Knowledge and Pain


Pain studies, both in exact sciences and in the humanities, are a fast-shifting field. This volume condenses a spectrum of recent views of pain through the lens of humanistic studies. Methodologically, the volume is an interdisciplinary study of the questions pertaining to the accessibility of pain (physical or emotional) to understanding and of the possible influence of suffering on the enhancement of knowledge in private experience or public sphere.
Undeterred by the widespread belief that pain cannot be expressed in language and that it is intransmissible to others, the authors of the essays in the collection show that the replicability of records and narratives of human experience provides a basis for the kind of empathetic attention, dialogue, and contact that can help us to register the pain of another and understand its conditions and contexts. Needless to say, the improvement of this understanding may also help map the ways for the ethics of response to (and help for) pain.
Whereas the authors of the volume tend to share the view of pain as a totally negative phenomenon (the position taken in Elaine Scarry’s The Body in Pain), they hold this view applicable mainly to the attitudes to the pain of others and the imperative of minimise the causes of another’s suffering. They also consider this view to be culturally and temporally circumscribed. The volume suggests that one’s own personal experience of suffering, along with the awareness of the seriality of such experience among fellow sufferers, can be conducive to emotional and intellectual growth. The reading of literature dealing with pain can lead to similar results through vicariously experienced suffering, whose emotional corollaries and intellectual consequences may be conveyed through artistic rather than discursive means.
The distinctive features of the volume are that it processes these issues in a historicising way, deploying the history of the ideas of pain from the Middle Ages to the present day, and that it makes use of the methodology of different disciplines to do so, arriving to similar conclusions through, as it were, different paths. The disciplines include analytic philosophy, historiography, history of science, oral history, literary studies, and political science.

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Esther Cohen is Professor of Medieval History at the Department of History, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem. She has published on popular culture as well as on law and crime in the middle ages. Her most important publications are The Crossroads of Justice: Law and Society in Late Medieval France (1993), Peaceable Domain, Certain Justice: Crime and Society in Fifteenth-Century Paris (1996) and The Modulated Scream: Pain in Late Medieval Culture (2010). She is currently working on demons in the later middle ages.
Leona Toker is Professor in the English Department, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem. She is the author of Nabokov: The Mystery of Literary Structures (1989), Eloquent Reticence: Withholding Information in Fictional Narrative (1993), Return from the Archipelago: Narratives of Gulag Survivors (2000), Towards the Ethics of Form in Fiction: Narratives of Cultural Remission (2010), and articles on English, American and Russian literature. She is the editor of Commitment in Reflection: Essays in Literature and Moral Philosophy (1994). She has founded and is editing Partial Answers: A Journal of Literature and the History of Ideas.
Manuela Consonni is Senior Lecturer in Contemporary Jewish History and Head of the Italian Section in the Department of Romance and Latin American Studies, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem. She is the author of Resistenza or Shoah: The Memory of the Deportation and Extermination in Italy, 1945-1985 (2010, Hebrew). Her articles appeared in Partial Answers, Jewish History, and Quaderni Storici. Her current research project is “‘Bracketing Death’: Philosophical and Anthropological Analysis of Death and the History of the Shoah”.
Otniel E. Dror, MD, PhD (History) is Joel Wilbush Chair in Medical Anthropology and Head of the Section for the History of Medicine in the Medical Faculty of The Hebrew University of Jerusalem. His research focuses on the history of the study of emotions during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. He is the author of Blush, Adrenaline, Excitement: Modernity and the Study of Emotions, 1860-1940 (under revision for the University of Chicago Press). His articles have appeared in Isis, Configurations, Science in Context, and Social Research. His new book project is entitle: The Adrenaline Century, 1900-2000.
"This is an ambitious book, and the chapters are wide-ranging. However, the editors have done an excellent job in signposting connections between the diverse arguments and ensuring that the volume is both readable and intellectually provocative." – in: Bulletin of the History of Medicine 87/4 (Winter 2013)
"a superb book" – in: Social History of Medicine 26/4 (2013)
Leona Toker and Esther Cohen: Introduction: In Despite
S. Benjamin Fink: Knowing Pain
Esther Cohen: ‘If You Prick Us, Do We Not Bleed?’ Reflections on the Diminishing of the Other’s Pain
R. F. Yeager: Gower and Chaucer on Pain and Suffering: Jephte’s Daughter in the Bible, the ‘Physician’s Tale,’ and
the Confessio Amantis
Na’ama Cohen-Hanegbi: Pain as Emotion: The Role of Emotional Pain in Fifteenth-Century Italian Medicine and Confession
Michal Altbauer-Rudnik: The Changing Faces of Love Torments: Continuity and Rupture in the Medical Diagnosis of Lovesickness in the Modern West
Michèle Bokobza Kahan: The Rhetoric of Pain: Religious Convulsions and Miraculous Healings in the Jansenist Parish of Saint Médard, Paris (1727-1732)
Nathaniel Wolloch: The Limits of Enlightenment Sensitivity To the Suffering of Animals
Otniel E. Dror: Visceral Pleasures and Pains
Natalia Pervukhina-Kamyshnikova: The Code of Pain in Chekhov
Manuela Consonni: After the Camps: Semantic Shift and the Experience of Pain
Leona Toker: Folk Theodicy in Concentration Camps: Literary Representations
Paula A. Michaels: Pain and Blame: Psychological Approaches to Obstetric Pain, 1950-1980
Anna Leimumäki: What Does Falling Ill Mean? Illness Narratives as Elucidation of Experience Expertise
Shlomith Rimmon-Kenan: Place and Space in Christine Brooke-Rose’s Life, End of
Rebecca Anna Bitenc: Representations of Dementia in Narrative Fiction
Nourit Melcer-Padon: Fending off Pain: David Grossman’s Labyrinth of Language
Images: Recidivism or Hope?
Rebecca A. Adelman: Tangled Complicities: Extracting Knowledge from Images of Abu Ghraib
Ariela Freedman: ‘Sorting through My Grief and Putting It into Boxes’: Comics and Pain
Notes on Contributors
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