Questions on The Body in Pain

One recurring question that I had while reading Scarry for this week: how much do emotions and psychology play into experiencing pain? In Scarry’s examples of torture, she explains tactics (slamming doors or loud noises) that are meant to rattle the tortured but that are not actually physically inflicted upon them. It seems that emotional terror magnified the experience of pain. I wonder if there is always an emotional component to pain. Can one experience pain without emotion?

Also, this reading made me think of people who self-inflict pain or engage in sadomasochism. These sort of examples suggest a different/pleasurable relationship to pain, but I wonder if this is necessarily the case. Is anyone familiar with this topic and how it relates to Scarry’s theories?


Filed under Elainne Scarry, pain, politics, sensation, sense

3 responses to “Questions on The Body in Pain

  1. In response to the second concern/question:

    Scarry talks (pg 148-150) about two different relations between pain and belief, that is, pain and the substantiation of some belief, ideology, cause, etc. In the first, the belief to be substantiated is held by the person in pain, usually by that person inflicting pain on him or herself. In the second, the belief to be substantiated is held by one person who inflicts pain on another person who does not hold that belief. It seems like this distinction is important in understanding sadomasochism, although how exactly it helps to understand it is unclear. First, Scarry means, I think, to distinguish these two relations in terms of consent. In the first relation, the person “consents” to the pain since he or she is inflicting the pain, and inflicting it in order to substantiate his or her own belief. In the second case, the person in pain has not consented since he or she does not hold the belief. This seems to apply to the practice of sadomasochism since, ideally, the parties involved would have consented to having pain inflicted upon them. What is unclear, however, is the relation, as you mentioned, between the pain and pleasure in sadomasochism. It doesn’t seem right to say that the person in pain is substantiating the belief that the pain is pleasurable. For the pleasure isn’t supposed to be a belief, but the feeling of pleasure.
    To sum up, it seems that sadomasochism must be distinguished from torture, and role pain plays in torture, insofar as there is consent among the parties. However, it is still unclear how this affects the relation between pain and pleasure.

  2. Endorphins, are one of the several places that you can gain pleasure from pain. Their is also Sub-space, which has been described as the self being ripped from their body(Papi Agamben is into this idea). You also have the Limit-Experience theorized by Bataille and Foucault. One will seek to push themselves to the edge of living, in hopes to tear the subject from itself, or for Foucault challenge reality. Jouisance-So pleasurable it becomes painful, so painful it becomes pleasurable.

    These are a few of the pleasure found in pain. As far as sadomasochism I agree that the (democratic?) consent before scenes challenge this association. Deleuze wrote a great piece entitled “Coldness and Cruelty” to argue this point. I’ll leave it at that for now.

  3. ancientbs

    It doesn’t seem like emotions or psychology have to play into pain at all in many situations. If I slice my finger open with a knife while cutting vegetables, my emotional/psychological state doesn’t matter. It hurts regardless.

    However, it does seem that there is an emotional/psychological component to torture, rather than pain. Slamming doors, loud noises, talking about family outside the room, etc. will not be physically painful at all, but the anticipation is torturous, emotional, psychological, and spiritually damaging. This doesn’t necessarily make it painful. It’s the anticipation of pain that works on emotions etc. Having weapons, tools, artifacts, etc. hanging around the room creates an anticipation of torture/pain that is emotional, but not yet painful.

    As far as masochism is concerned, I don’t think it’s near the same level of torture. There’s no doubt that some people apparently enjoy significant levels of pain, but having your fingernails ripped out, being water-boarded, being electrocuted, etc., reaches a whole new level that I don’t believe anyone would enjoy. That being said, I’m no masochist. Perhaps some do enjoy it.

    On a related note, I know a Thomist philosopher that published a book on torture and its effects on the soul/spirituality. Here’s a link to the book:

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