Joanna Bourke- The Story of Pain, From Prayer to Painkillers

The Story of Pain From Prayer to Painkillers

The Story of Pain, From Prayer to Painkillers / by Joanna Bourke.

“The story of pain and suffering since the eighteenth century Addresses the big questions about the experience and nature of suffering – and how to respond to it. Charts how our understanding of pain has changed completely over the last three centuries – from positive function to ultimate evil. A fascinating investigation for the 21st century reader into how we have coped with suffering in the past – both our own suffering and that of the ones we love.”  Oxford University Press

“What is pain? Although it might seem to be easily recognizable from personal experience, as a concept pain is surprisingly difficult to define. Joanna Bourke’s recent book, The Story of Pain: From Prayer to Painkillers, examines the testimonies of pain sufferers in Britain and America from the 1760s to the present in order to analyze the socially and historically contingent experience of pain. In the introduction, she defines at length precisely what pain is and, perhaps more importantly, what it is not. For Bourke, pain is not an entity. Rather than conceptualizing pain as a thing, which risks endowing it with independent agency, she argues that pain is a mode of perception which belongs to the life of an individual. Therefore, pain is more adverb than noun, describing “the way we experience something, not what is experienced” (p. 7). Neither neutral nor impersonal, pain functions as a “type of event.” As such, Bourke explains, “it is one of those recurring occurrences that we regularly experience and witness that participates in the constitution of our sense of self and other” (p. 5). Defining pain as a “type of event” eschews the notion that pain can be reduced to mere physiological sensation. Instead, it insists upon the inextricable connections between mind and body. For the individual in pain, the sensory, cognitive, and emotional elements of the experience are intertwined.”

Please click here to read the book review by Sara Black (Bryn Mawr College).