Cryptic, I know. But in a play on the fundamentalist Christian “WWJD” (What would Jesus do?) bumper stickers, I’m asking “WWESD” – what would Elaine Scarry do? In her influential book, The Body in Pain, Scarry suggests that pain destroys language.

It’s something that I”ve remarked on in relation to Marin Marais’ Tableau de l’Operation de la taille (1725) and in Fanny Burney’s 1812 description of her 1811 mastectomy. In each of these descriptions of pain, the intensity increases and increases until a moment of such abject horror that the voice falls silent, reality just a bit too much too bear.

Now take a look at this description:

[The sound] changes from steady drum beats to increasingly rapid successions of tremors.

These blend into continuous noise which silences just before explosion.

Sounds remarkable similar doesn’t it? The interesting thing is that this isn’t a description of human pain at all. It’s a description of what happens in the lead up to a volcanic eruption.

The body in pain, indeed. Fascinating.

Read more here.




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