Central and East European
Society for Phenomenology

Conference | Paper

Blurring the Unbearable. Limits and Excesses of Displaying Violence

Paul Marinescu

Thursday 2 December 2021

17:00 - 17:40

Zoom 1-3

The blurring of images that capture scenes of atrocious violence has become a common phenomenon in the last 20 years, especially when such visual information is disseminated through accredited media. The laws in many countries prohibit the publication of images showing people who are wounded or in a state of extreme vulnerability. Thus, visual information about beheadings, war crimes, and terrorist attacks, among other violent events, reaches the public in blurred, truncated forms. When these kinds of images are broadcast unblurred in the spirit of rendering the truth of events, they cause public tremor. Obscuring the images that show violent content invites complex debates, because it raises epistemological, social, juridical, and political issues, and therefore involves various disciplines, from visual ethics to the sociology of violence. As a discipline of seeing, phenomenology can make an important contribution to this discussion. Blurred images in general, and those that obscure violence in particular, constitute an issue under-researched in the field of phenomenology. To better delineate this new domain, I will question the phenomenon that lies at its heart: the visually unbearable violence, in the name of which violent images are altered. What is specific to this experience, as I will try to show, is its being constituted around a fracture between the desire to watch violence and partial, altered exposition of what is visually unbearable. To deepen my analysis, I will refer to the phenomenological research documenting the shift from the real experience of violence to an imagistic one. In this sense, I will examine a phenomenon related to the experience of seeing blurred violent images, that is the attenuation of unbearable content. I will, therefore, distinguish this from the neutralization of violence through aestheticization, since the attenuation implies the work of partial recognition and minimal reconstitution, by means of imagination and memory, of what is irregardable.