10 September 2006

Elaine Scarry

[from Elaine Scarry's The Body in Pain, 1985]

There is no advantage to settling an international dispute by means of war rather than by a song contest or a chess game except that in the moment when the contestants step out of the song contest, it is immediately apparent that the outcome was arrived at by a series of rules that were agreed to and that can now be disagreed to, a series of rules whose force of reality cannot survive the end of the contest because that reality was brought about by human acts of participation and is dispelled when the participation ceases. The rules of war are equally arbitrary and again depend on convention, agreement, and participation; but the legitimacy of the outcome outlives the end of the contest because so many of its participants are frozen in a permanent act of participation: that is, the winning issue or ideology achieves for a time the force and status of material “fact” by the sheer material weight of the multitudes of damaged and opened human bodies.

1 comment:

  1. Kathryn17:38

    I first read The Body in Pain as part of Vital Lines, Vital Signs, a conference on poetry and medicine in the the spring of 2004 at Duke University. I am astonished always to see Elaine Scarry's surprising range of ideas.