The Body in Pain: The Making and Unmaking of the World
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating

The Body in Pain: The Making and Unmaking of the World

4.19 of 5 stars 4.19  ·  rating details  ·  558 ratings  ·  47 reviews
Part philosophical meditation, part cultural critique , this explores the nature of physical suffering.
Paperback, 396 pages
Published January 28th 1988 by Oxford Paperbacks (first published September 26th 1985)
more details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 1,500)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  rating details
I'm giving this 4 stars, but that's purely on the strength of the first section of the book. I'll get my key complaint out of the way here--- the final section seems largely an afterthought, and could be a separate book. The middle section--- on warfare ---isn't as tightly reasoned as the first, key section on torture. But that section taken alone is powerful and cogent and a key text for understanding what torture does.

So much of the debate over "enhanced interrogation" in the last nine years h...more
Jul 18, 2007 Elijah rated it 3 of 5 stars Recommends it for: critical readers, pain survivors
My main observation when reading this book was the self-awareness of the prose. Even the length and construction of the sentences is self-conscience, full of explainitory clauses and careful definitions of things that do not need to be defined. The style befits the subject matter, of course, but detracts from "The Body in Pain" as a critical synthesis. Instead, it becomes a "surviviour's text". Further, for a book that is explicitly about the body, descriptions bodily experiences are very thin....more
Louis Marvin
Oct 03, 2007 Louis Marvin rated it 5 of 5 stars Recommends it for: people interested in post-structuralist theory and a full explanation of torture techniques
Shelves: lightreads
This book provides a thorough critique of the mind/body split that dominates modernist thought. Besides being a pre-eminent scholar, Elaine Scarry is also somewhat of a renaissance woman, having at somepoint or another turning herself into a leading expert on rocket trajectory or, in this case, torture techniques. This makes this read both fascinating and somewhat stomach-turning. Enjoy!
John Keats
A complex and important book about pain and power, or about how creativity is linked to both: you create to escape pain, and all the objects created by civilized humans relieve pain, or are turned into instruments of pain, which poisons the original intent, or structural purpose of creativity or creating. That's a poor summation, and for a book that is so smart, Scarry, to me, practices a lot of the scholarly games and gymnastics that can drive me crazy. She makes it clear she's talking about st...more
I am only a few chapters in and I already find this book utterly revelatory. The chapters on the medical, legal and political discourse on pain in re: torture feel far more contemporary than when the book was written, in 1985. I feel this is a necessary book, for me as a pain sufferer, and for understanding, for lack of better term, the human condition.
This is not something most would pick up and read, but for what it is, it's a powerful book. I used Scarry's work in my dissertation and found it invaluable in forming my own thoughts. Scarry Her research consists of literature gleaned from Amnesty International among other sources, so the subject matter can get a bit heavy. She has been criticized for universalizing pain and ignoring cultural differences. Here's a review that comes close to how I would describe the book:

Part philosophical medit...more
A very intriguing book with some ideas still fermenting in my head. I liked the structure of the work more than the actual writing itself. She started out discussing the manner in which torture is the destruction of language and thus also the destruction of the world and then concluded the work by discussing how the world is made (and remade) by language and the arts. There were many unique insights that were exciting to me even if they should have been obvious (or maybe are obvious to other peo...more
Chris Nagel
Although the opening discussion of pain is evocative, and even profound, this is not the fundamental point of the book, and the title really should be something like Imagination and Belief, with a Short Excursus on Pain. I don't accept the premise that leads from pain, torture, and war to the interpretation of productive labor on the basis of a metaphorized Hegelian Marxism. The extended reading of the Old Testament seems particularly useless as a way to understand the relation between pain and...more
Laurel Perez
This is one of those philosophical texts worth reading for its insight into the complexities of an unmade world & what imagination and making mean in terms of making real changes in the world. Though dense, and impossible to intake in one read through alone, Scarry looks at the body in pain, and humanity in ways far too many have yet to take note of. Well worth more than one read.
Victoria Frost
This is a study of pain and the infliction of pain and how it affects the individual as well as the world.She discusses the idea that pain 'unmakes' the world, while creativity helps 'make' the world.
Quite a lengthy and challenging read, but if you want to know how pain involves individuals as well as our world view, then this is it.
Kate Mollohan
Reading this one for class, but it's quite interesting. A bit verbose but interesting conceptualizations of pain.
I am not a philosopher, and this book is more about the philosophy of pain rather than the nitty-gritty writing about pain that you may have. It is a well-known volume that many who write about the body turn to, and I can see why but for me it just isn't what I would normally read, or want to read.
I found this book in a freebox as I was recovering from a long, painful illness. I think I was expecting some sort of literary commiseration - isn't it amazing how much pain the body can endure? Where does one place that kind of experience?

Truthfully, I never really read the book. I flipped through it and tore out some pages to make altered poetry out of, for which its precise vocabulary was excellent.
Carmen something
May 10, 2007 Carmen something rated it 5 of 5 stars Recommends it for: what is the impact of inflicting pain as an act of torture? How do we colonize?
The Body in Pain was revolutionary for me. In the kind of way that a weighty critical theory text should be, Scarry rocked out my ideas of consent, objectification, Western systems of coming to knowledge, and domination. Torture, though not pallatable, is oft justified as a way of obtaining information. She challenges the reader to re-think the use of pain in war and battle.
I am surprised at how often I come back to this book, but Scarry's discussion of pain and language is seminal, to thinking on war, disability, disease, torture. The central idea that pain is the end of language may seem simple, but I still grapple with the applications. (And, particularly for Americans in the era of Abu Ghraib and Gonzales-speak, the analysis is scarily pertinent.)
Scarry's prose is beautiful and her view of the world changed mine. There is SO MUCH in this book. I learned about: creation, destruction, the body, human needs and motivations, phenomenology, war, torture, pain, Judeo-Christianity, Marxism... This book of critical theory holds beautiful stories about our world and about ourselves.
Nathan Smith
Jun 01, 2007 Nathan Smith rated it 5 of 5 stars Recommends it for: Everly
It's hard to know what exactly to say, because I feel like I have so much personally at stake in this book. I'll probably be thinking about it for a long time and would recommend this book to anyone willing to put in the work (it requires a lot of careful reading and re-reading).
You have to have a strong stomach to read this book. It describes in detail how people are tortured, and how we sanitize the process to make it more emotionally palatable for ourselves. In this age of waterboarding, Scarry's comments are more contemporary than ever.
Sunny Moraine
Absolutely stunning. At times it can be difficult to access, but it's entirely worth the effort. Scarry is a fabulous writer as well as a fabulous thinker, and lovers of philosophy and good prose alike should find things to enjoy. Highly, highly recommended.
Marissa Perel
I recommend reading this alongside The Powers of Horror by Kristeva, insightful in relationship to torture and an inquiry into the nature of power and its relationship to the corporeal. Is it Foucaultean? I'd be interested in a discussion on this.
Though I appreciate the kind of ground Scarry attempted to cover, the most useful information for me, personally, was contained in the introductory chapter. However, it's clearly a benchmark for the study of pain's effects.
I used parts of The Body in Pain in an essay I wrote in June about the poet Yusef Komunyakaa but want to explore it further as it relates to Gaddis's novel Agape Agape -- also cross pollinating with literary Chaos Theory.
Night RPM
To me, one of the seminal books on aesthetics. When I read writers like Jean Genet, Sebald, Primo Levi, et al., what I read from this book is always on the back of my mind.
Jun 14, 2007 Madelyn rated it 4 of 5 stars Recommends it for: everyone
Shelves: jenniquilter
The discussion of the Western language of war is absolutely amazing, and diagnoses exactly the trouble with the American media's portrayal of the war in Iraq...
Elaine Scarry is so totally fantastic. She writes very precisely and repeats herself at just the right time. I can't believe I am just reading this.
very dense and a bit repetitive but still a really interesting book exploring pain, the ways we define it, and how it shapes culture.
Apr 01, 2010 Dorothy is currently reading it
The ideas are almost ridiculously simple yet the eloquence and humanity of the prose kind of makes my guts quiver in awe.
Jul 08, 2009 Giancarlo marked it as to-read
this is a tough one to read; lanugage wise, but has much to say on the framing of torture, war and consciousness
The author proposes a terrible and, I think, fearfully likely theorey of pain that explains why torture and war happen.
Sep 01, 2011 Lauren added it
Difficult to follow. I'm interested in the concepts, but her style of writing seems disjointed and poorly structured.
Philosophy/Critique, tackles some tough subjects in relation to physical pain (in two parts "making" & "unmaking").
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 49 50 next »
topics  posts  views  last activity   
comment 2 22 Feb 26, 2013 08:55PM  
  • Precarious Life: The Powers of Mourning and Violence
  • Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection
  • Unclaimed Experience: Trauma, Narrative and History
  • Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature
  • Illness as Metaphor & AIDS and Its Metaphors
  • Disidentifications: Queers of Color and the Performance of Politics
  • At the Mind's Limits: Contemplations by a Survivor on Auschwitz and Its Realities
  • Terrorist Assemblages: Homonationalism in Queer Times
  • On Longing: Narratives of the Miniature, the Gigantic, the Souvenir, the Collection
  • Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life
  • An Archive of Feelings: Trauma, Sexuality, and Lesbian Public Cultures
  • The Writing of the Disaster
  • Touching Feeling: Affect, Pedagogy, Performativity
  • This Sex Which Is Not One
  • On Being Ill
  • Upheavals of Thought: The Intelligence of Emotions
  • Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature (Fiftieth-Anniversary Edition)
  • Volatile Bodies: Toward a Corporeal Feminism
On Beauty and Being Just Dreaming by the Book Thinking in an Emergency Resisting Representation Rule of Law, Misrule of Men

Share This Book