Chapter 10 Sport and Pain

In: Somaesthetics and Sport
Andrew Edgar
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While pain may typically be understood as having positive instrumental value, as an indicator of bodily injury or disease, the experience of pain – suffering physically or mentally – is nonetheless judged as being intrinsically bad and undesirable. The purpose of this chapter is to argue that within sport, and in particular within endurance sports, pain and suffering acquire a positive intrinsic value and meaning. As such, the chapter takes up a challenge implicit in Shusterman’s comment that: ‘A very sad curiosity of recent philosophy is that so much inquiry has been devoted to the ontology and epistemology of pain, so little to its psychosomatic management, to its mastery and transformation into tranquillity or pleasure’.

It will be argued that sport and competition without some form of suffering is largely meaningless. The athlete must therefore develop techniques through which pain is managed, and more significantly given meaning as an intrinsic and necessary component of the experience of sport and competition. It will be argued, by drawing on the likes of Elaine Scarry, and George Canguilhem’s philosophy of health, as well as texts within the philosophy of sport, that pain is not merely to be valued instrumentally (as expressed in the catchphrase ‘more pain, more gain’), but that without physical and/or mental suffering the sporting challenge would be rendered meaningless and empty. The chapter analyses different experiences of suffering in sport and the nature of the work that is performed to give these experiences meaning and positive value within the athlete’s sense of identity.

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