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The Real Misfortunes and Pain of Others

November 16, 2013


Edmund Burke, on our delight in the pain of others, in A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful:

“To examine this point concerning the effect of tragedy in a proper manner, we must previously consider how we are affected by the feelings of our fellow creatures in circumstances of real distress. I am convinced we have a degree of delight, and that no small one, in the real misfortunes and pains of others; for let the affection be what it will in appearance, if it does not make us shun such objects, if on the contrary it induces us to approach them, if it makes us dwell upon them, in this case I conceive we must have a delight or pleasure of some species or other in contemplating objects of this kind…There is no spectacle we so eagerly pursue, as that of some uncommon and grievous calamity; so that whether the misfortune is before our eyes, or whether they are turned back to it in history, it always touches with delight.”

Some teenage kid at the WAR/PHOTOGRAPHY exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum this evening, encountering a print of Eddie Adams’ photograph, Nguyen Ngoc Loan Executing a Viet Cong Prisoner in Saigon, to his friend:

“Oh my god, this picture is awesome! Check it out–what a great shot. So. Cool.”

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