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This article was originally published as:

Rickett, C. (2014). On mourning, making, circulating: Refusing the 'posthumous humiliation' of Susan Sontag. Ethical Space: The International Journal of Communication Ethics, 11(4), 21-28.

ISSN: 1742-0105


119999 Medical and Health Sciences not elsewhere classified| 190104 Visual Cultures| 2001 COMMUNICATION AND MEDIA STUDIES| 2201 APPLIED ETHICS

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The ‘loquacious presence' of a loved one’s death can demand a productive response. For artists working with literary and visual mediums, the affect of private grief is often channeled into a memorialisation project where a tangible artefact is constructed, and ultimately then made public.

When noted intellectual Susan Sontag died from cancer, her ‘close friend’ Annie Leibovitz worked through her mourning process via the production, circulation (and commodification) of carefully selected images in A Photographer’s Life: 1990-2005. The book’s sweep of photographs—from an eclectic lens that documents and mediates the pathos of familial of bonds; traversed geographies of global landmarks, and signature poses of the famous—dialogically, insistently and inevitably (re) arrange themselves around the haunting spectre of Sontag’s illness and death.

Leibovitz’s imbricating desire is for a viewer to participate in a shared testimonial enterprise of mourning Sontag’s palliative decline and abject body in extremis by gazing at her photographic record. This paper offers a personal meditation— an explanation (perhaps expiation)— on my respectful refusal to perform the ethically compromised role of Sontag’s reciprocal witness.


Used by permission: Ethical Space: International Journal of Communication Ethics

This article may be accessed from the publisher here.