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FRUITS OF SORROW by Elizabeth V. Spelman


Framing Our Attention to Suffering

by Elizabeth V. Spelman

Pub Date: July 28th, 1997
ISBN: 0-8070-1420-6
Publisher: Beacon Press

A fastidiously logical look at some paradoxes of suffering. ``Suffering: it is dirty work, but sometimes there are spiritual profits to be gained.'' Spelman (Philosophy/Smith Coll.) goes at her subject from varied points of view—including Platonic and Aristotelian approaches, those of suffragists and of contemporary feminists—in this concise and selective analytical survey. In one chapter she considers the implications of art that portrays sufferers and suffering, and revisits dance critic Arlene Croce's controversial condemnation in the New Yorker a few years ago of Bill T. Jones's dance about AIDS, Still/Here—which Croce chose not to see. Spelman observes: ``Croce is right: she didn't need to see the dance to say what she had to say. But to many who actually saw the dance, she in fact needed not to see the dance to say what she had to say.'' In a chapter that explores cruelty to women by other women, Spelman exposes with useful candor a problem seemingly suppressed by most feminists. ``The history of women's inhumanity to women is a shameful aspect of the history of women,'' she writes. Though her contextual arguments are carefully waged, lay readers may especially appreciate the insights that emerge more loosely, by the by, and are accessible to almost anyone who has suffered: ``Tragedies,'' Spelman remarks, ``do not simply require the pain of innocent victims produced by the flaws of an otherwise good person; they suggest that this is a cost that can perhaps be redeemed by the insight it gives us about the human condition.'' Comments like this give the faithful reader, occasionally numbed by the writer's dryness of tone, something unequivocal to keep hold of. If understanding suffering could make it go away, then Spelman's book would become a bestseller.