The (In)visibility of Pain: Uses and Abuses of Narrative
Dr Anna OvaskaPadlet
As many narrative theorists working on stories about pain and trauma have noted, the narrative form makes it possible to engage with ineffable and hidden experiences through the construction of, for example, strange temporalities and spaces, or by inviting readers and listeners to fill in gaps created by extreme experiences. At the same time, however, narratives – like all tools or means of communication – can be used to the opposite purpose: to push pain and trauma to obscurity and to hide the suffering body. This is also what literary theorist Elaine Scarry seemed to have in mind, when she asked in her book The Body in Pain (1985) about the processes through which we stop perceiving the pain of others. My presentation focuses on narratives and metaphors that are used to hide experiences of pain. Following narrative theorist Hanna Meretoja’s (2018) work on the ethical complexity of narratives, I ask whether the stories and metaphors we create, use and encounter work to divert attention from the person in pain or whether they make the suffering visible? How do our ways of engaging with stories shape what we are able to see and to acknowledge?