Thursday, January 11, 2007

On Scarry's "The Body in Pain"

“Directed against the isolating aversiveness of pain,
mental and material culture assumes the sharability of sentience.” (page 326)
The often cited Elaine Scarry’s 1985 book “The Body in Pain – The Making and Unmaking of the World” ought to be considered among groundwork classics for algoscience, the field of studies on suffering that I advocate to create. Well, of course Scarry proposes a new science of creation (p. 280), not of suffering, but such a displacement illustrates by itself the difficulty of focusing on suffering that is so typical in the whole history of human concern with that subject. Her book is an instance of what it talks about, a human creation, brought about like every creation, in final analysis, by the need and purpose to relieve suffering. At the same time, it is an instance of the difficulty about which it speaks, the difficulty to speak about suffering: “(…) the sentient fact of physical pain is (…) so flatly invisible (…) that almost any other phenomenon occupying the same environment will distract attention from it.” (page 12), and “(…) as physical pain destroys the mental content and language of the person in pain, so it also tends to appropriate and destroy the conceptualization abilities and language of persons who only observe the pain.” (page 279)

Her book is a success because it goes beyond that difficulty in an unprecedented manner. Not so much because the unbearable depiction of pain in torture is flatly put in words on the pages, but because the reality of suffering is presented at length as the most salient and the most reality-conferring feature of the most real of all phenomenon, the one which for us gives reality to every thing in the world, our sentience.

It is high time, I suggest, that we accord to the sentient group of things its due place among our main objects of concern, among our deepest motives of common allegiance, among our most dear and sacred but hopefully never absolute terms of personal identification like our nation, religion, ideology, profession, family, species, etc.

I advocate the creation of algonomy, a whole new domain for dealing with the knowledge and management of suffering, because it appears to me, based on millions of utterances among which Scarry’s book is one of the most knowledgeably heartfelt, that the management of suffering is the activity that will decide, at this time in our planet history, whether our humanly made world will be unmade into a hellish desert or made into a more inhabitable world for all sentient beings.

But where shall we find a place to meet for studying suffering, in particular Scarry’s insights on the crucial role of that monstrous feeling in human creation? Do we first have to find money for that? If yes, who will validate our claim for subvention? If no, as I believe, can you help, at least by circulating this call toward those who might be interested in meeting for the sake of sentience rather than money?
“The problem of economic distribution (…) is the problem of distributing the
power of artifacts to remake sentience.” (page 263)


Post a Comment

<< Home