Pain in Parallel Places: Interventions in Disability Studies and Science Fiction
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Pain is a physical experience that is often imbued with metaphorical significance. Understanding better how pain operates as a cultural signifier can reveal assumptions about the status of different bodies and subjects. Even though pain is a nearly universal phenomenon, there is currently a dearth of sustained inquiry into pain as a literary, physical, and social phenomenon. What critical analysis there is about pain often metaphorizes the experience and forgets the lived, material realities of pain. At the same time, pain is a factor in virtually all cultural and social interactions, influencing everything from medical care to community acceptance. Thus, uncovering the functions of pain is a necessity. This dissertation reads for the ways pain forges intercorporeal relationships between bodies through the process of co-suffering, offering a new way of looking at the grotesque body. Using examples from a broad range of science fiction texts, from popular non-fiction science writing to superhero comics to novels to television, this dissertation explores the various ways that normative and non-normative pain response is witnessed and perceived. Putting forth a theory of co-suffering as a form of attention to and embodied translation of pain language, this dissertation examines the various ways in which listening to the voice of pain creates intercorporeal kinship between bodies. Through this kinship, bodies become subjects and gain access to community. Ultimately, this dissertation shows that, while pain can foster such kinship, predictable and standard pain responses are necessary for creating co-suffering. Thus co-suffering can be emancipatory, as it helps marginalized bodies gain subjectivity, but it can also be a way for cultures to enforce rigid behaviors on subjects, as it requires that bodies conform to those standard pain responses.