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The Body Politic in Pain


Silent consciousness only grasps itself as “I think” in general in the face of a confused world that is “to be thought.” Every particular grasp . . . requires that the subject deploy powers of which the subject himself does not hold the secret and, in particular, that he turns himself into a speaking subject. The tacit Cogito is only a Cogito when it has expressed itself.

—Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenology of Perception[1]

Certainly, art, as a form of knowledge, implies knowledge of reality, and there is no reality that is not social.

—Theodor W. Adorno, Aesthetic Theory[2]

Literary modernism has a close relationship with pain, though not an untroubled one. To make a very general comparison, pain is to literary criticism today what illness was to literature for Virginia Woolf, and likewise betrays an under-interrogated dualism. “Literature does its best to maintain that its concern is with the mind,” Woolf writes, and so “this monster, the body, this miracle, its pain, will soon make us taper into mysticism, or rise, with rapid beats of the wings, into the raptures of transcendentalism.” [3] Yet as Peter Fifield has recently written, though Woolf was herself writing from the “sickbed,” her essay puts forward “a complex set of claims for the aesthetic and cultural values of poor health” rather than the “transcendentalism” she diagnoses.[4] These complex claims, in addition to resisting their stated positions and the “raptures” of somatic description, are also historically incorrect – as Fifield demonstrates, British literary modernism had an abiding interest in illness and disease, contradicting Woolf’s argument that sickness’s embodiment excluded it from literary representation. Yet the quasi-Cartesian assumption that illness, which Woolf associates not unjustifiably with pain, amounts to an assault by the body on the mind, one that is destructive of language and thus by extension literature, persists to a great extent in the dominant understanding of the relationship between literature and pain.

Indeed, Woolf’s broader writing on the body and illness often contradicts the dominant reading of “On Being Ill,” which often understands the unspeakablility of illness as somehow essential to the state of being sick, as though the difficulty in describing the experience of the sickbed were a metaphysical constant. Yet as Maren Linett contends, her argument is far more dependant on social and political context than scholars have given it credit for. “The possibility of ignoring the body,” writes Linett, “is, [Woolf] implies, an illusion fostered by physical wellness or ablebodiedness.”[5] In Woolf’s other writing, the body is best understood as the medium through which the mind encounters and interacts with the world and like with Martin Heidegger’s example of the broken hammer, it can often disappear into its function, vanishing from one’s awareness. And it is not only illness which has this breaking effect, this way of making the body’s presence palpable through the limit of its function. Linett cites the example of the essay “Professions for Women,” where it is the gendering of the body which alienates women from themselves and so makes the gendered body apparent to them, and one could consider also the short story “The Mark on the Wall,” which depicts the breakdown of everyday perception through its close phenomenological examination (Bodies, 9-10). In Woolf, then, that which mediates (the body, the act of perception) is invisible so long as it works. Thus, we can understand the problem of describing illness as resulting from the unimpeded functioning of the body being for too long taken for granted. Pain must be written about if it is to acquire a literary vocabulary, and so the belief that it can never acquire such a lexicon is true only insofar as it is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Though much has been written on the topic since its publication, Elaine Scarry’s The Body in Pain: The Making and Unmaking of the World remains the dominant reference point in the discourse on literature and pain. Its main arguments have been quoted and cited to the point of becoming critical commonplaces: “Physical pain has no voice”; “Whatever pain achieves, it achieves in part through its unsharability”; “Physical pain does not simply resist language but actively destroys it”; “To have pain is to have certainty; to hear about pain is to have doubt.”[6] My comparison here is not simply facetious – Scarry herself cites Woolf at the beginning of her book – but is meant to point out how both Woolf and Scarry share a set of implicit phenomenological assumptions which both open up and close down certain critical and imaginative possibilities (The Body in Pain, 5). As I have argued elsewhere in relation to the work of Samuel Beckett, Scarry’s understanding of pain treats it as analogous to the Cartesian cogito, the “I think; therefore, I am,” that innate certainty in the fact of one’s existence which cannot be shared with anyone else.[7] This framing is not without its interpretive usefulness, and certainly with some authors it is a valid and fruitful approach. (Scarry’s is also not the only framework which treats pain as highly individuating – Colin Klein’s work on the imperative theory of pain being another example.)[8] Yet, as Scarry herself acknowledges, this paradigm is nearly fatal for any literature that wishes to employ pain representation as an engine for political or societal change. Pain’s invisibility, she argues, makes it easy to distract from, and thus a weak focus for political action (Scarry, The Body in Pain, 12-13).

Whether citing Scarry or not, much of the writing on literature and pain follows a similar pattern, emphasizing the difficulty of its communication, the problem that it poses for literature and art in general. For example, Ato Quayson, in a chapter of Aesthetic Nervousness on pain in Beckett, refers to it as “only a shadowy part of their [the characters’] consciousness,” apparently absent from the very stories where it is described.[9] Similarly, Rosemarie Garland-Thomson, in her highly influential Extraordinary Bodies, cites approvingly Scarry’s description of pain’s incommunicability.[10] There are exceptions to this pattern of course – such as Alyson Patsavas, who analyzes pain descriptions in terms of standpoint epistemology and disability theory, or David Morris who analyzes pain in terms of narrative theory.[11] Yet though publications like these exist, they have nowhere near the reach or influence of The Body in Pain. The idea that pain and pain representation can be foundational elements of political art lacks broad critical acceptance – it is something that must be argued for, rather than a premise upon which one builds further argument. It is important that the field moves beyond this theoretical cul-de-sac, for as useful as it has been its dominance can be stifling to new arguments. There are several ways one might go about doing that, ways by which one might develop of a theory of pain aesthetics wherein pain is a powerful vector of artistic and political expression. In this introduction I will explore some of these possibilities, and gesture towards the wider discursive field which the articles in this cluster explore.

The Epistemology of Distraction

One might approach the matter indirectly, claiming that literature (or art more generally) can resist the abstracted scepticism that Scarry takes to be inherent in the witnessing of another’s pain (as opposed to addressing or dealing with that scepticism head-on). As Maren Linett, for example, writes, “it is not simply that reading literature increases our empathy for others with whom we can imaginatively engage . . . It is more that literature’s particularity and imaginativeness work against viewing people as abstract entities.”[12] Empathy is not the right word for what is at work here. One cannot accurately say, when reading a work of literature, that “I feel the character’s pain” in the literal sense. Yet if we are to start with assumption that the witnessing of another’s pain puts one in a place of impenetrable doubtfulness, how one then proceeds is a choice of whether to give them the benefit of that doubt. Even if I contend that I do not know for a fact that any person besides myself possesses subjectivity, that I cannot prove that all others are not “philosophical zombies,” I nevertheless act as though the people around me are, in fact, possessed of cognition: I talk to them, I confide in them, I feel anger at their pains, joy at their pleasures, and so forth. None of these things require that I literally share feelings with them; I get along just fine despite not doing so. It makes sense, then, to read Linett’s articulation of literature’s ethical function, of its ability to encourage non-instrumental relationships with others, in terms of what Diane Perpich writes about subjectivity and ethics in the philosophy of Emmanuel Levinas. Perpich, who is affiliated with a developing philosophical field known as critical phenomenology (of which I will say more below), points out that for Levinas “it is not because the other looks like me or feels pain like me or reasons like me or speaks like me that I am responsible to her.”[13] Instead, “what is absolutely primary” for Levinas’s ethics is not one’s epistemological relationship with the other, not what one can discern about them, but rather the fact of relating to them (Weiss, 50 Concepts, 139).

The question of pain’s knowability is thus arguably a distraction from the perspective of ethics (and, it would seem to follow, politics), and so literature’s ethical potency lies in its ability to discourage this instrumental relation. In this regard the study of pain representation has close affinity with two recently emerged areas of humanistic research – literary disability studies, and trans studies. Both domains, in one way or another, ask two questions which are highly relevant to any study of the ethics of pain representation: should one’s ethical relation to another person depend on one’s understanding of their subjectivity? And why, in these matters, should the un-knowing normative subjectivity be the most empowered one?[14] Levinas, as we see above, would answer the first question with a definitive no, yet the issue has had a long shelf-life. As the disability theorist and literary scholar Ellen Samuels writes, “the overmastering fantasy of modern disability identification is that disability is a knowable, obvious, and unchanging category,” such that disabled people who do not conform to this meta-narrative of transparency are often subject to ableist discrimination.[15] Likewise, bioethicist Maura Priest notes the “baffled” reaction many parents have in response to their trans children coming out, bafflement which often leads to them denying those children a potentially life-saving transition. Similarly, as Sara Ahmed writes, institutional transphobia often manifests as a “rebuttal system,” wherein the constant demand that trans people give evidence for their existence and validity is itself a tool of dehumanization: “When an existence is understood as needing evidence, then a rebuttal is directed not only against evidence but against an existence. . . . The very requirement to testify to your existence can end up being the very point of your existence.” [16]

I offer these comparisons in order to gesture towards critical and philosophical affinities which might serve as avenues to future research. What pained, disabled, and trans subjectivities have in common here is their shared marginalization in the face of bafflement, a bafflement which serves to empower those who would deny them assistance, and to center normative ignorance over non-normative experience. Yet understanding is no prerequisite to an ethical relation, and indeed even a hypothetical person whose subjectivity were so strange as to be incomprehensible to all people but themselves would not, for that reason, be excluded from ethics or the polis. Thus, while the ethical power of literature is often understood in terms of empathy, of an affective understanding, it can have far greater value in displacing understanding as a requirement for ethical relation. In this sense, literary representations of pain can promote political and social change not by causing the reader to feel that pain, but by asserting the primacy of the political and the ethical over the epistemic. As Margaret Price writes, to “care” for someone, does not require full knowledge of their interiority, but rather “care must emerge between subjects considered to be equally valuable (which does not necessarily mean that both are operating from similar places of rationality).”[17] One need not know the other in order to care for them.

Agonized Injustice

Yet is the displacement of epistemology the only solution? Certainly it can be an attractive one, in how it avoids entirely the task of confronting Scarry’s latent Cartesianism on its own terms. Indeed, the approach is useful for that very reason. Yet there remain – as several articles in this cluster in fact demonstrate – other productive ways forward.

In contemporary analytic philosophy, the study of epistemic justice, and its converse epistemic injustice, has its origin in the work of Miranda Fricker, whose 2007 book Epistemic Injustice: Power and the Ethics of Knowing defined its titular concept as “a wrong done to someone specifically in their capacity as a knower,” a wrong which might relate to both “prejudice in the economy of credibility” as well as “structural prejudice in the economy of collective hermeneutical resources.”[18] This framework is useful to the study of pain and its sociopolitical effects, particularly Fricker’s notion of “testimonial injustice,” which refers to instances where a person is harmed through the undermining of their credibility.[19] This concept links the interpretation of the pain of the other, and the decision to recognize that one’s relation to them is ethical, to long histories of brutal injustice, both epistemological and otherwise.

Artistic depictions of pain are thus important sites of ideological conflict – over what counts as pain, what can be interpreted as pain, and who gets to say so. To cite one historical example with a long and dreadful afterlife, in his Notes on the State of Virginia Thomas Jefferson, in a chapter defending the institution of slavery, argues that Black people are less able to feel pain and suffering – that “their griefs are transient” and that “those numberless afflictions which render it doubtful whether heaven has given life to us in mercy or in wrath, are less felt, and sooner forgotten with them.”[20] For an example that is more contemporary with modernism, I point to Srimayee Basu’s essay in this cluster on lynching photographs, which show how the suppression of the idea of non-white pain was essential to the furtherance of white supremacist violence (lynching) and the system which it enabled. Austin Riede's essay on the treatment of conscientious objectors, also in this cluster, similarly demonstrates the political significance of demarcating whose pain is or is not considered legitimate. This passage is but one notable instance in the long history of testimonial injustice which reenforced racist institutions first by claiming that Black people suffered less under them than white people would (as Jefferson does above) and later to leverage the belief in Black people’s resistance to pain to attack and diminish their humanity. It is a history that Srimayee Basu and Jack Dudley’s paper in this cluster explore in detail, and which has a variety of contemporary instantiations, including reduced access to pain medication suffered by people of colour. The capacity to suffer and to feel pain have a long history of association with the presence of an ethical obligation, as for example we see in Jeremy Bentham’s argument in favour of animal rights, which is grounded on the question “can they suffer?”[21] Yet with Fricker we see that to even consider the question legitimate, or to take seriously Jefferson’s ridiculous claim, is to degrade and attack those under discussion, for “when one suffers a testimonial injustice, they are degraded qua knower, and they are symbolically degraded qua human” (Fricker, Epistemic Injustice, 44). If a person is screaming in pain, maintaining scepticism, as Jefferson would, is an ethical and political decision before it is an epistemic one, and in this case is itself an injustice.

José Medina, drawing from the likes of Ludwig Wittgenstein and Pierre Bourdieu, elaborates on Fricker’s thesis by arguing that a just society requires “epistemic interaction in which resources are pooled and experiences and imaginations are shared” such that the participants develop habits of knowing which are conducive to a democratic society.[22] Thus, one way that systems of oppression reproduce themselves is by excluding members of marginalized groups from this process of resource pooling, leading not only to the passive development of “epistemic vices” which encourage dominant group members to promote injustices, but also the active creation of further exclusion, epistemic or otherwise, as these dominant groups protect and enhance the knowledge system on which their supremacy sustains. As Basu writes in her essay in this cluster on lynching photographs in early twentieth century America, “photographs of the lynched Black body served as the self-prophesying evidence of black criminality.”[23] The white supremacist murderers who performed these lynchings and took these photographs thus socially re-produce their own callousness through the repetition and dissemination of scenes of racist violence. Disseminating these photographs served as a tool for propagating the habitus and ideology underpinning their particular affective relation to the violence they were committing.

The concept of epistemic injustice, when understood structurally and intersectionally, thus provides another modality through which aesthetic and discursive practices which directly depict scenes of pain can attain a wider political import. It is also in these terms that we can re-integrate Scarry’s work. A notable chapter of Scarry’s book concerns the use of torture, which bears strong resemblance to Medina’s writing on oppression and the closing off of epistemic interaction and the strategic creation of a habitus within which oppressive structures can more easily survive. As Scarry writes the “final product and outcome of torture” is “the fiction of power,” a fiction which goes beyond and obliterates any prior claim by the torturer to having been motivated by a desire for information (Scarry, The Body in Pain, 57). Yet the claim of a motive beyond power is essential to this process in that it allows a rhetorical disclaiming of responsibility, a recourse to the “look what you made me do.”[24] This displacement, which Scarry holds is also an act of self-deception on the torturer’s part, is necessary if the torturer is to work, for “to allow the reality of the other’s suffering to enter his own consciousness would immediately compel him to stop” – one might hope – “. . . But the bond between the blindness and the power goes far beyond the practical circles of self-amplification. It is not merely that his power makes him blind . . . nor even that his power requires blindness; it is, instead, quite simply that his blindness, his willed amorality, is his power” (The Body in Pain, 57). Interestingly, this argument goes against the claim that to witness pain is to be in doubt – for if that were always the case, why does this so-called “blindness” require any kind of strategy to maintain? It instead seems that the refusal of recognition is a decision, one that exists in the context of a particular social and political relationship.[25]

Nevertheless, Scarry’s writing on torture permits us to draw connections between her work and writings on epistemological injustice and also to recent developments in what has come to be called critical phenomenology and the intersubjective function of pain metaphors and pain performance. Both critical phenomenology and epistemological injustice, when used as frameworks for examining pain, bring us back to the same question as before – the question of the benefit of the doubt. If you are a doctor and a patient comes to you moaning and crying, do you see a person-in-pain or a person-seeking-drugs? If an autistic person stubs their toe and does not cry out in the way you expect them to, do you see a person with the same experience of pain who merely expresses that experience differently or a person whose different expression reflects a different (and as it is so often imagined, lesser or diminished) interiority?[26] If you witness a dog yelp after being hit, do you see an animal with an experience of the world like your own, or a creature that is functionally a machine which simply imitates the outward symbols of that experience? The answers that one gives to these questions are matters of ideology and cultural transmission, relating to narratives, metaphors, and acts of communication of all kinds. And indeed, this matter includes the relation to one’s own pain, how one interprets it, what metaphors one accepts as descriptive – for it is in relation to this reflection that one constructs the idea of the self that one will relate others to.

Inter-Subjectivity as Outer-Subjectivity

In her monograph on the phenomenology of solitary confinement, Lisa Guenther describes her project as being “rooted in first-person accounts of experience but also critical of classical phenomenology’s claim that the first-person singular is absolutely prior to intersubjectivity and the complex textures of social life.”[27] Critical phenomenology can thus be understood as a combination of phenomenological accounts of subjectivity and intersubjectivity with accounts of the material and structural conditions within which that (inter)subjectivity occurs.[28] I would tentatively suggest that Scarry’s account of torture anticipates, but is not an example of, this approach (Guenther cites Scarry’s account approvingly) (Solitary Confinement, 45). Yet its origins are more deeply embedded in the phenomenological tradition. Edmund Husserl, for instance, writes in The Crisis of European Sciences that “in general the world exists not only for isolated men but for the community of men; and this is due to the fact that even what is straightforwardly perceptual is communalized.”[29] He goes on to argue that “in the overarching community of consciousness which has grown up through [social] contact, one and the same world achieves and continuously maintains constant validity” (Husserl, The Crisis, 164). Merleau-Ponty makes a similar point about the stabilizing intersubjective effects of the external world, writing that “universality and the world are at the core of individuality and of the subject” (Phenomemology of Perception, 428). We can therefore see, perhaps, a link between the (mostly arbitrary) analytic/continental divide in European philosophy. In both the philosophies of epistemic justice and (critical) phenomenology, structures of oppression and domination modify and alter the epistemological and phenomenological construction of individual subjectivities, thereby producing the very people who will curate and reproduce those systems, as well as those who would tear them down.

In Solitary Confinement, Guenther (citing testimony from people who have endured prolonged solitary confinement) demonstrates the importance of a steadying intersubjectivity by describing what the absence of it can do to a person: “it becomes difficult to tell what is real and what is only my imagination . . . I may begin to hallucinate . . . Or I may have less dramatic but no less unnerving perceptual distortions, like the supermax prisoners for whom the wire mesh on their door begins to vibrate or the surface of the wall begins to bulge,” and as these distortions lead her to conclude that “prolonged solitary confinement undermines prisoners’ capacity to make and sustain meaning” (Solitary Confinement, 35). Thus, as Guenther writes elsewhere, “the capacity of material, historical changes in this world to affect not just what I perceive but how I perceive it . . . suggests that noesis [oriented intentionality] is not absolutely prior to noema [the object of intentionality], but rather implicated in a complex reciprocity through which the world really can influence my capacity to perceive it.”[30] How then, one might ask, do we intersubjectively “make and sustain” the meaning of pain if another’s pain cannot be directly felt or directly communicated?

The answer is that one need not feel another’s pain to have an intersubjective relation to it. As Joanna Bourke describes in The Story of Pain, pain response is highly conditioned by learned cultural norms. She cites the work of psychologist Ronald Melzack, who in a study of Scottish terriers found that those dogs which “had been raised in isolation from birth and protected from all normal environmental stimuli, including painful ones, proved incapable of identifying and responding ‘normally’ to flame or pinpricks . . . They simply hadn’t ‘learnt’ what it meant to be-in-pain.”[31] As she points out, the cultural contingency of pain response has numerous bioethical implications – affecting, for example, who is given pain medicine by a doctor and who is dismissed as a possible drug addict. And these effects are hardly exclusive to dogs: it is not a secret that one person’s pain expression can elicit sympathy in others, can cause them to suffer, to feel bad. For, while I may not be able to feel another’s pain, I nevertheless can feel pains of my own.

Bourke compares the act of communicating pain to Wittgenstein’s “beetle in a box” example for how a language-game works in the Philosophical Investigations, but a more germane (albeit very similar) thought experiment would be Merleau-Ponty’s considerations on pointing in the Phenomenology of Perception (The Story of Pain, 5-7). As he writes:

My friend Paul and I point to certain details of the landscape, and Paul’s finger, which is pointing out the steeple to me, is not a finger-for-me that I conceive as oriented toward a steeple-to-me; rather, it is Paul’s finger that itself shows me the steeple that Paul sees. . . . I do not think of a flow of private sensations in relation to my own sensations that are mediated through some interposed signs; rather, I think of someone who lives in the same world as I, in the same history as I, and with whom I communicate through this world and through this history. (Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenology of Perception, 428)

In this regard we can detect an important limitation to Scarry’s work on pain and its language-destroying, un-sharable properties. For Scarry, it seems, pain is unmediated. It is transparent to the one who experiences it and neither requires nor permits interpretation. Thus, she excludes the very realms where the experience of pain is most intersubjective – those of interpretation, representation, metaphor, and performance. As she writes, “physical pain is exceptional in the whole fabric of psychic, somatic, and perceptual states for being the only one that has no object . . . Hearing and touch are objects outside the boundaries of the body, as desire is desire of x, fear is fear of y . . . This objectlessness, the complete absence of referential content, almost prevents it from being rendered in language” (Scarry, The Body in Pain, 162). For Scarry, Merleau-Ponty’s example of Paul pointing to a steeple would not apply because there would be no object analogous to the steeple for Paul to point to. Yet I would argue that pain creates its own object: though performance and metaphor, people in pain create instantiations, create physical metaphors and behavioural signifiers, which through accumulated performances, through “a stylized repetition of acts,” produce pain or being-in-pain as a recognizable externalized cultural object.[32] There is nothing inherently pained about a grimace, or a cry, or the act of rapidly pulling one’s hand from a stovetop, any more than there is anything romantic about a kiss, or nervous about bitten fingernails, or pensive about resting one’s hand on one’s fist. These are all metaphors, and as metaphors they all broadly communicate of the same thing: I am like you, and I feel like this.

The conclusion we can draw here is that, contrary to prevailing assumptions, pain – its metaphors, its performance, its phenomenology, its epistemology – is tightly imbricated with its public expression, whether in literature or otherwise. As David T. Mitchell and Sharon L. Snyder write, contra Scarry, “the body itself has no language, since language is something foreign to its nonlinguistic materiality. It must be spoken for if its meanings are to prove narratable.”[33] The essays in this cluster investigate that imbrication from numerous angles and numerous perspectives, though of course the topic is far too deep to be covered in so little space. The goal of this cluster is, ultimately, to spark a new, invigorated discourse on this important and under-studied topic, to bring pain the attention of literary scholars that it both needs and deserves. For pain, as we have seen, is nearly always political, and is a subject closely linked to political art.  


Thank you to Dr. Hannah Simpson for her insightful comments on an early draft of this introduction.

[1] Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenology of Perception, trans. Donald A. Landes (London: Routledge, 2013), 426

[2] Theodor W. Adorno, Aesthetic Theory, trans. Robert Hullot-Kentor (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1998), 258.

[3] Virginia Woolf, “On Being Ill,” in Selected Essays, ed. David Bradshaw (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), 101, 102. Emphasis added.

[4] Peter Fifield, Modernism and Physical Illness: Sick Books (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2020), 4.

[5] Maren Tova Linett, Bodies of Modernism: Physical Disability in Transatlantic Modernist Literature (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2017), 9.

[6] Elaine Scarry, The Body in Pain: The Making and Unmaking of the World (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1985), 3, 4, 5, 13.

[7] See Jeremy Colangelo, “Indolesco Ergo Sum: Language Compulsion, and Beckett’s Existential Pains,” in Diaphanous Bodies: Ability, Disability, and Modernist Irish Literature (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2021), 61-101.

[8] Colin Klein, What the Body Commands: The Imperative Theory of Pain (Boston: The Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press, 2015).

[9] Ato Quayson, Aesthetic Nervousness: Disability and the Crisis of Representation (New York: Columbia University Press, 2007), 54.

[10] Rosemarie Garland Thomson, Extraordinary Bodies: Figuring Physical Disability in American Culture and Literature (New York: Columbia University Press, 1997), 14.

[11] Alyson Patsavas, “Recovering a Cripistemology of Pain: Leaky Bodies, Connective Tissue, and Feeling Discourse,” Journal of Literary and Cultural Disability Studies 8, no. 2 (2014): 203-218; David B. Morris, “Narrative, Ethics, and Pain: Thinking With Stories,” Narrative 9, no. 1 (2001): 55-77.

[12] Maren Tova Linett, Literary Bioethics: Animality, Disability, and the Human (New York: New York University Press, 2020), 5.

[13] Diane Perpich, “The Face,” in 50 Concepts for a Critical Phenomenology, eds. Gail Weiss, Ann. V. Murphy, and Gayle Salamon (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 2020), 138-139.

[14] With regards to this second question, Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick’s discussion of the empowering effects of ignorance is an illuminating reference point. See Eve Kosofky Sedgwick, Epistemology of the Closet (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2008), 4.

[15] Ellen Samuels, Fantasies of Identification: Disability, Gender, Race (New York: New York University Press, 2014), 121.

[16] Maura Priest, “Transgender Children and the Right to Transition: Medical Ethics When Parents Mean Well but Cause Harm,” The American Journal of Bioethics 19, no. 2 (2019): 47. See also Jules Gill-Peterson, Histories of the Transgender Child (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2018); Sarah Ahmed, “An Affinity of Hammers” TSQ: Transgender Studies Quarterly 3, no. 1–2 (2016): 29.

[17] Margaret Price, “The Bodymind Problem and the Possibilities of Pain” Hypatia 30, no. 1 (2015): 279.

[18] Miranda Fricker, Epistemic Injustice: Power and the Ethics of Knowing (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), 1.

[19] Another form of epistemological injustice – relating to harms done to one’s capacity as a knower, or one’s ability to know – is relevant also to Hannah Simpson’s paper in this cluster, on When the Wind Blows. The characters in that comic, an elderly British married couple who spend most of the story slowly dying of radiation poisoning, are through misleading state propaganda denied self-knowledge, an awareness of what is happening to them and why. Dying in their sleep as they continue to wait in vain for help, they do not even have the chance to say goodbye to each other, because they do not realize what fate their pains have promised them. See Hannah Simpson, “Picture Nuclear Suffering: Raymond Briggs’s When the Wind Blows,” Modernism/modernity Print Plus 7, cycle 3 (2023).

[20] Thomas Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia, ed. Frank Shuffelton (New York: Penguin, 1999), 146.

[21] Jeremy Bentham, An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1907), 311. For Bentham’s relevance to present-day discussions of pain and animal rights, see Linett, Literary Bioethics, 16–25.

[22] José Medina, The Epistemology of Resistance: Gender and Racial Oppression, Epistemic Injustice, and Resistant Imaginations (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), 7.

[23] Srimayee Basu, “The Anesthetization of Politics: The Case of Lynching Photographs,” Modernism/modernity Print Plus 7, cycle 3 (2023).

[24] Scarry’s example is the torturer’s stated desire for information, but any such disingenuous claim will do. For example, stereotypes about racial groups often serve to blame the victims of racist violence for their own injuries by casting that violence as somehow their own fault. Defenses for police shootings have a similar ring – the queries, “why did they run? why didn’t they comply?” serving to distract from the basic injustice of the violent act. The point of the infliction of pain in these examples has more to do with the affectation of power and dominance than any action that the victim did or did not take.

[25] Disability scholars have for some time criticized the use of disability terms, like “blindness,” to denote a generalized lack or a state of ignorance. For more on this matter see David Bolt, The Metanarrative of Blindness: A Re-Reading of Twentieth Century Anglophone Writing (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2013).

[26] For the association between autism and a lack of pain expression, and a study which shows that autistic people do not feel less pain despite the widespread belief that they do, see Rami Nader, Tim F Oberlander, Christine T Chambers, and Kenneth D Craig. “Expression of Pain in Children with Autism” Clinical Journal of Pain 20, no. 2 (2004): 88-97.

[27] Lisa Guenther, Solitary Confinement: Social Death and its Afterlives (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2013), xiii.

[28] For a brief account of the method’s origins and early examples, see Gayle Salamon, “What’s Critical About Critical Phenomenology?” Puncta: Journal of Critical Phenomenology 1, no. 1 (2018): 8–17.

[29] Edmund Husserl, The Crisis of European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology: An Introduction to Phenomenological Philosophy, trans. David Carr (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1970), 163.

[30] Lisa Guenther, “Critical Phenomenology,” in 50 Concepts for a Critical Phenomenology, eds. Gail Weiss, Ann. V. Murphy, and Gayle Salamon (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 2020), 13.

[31] Joanna Bourke, The Story of Pain: From Prayer to Painkillers (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014), 18

[32] Judith Butler, Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (1990; rpt., London: Routledge, 2006), 191.

[33] David T. Mitchell and Sharon L. Snyder, Narrative Prosthesis: Disability and the Dependencies of Discourse (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2000), 64.