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FIVE Late Modern Pain Paradox designates a condition in which resolution is the most unin‑ teresting aim. —Wendy Brown, States of Injury The concluding argument concerns late modern figurations of the body in pain. Spectacles of pain have proliferated in many forms in the contem‑ porary American public sphere—if indeed pain hasn’t become its primary and all‑pervading obsession. Confessional TV shows exchange narratives of personal trauma and hurt for public intelligibility; cinematic spectacles of suffering, from The Passion of the Christ (2004) to torture‑porn favorite Hostel (2005), exhibit the body in pain for profit, thrill, and public outrage; news reports narrate national‑scale catastrophes through individual testimonials of pain; reality game shows such as Survivor measure their contestants’ bodily pain capacities against their resistance to (or aggressiveness in) traumatiz‑ ing and abusive group dynamics. There is also a proliferation of political discourse disclosing the injuries caused by contemporary forms of govern‑ ing: public movements raise consciousness for excluded and abjected forms of living, feeling, and aching in Western democracies; critical discourses continue to shed light on the structural violence of regimes of power; the interventions of identitarian movements and groups successfully expand pub‑ lic recognition of social and political injury, changing the scope of intel‑ ligibility in the process. These diverse affective phenomena are not always readily distinguish‑ able in neoliberal regimes. Scholars such as Wendy Brown or Sara Ahmed have pointed out the coopting of identitarian politics in contemporary governmental regimes. These critical voices urge “[c]aution . . . against the assumption that ‘speaking out’ and ‘making visible’ within so‑called radical politics can be separated from the conventions of self‑expression in 147 148 AMERICAN DOLOROLOGIES neo‑liberal forms of governance” (Ahmed and Stacey 2001, 4). Bill Clinton’s infamous tagline “I feel your pain” or Barack Obama’s ongoing focus on a “politics of empathy”1 are only the presidential cases in point for an ongoing politics of pain that links recognition of suffering to democratic progress. Academic debates have matched this capitalization on pain and compassion as necessary ingredients to the development of politics, ethics, or community making, such as in Rosi Braidotti’s call for the unification of feminist, gay, lesbian, and transgender identity politics under the label of a “community of the suffering.”2 The various diagnoses of America as “wound culture” (Seltzer 1998) or “trauma culture” (Kaplan 2005), in this view, describe a highly disparate, tension‑laden, and ambivalent field of affective discourse, rather than a unified or unifying fixation on pain in contemporary Western societies. Lauren Berlant has argued that these politics of affect dictate the continuous envelopment of the political in sentimental rhetoric. Sentimen‑ talism holds up the promise that subjectivity is granted in the recognition of pain and that democracy is realized as the participation in an ideal of com‑ mon suffering and compassion. Sentimental discourses “locate the human in a universal capacity to suffer and romantic conventions of individual histori‑ cal acts of compassion and transcendence. [They] imagine a nonhierarchi‑ cal social world that is . . . ‘at heart’ democratic because good intentions and love flourish in it” (2008, 6). Sentimental rhetoric produces a public sphere assembled around pain bonded by feeling with what is unspeakable: a commonality of passionate and compassionate bodily subjects, or a “fantasy of generality through emotional likeness in the domain of pain” (Berlant 2008, 6). These arguments suggest a fundamental link between the sentimental evocation of pain and the discourses imagined as “at heart democratic.” Indeed, the emancipatory project of democracy relies on articulations of pain, the recognition of those suffering, and a unified politics as remedy of this suffering. This is certainly true for American culture and its foundational ideas of promise and exceptionalism. The cultural sites I have pointed to participate in this evocation of a public sphere, where oppressive hurtings and social injuries are “counted in” toward a better politics of integration, understanding, and recognition. The sentimental linkage of emancipa‑ tion through the circulation of pain and compassion as politics indicates a larger genealogy that dominates American culture and that this book has tried to elucidate. This genealogy was traced back to America’s emancipa‑ tory foundation as a nation freed from colonial injury, and informed by a national history of successful incorporations of marginalized subjects into the national project (suffrage, abolitionism). American dolorologies has related this discourse to an apparatus of cultural technologies such as compassion, 149 LATE MODERN PAIN testimony to oppression, and articulations of affect and pain, and...


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