[-empyre-] of pain and others

Jonathan Marshall Jonathan.Marshall at uts.edu.au
Sun Oct 28 12:06:19 EST 2012

Hi Alan, 

please let me keep stumbling along on one particular point

representation is an interpretation as well, its interactive.

>> Hence, communication of misery and pain seems to be a subset of the
>> general problem of 'how do we communicate anything'?

>No, because as Scarry herself pointed out, pain is different, and I'd say
>as well, death and slaughter are different. I can't communicate to you I'm
>dead. I can communicate to you other things, but pain is incredibly
>difficult to communicate, which is why there are measured tests,

I'm still not sure here. For example, to use some other easily referenced points can we really describe ecstacy? even a moderate 'real' orgasm? then there is the often remarked failure of the mystics to convey the 'union with god', the breakdown of language -  to some extent this might also be about the failure of represenation when there is no-person to do the representing, and others do not have a similar experience, to resonate.

What i would say is that maybe i've had experiences of sheer joy a couple of times in my late teens early twenties. The amount of art i have experienced, which can help recall those experiences, or sustain them is miniscule when compared to the amount of art which can sustain or induce the sense of depression, meaninglessness, pain, pointlessness, negation etc. (especially post mid 19th Century art)

So my conclusion would be that it is far easier (or considered important) to 'do' art around pain (in our world anyway).

That it is not to say that it is easy to do art that maintains empathy or overcomes state barriers or exclusions etc (which is a different issue). That i think is very hard (and very worth attempting) and is why songs with the potential to raise pity and self questioning are roughly banned. There is perhaps no other defense - but the banning *can* add to the potency, because it may make us listen harder to find what led to the banning.

>Joy and pain are very different, paralleling perhaps the difference
>between masochism and sadism. Pain is private in a different way; it can
>be unspeakable, unutterable. They're not two poles along a continuum -
>unutterable pain may tend towards cessation, towards death.

unutterable joy. 
But that does not suppose a continuum, other than from the *representable* to the *unrepresentable*, to the *hintable*... 

But quite frankly, how do i 'know' what anyone means, or is attempting to convey? 

each word, each gesture, may not only be social, but it is also profoundly individual. it has particular meanings that are unique, but it is not individual as it lives in interaction

Perhaps the more complex the statement, or the art, the more this is the case. And indeed the more 'real' the art, the more it seems like it stands on its own , being so rich in what it can provoke/say

Ultimately i probably don't understand anyone, but at the same time if i work (and art and communication require empathetic work from the audience, even if it is only beforehand), i may gain an inkling.

and that is true of anything not 'just' pain. Pain brings the incomprehension to the fore, makes it harder to ignore, but it is always there.

However, of course, if we (as a moral decision) may want to act towards the pain of others for alleviation or sympathy or coaction etc, then we may decide those in pain need/require (not the right words, but let communication fail) our attention and work more than those in 'harmless' joy.... but let us not think that joy is easy to express and may not separate.

Perhaps i don't even know what i'm attempting to say


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