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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A clear and candid contribution to an essential conversation.


Straight talk to blacks and whites about the realities of racism.

In her feisty debut book, Oluo, essayist, blogger, and editor at large at the Establishment magazine, writes from the perspective of a black, queer, middle-class, college-educated woman living in a “white supremacist country.” The daughter of a white single mother, brought up in largely white Seattle, she sees race as “one of the most defining forces” in her life. Throughout the book, Oluo responds to questions that she has often been asked, and others that she wishes were asked, about racism “in our workplace, our government, our homes, and ourselves.” “Is it really about race?” she is asked by whites who insist that class is a greater source of oppression. “Is police brutality really about race?” “What is cultural appropriation?” and “What is the model minority myth?” Her sharp, no-nonsense answers include talking points for both blacks and whites. She explains, for example, “when somebody asks you to ‘check your privilege’ they are asking you to pause and consider how the advantages you’ve had in life are contributing to your opinions and actions, and how the lack of disadvantages in certain areas is keeping you from fully understanding the struggles others are facing.” She unpacks the complicated term “intersectionality”: the idea that social justice must consider “a myriad of identities—our gender, class, race, sexuality, and so much more—that inform our experiences in life.” She asks whites to realize that when people of color talk about systemic racism, “they are opening up all of that pain and fear and anger to you” and are asking that they be heard. After devoting most of the book to talking, Oluo finishes with a chapter on action and its urgency. Action includes pressing for reform in schools, unions, and local governments; boycotting businesses that exploit people of color; contributing money to social justice organizations; and, most of all, voting for candidates who make “diversity, inclusion and racial justice a priority.”

A clear and candid contribution to an essential conversation.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-58005-677-9

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Seal Press

Review Posted Online: Oct. 9, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2017

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For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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