Classes Spring 2002 Semester

Presenting Pain
This course examines pain as a cultural phenomenon with historically varying meanings. Pain has no language itself, and this is the parodox: unspeakable itself, Pain is endlessly productive of language and representation. In this course we shall consider a variety of media and materials. The body will be the primary metaphor / document, the way it presents will be read symptomatically.. Through history pain, publicly displayed, means different things: From Homer through the Christian era through Renaissance art through the Slasher film, bodies in pain are deployed as example, witness, pedagogy, and pleasure. Pain’s private meanings often diverge from its public ones, which are manifold, and often contradictory. For example, we are told that pain is “good” for individuals, that it “builds character.” On the other hand commodity pop culture goes to great lengths to erase, deny, disavow pain. From another perspective Love is thought to be the sublime human experience. Nonetheless being in love seemingly necessitates suffering, hurt, and abjection: “I made a life out of loving you, you made a life out of hurting me.” This course reviews distinct historical periods from Homer through pop culture’s fascination with the torn body: How are we to read the Crucified body of Jesus? The Marquis De Sade’s equation of Pain and Pleasure? Why is so much pleasure obviously derived from dismembered bodies (Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Crash).


This course draws from many sources. I have tried to keep expenses down by finding readings on the Web (see External Links); others are on Electronic Reserve (also see External Links).

Many of the class texts are short, and where noted they can be found electronically, either through
Blackboard links or, directly, on the Web. Individuals who do not have computer access may xerox copies of these materials at their own expense. Please see me.

Texts to be purchased include (in order of use):

Mary Shelley, Frankenstein
JM Coetzee, Waiting for the Barbarians
Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish
Elie Wiesel, Night
Marquis de Sade, Justine

Other recommended reading:

Peter Michelson, Obscenity
Peter Edwards: Torture
Laura Hinton, Masochsim
Stephen Bruhm, Gothic bodies: politics of pain
Drew Leder, The Absent Body.
Queytal, A history of syphilis
Thomas Laquer, Making of Sex
cannibalism, torture, and the Eucharist.
Susan Sontag, AIDS and its metaphors
Caroline Bynum, The Body
Robert Detwiler, Written on the Body
Robert K. Martin: Gothic: A National Narrative

Course Assignments, outlined below (see Assignments) include Midterm and Final, weekly class essays, evaluative and theoretical final project.


Weekly essay and outside supportive reading.
Close-reading of text: Choose among any of texts offered for a particular week. Explore some aspect of the text / image. Cite at least one outside source, beyond those offered in syllabus or reference, to place the image in its historical context / significance. The following items are suggestions of what you might consider:
1) rhetorical positioning: meaning of representation and its construction; its audience, intent, and function; What constraints does it place upon a reader, how does it solicit reader’s complicity?
2) places where the text might “deconstruct” itself.
3) "meta" questions: what are the assumptions, world view, ideological investments and parameters: against what sort of cosmology and world view does the pain / violence image or text derive its meaning? In what sort of universe is such a representation possible?
4) What does image suggest about world view: can you locate it in its historical context? What might be a contrasting example?

Essays by selected individuals will be used to begin class discussion on each new text.

Two or three individuals who will work together researching the above (each student, however, is responsible for writing his or her own weekly essay); the study partners will also work together in studying and completing other course assignments; they meet periodically with me; at semester’s end Study Partners will share an oral final exam.

These exams, blind-graded, will be conducted as blue-book, inclass exam. As Part of the Final exam, each group of Study Partners will meet with me for an oral evaluation. Please see the University Class Schedule for date of the Final.

PAIN READER: collect, develop, sample different cultural scenes, or texts, of the pained body:
This will take the form of an extensive area of private research. Each student, working together with her or his study partners, will be responsible for demonstrating mastery of the content of the course. Using various textual methods (including a variety of representations), the student will develop an introductory “ethnography” of the body in pain:

1. Review two theoreticians on the body in culture: Bryan Turner, Mary Douglas, Thomas Laquer, Freud, Marx, among others. Choose representational scenes we have not discussed in class.
2. Apply the questions that guided class discussion (textual; metatextual; see above). What are the uses of the body in pain? How has it been displayed, manipulated? How does such display "produce" or make its meaning?

Format of this reader can include webpage as well as textual elements. We will discuss this more in detail later in the semester.

Each student will be responsible for writing a brief evaluation of her or his achievement in the course.

Archival Semesters

*for other resources related to Presenting Pain (for enrolled students only) please see the Blackboard website