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The Body in Pain: The Making and Unmaking of the World 1st Edition

17 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0195049961
ISBN-10: 0195049969
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Editorial Reviews


"I believe this project to be perhaps one of the most significant books on language, philosophy, and literature of the coming years."--Emory Elliott, Princeton University

"Stunningly original, enormously important, powerfully written....The beauty of her writing is that she can make us see torture and war as we have never seen them before, read the Bible and Marx as we have never read them before--indeed, see our day-to-day world in a usefully new manner."--Eric J. Cassell, M.D., Cornell Medical Center

"One of the most important books I have read this year [1987]."--Judith Fryer, University of Massachusetts

"Not for some time have we read a more original book on an announced subject than this review of pain's locations in torture, war and wherever people would do violence to others."--The Christian Century

"An extraordinary book: large-spirited, heroically truthful. A necessary book."--Susan Sontag

"A richly original, provocative book which makes one reconsider torture, war, and creativity from a new perspective."--Anthony Storr, Washington Post Book World

"Brilliant, ambitious and all-encompassing discourse on creativity, imagination and the distribution of power."--Los Angeles Times Book Review

"In its breadth and humaneness of vision, in the density and richness of its prose, above all in the compelling nature of its argument, this is indeed an extraordinary book."--Susan Rubin Suleiman, The New York Times Book Review

"A brilliant and difficult book...Scarry's compassionate linguistics documents how [the] bridge between torturer and victim is cut."--Michael Ignatieff, The New Republic

"One of the most important books I have read this year."--Judith Fryer, University of Massachusetts

"Only by following Scarry step by step may a reader gradually discern the daringly encompassing scope of Scarry's vision on body and pain, making and unmaking. [Her] style of writing is at once profoundly personal and succinctly scholarly."--Religious Studies Review

"Scarry has written a dramatic and provocative discourse on the power of pain and man's reaction to it....The flow of the text is fluid and creative; the book is a well-disciplined example of literary thinking."--he Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine

"The book is large, ambitious, intricate and alternately illuminating, baffling and irritating....[It] is a brave book, and worth persevering with."--The Times Literary Supplement (London)

"An absolutely astonishing achievement...I believe it will change many lives, not by persuasion, but by widening the scope of consciousness. The book itself is a great act of courage, intelligence, and style."--Allen Grossman, Brandeis University

About the Author

Elaine Scarry is at Harvard University.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford Paperbacks; 1 edition (April 23, 1987)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195049969
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195049961
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 0.8 x 5.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #153,221 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

76 of 78 people found the following review helpful By TheIrrationalMan on July 11, 2000
Format: Paperback
Elaine Scarry's "The Body in Pain", an influential study on the relationship between pain, torture, warfare and creativity is a stunning achievement, from the standpoint of Marxism. I confess that I have not read the sections on the structure of warfare, but I was extremely impressed with the passages on torture. Scarry's central premise is that pain, a radically subjective, hence inexpressible and incommunicable experience, results, during the process of torture, in destroying, or deconstructing the victim's voice (his or her power of articulation) and by extension, the victim's world. It is the prisoner's pain, incommunicable because unsharable, which is denied by the torturer as pain but translated as the wholly illusory phenomenon of power, that of the torturer and the regime he represents. These parts of the book are expounded with considerable insight and sophistication, in dense and convoluted prose. The second part, dealing with how pain is converted to creativity, explains how the radical subjectivity and inexpressibility of the sufferer's pain is mitigated into the objective (hence sharable and communicable) activity of work, which is a self-imposed, milder and socially more profitable form of pain. This treatise is absolutely vital reading for any one who aspires to seriously dabble in literature, psychology or philosophy. A tour de force.
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54 of 55 people found the following review helpful By Rosemary Bannon Tyksinski on March 5, 2001
Format: Paperback
I have worked with several individuals who suffered extreme physical torture sometime during their lives. Scarry's work helped me to understand the internal world of the sufferer in ways I would never have even begun to approach. Each one of these individuals lacked the language to discuss their experiences. What they were left with was inarticulatable images, physical sensations, emotions, profound helplessness and alienation. Scarry's book helped me find language to give to my patients -- language that helped to normalize their reaction to, and experience of inexplicable events. Her exploration of the abyss of human destruction is accomplished such original, humane, and thoughtful detail. Her book is an ingenius work of art.
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39 of 40 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 31, 1998
Format: Paperback
Few works of contemporary philosophy are so underrated (not to mention mis-shelved) as this sweeping study of the relationship between human pain and human creation. I frequently recommend the book to people who have been intimidated by "phenomenology", and who need to return to the roots of this term: the study of raw sense perceptions.
To Scarry, pain not only feels negative but actually IS negation. Pain erases all other perceptions of the world, and it also kills language -- the root our ability to reach out to others and build a world together.
The book begins by considering the obvious fact that "intense pain is indescribable," then moves outward into the political consequences of this inexpressibility. Pain survives in the culture, and can be used as a political tool, precisely because of its muteness. This first half of the book, entitled "Unmaking", corresponds well to Dante's Inferno. Through a study of torture and (less helpfully) war, Scarry details the process by which the human ability to create, and thus to be, is destroyed for political purposes.
The book's second part, corresponding to Dante's Purgatorio, describes how humans move out of pain by creating the world of made objects. The reading of the Hebrew and Christian scriptures that begins this section deserves much wider attention. Scarry reads these texts as an archetypical story of how pain led to creation. Scarry presents this story with a warm, generous, jargon-free style that is welcoming to the intelligent layman.
Parts of this book are, perhaps, more dated than others. The latter sections in each of the two halves (the first on war, the latter on the texts of Marx) seem to step down from the pinnacles of each half's beginning.
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36 of 40 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on February 2, 1999
Format: Paperback
Elaine Scarry's central argument is that pain is a state which defies reduction to language, and her remarkable book defies summation outside its own terms. Like all profoundly original works, the book creates its own idiom (making, unmaking) to discuss and compicate the issues it raises -- first, in a brilliant and moving phenomenological analysis of torture and its relation to language, ultimately moving on to a profound and unforgiving commentary on the Judeo-Christian scriptures and those writings' subtle (though, as Scarry explains it, it seems remarkable that one did not notice before) inversions of the given circumstances of human embodiment and the subject's relation to made-things in both in the material world and the imagined one. There is no literary critic (and indeed few novelists) who have provided such goosebump-inducing insights on why human beings should make things (books, statues, laws, gods) at all; and then unmake them just as fervently in acts of unmaking (war, torture). This is an extraordinary book.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Kevin Teeple on May 5, 2015
Format: Paperback
First, a little background. I took a course in War Literature in college, and one of the excerpts we read was an excerpt from the section in this book on war. It had such interesting points on the topic that I wanted to read the rest of it for a long time, but also knew it was a philosophy book so it never went on any of my wishlists until recently. I put it on my Christmas 2014 wishlist this year, got it on Christmas and began reading it immediately, with almost no breaks for other books or magazines, and finished the book on May 1st, 2015.

This book is at times supremely enlightening, and at other times hopelessly dense. How much it is of one or the other depends on the chapter, so I'd like to review each of its five chapters individually.

Chapter 1: The Structure of Torture was an equal mix dense and enlightening. Scarry uses the chapter as a bedrock for the rest of the book, and to introduce concepts of embodiment and disembodiment, how pain works into those structures, and how civilization is deconstructed through torture. However, I got this book primarily for its insights on war, and going through chapter 1 was slow going, and I just read it because I felt I had to.
Chapter 2: The Structure of War was an extremely enlightening chapter. It may seem like a hyperbole, but I would say that to read The Structure of War is to understand the concept of war itself.
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