The Body in Pain

The Body in Pain : The Making and Unmaking of the World

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Part philosophical meditation, part cultural critique, The Body in Pain is a profoundly original study that has already stirred excitement in a wide range of intellectual circles. The book is an analysis of physical suffering and its relation to the numerous vacabularies and cultural forces--literary, political, philosophical, medical, religious--that confront it. Elaine Scarry bases her study on a wide range of sources: literature and art, medical case histories, documents on torture compiled by Amnesty International, legal transcripts of personal injury trials, and military and strategic writings by such figures as Clausewitz, Churchill, Liddell Hart, and Kissinger, She weaves these into her discussion with an eloquence, humanity, and insight that recall the writings of Hannah Arendt and Jean-Paul Sartre. Scarry begins with the fact of pain's inexpressibility. Not only is physical pain enormously difficult to describe in words--confronted with it, Virginia Woolf once noted, "language runs dry"--it also actively destroys language, reducing sufferers in the most extreme instances to an inatriculate state of cries and moans. Scarry analyzes the political ramifications of deliberately inflicted pain, specifically in the cases of torture and warfare, and shows how to be fictive. From these actions of "unmaking" Scarry turns finally to the actions of "making"--the examples of artistic and cultural creation that work against pain and the debased uses that are made of it. Challenging and inventive, The Body in Pain is landmark work that promises to spark widespread debate. About the Author Elaine Scarry is Associate Professor of English at the University of Pennsylvania.show more

Product details

  • Hardback | 392 pages
  • 160.02 x 238.76 x 35.56mm | 725.74g
  • Oxford University Press Inc
  • New York, United States
  • English
  • 0195036018
  • 9780195036015

Review Text

A 400-page mishmash of quotes, semi-history and personal opinion. We are thrown ideas and blurbs from such disparate philosophers and venues as Kant, Sartre, the act of war by von Clausewitz, a diatribe on the values of Amnesty International, Churchill, the opinions of Justices Holmes and Marshall, Theodore Sorenson, selected readings from the Bible, and Karl Marx's laundry lists. Scarry says the purpose of this work is to examine the difficulty and impossibility of expressing pain - but that physical pain is unshareable and destroys language. There is no clarity of style in this work and the subject as specified by the author is in no manner covered. Instead, the reader is bombarded with the semantics of lexical neologism, while the author in a fit of paraphrenic rage searches vainly for etymological meaning, trying to explain the origins of all subsequence, but not her intended subject. Assumptions are made and asserted with no supporting evidence: Crucification is the center of Christianity; specific races tend to vocalize unitelligible cries more than others; war permitted Hitler's mass executions. Instead of attempting profundity with platitudes like ". . .to have pain is to have certainty - to hear about pain is to have doubt," Scarry might better have concentrated on the brief glimmers of sentient thought she happens on instead of subjecting the reader to verbal torture. The deobjectification of farm tools or household goods as weapons of torture and death, the powers of obiliteration and the participation by man in a modern age of war, these deserve separate treatises. The concept of word substitution such as harvest and reap to connote killing is interesting but hardly original. To paraphrase Kant, ". . .a sudden transformation of a strained expectation - into nothing." (Kirkus Reviews)show more

Rating details

941 ratings
4.15 out of 5 stars
5 43% (405)
4 35% (330)
3 17% (163)
2 3% (31)
1 1% (12)
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