Posted by: HAT | October 30, 2009

Chronic Pain

woman with curvature of the spine

A good corset can do wonders for a chronic and painful condition of the spine like lateral curvature

It’s possible to become accustomed to a given level of pain.

Say it’s relatively constant, something that never goes away. A person learns to live with it, to compensate for it, to work around it. It becomes part of the background. It becomes unremarkable, perhaps even imperceptible without strenuous efforts to bring it to awareness. It merges with the color of how things are. It “goes unconscious.”

I’m talking about a physical phenomenon, but it might be a metaphor for something less physical. Like an occupation that restricts a particular form of expression, that produces a cramped habitus. Like a social formation that systematically blocks access to some human potential, or some set of human potentials. Like social arrangements that weigh on some people, or that confine their movements.

(No coincidence, maybe, that using those turns of speech barely even sounds metaphorical. We make the equation between processes in bodies and processes in social relationships pretty casually. So casually that maybe we don’t really think about it.)

The problem with chronic pain is that it suppresses contrast: variation, fluctuation, difference.

Without contrast, a person might even come to consider that level of pain — well, that physical sensation — baseline, or optimum. Might never even imagine how it would be to live without it. It’s just normal.

This is a basic problem, maybe the basic problem, with implications for utopian thinking and practice: the inability to register pain as pain, the acceptance of pain as normal. That inability, that acceptance, often acquires the label “being realistic.”

Really want to just say “Fuck realism.” But — too dialectical for that. Because there are times, places, circumstances, situations, that make that a losing proposition. That make trying to do something more arduous, less dramatic — be realistic, but remember what “being realistic” means — seem like the strategy that might hold out more hope in the long run.

Have to say: “Keep awake.”

Or: “make art.”

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