Writing in Pain: Literature, History, and the Culture of Denial (review)


Writing in Pain collects and expands four essays first published in Cultural Critique, SubStance, PMLA and Boundary 2 between 1993 and 2007. Well-versed in contemporary theory, Vaheed Ramazani seeks to unveil the rhetorical and mythopoeic structures of allegory and the sublime that justify the heedless cruelty with which we inflict pain on others in manifold ways, and to analyze the irony that helps detect them (4, 30, 139). Inspired by Walter Benjamin and Ross Chambers, Ramazani seeks “to identify forms and uses of rhetoric that have, over the past two centuries, tended to have harmful or painful consequences—outcomes that may not always be intentional but that may nevertheless be foreseeable and to that extent avoidable” (139). Ramazani’s maieutic strategy of improving society by raising our awareness of society’s victims is itself metaphorically violent: to have salutary ethical effects, “the troubling perception has to penetrate our defenses[emphasis added], reactivating prior memory traces and laying down new ones” while drawing on both individual and collective recollections (5).

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