For Scarry, the obscene and pathetic drama of torture and power is relegated to the prisoner’s cell. For Mozambicans, by virtue of its public enactment, this drama comes to define the world at large. Scarry worked with political prisoners and Amnesty International Reports — all of whom are cast in state-sponsored institutional settings. Isolation from family and society defines their plight. Had Scarry worked in places where torture is conducted as public ritual, had she followed torture victims back into the community and seen their impact on all those who have knowledge of them, she might not have concluded so readily that pain is incommunicable. I do agree with her that pain can destroy formal language, but there are many “truths” and many ways of communicating them. […] Pain both undermines communication and communicates through a society at large. Because the infliction of pain creates an enemy, one rooted in a fraudulent claim to power, torture creates resistance to the regime by its very enactment.
Carolyn Nordstrom, A Different Kind of War Story (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1997), pp. 170-71.
Adorno commenting on Arnold Schönberg’s A Survivor of Warsaw (1947):
The so-called artistic rendering of the naked physical pain of those who were beaten down with rifle butts contains, however distantly, the possibility that pleasure can be squeezed from it. The morality that forbids art to forget this for a second slides off into the abyss of its opposite. The aesthetic stylistic principle, and even the chorus’s solemn prayer, make the unthinkable appear to have had some meaning; it becomes transfigured, something of its horror is removed. By this alone an injustice is done the victims, yet no art that avoided the victims could stand up to the demands of justice.
Theodor W. Adorno, ‘Commitment’, in Can One Live after Auschwitz: A Philosophical Reader, ed. by Rolf Tiedemann, trans. by Rodney Livingston and others (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2003), pp. 240-58 (p. 252).
Physical pain does not simply resist language but actively destroys it, bringing about an immediate reversion to a state anterior to language, to the sounds and cries a human being makes before language is learned.
The Body in Pain: The Making and Unmaking of the World (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1985), p. 4.