III. FURTHER CONSIDERATIONS
III.I Regarding is pain research
When eyes are used as organs of empathy, regarding becomes pain research. When looking at becomes feeling, the gaze switches to the radical mode of seeing-feeling, a mode that employs empathy as an epistemic method.
Seeing someone with an injury does not stop at the pain-associated image — it makes youimagine the pain possibly connected to the injury. Imagining the pain of the other leads to an actual experience of pain, as neuropsychological studies show. It leads to feeling pain – your pain.
Seeing and imagining the pain of the other lets you feel your painas if what has happened to the body of the other has happened to you. Thus terms like ‘affect contagion’ or ‘transmission of affect’ are not accurate: this effect is something closer to attunement — via affection, via imagination— causing a shift of activation in the spectator.
The Russian psychologist Lev Vygotzky links this to the imagination's drive for embodiment: “A product of the imagination [...] shows a tendency to be embodied in real life. The imagination, by virtue of the strength of the impulses it contains, tends tobecome creative, that is, to actively transform whatever it has been directed at’ (emphasis added).
For the creative transformation from affect to feeling to take place, an activity is required on your side, on the side of the spectator: what Brennan calls ‘considered sensing’,the basis for discernment. It is, Brennan explains, discernment that makes the difference between affect and feeling. Without feeling, we are just containers for all kinds of affective flotsam — unaware of its occurrence, and therefore missing its significance.
Consequently, if we do not feel, we do not care — a thesis that corresponds with the results of a recent study on the effects of pain analgesia on pain empathy. The results suggested that inducing pain analgesia reduces pain empathy.
According to the researchers, one possible deduction from these findings is that taking painkillers may reduce one’s feelings of empathy for the pain of others.
III.II Knowing your pain allows for world-making
To feel means to take part, whereby one may discern what is happening around them, resulting in an increase of knowledge. Therefore affect, as political philosopher Brian Massumi writes, also means potentiality, as the activation caused by various affects also increases openness.
Whatever happens in regard to this potentiality is open: it depends on what we make of it.
Pain, then, is good to know, since it can lead to insight.
I know pain. You know pain. We all know pain. But do we know our pains?
Feminist researcher Liz Philipose points out that to know your own pain transforms you into an agent of interpretation and meaning-creation;
that is, of world-making. Philipose presents a collectivist understanding of emotions which is implied ‘in this idea that I can be inﬂuenced by my pain to recognize how others might be shaped by theirs’ (emphasis added).
She draws on the work of cultural scientist Sara Ahmed, whose work focuses on emotions as cultural practices. Ahmed's central notion is that emotions do things — they generate and create meaning in the world. Emotions as ‘material rhetoric’ have affective power and can, for example, align bodies with other bodies ‘by the way they move us’.
Pain is moving: it lures us towards world-making activities, attuning our bodies with other bodies, putting us in relation to others, and locating us in social space.
III.III Pain opens bodies and connects them
Pain cuts into our network of habits, and even the slightest pain causes a transformation, its affective quality inducing a shift of activation. Something seizes you, time loses its usual succession, space seems to open up, the line between inside and outside blurs. On the one hand, there is a suspension, a freeze-frame; on the other, there is such enormous speed, the simultaneity of ongoing processes, like memories from past experiences, expectations of the future, and the sensations of your current state. All of this is activated by pain. In the potentiality to affect and be affected, in the intensity of the affective shift, many processes are activated, while openness and freedom increase.
Everything and nothing can happen —although to say ‘nothing’ happens is not quite true, since the affective shift is not reversible. In any case, something is increased or diminished concerning your constitution, something is added or subtracted — a change takes place.
The affective quality of pain induces openness, and along with this openness goes an increased susceptibility for energies that are usually concealed in our daily routine, remaining hidden in day-to-day life.
III.IV Pain as a medium for ecstasy projects us beyond the sphere of every day life
According to Georges Bataille (1999), pain is a sensation that is incompatible with the calm unity of the self. He describes how internal or external influence questions the fragile order of a compound existence, which then disintegrates the self. In this, pain reveals the existence of possible influences that the self would not ordinarily survive — this is why pain reminds us of death.
There is a relation between what Bataille describes as ‘ecstatic moments’ and Brian Massumi's ‘intense situations’ , the latter beinga type of affect that mediates changes of intensity, therefore activating the potentiality of a situation.
Pain can be the medium for ecstatic experiences that bring us to the borders of the possible — or even project us beyond these borders.
Next section: IV. GOING INTO THE FIELD – PAIN TALKS, PAIN OBSERVATIONS