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

4.16  ·  Rating details ·  1,202 ratings  ·  89 reviews
Part philosophical meditation, part cultural critique, The Body in Pain is a profoundly original study that has already stirred excitement in a wide range of intellectual circles. The book is an analysis of physical suffering and its relation to the numerous vocabularies and cultural forces--literary, political, philosophical, medical, religious--that confront it. Elaine ...more
Paperback, 385 pages
Published April 23rd 1987 by Oxford University Press, USA (first published September 26th 1985)
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Mar 22, 2010 rated it really liked it
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
Oct 22, 2014 added it
Shelves: theeeeeeory
Let's start with that first section, the one about torture. Essential reading, absolutely essential, thought-provoking reading, and a piece of critical theory in its best, most provocative, and most lucid tradition, that of Foucault, Adorno, and Barthes.

Then we get into the section on war. Not as interesting, but still serviceable.

Then there's some biblical stuff. Same.

Then there's a truly appalling discourse on Marx, which is the worst sort of Marxist writing, in that it completely abandons
Jul 18, 2007 rated it liked it
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
I thought I would never finish this book. Instead, it took me 20 years. I bought it and first tried to read it in the 1990s--I made it through the first section about torture but it was so taxing and distressing that I needed to take a break before reading any more, so I set it aside and didn't pick it up back.

The same thing happened in the 2000s. But then someone told me that the first section is the hardest section in terms of arousing distress at the plight of others, that the other sections
Dec 19, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
This took so long to read. It is exceedingly abstract. It was suggested I needed to read chapter 1 to incorporate her argument about torture into my work on fictional and autobiographical representations of torture and incarceration. Her ideas about torture are ground-breaking. However, I recommend checking out Alexander Weheliye's critique of her suggestion that the tortured utterly lose their humanity as they lose language. He asks if a human cry doesn't express itself as an idea. Along the ...more
Jan 03, 2017 added it
Shelves: 1read_chunks_of
An academic and not workbooky look at pain. As my pain returns after some healing from the surgery, I am discouraged and need some framework for pain that is not just a series of to do lists for self improvement.

This will live in bathroom, where I sit and steam to distract myself. It starts with torture... not exactly the usual bathroom book. It's no Calvin & Hobbes!
May 12, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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.
May 01, 2018 rated it really liked it
mixed bag but when it's good it is
Nov 27, 2017 rated it really liked it
Reading this in the dark as Saturn returns, I can’t give it the time, although every sentence deserves it.

‘....many people’s experience of the medical community would bear out... the conclusion that physicians do not trust (hence, hear) the human voice, that they in effect perceive the voice of the patient as an “unreliable narrator” of bodily events, a voice which must be bypassed as quickly as possible so that they can get around and behind it to the physical events themselves.’
Oct 10, 2012 rated it it was amazing
i'm intimidated for some reason about writing a review because i think this is one of the most beautiful books i've read in some time. it is about the shared reality and the boundary that is the sentient matter of one's own body. the complicity that allows pain to be a prerequisite of meaning. the book is split into in depth discussions of torture and war, the bible and marx. it is interesting to me because of my obsession with nonrepresentation that its a category shared with pain and the ...more
Jun 12, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: for-novel
This has taken me MONTHS to read because it is so densely packed with profound thought, I had to split it into bite-size chunks (and I studied Philosophy of Religion at Cambridge; go figure). It's an incredible treatise on the phenomenology of pain and the external world, and how that relates to our understanding of our experience. Not for the academically faint-hearted, but if thinking about how we think about things is your bag, you should definitely give this a try.
Louis Marvin
Oct 03, 2007 rated it it was amazing
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!
T.R. Hummer
Dec 09, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Spectacularly original and insightful book on an impossible subject.
Alexander Miles
Nov 17, 2019 rated it it was amazing
It took me quite a long time to make my way through The Body in Pain, for several reasons. I should mention this is quite far afield from my background, I have no training in philosophy modern or otherwise, no real exposure to Marx beyond his basic historic context, and only a few fairly neutered Sunday-school versions of biblical stories still lingering back in the foggy memories of my youth. While other reviewers are critiquing the details of the substance, I have nowhere near enough context ...more
Melissa Stacy
Nov 29, 2019 rated it it was ok
The beginning of Elaine Scarry's 1985 classic, "The Body in Pain: The Making and Unmaking of the World," focuses on torture, and how torture is used in warfare and other situations.

At first, I was engaged by the text. I also kept expecting the author to mention rape. With each page I turned, I thought: "Okay, surely this page will at least *mention* rape, even if Scarry doesn't want to analyze it in depth." That assumption turned out to be false.

The author never mentions rape. Not once. Despite
Sam Eccleston
May 28, 2019 rated it liked it
This is a scholarly work in the sense that the argument is evidenced with such obsessive detail that the prose is rendered extremely dry and repetitive. The author’s voice also has a kind of slippery quality which is difficult to pin down; focussed concentration is often required if meaning is to be discerned. Despite this it is full of interesting observations about a whole range of phenomena; the exegesis of the themes of embodiment, belief, and material production in the Old Testament are ...more
Andrew Pemberton
Sep 05, 2019 rated it liked it
Part one: Gold. Wordy, but is an excellent discussion of how torture breaks down not just language, but our perception of civilization all together. While her views on war are very theoretical, they still make for an interesting read.

The book should have stopped there.

Part two: No, thank you. Not only is it incredibly difficult to read, but the author jumps from discussions of the likes of Churchill to Moses and Marx. Scarry has failed in creating a work that is accessible to anyone without a
Peter Russel
Oct 07, 2019 rated it really liked it
"In the long run, we will see that the story of physical pain becomes as well a story about the expansive nature of human sentience, the felt-fact of aliveness that is often sheerly happy, just as the story of expressing physical pain eventually opens into the wider frame of invention. The elemental 'as if' of the person in pain ('felt as if'...) will lead out into the array of counterfactual revisions (pain from cold, therefore coat) entailed in making. "
Kim Kim
Oct 08, 2018 rated it liked it
Great first section, thought-provoking, and strangely inspirational in terms of thinking about the craft of writing, i.e. making and unmaking a character's world. Had to skim the rest. Wish there was an outline of points. I felt like the rest of the book sort of went in circles and I couldn't make connections, but maybe that was just me.
Jul 12, 2017 rated it it was ok
It could just be me, but this book was exhilarating in the first half and an absolute slog in the second. A lot was going on in my life at the time, though. I'll revisit it in higher education, I'm sure.
Hunter Tidwell
Oct 26, 2019 rated it liked it
Interesting but overlong -- this is a slog to get through, not because the concepts are especially difficult, but because the prose is dense and unartful.
Oct 27, 2018 rated it really liked it
A dense read but fascinating and though-provoking.
May 19, 2019 rated it liked it
chapter on torture is phenomenal, then curiously abstract & downhill.
May 27, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: lamp-of-psyche
"Artifacts and bodies I sing ..."
Nupur Manasi
Jun 11, 2017 rated it really liked it
Amazing take on the politics behind commercialization of pain
May 07, 2019 rated it really liked it
When one is trying to read something as philosophically dense and very careful about the words being used I strongly recommend not reading it on a pdf file where sometimes the letters "i, s, c, n, and r" randomly disappear. It makes it feel like I was reading in some arbitrary form of pig latin, or some of "Exercises in Style" had actually bled into it. It certainly made reading for more difficult but then again it also made me take me time and not rush forward too fast.
Moving forward to make
Emily Griffin
Mar 16, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Incredible, deep, intense, heavy philosophy/cultural psychology that I refer to regularly for its brilliance.
Heather Stowell
Jun 25, 2014 rated it it was ok
In, “The Body in Pain,” Scarry focuses on the language of physical pain, citizenship and consent and lastly mental, verbal and material creation. In the first two of these three, she succeeds wonderfully and the connections between the two can be clearly drawn. In the latter half of the book, Scarry attempts to bridge bodily lived experiences of pain within the framework of an aesthetics that links with phenomenology via their shared speculations on imagination. She vaguely outlines an aesthetic ...more
John Keats
Apr 03, 2014 rated it really liked it
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 ...more
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comment 5 30 Oct 22, 2019 09:05PM 1 4 Feb 01, 2017 10:07PM  

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