The Body in Pain

AutorScarry, Elaine
PealkiriThe body in pain : the making and unmaking of the world / Elaine Scarry
IlmunudOxford ; New York : Oxford University Press, 1985
ViideScarry, Elaine 1985. The body in pain: the making and umaking of the world. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press.

When one hears about another person's physical pain, the events happening within the interior of that person's body may seem to have the remote character of some deep subterranean fact, belonging to an invisible geography that, however portentous, has no reality because it has not yet manifested itself on the visible surface of the earth. Or alternatively, it may seem as distant as the interstellar events referred to by scientists who speak to us mysteriously of not yet detectable intergalactic screams or of "very distant Seyfer galaxies, a class of objects within which violent events of unknown nature occur from time to time." (Scarry 1985: 3-4)
Physical pain happens, of course, not several miles below our feet or many miles above our heads but within the bodies of persons who inhabit the world through which we each day make our way, and who may at any moment be separated from us by only a space of several inches. The very temptation to invoke analogies to remote cosmologies (and there is a long tradition of such analogies) is itself a sign of pain's triumph, for it achieves its aversiveness in part by bringing about, even within the radius of several feet, this absolute split between one's sense of one's own reality and the reality of other persons. (Scarry 1985: 4)
The metaphorics of pain's inexpressibility and the consequence of pain upon the sense of reality (which can and probably is brought further in the book).
To witness the moment when pain causes a reversion to the pre-language of cries and groans is to witness the destruction of language; but conversely, to be present when a person moves up out of that pre-language and projects the facts of sentience into speech is almost to have been permitted to be present at the birth of language itself. (Scarry 1985: 6)
This is plainly poetic and would probably make linguists feel all warm and fuzzy inside, despite the cruelty involved in the described phenomena.
Amnesty International's ability to bring about the cessation of torture depends centrally on its ability to communicate the reality of physical pain to those who are not themselves in pain. When, for example, one receives a letter from Amnesty in the mail, the words of that letter must somehow convey to the reader the aversiveness being experienced inside the body of someone whose country may be far away, whose name can barely be pronounced, and whose ordinary life is unknown except that it is known that the ordinary life has ceased to exist. The language of the letter must also resist and overcome the inherent pressures toward tonal instability: that language must at once be characterized by the greatest possible tact (for the most intimate realm of another human being's body is the implicit or explicit subject) and by thre greatest possible immediacy (for the most crucial fact about pain is its presentness and the most crucial fact about torture is that it is happening). Tact and immediacy ordinarily work against one another; thus the difficulty of sustaining either tone is compounded by the necessity of sustaining both simultaneously. (Scarry 1985: 9)
This is a vivid example of the difficulties involved in expressing (even more, someone else's) pain. An association can be made between tact and immediacy here and manners and distance in Mead (1970: 218).
Psychological suffering, though often difficult for any one person to express, does have referential content, is susceptible to verbal objectification, and is so habitually depicted in art that, as Thomas Mann's Settembrini reminds us, there is virtually no piece of literature that is not about suffering, no piece of literature that does not stand by ready to assist us. The issue of "assistance" is not, of course, a self-evident one: there is always the danger that a fictional character's suffering (whether physical of psychological) will divert our attentnion away from the living sister or uncle who can be helped by our compassion in a way that the fictional character cannot be; there is also the danger that because artists so successfully express suffering, they may themselves collectively come to be thought of as the most authentic class of sufferers, and thus may inadvertently appropriate concern away from others in radical need of assistance. (Scarry 1985: 11)
This concerns dystopic fiction more directly than other valuable remarks gleaned from this book: the psychological pain of the protagonists is readily available, while the existence of physical pain is under question. Some examples do pop into mind: Montag is psychologically suffering under the homogeneity of his society, and Winston is forced to bend bend in the morning and hurt his back.
Medical researchers also use agency language in their descriptions and map of physiological mechanisms: the term "trigger points" (used to indicate the bodily points where pain usually originates or the paths along which it spreads) is an instance. (Scarry 1985: 17)
This is merely a familiar node from medical discourse: trigger-point therapy or something to that effect is what my roommate is interested in.
THE STRUCTURE OF TORTURE: The Conversion of Real Pain into the Fiction of Power
Torture consists of a primary physical act, the infliction of pain, and a primary verbal act, the interrogation. The first rarely occurs without the second. As is true of the present period, most historical episodes of torture, such as the inquisition, have inevitably included the element of interrogation: the pain is traditionally acompanied by "the Question." Ancient history, too, confirms the insistent coupling; strangers caught by the yaksha cults in India, for example, were sacrificed after being subjected to a series of riddles. The connection between the physical act and the verbal act, between body and voice, is often misstated or misunderstood. Although the information sought in an interrogation is almost never credited with being a just motive for torture, it is repeatedly credited with being the motive for torture. (Scarry 1985: 28)
The two acts of torture. Here acts works also as a theatrical notion.
Pain and interrogation inevitably occur together in part because the torturer and the prisoner each experience them as opposites. The very question that, within the political pretense, matters so much to the torturer that it occasions his grotesque brutality will matter so little to the prioner experiencing the brutality that he will give the answer. For the torturers, the sheer and simple fact of human agony is made invisible, and the moral fact of inflicting the agony is made neutral by the feigned urgency and significance of the question. For the prisoner, the sheer, simple, overwhelming fact of his agony will make neutral and invisible the significance of any question as well as the significance of the world to which the question refers. Intense pain is world-destroying. In compelling confession, the torturers compel the prisoner to record and objectify the fact that intense pain is world-destroying. It is for this reason that while the content of the prisoner's answer is only sometimes important to the regime, the form of the answer, the fact of his anwering, is always crucial. (Scarry 1985: 29)
The asymmetry of torture.
As the body breaks down, it becomes increasingly the object of attention, usurping the place of all other objects, so that finally, in very very old and sick people, the world may exist only in a circle two feet out from themselves; the exclusive content of perception and speech may become what was eaten, the problems of excreting, the progress of pains, the comfort or discomfort of a particular chair or bed. Stravinsky once described aging as: "the ever-shrinking perimeter of pleasure." This constantly diminishing world ground is almost a given in representation of old age. (Scarry 1985: 32-33)
The scar[r]y old age.
In normal contexts, the room, the simplest form of shelter, expresses the most benign potential of human life. It is, on the one hand, an enlargement of the body: it keeps warm and safe the individual it houses in the same way the body encloses and protects the individual within; like the body, its walls put boundaries around the self preventing undifferentiated contact with the world, yet in its windows and doors, crude versions of the sense, it enables the self to move out into the world and allows that world to enter. But while the room is a magnification of the body, it is simultaneously a miniaturization of the world, of civilization. Although its walls, for example, mimic the body's attempt to secure for the individual a stable internal space - stabilizing the temperature so that the body spends less time in this act; stabilizing the nearness of others so that the body can suspend its rigid and wachful postures; acting in these and other ways like the body so that the body can act less like a wall - the walls are also, throughout all this, independent objects, objects which stand apart from and free of the body, objects which realize the human being's impulse to project himself out into a space beyond the boundaries of the body in acts of making, either physical or verbal, that once multiplied, collected, and shared are called civilization. (Scarry 1985: 38-39)
Enlargement of the body is yet another fine term to signify the numerous physical artifacts people use to mediate between the body and the world.
In torture, the world is reduced to a single room or set of rooms. Called "guest rooms" in Greece and "safe houses" in hilippines, the torture rooms are often given names that acknowledge and call attention to the generous, civilizing impulse normally presnted in the human shelter. They call attention to this impulse only as prelude to announcing its annihilation. The torture room is not just the setting in which the torture occurs; it is not just the space that happens to house the various instruments used for beating and burning and producing electrick shock. It is itself literally converted into another weapon, into an agent of pain. All aspects of the basic structure - walls, ceilings, windows, doors - undergo this conversion. (Scarry 1985: 40)
Remember room 101 in 1984.
The prisoner's physical world is limited to the room and its contents; no other concrete embodiments of civilization's institutions, though not physically present, are constantly alluded to in the action of torture, and so hover behind and arch over the physical reality of the sealed room. Like the domestic objects, these institutions are unmade by being made weapons. The first is, of course, the trial. In its basic outlines, torture is the inversion of the trial. In its basic outlines, torture is the inversion of the trial, a reversal of cause and effect. While the one studies evidence that may lead to punishment, the other uses punishhment to generate the evidence. (Scarry 1985: 41)
The ceaseless, self-announcing signal of the body in pain, at once so empty and undifferentiated and so full of blaring adversity, contains not only the feeling "my body hurts" but the feeling "my body hurts me." This part of the pain, like almost all others, is usually invisible to anyone outside the boundaries of the sufferer's body, though it sometimes becomes visible when a young child or an animal in the first moments of acute distress takes maddening flight, fleeing from its own body as though it were a part of the environment that could be left behind. If self-hatred, self-alienation, and self-betrayal (as well as the hatred of, alienation from, and betrayal of all that is contained in the self - friends, family, ideas, ideology) were translated out of the psychological realm where it has content and is accessible to language into the unspeakable and contentless realm of physical sensation it would be intense pain. (Scarry 1985: 47)
The pain and self-distance.
Each source of strenght and delight, each means of moving out into the world or moving the world in to oneself, becomes a means of turning the body, is replaced by rituals of starvation involving either no food or food that nauseates; taste and smell, two whole sensory modes that have emerged to watch over the entry of the world into the body, are systematically abused with burns and cuts to the inside of nose and mouth, and with bug-infested or putrefying substances; normal needs like excretion and special wants like sexuality are made ongoing sources of outrage and repulsion. Even the most small and benign of bodily acts becomes a form of agency. In The First Circle, Solzhenitsyn describes how prisoners, while sleeping, were forced to keep their hands outside the blanket, and he writes, "It was a diabolic rule. It is a natural, deep-rooted, unnoticed human habit to hide one's hands while asleep, to hold them against one's body." The prisoner's body - in its physical strenghts, in its sensory powers, in its needs and wants, in its ways of self-delight, and finally even, as here, in its small and moving gestures of friendship toward itself - is, like the prisoner's voice, made a weapon against him, made to betray him on behalf of the enemy, made to be the enemy. (Scarry 1985: 48)
One aspect of great pain - as acknowledged by those who have suffered it from the perspective of psychology, philosophy, and physiology, and, finally, as becomes obvious to common sense alone - is that it is to the individual experiencing it overwhelmingly present, more emphatically real than any other human experience, and yet is almost invisible to anyone else, unfelt, and unknown. Even prolonged, agonized human screams, which press on the hearer's consciousness in something of the same way pain presses on the consciousness of the person hurt, convey only a limited dimension of the sufferer's experience. It may be for this reason that images of the human scream recur fairly often in the visual arts, which for the most part avoid depictions of auditory experience. The very failure to convey the sound makes these representations arresting and accurate; the opening mouth with no sound reaching anyone in the sketches, paintings, or film stills of Grünewald, Stanzione, Munch, Bacom, Bergman, or Eisenstein, a human being so utterly consumed in the act of making a sound that cnanot be heard, coincides with the way in which pain engulfs the one in pain but remains unsensed by anyone else. For the torturer, it is not enough that the prisoner experience pain. Its reality, although already incontestable to the sufferer, must be made equally incontestable to those outside the sufferer. Pain is therefore made visible in the multiple and elaborate processes that evolve in producing it. (Scarry 1985: 51-52)
I can comment little because this knowledge is completely new to me.
Pain annihilates not only the objects of complex thought and emotion but also the objects of the most elemental acts of perception. It may begin by destroying some intricate and demanding allegiance, but it may end (as is implied in the expression "blind pain") by destroying one's ability simply to see. In torture, this world dissolution, acknowledged in confession, is mimed in the conversion into weapons and resulting cancellation of all parts of the room as well as all parts of the larger world that can be bodied forth in the torturer's action and speech. (Scarry 1985: 54)

THE STRUCTURE OF WAR: The Juxtaposition of Injured Bodies and Unanchored Issues
It is a consequence of the ease with which power can be mixed with almost any other subject that is can be endlessly unfolded, exfoliated, in strategies and theories that - whether compellingly legitimate or transparently absurd - in their very form, in the very fact of occurring in human speech, increase the claim of power, its representation in the world. In contrast, one of two things is true of pain. Either it remains inarticulare or else the moment it first becomes articulate it silences all else: the moment language bodies forth the reality of pain, it makes all further statements and interpretations seem ludicrous and inappropriate, as hollow as the world content that disappears in the head of the person suffering. (Scarry 1985: 60)
Cf. Power and pain.
A deeply tactful, compassionate, and careful account of the alterations that occur in human tissue such as the Stocholm International Peace Research Institute's verbal and visual account of the effects of incendiary weapons in Vietnam, Dresden, Hiroshima, or Nagasaki may place the injured body several inches in front of our eyes, hold the light up to the injured flesh, and keep steady the reader's head so that he cannot turn away. In their attempt to bring about the elimination of such weapons (weapons may be differentiated not by whether or not they injure, nor even by their final extremity of damage since most kill, but by the intensity and duration of suffering before death), such descriptions are crucial; for although in understanding the nature of war the agonized injury of the small Vietnamese girl's burned face and burned off arms - or later her look of terror as she sees in the reflecting surface of window, river, or imported spoon the obliteration of her features - must be multiplied over the thousands and millions of inhabitants of different countries, injury must at some point be understood individually because pain, like all forms of sentience, is experienced within, "happens" within, the body of the individual. Such a study may not, however, specify whether such injury was the intent or accidental effect of the bombing, whether it was within or wholly outside the view of the chemist or corporation who discovered and marketed napalm, and, most important, whether the populations who consented to war consented to this or to something else. (Scarry 1985: 65)
Although a weapon is an extension of the human body (as is acknowledged in their collective designation as "arms), it is instead the human body that becomes in this vocabulary an extension of the weapon. A nineteen-year-old holding a pistol has an arm that is three and a half feet from his shoulder to the tip of his weapon (if the weapon is firing, his reach changes from three and a half feet to five hundred yards). The first three feet are sentient tissue; the last half foot is nonsentient material. (Scarry 1985: 67)
Body-extensions: the border between sentient tissue and nonsentient material.
With the exception of periodic boy dounts or "kill ratios," the intricacies and complications of the massive geographical interactions between two armies of oppising nations tend to be represented without frequent reference to the actual injuries occurring to the hundreds of thousands of soldiers involved: the movements and actions of the armies are emptied of human content and occur as a rarefied choreography of disembodied events. But the quality of abstraction and, above all, the apparent distance of these events from the realm of human pain cannot in any simple way be attributed to the categorical evacuation of the body from the text; for the body, exiled in its ordinary form, is allowed to reenter in an only slightly unexpected place. Each of the two armies periodically becomes a single combatant, with the real human body's elemental duality of being at once capable of inflicting injury and of receiving it. (Scarry 1985: 70)
Real human pain in war.
In the first of these, the injuries and deaths and damage are referred to as a "by-product" of war: the term is usually preceded by an adjective ("terrible by-product," "necessary by-product," "acceptably by-product," "inevitable by-product," "unacceptable by-product"); which one appears in a given instance is determined by the particular argument that is being made. But if injury is designated "the by-product," what is the product? Injury is the thing every exhausting piece of strategy and every single weapon is designed to bring into being: it is not something inadvertently produced on the way to producing something else but is the relentless object of all military activity. (Scarry 1985: 72-73)
The argument is solid: injury is the main product of weapons.
In other words, in consenting to enter into war, the participants enter into a structure that is a self-cancelling duality They enter into a formal duality, but one understood by all to be temporal and intolerable, a formal duality that, by the very force of its relentless insistence on doubleness, provides the means for eliminating and replacing itself by the condition of singularity (since in the end it will hav elegitimized one side's right to determine the nature of central issues). A first major attribute here is the transition, at the moment of the entry into war, from the condition of multiplicity to the condition of the binary; a second attribute is the transition, at the moment of ending the war, from the condition of the binary to the condition of the unitary. There are, for example, in the opening moments of war, no longer the diffuse fice hundred million persons, projects, and concerns that existed immediately prior to war's opening, because those five hundred million separate identities have suddenly crystallized into two discrete identities, Russian and American... (Scarry 1985: 87-88)
cf. svoi and chusoi.
War involves, of course, thousands of other skills (making eapons, mining fuel, raising food, tending the sick); but however much each contributes to the outcome, no one of these is the basis of the contest; that is, no one of them is what injuring is, the means of identifying a winner and a loser. (Scarry 1985: 89)
This is why injuring is the main goal of the war as a contest.
War destroys persons, material culture, and elements of consciousness (or interior culture): the third in this triad must in the benign form of contest also be destroyed, even if the first two are left intact. The losing country must erase part of the slate and begin to re-imagine itself, re-believe in, re-understand, re-experience itself as an intact entity, but one not having some of the territorial or ideological attributes it had formerly (including sometimes its very name or its form of government). (Scarry 1985: 92-93)
Re-creation of the losing state.
...a military contest differs from other contests in that its outcome carries the power of its own enforcement; the winner may enact its issues because the loser does not have the power to reinitiate the battle, does not have the option further to contest the issues or to contest the nature of the contest or its outcome or the political consequences of that outcome. Thus injuring as the activity on which a contest is based not only designates a winner and a loser and in so doing brings about the cessation of its own activity (a description that would so far apply to most contests), but also (unlike other contests) ensures that one of the two participants will no longer have the ability to again perform the activity. (Scarry 1985: 96)
The author takes her sweet time to get to this argument, but it finally arrives.
The extent to which in ordinary peacetime activity the nation-state resides unnoticed in the intricate recesses of personhood, penetrates the deepest layers of consciousness, and manifests itself in the body itself is hard to assess; for it seems at any given moment "hardly" there, yet seems at many moments, however hardly, there in the metabolic mysteries of the body's hunger for culturally stipulated forms of food and drink, the external objects one is willing habitually to put into oneself; hardly there but there in the learned postures, gestures, gait, the ease or reluctance with which it breaks into a smile; there in the regional accent, the disposition of the tongue, mouth, and throat, the elaborate and intricate play of small muscles that may also be echoed and magnified throughout the whole body, as when a man moves across the room, there radiates across his shoulder, head, hips, legs, and arms the history of his early boydhood years of life in Georgia and his young adolescence in Manhattan.
The presence of learned culture in the body is sometimes described as an imposition originating from without: the words "polis" and "polite" are, as Pierre Bourdieu reminds us, etymologically related, and "the concessions of polteness always contain political concessions." But it must at least in part be seen as originating in the body, attributes to the refusal of the body to disown its own early circumstances, its mute and often beautiful insistence on absorbing into its rhythms and postures the signs that it inhabits a particular space at a particular time. The human animal is in its early years "civilized," learns to stand upright, to walk, to wave and signal, to listen, to speak, and the general "civilizing" process takes place within particular "civil" realms, a particular hemisphere, a particular nation, a particular state, a particular region. Whether the body's loyalty to these polticial realms is more accurately identified as residing in one fragile gesture or in a thousand, it is likely to be deeply and permanently there, more permanently there, less easily shed, than those disembodied forms of patriotism that exist in verbal habits or in thoughts about one's national identity. The political identity of the body is usually learned unconsciously, effortlessly, and very early - it is said that within a few months of life British infants have learned to hold their eyebrows in a raised position. So, too, it may be the last form of patriotism to be lost; studies of third and fourth generation immigrants in the United States show that long after all other cultural habits (language, narratices, celebrations of festival days) have been lost or disowned, culturally stipulated expressions of physical pain remain and differentiate Irish-American, Jewish-American, or Italian-American.
What is "remembered" in the body is well remembered. When a fifteen-year-old girl climbs off her bike and climbs back on at twenty-five, it may seem only the ten year interval that her body has forgotten, so effortlessly is the return to mastery - her body, however slender, hovering wide over the thin silver spin of the narrow wheels. So, too, her fingers placed down on piano keys may recover a lost song that was not available to her auditoy memory and seemed to come into being in her fingertips themselves, coming out of them after the first two or three faltering notes with ease, as though it were only another form of breathing. Even these nearly "apolitical" examples are not wholly apolitical, for at the very least there is registered in her body the fact that she lives in a culturally stipulated time (after the invention of bicycles and pianos) and place (a land where these objects are available to the general population rather than to the elite alone, for she is not a princess); someone from an earlier century or from a country without material objects might think - hearing the description of a girl gliding over the ground on round wings, her fingers fanning into ivory shafts that make music as they move - that it was an angel or a goddess that was being described. There exist, of course, forms of bodily memory that are anterior to, deeper than, and in ordinary peacetime contexts beyond the reach of culture. The body's self-immunizing antibody system is sometimes described as a memory system: the body, having once encountered certain foreign bodies, will the next time recognize, remember, and release its own defenses. So, too, within genetic research, the DNA and RNA mechanisms for self-replication are together understood as a form of bodily memory.
What is remembered in the body is well remembered. It is not possible to compel a person to unlearn the riding of a bike, or to take out the knowledge of a song residing in the fingertips, or to undo the memory of antibodies or self-replication without directly entering, altering, injuring the body itself. So, too, the political identity of the body is not easily changed: if another flag is placed in front of British eyes, it will be looked away from with eyes looking out from under eyebrows held high. To the extent that the body is political, it tends to be unalterably political and thus acquires and apparent apolitical character precisely by being unsusceptible to, beyond the reach of, any new political imposition. It is not surprising, for example, that China's national birth control goals have not been easily accepted, "embodied," by the residents of Guangdon Province, where the seven-thousand-year-old feudal philosophy of child-bearing often makes ineffective the verbal advocacy of one-child-to-a-couple, even after ten visits, twenty visits, or a hundred visits to the couple from family planners, as well as pledge programs, the promise of bonuses to couples who comply, and the threat of forms of deprivation to erring couples, such as taking away a sewing machine or other important tool from the family household. If a new political philosophy is to be absorbed by a country's population, it is best introduced to those who have not yet aborbed the old philosophy: that is, it is most easily learned by the country's children, whether the shift is in the direction of radical justice (the teaching of racial equality to United States children through school integration) or instead in the direction of radical injustice (the teaching of racial hatred to Gernal children in the Hitler Youth Corps). As Bourdieu writes of even the passing on of cultural "manners" from one generation to the next, "The principles em-bodied in this way are placed beyond the grasp of consciousness, and hence cannot be touched by voluntary, deliberate, transformation, cannot even be made explicit; nothing seems more ineffable, more incommunicable, more inimitable, and therefore, more previous, than the values given body, made body by the transformation achieved by the hidden pedagogy, capable of instilling a whole cosmology, an ethic, a metaphysic, a political philosophy, through injunctions as insignificant as 'stand up straight' or 'don't hold your knife in your left hand.' (Scarry 1985: 108-111)
Quoted at extreme lenght because this is where Scarry touches nonverbal behaviour.
It may be that the degree to which body and state are interwoven with one another can be most quickly appreciated by noticing the most obvious and ongoing manifestation of that relation such as the fact that one's citizenship ordinarily entails physical presence within the boundaries of that country, a relation between body and state that can be overlooked by being too obvious. Or it may instead be that it can be appreciated by noticing almost random instances of the intricate and specific locations of contact between them. In the United States law of torts, for example, rulings about product liabilities first began with objects that entered the human body (food, drink) or where directly applied to the body's surface (cosmetics, soap) before being extended to objects in less immediate relation to the body (the containers for the food; the lights in a shopping market parking lot there to assure vision and visibility to the shoppers). (Scarry 1985: 111)
This obvious dimension is apparently the most interesting, merely because it is so often overlooked.
In his study of the technologicla changes in warfare over the course of civilization, for example, William McNeill finds the creation of the modern army in the seventeenth century "as remarkable in its way as the birth of science or any other breakthrough of that age." and lists as a major effect of drill - the rhythmic movement of marching in step with many men or of firing a gun by following a precise series of forty-two successive acts performed identically by all participants - the disappearance from the soldier's body of the signs of a particular region or country: "the psychic force of drill and new routine was such as to make a recruit's origins and previous experience largely irrelevant to his behavior as a soldier." Such drills and routines, like fundamental strategic concepts, tend to become international and thus to become shared by the two nations in any war. (Scarry 1985: 118)
Aside from modern military being invented in the eighteenth century (according to G. H. Mead), this quote notes the homogenization of the training process.
To Kill. It has often been observed that war is exceptional in human experience for sanctioning the act of killing, the act that all nations regard in peacetime as "criminal." This accurate observation acknowledges that the act of killing, motivated by care "for the nation," is a deconstruction of the state as it ordinarily manifests itself in the body. That is, in consenting to kill, he consents to perform (for the country) the act that would in peacetime expose his unpoliticalness and place him outside the moral space of the nation. What in killing he does is to wrench around his most fundamental sanctions about how person can be touched; he divests himself of civilization, decivilizes himself, reverses not just an "idea" or "belief" but a learned and deeply embodied set of physical impulses and gestures regarding his relation to any other person's body. He undoes the learning in his body as radically as he would if he were suddenly required to abandon the upright posture and move on four limbs as in his pre-civilized infancy. He consents to "unmake" himself, deconstruct himself, empty himself of civil content "for his country." That this is actually done "for his country" is not being questioned here, and certainly it is not being made light of. All that is being said is that that it is for his country (for civilization, for his country's vreison of civilization) is not visibly interior to the act itself, it is not interior to the embodid gestures he performs. When during peacetime he touches gently his neighbor, or keeps a five-inch space between himself and an acquaintance encountered on the street, one can "see" civilization inside the gesture and postures themselves, see it literally residing within him, as will be especially apparent if one then observes his restraint when he comesupon someone he deeply dislikes and avoids him rather than shattering him. He need not look up from any of these three acts and specify that this is for civilization, for to do so would be superfluous. Because his act of killing does not itself contain civilization in its interior, the fact that it is being done for a particular civilization, the referent for his act, is re-established and carried by the appended assertion (either verbal or materialized as in the uniform), "for my country." (Scarry 1985: 121-122)
Killing for the country, civilization, and personal space as civilized conduct.
Although it is the unanchoredness of the exterior framing issues that is of crucial importance here, it should also be recalled that all forms of language within the interior of war tend to have this same unanchored quality. The utter derealization of verbal meaning occurring there, the presence of fictions or, more drastically, "lies" has often been commented on. Strategy, to begin with just one major form of language interior to war, does not simply entail lies but is essentially and centrally a verbal act of lying - the goal of every strategic design is to actively withhold meaning from the opponent, as is persuasively summarized in Stonewall Jackson's strategic motto, "Mystify. Mislead. Surprise." The enemy must believe you are telling the truth when you are lying and, equally important, must believe you are lying when you are telling the truth. Strategy, or military language, is a large phenomenon itself made up of many smaller parts, many of which have rubrics that actively announce the purpose of withholding meaning. Codes, for example, are attempts to make meaning irrecoverable, or, at the very least, to embed that meaning in multiple tiers of arbitrarily sequenced signs in order to divert the opponent's energies into hours of incomprehension. In camouflage, the principle ofl ying is carried forward into the materialized self-expression of clothing, shelter, and other structures: you wear what you wear because the enemy must think you are not there when you are there; or must believe to have seen you toward the east when you are coming from the west. Camouflage also works in language: tanks, as Liddell Hart points out, were originally christened "tanks" to verbally camouflage them as "cisterns" until their first use in World War I (What are all those things? Tanks.). The rubric, bluffing, also makes visible the centraility of verbal fictions. In surprise or unanticipated injuring, the opponent must perceive your immediate power over them as much less than or much more distant that it actually is; conversely, in anticipatory injuring (when one side brings about surrender without the reciprocal injuring of battle) the opponent is often made to believe that your capacity to injure is much greater than or more proximate than it actually is. The crucial place of "cunning" and "deceit" in military strategy is acknowledged throuhout Clausewitz's On War, and Napoloen specified as the single most important act in achieving victory, the severing of the opponent's lines of communication. (Scarry 1985: 133)
Lying, codes, camouflage, bluffing, etc. in war.
As has been suggester earlier, and as will be elaborated as some lenght in later chapters, in benign forms of creation, a bodily attribute is projected into the artifact (a fiction, a made thing), which essentially takes over the work of the body, thereby freeing the embodies person of discomfort and thus enabling him to enter a larger realm of self-extention. The chair, for example, mimes the spine, takes over its work, freeing the person of the constant distress of moving through many small body postures, empties his mind of absorption with the pain in his back, enabling him instead to attend to the clay bowl he is making or to listen to the conversation of a friend. In torture the opposite takes place. Rather than relieve the body of discomfort, extreme pain is inflicted; rather than enabling the person's movement out of the boundaries of the body into the shared realm of extension, it instead brings out of the boundaries of the body into the shared realm of extension, it instead brings about a continual contraction and collapse of the contents of world-consciousness; rather than "making objects that relieve pain" it deconstructs already existing objects in order to inflict pain. It at once reverses and itself apes the benign process of imaginative making, for the pain becomes the intermediate "artifact," the"produced" bodily condition whose attributes are themselves projected out onto and become attributes of the regime's power. If these two radically antithetical events are taken as models for the structure of creation on the other, then it is clear that war belongs on the same ground as torture, for here, too, what is "produced" is physical distress and bodily alteration rather than an artifact that eliminates pain; war requires the contraction of the contents of world-consciousness (as the prisoner's mind is filled with bodily pain, so the soldier's mind is obsessively filled with the bodily events of dying and killing); it also requires that attributes of the hurt body be separated from the body and projected onto constructs. (Scarry 1985: 144-145)
Pain and objects; war compared to torture.
It might be argued that even in conventional war, the "agents" of the war are the "kings and cabinets," rather than the populations, of the disputing countries: Rousseau, for example, is one of many who have argued this; and the existence of compulsory "draft" has been interpreted as eliminating the act of willed participation. By comparison with nuclear war, however, this assertion is simply untrue; for if there theoretically exist a hundred degrees of consent, in nuclear war the level is zero while in conventional war it may fluctuate between, for example, eighty-eight and one hundred. Let us say, that in World War I an American boy has been drafted into the war and that although unsure of himself, he chooses to go, rather than be jailed or go into hiding. Though a constrained act, some level of consent has occurred. He now goes to his job to announce his departure, gets his papers in order, says goodbye to his friends, and in particular, his sister Margaret. With each of these small acts, his level of consent and participation is growing. He walks to the ship, he picks up a gun, he puts on a uniform, not once, but each morning, day after day, he reputs it on, renewing each time his act of consent. He could have, on the first day, refused to go; or he could now on the three hundredth day, feign injury or appendicitis and so, for a time, exept himself from further combat; he may stay on the front and fire at the enemy, or stay on the front and fire straight up into the air. His own authoring of his embodied participation did not just occur on the first day but on the third, the fortieth, the five hundredth; and for this reason government leaders, military commanders, and comrades will work to sustain his "consent," keep high his morale, over endless days. His fundamental relation between body and belief takes many degrees and radiates out over thousands of small acts. Perhaps the issue "for which" he risks his body is not the same as the government's issue: he may contribute his body to substantiate an idea of courage he has, or an understanding of ambition, or a world safe for democracy; but he will have some belief for which he performs the work he performs, daily rectifying its importance. (Scarry 1985: 153)
Compulsory draft and the micro-consent involved in participating in it.
Far more than any other intentional state, work approximates the framing events of pain and the imagination, for it consists of both an extremely embodied physical act (an act which, even in nonphysical labor, engages the whole psyche) and of an object that was not previously in the world, a fishing net or piece of lace where there had been none, or a mended net or repaired race curtain where there had been only a torn approximation, or a sentence or a paragraph or a poem where there had been silence. Work and its "work" (or work and its object, its artifact) are the names that are given to the phenomena of pain and the imagination as they begin to move from being a self-contained loop within the body to becoming the equivalent loop now projected into the external world. It is through this movement out into the world that the extreme privacy of the occurrence (both pain and imagining are invisible to anyone outside the boundaries of the person's body) begins to be sharable, that sentience becomes social and thus acquires its distinctly human form. (Scarry 1985: 170)
Work or labor defined.
The weapon and the tool seem at moments indistinguishable, for they may each reside in a single physical object (even the clenched fist of a human hand may be either a weapon or a tool), and may be quickly transformed back and forth, now into the one, now into the other. At the same time, however, a gulf of meaning, intention, connotation, and tone separates them. If one holds the two side by side in front of the mind - a hand (as weapon) and a hand (as tool), a knife (weapon) and a knife (tool), a hammer and a hammer, an ax and an az - it is then clear that what differentiates them is not the object itself but the surface on which they fall. Whaht we call a "weapon" when it acts on a sentient surface we call a "tool" when it acts on a nonsentient surface. The hand that pounds a human face is a weapon and the hand that pounds the dough for bread or the clay for bowl is a tool. The knife that enters the cow or the horse is a weapon and the knife that cuts through the no longer alive meat at dinner is a tool. The ax that cuts through the no longer alive meat at dinner is a tool. The ax that cuts through the back of a wolf is a weapon and the ax that cuts through a tree is a tool. The hammer that hammers a man to a cross is a weapon and the hammer used to construct the cross itself is a tool. (Scarry 1985: 173)
It is intresting that the gulf that separates a weapon and a tool (meaning, intention, connotation, adn tone) is a semiotic phenomenon.
THE STRUCTURE OF BELIEF AND ITS MODULATION INTO MATERIAL MAKING: Body and Voice in the Judeo-Christian Scruptures and the Writings of Marx
That sentient beings move around in an external space where their sentience is objectified means their bodies themselves are changed. That this is an actual physical alteration can be better grasped after turning for a moment to more graphic instances of bodily recreation. Perhaps the single most striking formulation occurs in Frederick Engels's essay, "The Part Played by Labour in the Transition from Ape to Man." His provocative essay is now understood to be in some of its arguments much more contestable. Engel's speculation that the crucial location of the transition from ape to man had been in the hand, the organ of making, rather than in the skull, the attendant of the organ of thinking, has after many years been confirmed by the discoveries of anthropologists. Steven Jay Gould calls attention to the fact that the scientific search for the "missing link" was for a long time subverted by the search for the wrong body part (skull rather than hand), a mistake itself arising from a faulty (and, according to Gould, ideologically stipulated) emphasis on man-as-intellect rather than on man-as-creator, man-as-maker, or man-as-worker. Engels also introduced into the essay the idea that the hand is itself an artifact, gradually altered by its own activity of alterint the external world. He writes, "Before the first flint was fashioned into a knife by human hands, a period of time must have elapsed in comparison with which the historical time known to us appears insignificant," and he then continues: "Thus the hand is not only the organ of labour, it is also the product of labour. Labour, adaption to ever new operations, the inheritance of muscles, ligaments, and, over long periods of time, bones that had undergone special development and the ever-renewed employment of this inherited finesse in new, more and more complicated operations, have given the human hand the high degree of perfection." (Scarry 1985: 252-253)
Silvi Tenjes would most likely agree with this. Although hers is the transition from a gestural animal to a homo loquens, the emphasis on hands is the same.
THe tone of Marx's description of the elementary site is much steadier precisely because his critique of the imagination and his political critique are here not running at cross purposes. This is not to say that such descriptions are outside his political argument: that the land, the tool, adn the material object are all three artifacts into which the maker's body is extended and with which the maker's body exists in an original integrity is the perception that stands at the very center of his revelations about the operations of the imagination but simultaneously becomes the basis for his explanation of why the maker's later separation from these sites of self-extension leave him in the midst of his activity of making with control over only one isolated element of that extended action, his own labor. it is the identification of the materials of earth as "a prolongation" of the worker's body that leads Marx to designate "private property" as a key problem for civilization: through private property, the maker is separated from the materials of earth, from the inorganic prolongation of his own acticity, and therefore enters into the processes of artifice as one who cannot sell what he makes (caots, bricks) but can only sell his own now truncated activity of making. Even his choice to sell or not to sell that lone activity is eliminated with the emergence of laws prohibiting strikes. Thus the disturbingly graphic concept of the severing of the worker from his own extended body becomes central to Capital, though it usually occurs in the more abstract phrasing of "the separation of the worker from the means of production" and as a difference between the capacity to "sell the products of labour" and to sell "labour power". (Scarry 1985: 250)
The relationship of bodily extensions and capital, the marxist concept of labour power, etc.
If one compares the living human body with the altered surrogate of the body residing in the material artifact, one can say that the second almost always has this advantage over the first: human beings can direct the changes the second undergoes much easily than they can the first. Two versions of the body stand side by side and the one is in its susceptibility to control an improved version of the other. The chair (which assists the work of the skeleton and compensates for its inadequacies) can over centuries be continually reconceived, redesigned, improved, and repaired (in both its form and its material) much more easily than the skeleton itslef can be internally reconceived, despite the fact that the continual modification of the chair ultimately climaz in, and thus may be seen as rehearsals for, civilization's direct intervention into and modification of the skeleton itself. Even before the climactic moment of medical miracle, the redesign of the chair allows the benefits of "repairing the live body" to accrue to the body without jeopardizing the body by making it subject to the not yet perfected powers of invention. So, too, to return to the body location of greatest interest to Marx and Engels, the hand may itself be altered, redesigned, repaired throuh, for example, an asbestos glove (allowing the hand to act on materials as though it were indifferent to temperature of 500°), a baseball mitt (allowing the hand to receive continual concussion as though immune to concussion), a scythe (magnifying the scale and cutting action of the cupped hand many times over), a pencil (endowing the hand with a voice that has more permanence than the speaking voice, and relieving communication of the requirement that speaker and listener be physically present in the same space), and so on, through hundreds of other objects. The natural hand (burnable, breakable, small, and silent) now becomes the artifact-hand (unburnable, unbreakable, large, and endlessly vocal). (Scarry 1985: 254)
A remarkable description of how the hand can be improved by material artifice.
The difficulty in articulating the meaning of the word "model" is perhaps matched by the difficulty in articulating the meaning of the phrase "departure from the model." (Scarry 1985: 257)
This sentence expresses with staggering brevity what I thought about Tanel Pern's report on models.
Political power - as is widely recognized and as has been periodically noticed throughout this book - entails the power of self-description. The mistaken descriptions cited above are in each instance articulated either by or on behalf of those who are directly inflicting, or actively permitting the infliction of, bodily hurt. But the failure to recognize what is occurring inside a concussive situation cannot be simply explained in terms of who controls the sources of description, for an observer may stand safely outside the space controlled and described by the torturer, by the proponents of a particular war, by the priest of an angry God, or by a temporally distant ruling class. Our susceptibility to the prevailing description must in part be attributed to the instability of perception itself: the dissolution of one's own powers of description contributes to the seductiveness of any existing description. (Scarry 1985: 279)
This hits very close to home, as self-description is one of the prime notions of the TMS. Its relation to political power has, I think, already been noticed by Andreas Ventsel.
Only a small fraction of Freud's work can be summarized in terms of the projected shapes of phallus and womb, whereas almost all of it can be summarized in terms of the projection of sentient desire: it is the presence of complex structures of desire that he has taught us to recognize in dreams, in externalized patterns of family and civic behavior, in the art works of Sophocles and da Vinci, in the materialized and verbalized products of civilization. Similarly, Marx's writings - in which the shape of hand and back have, if only implicitly, something of the same primacy that phallus and womb have in the writings of Freud - must be centrally described in terms of the bodily capacity for labor: he teaches us to recognize human labor in successive circles of self-extension, from its obvious presence in a single, individually crafted objects, to its less obvious, because more collectice, presence in money, and so on out through increasingly sublimated economic and ideological structures. Because Freud and Marx are generally recognized as the two cultural philosophers of greatest importance to the modern world, it is appropriate to notice that the work of each has been primarily devoted to making an embodied attribute (desire, labor) the recoverable referent of the freestanding structures of civilization that are their materialized counterparts. (Scarry 1985: 284)
The most general abstracts of Freud and Marx.
When, as in old mythologies or religions, nonsentient objects such as rocks or rivers or statues or images of gods are themselves spoken about as though they were sentient (or alternatively, themselves endowed with the power of sentient speech) this is called "nimism." Again, when poets or painters perform the same act of animation, it is called "pathetic fallacy." But as will every gradually become apparent here, to dismiss this phenomenon as mistake or fallacy is very possibly to miss the important relevation about creation exposed there. The habit of poets and ancient dreamers to project their own aliveness onto nonalive things itself suggests that it is the basic work of creation to bring about this very projection of aliveness; in other words, while the poet pretends or wishes that the inert external world had his or her own capacity for sentient awareness, civilization works to make this so. What in the poet is recognizable as a fiction is in civilization works to make this so. What in the poet is recognizable as a fiction is in civilization unrecognizable because it has come true. (Scarry 1985: 286)
Animism, beautifully expressed.
A clock or watch, as though it were itself sentient, as though it knew from the inside the tendency of individual sentient creatures to become engulfed in their own private bodily rhythms, and simultaneously knew of their acute and frustrated desire to be on a shared rhythm with other sentient creatures, will only then empower them to coordinate their activities, to meet for a meal, to meet to be schooled, to meet to be healed, after which the clock can be turned to the wall and the watch can be taken off, for these objects also incorporate into their (sed-asidable) designs an awareness of sentient distress at having to live exclusively on shared time. (Scarry 1985: 288)
# Don't clock me in.
...a woman imprisoned under a hostile regime in Chile once clung passionately to a white linen handkerchief slipped to her from another country, for she recognized within the object the collective human salute that is implicit in the very manufacture of such objects; just as this same salute has been recognized by many prisoners of torture who mention (often with an intensity of gratitude that may at first sound puzzling) the solitary blanket or freshly whitewashed walls one day introduced into their midst by the quiet machinations of the International Red Cross. It is almost universally the case in everyday life that the most cherished object is one that has been hand-made by a friend: there is no mystery about this, for the object's material attributes themselves record and memorialize the intensely personal, extraordinary because exclusive, interior feelings of the maker for just this person - This is for you. But anonymous, mass-produced objects contain a collective and equally extraordinary message: Whoever you are, and whether or not I personally like or even know you, in at least this small way, be well. Thus, within the realm of objects, objects-made-for-anyone bear the same relation to objects-made-for-someone that, within the human realm, caritas bears to eros. Whether they reach someone in the extreme conditions of imprisonment or in the benign and ordinary conditions of everyday life, the handkerchief, blanket, and bucket of white paint contain within them the wish for well-being: "Don't cry; be warm; watch now, in a few minutes even these constricting walls will look more spacious." (Scarry 1985: 291-292)
This paragraph touched me on a personal level and inspired to choose a birthday gift for a friend.
To the extent that the body is political, it tends to be unalterably political and thus acquires an apparent apolitical character precisely by being unsusceptible to, beyond the reach of, any new political imposition. (Scarry 1985: 110)
This point has been made by many people both in fiction and nonfiction. For example, the immunity of the body to the state, even when all other aspects of personhood have become alterable, is persistently visible in the plays of Bertolt Brecht whose characters, even when they have surrendered all aspects of consciousness to some political entity outside themselves, continue to have bodies incapable of taking orders. "Stop limping," shouts a segreant to an otherwise obedient private moving over the mountains of Caucasian Chalk Circle, "I order you to stop limping!" - an order that is unsuccessful. So, to, in the more uniformly harsh idiom of A Man's A Man, where the military chracters are interchangeable in name, uniform, and verbal acts of self-nullification (a character named Galy Gay becomes a character named Jeriah Jip and then a character named Bloody Five), the body continues to be (from the point of view of a perfect military utopia) grotesquely individuating: Jeriaj Jip is recognizable by his vomit, Bloody Five by his uncontrollable erections, Galy Gay by his large appetite for food. These bodily attributes remain outside the sphere that can be remade by the military, and preserve the fact that there are three discrete individuals involved.
So, too, physical pain, either naturally occuring of self-inflicted, is often represented as an individual's last hold on personal identity before the surrender to an external force or system: a girl in Ionesco's The Lesson has only the blaring pain of a toothache to make possible the act of resistance to her teacher-dictator, just as in popular movies like Ipress File or Thirty-Six Hours, it is again physical pain - the gash of a nail in one case, a small paper cut in the other - that makes resistance possible. Of course, if the state itself inflicts and controls the pain, as in torture and war, it then controls the body as well as all aspects of consciousness.
What is represented in literature is especially important insofar as it reflects what actually occurs in historical reality where the loyalty of the body to its own impulses and origins is even more hauntingly visible. Bruno Bettelheim, for example, descibed a solitary movement of resistance at one of the concentration camps when a German guard recognized in a line of women entering the showers a woman who had been a dancer. He ordered her to step out of the line and dance for him. She did so, and as she moved into the habitual bodily rhythms and movements from which she had been cut off, she became reacquainted with the person (herself) from whom she had lost contact; recalling herself in her own mimesis of herself, she remembered who she was, danced up to the officer, moved her hand with grace for his gun, took it, and shot him. Though she was of course herself moments later killed, the story is cited by Bettelheim because of the courage displayed there, and because it constituted an exceptional moment of resistance, an exceptional precisely because for the most part the human body was so successfully appropriated by the state in the camps. It is not coincidental that the most precious survival advice Bettelheim himself received in the camps was to retain as much control over his body as possible, by determining the time of day in which he would take food into his mouth (or even cloth, anything that would allow the mime of chewing food and permitting the entry of the external world into the body), and so also the time of day given to excretion, preserving by these apparently modest acts his own autonomy over an intimate sphere beyond the reach of the state (The Informed Heart: Autonomy in a Mass Age [New York: Free Press, 1960] [GB], 264, 265, 132, 147, 148) (Scarry 1985: 346-347)
  • Michael Walzer, Just and Unjust Wars: A Moral Argument With Historical Illustrations (New York: Basic, 1977, 24. TÜR
  • Carl von Clausewitz, On War, ed. and trans. Michael Howard and Peter Paret, commentary Bernard Brodie (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1976), 91, 93. TÜR
  • Jean-Paul Sartre, The Psychology of Imagination (New York: Philosophical Library, 1948), 177-212. TÜR
  • Jonathan Miller, The Body in Question (Net York: Random, 1978), 208. GB


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