Pain almost always lacks justification, but it does have a story. The gestures of the virgin martyrs, the mockery that accompanied Don Quixote’s misadventures, the concealed penitence that took place inside convents, the little comedies of sexual masochism, the early modern anatomical theatres, the grimaces of anesthetized patients, the conscious pains of nervous disorders or the unconscious pains of mental illness all meet one another in this book. Contrary to the claims of the philosopher Cioran, who asserted that it was impossible to hold a conversation with physical pain, each and every one of these pages advocates for such an encounter and promotes such dialogue.
Halfway between history and philosophy, this book deals with the successive (though not progressive) forms in which the experience of pain materializes – the artistic, juridical, or scientific modalities that have permitted the cultural understanding of human suffering from the Renaissance to the present day. Representation, sympathy, imitation, but also coherence, trust, or narrativity are but a few of the rhetorical and argumentative recourses that men and women have employed, and continue to use, in order to feel our pain – but also in order to express it, and to imbue it with meaning and collective value.