Pain Without PurposernThe Modern Dilemmarnby Patrick ReillyrnWe must remain absolutely silent on what we cannotrntalk about.” Wittgenstein’s interdict would surelyrnapply to the mystery of human suffering; at certain intensities,rnpain becomes literally as well as idiomatically unspeakable.rnEven to allude to the educative value of pain is to risk an inhumanrnglibness, a cold-blooded reduction of the specificity ofrnsuffering to chill, abstract formulae. We must begin by confessingrnthe ultimate intractability of the problem. Against painrnand death we fight a losing battle; and the mystery, always insoluble,rnhas, if anything, become more agonizingly problematicrnin our own time. Caring for the chronically and terminally illrnhas always been intensely difficult; in the modern world, technologicalrnadvances notwithstanding, it has become immeasurablyrnmore so.rnA world without anesthetics would be a hell; deprived ofrnanalgesics even so routine an event as a visit to the dentistrnwould be something to be dreaded and shunned. To avoid orrnto minimize pain is an instinctive natural reflex; deliberaternsearch for suffering is a perversion to which we give the namernmasochism. Yet it is equally true that a world without painrnwould be calamitous. Pain is essential to survival—without itrnwe would perish. It is an early warning system, a defensernmechanism, vital in preventive medicine against incipient andrnimpending evil. Without pain teeth would rot insensibly inrnour gums, limbs quietly crumble to ash in flames or be mangledrnbeyond repair in machinery, cancers placidly proliferate inrnour bodies. Once bitten, twice shy. The adage crystallizes thernargument that pain educates, teaches us to avoid certainrnPatrick Reilly is a professor of English literature at thernUniversity of Glasgow.rncourses of action harmful or destructive to us. There are erstwhilernprofessional footballers hirpling around as a direct consequencernof repeated painkilling injections that enabled themrnto play when nature forbade—if they are crippled today it isrnbecause they were prevented from feeling pain. When naturerncommunicates through pain we should listen; drugging her intornsilence may be a short-term gain, but it is a long-term folly.rnBut even here our consent is grudging; reason may compelrnus to acknowledge the value of pain, but the flesh instinctivelyrnrecoils. A Lawrence of Arabia deliberately placing his fingersrnin a candle flame, training his body to endure pain, strikes usrnas abnormal, even perverse. Yet we know many perfectly normalrnpeople who seek pain as the route to excellence. Marathonrnrunners tell of a pain barrier that must be gone through, a wallrnof pain toward which they knowingly run. People who couldrnbe sitting comfortably at home are on the road, in raging heatrnor freezing cold, hearts pounding, lungs exploding, limbsrnaching—suffering a pain they have willed because withoutrnpain there is no overcoming; pain is the ultimate indispensablernproof and attestation of courage and skill. For the muscles torngrow they must first be fatigued. There is no progress withoutrnpain, no achievement, mental or physical, without self-sacrifice,rnand throughout history people have been willing, even eager,rnto suffer, sometimes excruciatingly, for the sake of somerncause, the love of some principle, some end or good prizedrnabove their personal comfort.rnSuch pain has meaning and purpose. When pain is meaningful,rnit cannot only be borne, it can be embraced. To comprehendrnpain is to tame it. If we know why we suffer, if, abovernall, we know the purpose of our pain, the higher good to whichrnit ministers, we have already mastered it. Every day womenrnlULY 1993/23rnrnrn