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Virginia Woolf, Europe, and PeaceVol. 2 Aesthetics and Theory$
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Peter Adkins and Derek Ryan

Print publication date: 2020

Print ISBN-13: 9781949979374

Published to Liverpool Scholarship Online: May 2021

DOI: 10.3828/liverpool/9781949979374.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM LIVERPOOL SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.liverpool.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Liverpool University Press, 2021. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in LSO for personal use.date: 19 September 2021

The Disintegration of Sense and Bodies in Pain

The Disintegration of Sense and Bodies in Pain

Woolf, Wittgenstein, and the Rhetoric of War

(p.113) Chapter Seven The Disintegration of Sense and Bodies in Pain
Virginia Woolf, Europe, and Peace

Madelyn Detloff

Gaile Pohlhaus Jr.

Liverpool University Press

In this essay, Detloff and Pohlhaus examine Virginia Woolf and Ludwig Wittgenstein’s writings on the precarious nature of sense and certainty as a counterpoint to Elaine Scarry’s analysis of the rhetoric of war in The Body in Pain: The Making and Unmaking of the World. In her introduction, Scarry cites Virginia Woolf’s “On Being Ill” to exemplify a crucial premise of her argument about pain’s propensity to “bring[] about, even within the radius of several feet, this absolute split between one’s sense of one’s own reality and the reality of other persons” (4). “Whatever pain achieves,” Scarry argues, “it achieves in part through its unsharability, and it ensures this unsharability through its resistance to language” (4). Through a more extensive analysis of “On Being Ill” than Scarry affords, along with a reading of Woolf’s later essay, “Craftsmanship,” Detloff and Pohlhaus illuminate a distinction between Woolf’s position and a central premise of Scarry’s theory –the presumed unsharability and near inexpressibility of pain. The essay argues that Woolf was not necessarily describing a fundamental incapacity of language to express pain, but rather a social practice of failing to attend to pain and therefore failing to develop the lexical tools to express the pain adequately. If this is the diagnosis, what is called for is a shift in attention (a shift in aspect perception, to follow Wittgenstein) from the inexpressibility of pain to our collective lack of attention to pain. Wittgenstein, himself a veteran of World War I who saw plenty of “bodies in pain” at the front, proposes a different view of the relationship between pain and knowing from Scarry. Following Stanley Cavell, Detloff and Pohlhaus understand the relation between the voice of the ordinary language philosopher and the skeptic in Wittgenstein’s Investigations to be neither dismissive, nor matter of fact. As Cavell notes, the ordinary language philosopher must take the skeptic seriously if she expects herself to be taken seriously and “In all cases [the] problem is to discover the specific plight of mind and circumstances within which a human being gives voice to [their] condition” (240). For this reason, Detloff and Pohlhaus approach the differences between Scarry, Woolf, and Wittgenstein not with the aim of proving one right over the other, but rather in order to find insight in the tension between them as a means to attend to and acknowledge others’ pain.

Keywords:   Virginia Woolf, Scarry, Wittgenstein, Pain, Embodiment

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