It's a fictional streetscape we wander, here, a metropolis whose buildings, boulevards, and back alleys are in a constant state of flux. This is every place, and yet, no place at all - a city of dreams and a dream of a city.

Here, we explore the life and work of Ivan Illich and his circle of collaborators. There's no comprehensive index to the articles published, but we invite you to use the Search box, to the left, and to explore the Archive links that appear at the bottom of each page. Comments are welcomed.

Monday, January 24, 2011

'Some Theological Perspectives on Pain and Suffering'

These are remarks made by Ivan Illich at a conference about the "management of pain" conducted in 1987, we believe, by an organization called The Institute for Theological Encounter with Science and Technology. It's located in St. Louis, Mo., and describes itself as focusing "on the many ways that faith and science complement each other in the advancement of human knowledge."

We first happened upon these remarks by Illich in 2002, out on the Web somewhere, and we dutifully stored them away on our hard disk. And then, we promptly forgot about them. Just today, though, they resurfaced, and a quick search with Google reveals that this text is no longer available as we found it. So, as our small contribution to the Illich community, we re-publish it. We've corrected a few misspellings and other typos as best we could.

In this essay, Illich argues that in the West, pain and the experience of the body in pain, have a history, and that this history is deeply informed by Christian thought. He hints, here, at the main thesis he worked on for the rest of his life, namely that the corruption of the best is the worst: "The sub-natural, subhuman horrors, which I consider part of western civilization, cannot be understood, I believe, unless they are seen as the perversion of the above- or super-human vocation which is contained in the history of suffering in the Old and New Testaments."

Originally, these remarks were released along with those of two other speakers at the conference, one an M.D., the other a specialist in social work with experience in drug abuse and treating the pain of cancer patients. A short forward names those gentlemen while introducing the topic at hand:

Philosophers and theologians have wrestled with the "problem of evil" for centuries -- nay, for millenia. From Job until now we have no satisfactory "solution", nor, probably, shall we ever have one. We shall not know "good" until we see God face to face. Then, seeing God, we shall understand evil.

Certainly suffering, and its physical manifestation in pain, is part of the aspect of "evil. We can, at least, generally locate pain in the matrix of a fallen temporality. Our efforts at this Conference have in no way penetrated the mystery, but we can congratulate ourselves for at least throwing some light on several aspects of pain and suffering. John Blaschke, David Joranson and Ivan Illich deserve our thanks for their wisdom and their broadening our horizons and deepening our appreciation of the many aspects constituting our experience of pain and suffering. Pain, as was pointed out several times in the course of the Conference, is an intensely personal and very lonely experience. It is hoped that this set of Proceedings will be a communal help to all of us who hurt and suffer.



by Ivan Illich

I wish to respond as closely as I can to the spirit I have found here and to the framework already established by Dr. Blaschke and Mr. Joranson. I wish to speak with theological competence, always open to criticism by those with similar competences. I am particularly interested in the revelation of God's mystery not only as we find it in the Old and New Testaments but also in the whole history of the Church. I wish to include in the history of the Church the piety and devotion of the Church's people. Indisputably this is a very important, but mostly neglected, source for our understanding of the content of faith. I shall confine my theological references to that part of church history which is common to all western Christians. I will not include references to eastern Christian theological sources simply because these are a different matter.

In a very deep sense, theology is about suffering. Suffering, which I call living, is the acceptance of things which I do not like. I shall argue that the understanding of suffering has developed over the centuries in the west. It is in the west where I am at home. The western appreciation is different from the bearing of burdens in the traditional world of Taoism in China or in the Hindu or Buddhist world. I shall not speak about the extra-European understanding of pain and suffering. I shall consider suffering as an historical reality which comes into existence and which we learn.

My task at this conference is not to speak about suffering in general. I am, rather, considering the suffering of one particular burden which is called pain. I recommended the reading of a chapter on suffering in Medical Nemesis, a book which I wrote some 20 years ago, where I carefully distinguish suffering from pain in a profoundly different way from Dr. Blaschke's approach last evening. And, let me say, this difference is more than a question of language.

I am taking the liberty of speaking of suffering as the culturally shaped way of dealing with the shadow side of life rather than with its lighted, sunny side. I shall use the term suffering to indicate a particular socially and culturally acquired art of dealing with that shadow side, of bearing burdens which come with living. I'm speaking about the art of suffering. Pain is only one narrow, but very special, kind of condition in which one would properly need the art of suffering.

At this point I want to place my consideration of this topic under the image of that whimpering nun whom Dr. Blaschke said yesterday he held in his arms. Shortly after midnight I was dreaming of her. I got up. This was my first night in a Jesuit retreat house in 25 years. Please, let me stress that what I am about to say is said because I feel at home here and with you. I am in my Father's house here. I am not an outsider, not a guest here. I was here in a retreat cell without a crucifix, in a dining room without a crucifix, in a conference room, where we are discussing pain and technology, without a crucifix. The instrumentum salutis (the instrument of salvation) is not present. Finally I went to the chapel, which by the way reminds me of a tea room at an airport, and there I found a cross. God knows what kind of human respect dictated a cross -- without a corpus. I looked for the one symbol in which physical pain, nociception, can be expressed in western culture, and I could not find it.

Therefore, I decided during the night to center my presentation on the history of suffering on the history of the slow discovery and development of the denudation (I mean this literally) of Christ's body on the cross. I now see my task as one of reflecting on the history of the suffering of pain. I can speak of the history of the crucifix without speaking of the history of the stigmata, but I shall mention the stigmata later, so as to lead into a final topic, the history of Christian torture.

Dr. Blaschke mentioned Elain Scarry's book last evening, that wild, beautiful, crazy, mixed-up book which treats very many important things. It's one of the six or seven important books relating to a history of the perception of pain published last year.

I am not going to speak of medicine or of the medical profession as such. I want to raise a more profound issue about the social framework within which medicine is practiced. I would say much the same about the framework in which a voter for the presidency bestows his or her confidence on one who might, under some set of circumstances, have to seriously consider pressing the button that would start a nuclear war. So, I'm not speaking about any special or particular profession here beyond noting that we are talking about pain and suffering in a world of domineering professions.

In speaking about the history of the crucifix, I speak about the crucifix as a butt of ridicule in early Christian times, as a sign of victory over the power of torture in the first millennium, and as the denudation of the horror of physical pain which thereby also comes into conscious existence together with the notion of the independent self.

But before I look to the history of the crucifix, I think I should make some remarks about suffering as it is dealt with in the Bible. I want to consider the evolution of the idea of suffering in Holy Scripture in order to return later to the fact that I cannot identify in the Book of Job any distinction of nociception -- I take that word from you, Dr. Blaschke -- from other forms of evil. I have thought on this issue for 15 years and it has come as an illumination to me that I have to rank the history of nociception being transformed into the human experience of bodily pain. I was told yesterday that nociception can be studied in experimental animals. I'm interested in the transformation of nociception -- through historical circumstances, through its perception in a human mode, into what ancient philosophers called an actus humanus, a human and humane activity -- into pain.

The Old Testament is very rich in words that express a deep, deep sense of suffering: anguish, fear, bitterness, the experience of being lost, forlorn, beaten up, exposed to the wrath of the Lord. It was only very much, later, during the Christian epoch, that rabbis felt the need to assign a specific word for that which we moderns now call pain. When these same rabbis had to talk about physical pain they used the word that designated punishments which I inflict. The English word pain comes the Latin poena, from being punished. The concept of a physical pain, one specifically physical, comes from the experience of being chastised by another. In our language pain does not come from the inside; it is imposed on us from outside.

When the rabbis in Egypt translated the Old Testament into Greek, they found seven or eight words for these different experiences, general words in Greek for the way one could suffer, but none of them fitted the word-field of the Hebrew experiences which they were trying to render in Greek words. Here, let me simply note that we should not forget, when we speak about the exegesis of the Old Testament, that it was done overwhelmingly by people writing Greek or Latin. The only word in which etymologists believe there is a close correlation between the traditional Hebrew word and the Greek word is that which in German we would call Angst, anguish, pressure, being oppressed.

My knowledge of other semitic languages is practically nil. But I am told that the word "suffering" is almost absent from the texts of Egypt. At least for those Egyptians who for 2000 years wrote in hieroglyphics, anxiety and whatever one has to suffer is transmuted into a huge effort to survive beyond the grave. Say, you go to a museum and see presentations of slaves. You would think how terribly these people were pained. When they were whipped, it hurt. But that is not the sort of thing I'm talking about. Assyriologists tell us that bodily decay, destruction, disaster are experienced as a result of gods who hurl something at people. There is nothing rational involved. It is not experienced as an intimate aggression. The Jews experience pain with a strong communal sense for, as the Jewish authors view it, miseries are the outcome of social infidelity to the covenant.

This (the outcome of social infidelity to the covenant) is what misery is about in the Bible. The Bible is a unique book if you want to view theology as the science which heals by giving meaning to any kind of suffering conceivable because ultimately that suffering is referred to a corpus, The corpus, on the cross. When you read the Bible this way, as a science of the faithful of Yahweh -- and of the faithfulness of Yahweh -- you will discover this. Suffering is the coming true of the retribution with which the Lord promised to sanction disobedience at the moment when he gave his Law at Sinai: a privilege for his chosen.

I said that I would speak as a theologian and as a believer who interprets the word, but I've tried especially in front of my most important collaborator and critic, Lee Hoinacki, to do so under the assumption that everybody here can sympathize with a man who wants to believe in the incarnation of pain, of the pained body. I also, though, want to make sense to someone who would say that "what this man believes is not where I belong." But to the person who might say that, I would add, "Be careful." In a subtle and, perhaps, in a very vindictive way, what I'm saying is incorporated from the culture in which I live, from the horrors to which I shall refer. The sub-natural, subhuman horrors, which I consider part of western civilization, cannot be understood, I believe, unless they are seen as the perversion of the above- or super-human vocation which is contained in the history of suffering in the Old and New Testaments.

The Prophets are prophets precisely because they interpret the burden of misery which is breaking the backs of God's people. They interpret it as something which one day shall be lifted. One simply cannot understand the evolution of a people with the Suffering Servant of Yahweh unless one understands that there is, together with the revelation of the possibility of suffering, the promise. Pain and suffering could not be relieved as a human condition without the promise of God.

As we modern historians go through the biblical books, through the Hebrew library that the Bible is, we see that, century after century, the burden is expressed more clearly as something which becomes intimate, which not just hits the entire people but hits a person. Suffering that was once the debt which the children of Israel had to pay for their fathers who had sinned, slowly came to be understood as a sign of Yahweh's predilection who thus tests his elect. I'll return to this notion later.

Because of the very strong element of communal debt, suffering is not yet experienced as what we are calling nociception. But affiliation turns into temptation when suffering becomes too great. Satan appears in suffering. He raises the question of a power. Can the afflicted turn to the magician, other priest or the gods to reveal, the need for suffering, to shake off the burden which is imposed through covenant and election? Or is the afflicted condemned to the terrible Jewish dilemma either to submit like Job and to ask God, please, to withdraw his hand or to curse him? Just read the Old Testament! Christians have unlearned to curse God in their suffering. As I said, I'm thinking of the Carmelite nun whom you held in your hards [hands?], Dr. Blaschke. As one who is faith-full, curse God, because in the Jewish sense a curse is still a sign of faith.

Let us not forget that within this one tradition of the Middle East suffering always make sense. What makes the life and context of the Jew experientially unique is God's transcendence of all suffering, his transcendence of both good and evil. For those who believe, no further reason for suffering has to be given other than "God's way." This is what it means to have fallen into the hands of the living God.

At the time of Christ the Jewish attitude toward suffering was already well defined in its uniqueness. There is no evil that cannot be placed by the Jew in a context simply of the terrible and horrible wrath of a person. Suffering always carries, therefore, a reference to Yahweh, to Yahweh who punishes the infidelity of his people as friend. In suffering at the hands of a friend lies the acceptance of the vocation which is open only for a Jew, acceptance simultaneously of meaningfulness and of the joy of doing so within a covenant. What a contrast this is to the contemporary Stoic attempt to declare that suffering is something which should not even touch the inside of a wise man, of a friend of god, as the Greek Stoics called themselves. And what an even more startling contrast to the Indian transformation of turning suffering into an illusion! Buddha's search for nirvana goes far beyond the Stoic indifference and insensitivity.

For the Jew there is the life-long wrestling with God. To be Israel means a constant wrestling which is not a pleasant experience. It is the life-long attempt to accept adversity as an occasion to be angry with God, to blame him, to face him before engaging in a life-long affirmation of the frame of transcendence within which whatever happens to me happens at his hand. In this sense, the Buddhist monks' recognition that suffering is illusion is the one root, in my understanding, out of which it is possible to declare that the need for a personal God is irrelevant. I was, therefore, clearly quite impressed when a friend returning from Japan after three months in a Zen Buddhist convent told me he was surrounded mostly by German mother superiors and American Jesuits.

God became man. Clearly he wanted to share the scandal of the bodily experience of evil: Christ, it is said in every Mass, suffering for you, for many. He offered himself to the Father in taking unto himself a body which is ours, which came into being in the history of the west. The apostle Paul grasps this mystery to such an extent that people accuse him of dolorism -- which I guess is why the corpus descended from the crucifix in this retreat center.

Take the Letter to the Colossians: "I find my joy in the suffering I bear for you and add my flesh to what is missing in Christ's tribulation" for his church. There is, therefore, a connection between Paul's suffering and the coming about of the body of Christ which is the church. The body, and more particularly the shared body of the church, for Paul is something which comes into existence by the joyful bearing of suffering. By this he extends, he transcends totally, the Stoic denial that misery ought not grip our inmost being. Further, he also transforms Israel -- the word means a "struggle with El," God -- into the extraordinary creativeness of making church.

Job! When we say Job we generally mean a biblical sufferer. Job is a man who has fallen into the hands of the living God and who knows very well that this is what has happened to him. He is being tested by Satan. He has lost everything that is dear to him, his camel herds, his goats, his servants, his tents, his sons, even his daughters. He is covered with running sores. He is the depth of affliction. He is abandoned by his friends. Even worse, he has lost dignity. He is laughed at by his friends and suffers even worse at the hands of his enemies. The Bible praises him because he interprets all this as a test. In his misery he confesses that the hand of God has touched him. He says that he is hurt by El's arrows, that El has fallen on his neck, that he is the butt of God's blows and of his anger. His misery and his dishonor, his deprivations are so many outward signs of a ruinous encounter with his total person, body and soul, physical and psychological, undistinguishable from each other. Not only he, but also his progeny, have fallen into God's hands. The loss of his skin and the loss of his kin are equally hurtful. This theme is repeated several times in the Book of Job.

All through the Old Testament, sores, leprosy, weakness, madness are presented as synonymous and all are a form of enveloping misery. They are never seen as symptoms of a special autonomous kind of misery which we would call disease rather than grief or misfortune for which something could be done bodily for the relief of the total misery. The Old Testament sufferer resents this painful state because it excludes him from the full participation in public song. His iniquity or his impurity make him an exile from ceremonies. Disarray of the body, the disaggregation from the community, together with the derangement of the mind reveal that he is afflicted, that he is a sinner. He is revealed as being in a special way -- in an inner way but one not acceptable to the majority -- in the hands of God.

In the later books of the Old Testament, the social aspect of this affliction is stressed even more. God touches Tobias as he touched Job because he wants to purity him, to make him an example for his people. In all of this, I think it is most important not to impute the possibility of the search for nociception as a special pain which I can suffer. Look to the Old Testament or to the New Testament or to any century before Descartes! It would be a grave mistake to interpret these biblical passages as suggesting that God strikes the sinner with something which we call disease, a disorder which becomes visible in the world in leprosy or some such, a disorder which does not become visible equally in dishonor, loss of status and defeat. Anthropologists tell me that even today in very many cultures there is no word for physical disease.

A crazy, but to most impressive, example of this can be seen in Normandy. There they say "Monsieur est fatigue." It doesn't mean that he's tired; it means that he is sick. And tres fatigue means that he is in the "atrium of death" a phrase which belongs to Hippocratic medicine but which has been eliminated in our kind of medicine. My anger yesterday evening and this morning is increasing: why is terminal pain a medical problem? I have found a new reason for crusading against this bunch of monopolists.

Now let's jump forward to the 12th century. I would like to show you how I can see that the perception of -- I'm using now a word that is new to me -- nociception takes social and psychological shape by looking at the crucifix. You are all aware of the first crucifix. It is that graffito on the outside of what was probably a brothel. There is a man with a donkey's head nailed to a cross. Beneath that there is a not fully readable name: "Anaxi .... adores his God" This first representation of a crucifix which we have is a mark of ridicule. Soon after Constantine the cross of Christians is golden and studded with jewels. Later, the figure of a fully dressed priest or king, the Savior, stands in front of it. Then in the Ottonian period (~1OOO AD) something happens. Occasionally the suffering body of Jesus is unveiled, but it is stiff. By the 12th century the body becomes touchingly realistic. By 1160 the face is alive but the body is already dead. By 1200 the head also sinks down. It is a dead body which we contemplate -- what we call "the body" The whole idea of the crucifix goes through revolution in that 12th century.

As an aside here, in order to stress the fact that there can be such a thing as body history and body experience, let me mention a few things as they were at the beginning of the 12th century. Mystically the body of the Lord is present on the altar in the bread and wine and the real body's around him. By the end of the century transubstantiation becomes a major issue. The body of Christ in the bread and wine is physically present and the mystical body sits around it. At the beginning of that century, we take a bone. We know it's a relic and we elevate it to the altars -- we perceive the odor of sanctity. By the end of the century the Inquisition is there -- in its original role -- to identify and certify that this bone "is really the skullcap of Mary Magdalen." At the beginning of the century, people who are wedded don't give their bodies to each other. They might do it, but they don't know that they do it. By the end of the 1200's, women are recognized as having as human a body as men. This is an incredible step toward the equality of men and women. And suddenly we can give our bodies to each other - a fabulous invention.

At the beginning of the century, the high-points of the liturgy are still the breaking of the bread and the preceding pax, the oratio pacis, the conspiracy of peace. This pax means a blowing into each other's mouth, an osculum, a mouth to mouth kiss among Christians. By the end of the century, the priest bows to kiss the altar and then kisses a wooden object (osculatorium) and hands it down to the others present.

Now, within this complex of change -- I'm not saying that this changing perception is the cause; I'm saying that this happens at the same time -- compassion is added to mercy, which is the Christian virtue of the first 1000 years. We moderns are certain that no one actually feels the pain of another. The other's pain cannot but be believed, as Dr. Blaschke said. True compassion is the result of an act of faith. I would dare to say faith becomes embodied only when it is compassion.

Francis' stigmata witness to the embodiment of his faith in God whom he adores on the crucifix, the God who took on flesh. The breakthrough of Christ's wounds out of Francis' palms, the soles of his feet as well as his heart and side appear historically during those decades within which what historians call the "individual" jells in Europe. Van den Berg, a Dutch phenomenologist, has written beautifully about the process.

It is much later, only in the 16th century, that we begin to see the intimization [sic] of pain, the discovery of the feeling of pain as an individual separated from the community. Then people perceive the suffering of an individual, as a person, not as "one of us."

It is in the towns of northern Italy in the 13th century that people begin to experience an invisible skin that is constitutive of their own body. Suffering, the contemplation of the crucifix, the desire "nudus nudum Christum sequere" (naked to follow the naked Christ) manifests itself in the stigmata. Don't forget that by the end of that century there are 150 at least historically and medically solidly documented stigmatized people crawling around Europe. Whatever you make of it!

I am not suggesting that Augustine or Hugh or Hildegard loved Jesus less than Francis or believed in his incarnation, passion and death [???] than Francis. I only argue that being a man of the 13th century had endowed Francis with a new kind of organ, a border, a frontier, a shell which separates him from the community. Collin Morris ("The Rise of Individualism: 1050-1200 SCM, London, 1984 -- on the first page he quotes the poem by Auden which begins: "Some thirty inches from my nose. . . ") says that modern man knows that there is a skin around him. Without that perceived skin about him, one does not fit into our contemporary society. A Mexican wetback who arrives straight from his village must acquire this "skin" to fit into the U.S. Once you have acquired that frontier or skin, you will never again fit into the old barrio, as you did earlier in life. One has to break down this cultural immunity to our spirit of individual selfhood before one fits into this society.

Francis acquired that skin already in the 13th century. His seraphic faith in the passion of the incarnate God, like Paul's, adds what is missing in Christ's tribulations. That's what he professes -- to build up the church of Christ. But his love embodies itself in the stigmatour [sic] flesh of one person, not in the mystical or social body of Christ.

I have no other way -- sometimes I wish I had another -- a less theological way to speak about the issue of the social creation of pain. I can't. The enfleshment of faith and the love of Jesus reaches here, with Francis as a type, a new stage and with it the constitution of bodily pain as a separate, special, exquisite form of suffering and of compassion becomes available. I can now have compassion with Christ on the cross and compassion with the sick.

I hope to complete by the end of November a history of the discovery that there is a special class of people who are called the sick. Before, there were no institutions for the sick. There was no sense that there are people who are bodily sick outside. There were people who had something wrong with them and went to a doctor, but that's very far from having a social conception of the class of the sick. And a new class of people were arising rejoicing in hoc saeculo, hoc secularis mentis (in this age, in the mind of "the world"). Whole movements arise in the cities, people who tried not to be monks but to install -- the first evidence I have of this is from 1194 -- the sick, as their Lord and Abbot, into the noscomiam, a hospital in our sense of the word. They wanted to practice compassion. The move from the works of mercy to compassion is an inner ideal. Together with compassion, the mysticism and the mystical-spiritual interpretation of bodily pain as something which relates me in a special way to Christ and, therefore becomes psychologically heightened, stems from this century.

Talking about sickness is something other than compassion. To be more modern, let me call it empathy. I wish I had a different word! Someone said very well that empathy is like a rope, a bridge of words across the abyss that separates me from the skin of another. We cannot share the experience of pain, however, across this bridge of words. The more serious the condition is, the less can cross over this bridge. We can share our intent to find meanings to which we can try to refer that which we call pain. We can try to make it meaningful. But the pain itself is and remains, as Dr. Blaschke pointed out last evening, an object-less state. I would add that it has no possible objective referent, because the body is the percept of the subject, the precise opposite of an object.

I wish we could discuss these matters at greater length. We hear today such statements as: "my body belongs to me"; "my baby is mine"; and so forth. These are philosophically loaded discussions. The fact that they're very common does not make them intellectually legitimate. This is the basic position from which I start.

The utterance which denotes pain is not a word but a scream. The stronger the sense of self and individuality, the greater that sense of that skin, the more the projection of the possibility and the positive transformation into stigmata, then the more pronounced is the social compossibility [sic] of the social constitution of nociception -- the body as pain.

I made myself controversial and I feel that one who is controversial should not be a symbol of unity. That is why I do not want to speak as a theologian. But, as I said earlier there is a connection between the stigmata and torture. This is the final point I want to touch upon.

I'm going into this as the only way in which I can legitimate what the title of this conference -- the management of pain -- says to me. I want to raise an issue which is unspeakable and completely wrong in any ordinary setting.

The management of pain in the 20th century, in the last quarter of the 20th century, is a medical problem, a social control problem. But it almost certainly reflects something much deeper which is embedded in our society. Look at this particular body, the medicalized body, which today's young people call "my system," this post-Cartesian body which is managed. This body in our day requires the management of its pains and of its delights. Mr. Joranson gave an extraordinary example when he was talking about the decriminalization of terminal cancer -- I'm simplifying this enormously. For 4.5 million people suffering from more or less serious or very serious pain, relief could be broadly found with oral morphines. This use corresponds totally to my convictions. I am not making a medical statement.

These things about which I'm speaking are real. They are closely related to the medical issue which you came together to discuss. They comprise a concrete instance. There must be about as many people in that state of suffering or pain, which Mr. Joranson described, immediately south of the U.S. border as there are in the U.S. In South America and in Mexico hospitalization for the dying can be achieved for only 2 or 3 percent. Therefore, hospital control over the administration of these drugs is impossible. Providing people with the drugs, of which Mr. Joranson speaks, can happen in Mexico only by their free sale -- if one wants to avoid horrible repression. Most people in Mexico and in poor countries in general do not get medicines, even dangerous ones, and antibiotics on prescription. They can't get the prescription. And even if they got it, the majority of the doctors would fall into one of the four classifications Mr. Joranson mentioned.

To face the medical management of analgesics -- without reference to the religious repression of "highs" in the United States -- requires either establishing even stronger and probably just as useless controls over the import of morphine from South America or it means denying Mexicans what it is claimed should be given to U.S. citizens. This is an issue which cannot be discussed in a society in which management of pain, the very idea of the management of pain, has been put into a medical framework.

But to my point! Parallel with the embodiment of compassion during the late Middle Ages runs a new social concern with the effective infliction of pain. I speak of increasing use of torture. I am emphatically not suggesting that in some physiological sense the instruments used to inflict poena, pain, become more effective. I am suggesting that the torturers set out to achieve something unprecedented. Juridical torture was not unknown in Rome and Greece. The need for torture was an obvious matter for Cicero and Aristotle. We have their texts. It was not used on people who mattered. It was used on slaves, barbarians or the humiliates in later Roman periods, the "proletariat" who, after all, were more or less like beasts according to classical philosophy. That anthropology demanded that they be managed like animals. They had to be broken and broken in a manner which would be exemplary for the members of their kind. I'm saying, in effect, that the illusion of a relationship between Aristotelean and Platonic democracy and Jeffersonion democracy is just that -- an illusion.

There was no grace left in such people nor status nor property through which they could be afflictedOnly their flesh remained which could be torn from them. Juridical torture as punishment was used through 1800. Probably it subsided when imprisonment became legitimate as an alternative.

Inquisitional torture, about which I wish to speak, is another matter. I'm not speaking about Torquemada nor necessarily about Stalin nor precisely about the Brazilian colonels. Inquisitional torture is a type. It is directed against members of one's own body social. Its prime purpose is neither punishment, be it individual or exemplary, nor is it the discovery of truth by anyone other than the one tortured. Inquisitional torture is not the venting of an angry sovereign's wrath on a disobedient subject and who demands that the executioner put the bloody seal of power on the skin, rending the skin of the subject with power from the outside.

Inquisitional torture is not an adjunct to interrogation but makes interrogation a constitutive element of the pain it inflicts. This is my thesis and it has many points on which you can discuss it. It makes of interrogation a constitutive element of the pain it inflicts. It makes the patient's compliance through confession a constitutive element of the treatment given. To speak with Scarry, this new kind of torture seeks to destroy the world of the victim, to destroy what he defines as his truth. It then seeks to objectify this destruction in a confession. Inquisitional torture presupposes the historically constituted self. I cannot conceive of it before the constitution of the self in the 13th century. In fact it comes into existence at that moment because inquisitional torture aims at the destruction of the sense of self and it happens in front of the crucifix.

When Job is tempted by Satan, his faith in Yahweh is threatened, but not his self. When the Christian martyr is tempted to defection, his allegiance to God's people is threatened but not his personality. The Inquisition in our western medieval tradition increasingly threatens the self itself. The inquisitioner used punishment to undo the self together with the self's world. To make this point I restate an often observed fact: pain can be borne, suffered, endured.

Pain can be borne, it can be suffered, endured only so long as it is something that has come upon me but is not altogether I. I do hurt all over but still, I am in pain. The Jew learned through the prophets that there is no suffering which cannot be referred to the transcendent God. But there are some forms of pain that alienate. We torture people so thoroughly that they can no longer recognize that this thing which grips them is not their "I." At this point such a person cannot stand himself any more, bear himself, be himself any more. It is at this point that through confession, through compliance with the torturer's vision of what he is and who he is, the victim recognizes the power of the instrument of torture to create a new reality, that of the institution at the service of which the torturer acts -- no matter for what reason -- and which has entrapped him as a subject. It is this which I wanted to call to your attention. I call for a social history of the kind of self which, once constituted, can be extinguished through the pain which overwhelms it. This is ultimate "compliance."

I want to call you to look at how the pain perception of the self, which our society and our economy creates, has acquired that bodily nature which beings up the issue which you raise. I'm saying that this issue which you are raising is a modern one.

Thank you for your attention.

No comments:


Santa Rosa, California, United States
Writer, photographer, music fan; father and husband living in northern Calif.