THE CULTURE OF PAIN

Drawing on history, art, literature, psychology, and medicine, Morris (Alexander Pope: The Genius of Sense, 1984) offers an extended commentary, profusely documented and illustrated, on the nature, function, and various meanings of pain in Western culture. Considering pain as both a ``biological fact'' and ``an experience in search of an interpretation,'' Morris interprets the psychic, spiritual, and physical experiences of pain and the symbolic, metaphoric, and symptomatic expressions of it from Plato to Joyce Carol Oates, Freud to Norman Cousins, Job to de Sade. The invention of ether in 1846 altered the meaning of pain but did not eradicate it, and to medical science most pain remains a mystery: chronic pain, hysteria, numbness (which is more dangerous than pain), redemptive or religious pain, visionary or revolutionary pain, edifying pain, tragic pain (``we no longer recognize'' it), and comic pain (the best discussion in the book, though its relation to pain is tenuous). Morris surveys the creative uses of pain by artists, the instructive uses of pain by satirists, the erotic uses of pain by sadomasochists, the political uses of pain as torture, and the aesthetic uses of pain in the sentimental, melancholy, and sublime styles of Romantic writers who associated beauty with loss, suffering, and death. He concludes with a lyrical celebration of ``The Future of Pain'': ``We must begin to proliferate its meanings.'' Such a statement reflects the major problems of the book: the exhortative tone, the use of the implicative ``we'' in place of sound argument, and the very proliferation of meanings so that pain becomes an abstraction, resembling pleasure, detached from the causes—anguish, deprivation, discomfort—however spiritual or mental in origin, that healthy people instinctively avoid and that most philosophers, long before Bentham, believed to be a threat to organized society and civilization. Without ideology, it is still an interesting but poorly organized book and no substitute for Elaine Scarry's The Body in Pain (1986). (Thirty b&w illustrations.)

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1991

ISBN: 0-520-07266-9

Page Count: 375

Publisher: Univ. of California

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1991

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Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

GOOD ECONOMICS FOR HARD TIMES

“Quality of life means more than just consumption”: Two MIT economists urge that a smarter, more politically aware economics be brought to bear on social issues.

It’s no secret, write Banerjee and Duflo (co-authors: Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way To Fight Global Poverty, 2011), that “we seem to have fallen on hard times.” Immigration, trade, inequality, and taxation problems present themselves daily, and they seem to be intractable. Economics can be put to use in figuring out these big-issue questions. Data can be adduced, for example, to answer the question of whether immigration tends to suppress wages. The answer: “There is no evidence low-skilled migration to rich countries drives wage and employment down for the natives.” In fact, it opens up opportunities for those natives by freeing them to look for better work. The problem becomes thornier when it comes to the matter of free trade; as the authors observe, “left-behind people live in left-behind places,” which explains why regional poverty descended on Appalachia when so many manufacturing jobs left for China in the age of globalism, leaving behind not just left-behind people but also people ripe for exploitation by nationalist politicians. The authors add, interestingly, that the same thing occurred in parts of Germany, Spain, and Norway that fell victim to the “China shock.” In what they call a “slightly technical aside,” they build a case for addressing trade issues not with trade wars but with consumption taxes: “It makes no sense to ask agricultural workers to lose their jobs just so steelworkers can keep theirs, which is what tariffs accomplish.” Policymakers might want to consider such counsel, especially when it is coupled with the observation that free trade benefits workers in poor countries but punishes workers in rich ones.

Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-61039-950-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: Aug. 29, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME

NOTES ON THE FIRST 150 YEARS IN AMERICA

The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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