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4.04.2008

Representations of pain

Pain - whether it be physical, emotional of psychological - is intelligible only to those who experience it. There is no way - for those who are not in pain - to understand what pain means. Pain is individual and inexpressible. Here is what Elaine Scarry wrote about it:

"Because the existing vocabulary for pain contains only a small handful of adjectives, one passes through direct descriptions very quickly and almost immediately encounters an "as if" structure: it feels as if...; it is as though...on the other side of the ellipse there reappear again and again two and anly two metaphors, and they are metaphors whose inner workings are very problematic. The first specifies an external agent of pain, a weapon that is pictured as producing the pain; and the second specifies bodily damage that is pictured as accompanying the pain (...) both weapon and wound may be used associatively to express pain."

"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 is both an ancient and an enduring one."

The Body in Pain, pp. 15, 16

Media representations of pain closely follow this logic. An example are the 16 pictures published today by the newspaper Repubblica. Only two of them portray the physical damage endured by a Tibetan, while 10 are images of knives, handcuffs and electric cattle prods on a white background.

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