Saturday, June 05, 2004

Pain As A Metaphor

Last night I happened upon an interesting show on CBC radio, as I lay down to rest after reading. The CBC show Ideas, hosted by Phillip Coulter, was having a three part series on the Culture of Pain, which I thought, at the time, to be an intriguing ‘idea’. Having already missed the first part, I had to fill in the conceptual gap as I listened to part two: an interview with cultural philosopher, David Morris. The interview went from the absurd to the asinine to the completely incomprehensible, with in minutes. The physical and biomedical explanations of pain could be dissolved away, Morris alleged, as ideological artifacts of culture. If one could control the construction of the physical explanation of pain, one could control and offer an alternative account of that pain: I must objectify my pain. I must attribute a narrative to this ineffable feeling of pain; this way, I’ll be able to live with and appreciate the pain.

David Morris, author of The Culture of Pain, contends that far too often in our post-modern world—though he sees this as a lingering dogma of modernism, circa. 1860-1950—we medicalize pain. More clearly, we determine, through forms of medical classification, the types of pain that inhere in the biomedical constitution of humanity. If I were to experience a pain in my hand as result of injury, then quiet possibly, aside from it having a physical explanation, it may exist as a phenomenon without biomedical explanation—or as Morris states, “an alternative narrative.” Morris then goes on to opine that narrative forms of therapy need be explored, since they may offer alternative methods of alleviating pain.

Biblical examples are cited of the narrative catharsis of articulating pain allegorically; most chiefly, the Book of Job. Job, a good man, endures harrowing pain through out his life, and is led to question the meaning of life. A part of the Old Testament, the Book of Job illustrates the significance of suffering in Christianity, and the providence of God to give meaning to suffering and, finally, in eschatology, give salvation for suffering. Morris appears to imply that the re-mythologizing of pain may offer a qualitatively different approach to how we both explain and treat pain. Such a postulate, if I’m reading it correctly, veers dangerously close to the moralizing superstition of religious explanation of pain: sin. No longer have I simply torn my ACL, but now I’m meant to suffer a metaphorical pain because I live in sin. Further, my physical pain is a symptom of an ethereal flaw of my conscience life.

Of the physical manifestations of pain, Morris concedes that our scientific medicalizations of explanations of pain are, and have been, systematic and fruitful, though, at the same time, sees the need for an expansive awareness of the non-physical explanations that include cultural variables. Using lung cancer as an example, Morris claims that postmodernist language explains pain more comprehensively than the stock medicalization. He posits that the “archeology of biomedical explanations” don’t take into account other salient variables such as advertising, corporatist manipulation, culture and whatnot when explaining lung cancer.

Huh? Whaaa?

Yes, this is a postmodernist expounding on the issue of pain, and somehow lung cancer can have a hermeneutic variance with Scientism rigidity. It must be noted that Morris is only speaking of alternative narratives, however. He does not think, thankfully, that modern medical classification of pain should be abandoned. Moreover, he takes comfort in the marvels of modern medical science to alleviate pain—whether it be of the narrative variety, or, quiet simply, the physical form.


Anonymous said...

damn postmodernist.

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wholl resources said...

Looking for american cancer society information I came across this post. I totally agree with you and would feel the same way!


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