Suffering and the Remedy of Art

By Harold Schweizer

Subjects: Literary Theory
Paperback : 9780791432648, 215 pages, March 1997
Hardcover : 9780791432631, 215 pages, March 1997

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Table of contents



I. Suffering in Truth and Theory

1. To Give Suffering a Language

Literature and Medicine

Arthur Kleinman's Case of the Little Girl

2. Coverings/Apertures: The Invisibility of Suffering

Barthes on Photography

The Newsweek Cover of May 10, 1993

P. J. Griffiths' Photograph

3. Suffering as Metaphor

Nietzsche's Remedy of Art

Freud's Narrative Cure

II. Tragic Suffering

4. Job or the Meaninglessness of Suffering

Job's Silence

Job Speaking

God Speaking

Job's Restitution

5. Antigone or the Secrecy of Suffering

Antigone's Suffering

Kierkegaard's Antigone

Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe's Antigone

Antigone's Suicide

6. Lear or the Causelessness of Suffering

Suffering Love

III. Suffering and the Remedy of Art

7. Matthew Arnold: The Modern Painful

Modern Problems

Beyond Tragedy

8. Robinson Jeffers' Aesthetic of Pain


The Shining

The Unavailability of Tragedy

9. Lyric Suffering in W. H. Auden and Irving Feldman

Auden's "Musée des Beaux Arts"

Feldman's "Bystander at the Massacre"

10. Paul Celan: Suffering in Translation

Edward Hirsch's "Paul Celan . .."

Celan's German


Translating Celan

11. The Failure of the Remedy of Art

Sylvia Plath's Ariel

Robert Lowell's Day by Day

12. The Matter and Spirit of Death

Sharon Olds' The Father

Tess Gallagher's Moon Crossing Bridge

13. Suffering and Sainthood

Annie Dillard's Holy the Firm

14. The Remedy of Writing

Raymond Carver's "Blackbird Pie"

15. The Redemption of Remembering

Denis Donoghue's Warrenpoint



This wide-ranging, interdisciplinary study of suffering and literature examines how literature can give expression to the essentially wordless reality of suffering.


This book suggests that a listening to suffering may profit from a literary hearing, and vice-versa. It is not only that literature tells of suffering but that suffering may tell us something about the nature of literature.

The author examines works and texts that range from medicine to literature, philosophy to photography, prose to poetry, and from Antigone to W. H. Auden. The book presents individual instances, real and literary, of physical and mental wounds and diseases, of pain and death, endured by a little girl in a burn ward, a boy wounded in the war in Bosnia, a nameless Vietnamese woman, Job, Antigone, as well as a number of mostly lyrical elegists: a survivor of the holocaust, a wife bereft of her husband, a daughter bereft of her father. The autonomy of each chapter suggests that experiences of suffering are always incomparable. One must in every instance begin again and enter the scene of suffering on its own terms: the radically individual nature of suffering is prior or past to any theory or set of generalizations.

Harold Schweizer is Associate Professor and NEH Chair in the Humanities at Bucknell University. He edited The Poetry of Irving Feldman and edited, with Michael Payne, The Bucknell Lectures in Literary Theory (a twelve volume series).


"This book exhibits cumulatively the vast and deep implications of the notion of suffering. The author shows not only the various ways in which suffering resists analysis by conventional philosophical, scientific, and psychoanalytic categories but examines a broad array of literary endeavors to overcome that resistance.

"What emerges from this examination is that suffering occupies a unique position in the universe of modern thought and letters: it is arguably the most private, and most primordial, experience. Its very nature is such that it cannot be communicated to others, except in the most compromised modes of expression: pictures, photographs, gestures, breathing, and the vast heritage of rationally ordered concepts. The author shows that what compromises all of these (especially conceptuality) is their status as language: they are always translations into a public medium of an intimate experience which is in many ways pre-linguistic. The language of translation (whichever of these modes it may be) always inflects the 'pure' experience with its own nature, always absorbs it as an intelligible element into its own falsifying structure. " — M. A.R. Habib, Rutgers University