Elaine Scarry on the recognition of pain

U.S. Army AH-64D Apache Attack Helicopter

U.S. Army AH-64D Apache Attack Helicopter
Image credit: Air Force World

As an actual physical fact, a weapon is an object that goes into the body and produces pain; as a perceptual fact, it can lift pain and its attributes out of the body and make them visible. The mental habit of recognizing pain in the weapon (despite the fact that an inanimate object cannot “have pain” or any other sentient experience) is both an ancient and an enduring one. Thus Homer speaks of an arrow “freighted with dark pains,” as though the heavy hurt the arrow will cause is already visibly contained in and carried by the object—is palpably there as its weight and cargo.[12] Margery Kempe, the fourteenth-century mystic, speaks of a “boisterous nail,” as though not only the pain that can be produced by the nail but the noises and cries in turn produced by the person in pain are already audible in the nail itself.[13] It is in the spirit of the same observation that Wittgenstein asks whether we ought not to be able to speak of the stone that causes hurt as having “pain patches” on it.[14] And the implications of the observation are extended in Joseph Beuys‘s small sculpture of a knife blade bound in gauze, exhibited at the Guggenheim in 1979 and entitled, “When you cut your finger, bandage the knife.”
Elaine Scarry in The Body in Pain: The Making and Unmaking of the World, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1987), p. 16. Originally published 1985.

Elaine Scarry Posted on behalf of on Thursday, February 4th, 2010 under Quotations.

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