Pain studies, both in exact sciences and in the humanities, are a fast-shifting field. This volume condenses a spectrum of recent views of pain through the lens of humanistic studies. Methodologically, the volume is an interdisciplinary study of the questions pertaining to the accessibility of pain (physical or emotional) to understanding and of the possible influence of suffering on the enhancement of knowledge in private experience or public sphere.
Undeterred by the widespread belief that pain cannot be expressed in language and that it is intransmissible to others, the authors of the essays in the collection show that the replicability of records and narratives of human experience provides a basis for the kind of empathetic attention, dialogue, and contact that can help us to register the pain of another and understand its conditions and contexts. Needless to say, the improvement of this understanding may also help map the ways for the ethics of response to (and help for) pain.
Whereas the authors of the volume tend to share the view of pain as a totally negative phenomenon (the position taken in Elaine Scarry’s The Body in Pain), they hold this view applicable mainly to the attitudes to the pain of others and the imperative of minimise the causes of another’s suffering. They also consider this view to be culturally and temporally circumscribed. The volume suggests that one’s own personal experience of suffering, along with the awareness of the seriality of such experience among fellow sufferers, can be conducive to emotional and intellectual growth. The reading of literature dealing with pain can lead to similar results through vicariously experienced suffering, whose emotional corollaries and intellectual consequences may be conveyed through artistic rather than discursive means.
The distinctive features of the volume are that it processes these issues in a historicising way, deploying the history of the ideas of pain from the Middle Ages to the present day, and that it makes use of the methodology of different disciplines to do so, arriving to similar conclusions through, as it were, different paths. The disciplines include analytic philosophy, historiography, history of science, oral history, literary studies, and political science.