The idea for the essay “The Pleasure of Flinching” came to me in part after seeing Carne Ross, Phillip Gourevitch, and Erroll Morris debate the film Standard Operating Procedure’s appropriation of the Abu Ghraib images at the New York Public Library last year, thinking about how irrelevant this kind of intellectual hand wringing would seem to the people who post on nothingtoxic.com (where much of the atrocity footage is posted). David Finkel’s The Good Soldiers has been getting a lot of press and is worth considering, as I guess would The Hurt Locker, despite its many flaws. Anthony Lappe and Dan Goldman’s gonzo graphic novel Shooting War is interesting (and a bit ridiculous) as well. I really like Riverbend’s Baghdad Burning blog/book, but it may not be totally relevant. Of the many documentaries to have emerged from the war, I might single out James Longley’s Iraq in Fragments for its lack of hyper-edited, empty sophistication as well as its almost neo-realist sense of empathy and ambiguity.
In terms of books, Judith Butler’s Frames of War: When Is Life Grievable? is in part a sophisticated response to Sontag’s ethics of photography. Articles by both Anne McClintock (“Paranoid Empire: Specters from Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib” 2009) and W.J.T. Mitchell (“The Unspeakable and the Unimaginable: Word and Image in a Time of Terror” 2005) have added to the mix as well. McClintock in particular takes issue with our insistence on framing atrocity images through the critical lens of pornography.
Nicholas Sautin is a doctoral candidate in English at the CUNY Graduate Center and currently teaches English and Composition at Brooklyn College.