too-often depicted as a shallow landscape of wealth, leisure and luxury, a space of empty, undiscerning happiness. Florida is ubiquitous. Try as we might we cannot avoid it; yet to find a truly rich examination of America’s netherworld is a pleasure much too few and far between.
A sort of romantic ethnography by way of biography, And Every Day Was Overcast, is writer and photographer Paul Kwiatkowski’s debut work, what he calls an illustrated novel. In it Kwiatkowski plays the role of informing native for the town of Loxahatchee; his tone is equal parts weary traveler and, implicitly, that of a survivor and exile.
By Owen Campbell for ASX