Pain and Negation

In her The Body in Pain, Elaine Scarry describes the “aversiveness” of our experience of pain. By that, she means that pain is sheerly negative, experienced as something set against us. Even though it is in us, it’s not us. Scarry writes:

The first, the most essential, aspect of pain is its sheer aversiveness. While other sensations have content that may be positive, neutral, or negative, the very content of pain is itself negation. If to the person in pain it does not feel averse, and if it does not in turn elicit in that person aversive feelings toward it, it is not in either philosophical discussions or psychological definitions of it called pain. Pain is a pure physical experience of negation, an immediate sensory rendering of ‘against,’ of something being against one, and of something one must be against. Even though it occurs within oneself, it is at once identified as ‘not oneself,’ ‘not me,’ as something so alien that it must right now be gotten rid of.

Scarry is particularly interested in the experience of pain under torture, and in such contexts the aversiveness of pain takes on a political dimension: “This internal physical experience is in torture accompanied by its external political equivalent, the presence in the space outside the body of a self-pro­ claimed ‘enemy,’ someone who in becoming the enemy becomes the human embodiment of aversiveness; he ceases to have any psychological characteristics or content other than that he is, like physical pain, ‘not me,’ ‘against me,’ Although there are many averse political contexts—an occupied town or a prison, for example—where the ‘againstness’ exists in an implicit and silent state of readiness, exists not now but only as an always closeby future, it is the very nature of torture to in each present moment identify, announce, act out in bru­tality, accusation, and challenge the state of its own otherness, the state of being against, the fact of being the enemy” (52).

"The original intent was never to expunge a Christian understanding of morality & law which ..."

Here Comes the Judge
"If you take the Constitution out of context, as with anything, including the bible, you ..."

Here Comes the Judge
"Our conversation has blundered into the weeds. I don’t much care to rehash Civics 101.The ..."

Here Comes the Judge
"I don't think you can say that the US Supreme Court has never relied upon ..."

Here Comes the Judge

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!