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- Author or Editor: Manuela Consonni x
The Shoah as an historical event transformed the interrogation of the meaning of existence, raising radical questions about pain, death and individual finitude. If hermeneutics aims to define the space of expression, i.e., the semantic field which enables things to exist according to a determinate meaning, it must also open up to possibilities of semantic changes under the influence of new types of experience. In order to trace the changes in the structure of separate members in a semantic field and to map the progression of such changes one must have a critical mass, a number of meaningful events and of recurrences of the word in its new usage. If a word appears in a specific meaning only once, as a kind of hapax legomenon, it does not suffice for such a linguistic development. The Being as being towards death in the camps has led to paramount semantic shifts. Such semantic shifts are at the centre of this study and their object is pain. Death is lived through the presence of pain which becomes locus for its articulation. This pain is the multiple experience of an actual physical wound, of the disruption of the harmony of being and of the being’s unfitness for the world. It is also a metaphysical anguish that leads one to anticipate one’s own death. It is not a philosophical pain of death, nor a cosmic pain in regards to the mortality of the being but the ineffable essence of camp experience. In this experience, the sense of life as being in the world, the Heideggerian Dasein, is ‘being towards death’ in both the figurative and the literal sense. Movement towards death is the shared experience of people in the camps, their shared identity.
Edited by Esther Cohen, Leona Toker, Manuela Consonni and Otniel E. Dror
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.