AN5450 Fall 2011

Instructor: Dr. Bilinda Straight                                                                                                

Moore Hall 1001; Tel: 387-0409                                                                                                                              

email: Bilinda DOT straight AT

Web Page:


Pain, Ecstasy, Touch and Culture


To be sensuous is to suffer (Karl Marx)


Pain – has an Element of Blank –

It cannot recollect

When it begun – or if there were

A time when it was not –


It has no Future – but itself –

Its Infinite contain

Its Past – enlightened to perceive

New Periods – of Pain.

                        (Emily Dickinson)


Here is the secret: the end is an animal.

            Here is the secret: the end is an animal growing by


accretion, image by image, vote by

            vote. No more pain hums the air,

as the form of things shall have fallen

            from thee, no more pain, just the here and the now, the jackpot, the

watching, minutes exploding like thousands of silver dollars all over your

            face your hands but tenderly, almost tenderly, turning mid-air, gleaming,

so slow, as if it could last,

            frame after frame of nowhere


turning into the living past

                        (Jorie Graham)


Since the 1980s anthropology has been increasingly focused on bodies, materiality, sensuousness, and the gritty stuff of lived being-in-the-world. In this course, we will survey an eclectic group of readings about pain (including where it crosses with pleasure) historically and cross-culturally. The possibilities for this topic are so diverse that this course leaps unapologetically temporally and geographically in an effort to take creative comparative risks. We will begin with the nearly ubiquitous assertion that pain (and pleasure) are inscrutable, unrepresentable, and inaccessible to witnesses even as they are undeniable to those who experience them. This has made pain and pleasure rich themes for literature and the arts, philosophically and metaphysically provocative for religious traditions, and intransigent problems for medical sciences. How do individuals and social groups assign meaning to pain? How do pain’s meanings change over time? How do we represent the unrepresentable and what are the ethical imperatives that demand, constrain, or deny pain’s (or pleasure’s) representation?

Required Course Readings


Melanie Thernstrom. 2010. The Pain Chronicles: Cures, Myths, Mysteries, Prayers, Diaries, Brain Scans, Healing, and the Science of Suffering. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.


Articles downloadable as indicated or available through WMU Libraries e-reserves. For downloadable articles, you will need to log into the university proxy server with your Bronco ID unless you are on campus on a university computer. E-reserve course password is ‘pain’ (of course).


Grading (See Grading Key for complete instructions)


            Attendance/Participation    15%                Discussion Board                   20%

            Class Facilitation                    10%

            Preliminary Bibliography     20%                Final Essay                             30%


Attendance/Participation (15% of grade): In a class of this kind and size, your presence and participation are essential to the quality of the experience for others as well as yourself. Your attendance grade will be based on the number of days you are absent, calculated as points missed on a one-hundred percent scale.


e-learning Discussions (20% of grade). Each week, you will write approximately 150-300 words summarizing the week’s readings, which you will post to the elearning Discussion Board no later than 8 AM Monday morning (you can post any time up until then, including the weekend, the middle of the night, etc.). Then, between Monday at 8AM and Tuesday at NOON, you will post a comment of approximately 150-300 words that engages with at least one fellow student’s summaries. Your summaries should summarize main points and demonstrate you have read all readings. It is encouraged, but not required, to raise a question for consideration in class.


Preliminary Bibliography (20% of grade): This will be an essay and annotated bibliography of sources you are using in your paper. Begin with an introduction that includes the thesis statement or argument you will be pursuing in your paper. Discuss the kinds of material (essays, books, popular media, local fieldwork you will use to pursue your argument. Next, provide a one-paragraph summary for each of 4 or 5 sources, and a sentence or two of how they should be useful to your paper. Include full bibliographic information for each of these sources. Course readings should be used for your paper where appropriate but do not count towards this assignment. You must use at least one book. Web sources are not allowed (except for downloaded articles from scholarly journals available online). If your topic is on something on the internet itself (following chat rooms on a particular topic, or analysis of online media) this is your data, not your bib sources.


Class Facilitation (10% of grade): Each student will contribute to the liveliness of one week’s class discussion by bringing in ‘something’ that complements and/or illuminates that week’s readings. This could be an illustrated fact, an image, a film clip, a text clip, and so on. Bring it in on a thumb drive so it can be overhead for everyone’s viewing. A sign-up sheet will pass around on the first and second days of class.


Final Essay (35% of grade): This will be a 10-12 page research essay for undergraduates, 15 pages for graduate students. (I will read up to 20 pages.) It can be on a topic of your choice, but must be relevant to the course readings. If you have difficulty in coming up with a topic, please feel free to see me. Include a bibliography for anything you cite. When you cite, quote, or paraphrase in text, put an in-text citation in parentheses (author’s last name, date, page number if a direct quote).  It looks like this: (Straight 1997) for citation or paraphrase, (Straight 1997: 37) for direct quote. You should always cite when you are drawing upon someone’s research or ideas. If you conduct any of your own interviews, you should create pseudonyms for your respondents and cite quotations from those interviews like this (Miller interview, 2002).


Late Work: NO LATE WORK WILL BE ACCEPTED—(any exceptions made for documented reasons will be docked one letter grade).


Academic Integrity: You are responsible for making yourself aware of and understanding the policies and procedures in the Undergraduate Catalog (pp. 268-269)/Graduate Catalog (pp. 26-27) that pertain to academic integrity. These policies include cheating, fabrication, falsification and forgery, multiple submission, plagiarism, complicity and computer misuse. If there is reason to believe you have been involved in academic dishonesty, you will be referred to the Office of Student Conduct. You will be given the opportunity to review the charge(s). If you believe you are not responsible, you will have the opportunity for a hearing. You should consult with me if you are uncertain about an issue of academic honesty prior to the submission of an assignment or test.

Bilinda Straight’s

Grading Key


All quantitative semester grades are multiplied by the percentage of the spread they represent. Thus, if you have a 90 on attendance/participation, multiplied by 20% of the spread, gives you 18. All grades thus calculated are added together to equal the total percentage out of one hundred. Your semester grade is then calculated as per the key below. Using this key and instructions, you can keep track of your own grade as the semester progresses, but always feel free to ask me for assistance in calculating it.


                                                Grade Scale for Final Grades


97-100                       A+


94-96                         A


87-93                         BA


84-86                         B


77-83                         CB


74-76                         C


67-73                         DC


60-66                         D


below 60                    E


Course Schedule






Duke Madenfort (1975) The Arts and Relating to One Another in Sensuous Immediacy. Art Education 28(4): 18-22. Stable URL:


David Howes (2003) Chapter 2, Coming to Our Senses: The Sensual Turn in Anthropological Understanding. Pp. 29-58 In Sensual Relations: Engaging the Senses in Culture and Social Theory. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press. Available as ebook in WMU Libraries (


Paul Stoller (1997) Chapter 1, The Sorcerer’s Body. Pp. 4-23 In Sensuous Scholarship. Philadelphia: University of Pennyslvania Press. E-reserve. GN345.S851997




Nina G. Jablonski. (2004) The Evolution of Human Skin and Skin Color. Annual Review of Anthropology 33: 585-623. Stable URL:


Groebner, Valentin. 2004. “Complexio/Complexion: Categorizing Individual Natures,

1250-1600.” Pp. 361-383 In Lorraine Daston and Fernando Vidal (eds.) The Moral

Authority of Nature. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press. E-reserve. BD581.M78 2004


Alison Shaw (2003) Interpreting Images: Diagnostic Skill in the Genetics Clinic. The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 9(1): 39-55.  Stable URL:


Week 4 (9/27) READING CUTS


Enid Schildkrout (2004) Inscribing the Body. Annual Review of Anthropology 33: 319-344. Stable URL:


Rachel Gear (2001) All Those Nasty Womanly Things: Women Artists, Technology and the Monstrous-Feminine. Women’s Studies International Forum 24(3/4): 321-333. To access, log into the library system. Go to: doi:10.1016/S0277-5395(01)00184-4

Then paste in this permanent link: doi:10.1016/S0277-5395(01)00184-4


Katharine Park (2006) Chs 1 and 2, Secrets of Women. Gender, Generation, and the Origins of Human Dissection. Pp. 39-120. New York: Zone Books. E-reserve QM33.4.P37 2006




Elizabeth Harvey (2011) The Portal of Touch. The American Historical Review 116(2): 385-400. Stable URL:


Yi-Fu Tuan (2005) The Pleasures of Touch. Pp. 74-81 In Constance Classen (ed) The Book of Touch. Berg. E-reserve.


Penelope Deutscher (2005) Desiring Touch in Sartre and Beauvoir. Pp. 102-105 In Constance Classen (ed) The Book of Touch. Berg. E-reserve.




Caroline Walker Bynum (1987) Chapter 9, Woman as Body and as Food. Pp. 260-276 In Holy Feast and Holy Fast: The Religious Significance of Food to Medieval Women. Berkeley: University of California Press. E-reserve. BR 253 .B96 1987.


Rachel Wheeler (2003). Women and Christian Practice in a Mahican Village. Religion and American Culture: A Journal of Center for the Study of Religion and American Culture 13(1): 27-67. Stable URL:


Liza Bakewell (1993) Frida Kahlo: A Contemporary Feminist Reading. Frontiers: A Journal of Women’s Studies 13(3): 165-198. Stable URL:




James A. Benn (1998) Where Text Meets Flesh: Burning the Body as an Apocryphal Practice in Chinese Buddhism. History of Religions 37(4): 295-322. Stable URL:


Ira Konigsberg (1997) “The Only ‘I’ in the World”: Religion, Psychoanalysis, and “The Dybbuk”. Cinema Journal 36(4): 22-42. Stable URL:


Zeb Tortorici (2007) Masturbation, Salvation, and Desire: Connecting Sexuality and Religiosity in Colonial Mexico. Journal of the History of Sexuality 16(3): 355-372. Stable URL:




Ariel Glucklich (1998) Sacred Pain and the Phenomenal Self. The Harvard Theological Review 91(4): 389-412. Stable URL:


Maureen Flynn (1996) The Spiritual Uses of Pain in Spanish Mysticism. Journal of the American Academy of Religion 64(2): 257-278. Stable URL:


Michael Houseman (1998) Painful Places: Ritual Encounters with One’s Homelands. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 4(3): 447-467. Stable URL:




Dianne Chisholm (1997) Obscene Modernism: Eros Noir and the Profane Illumination of Djuna Barnes. American Literature 69(1): 167-206. Stable URL:


Karen Halttunen (1995) Humanitarianism and the Pornography of Pain in Anglo-American Culture. The American Historical Review 100(2): 303-334. Stable URL:


Week 10 (11/8) TORTURE


E. Valentine Daniel. (1993) Chapter 5, Embodied Terror. Pp. 135-153 In Charred Lullabies: Chapters in an Anthropology of Violence. Princeton: Princeton University Press. Ebook:


Diane Marie Amann (2005) Abu Ghraib. University of Pennysylvania Law Review 153(6): 2085-2141. Stable URL:


W.J.T. Mitchell. (2005) The Unspeakable and the Unimaginable: Word and Image in a Time of Terror. ELH 72(2): 291-308. Stable URL:


Jeremy Waldron (2005) Torture and Positive Law: Jurisprudence for the White House. Columbia Law Review 105(6): 1681-1750. Stable URL:


Week 11 (11/15) PAIN, WAR, TRAUMA


Elaine Scarry (1985) Injury and the Structure of War. Representations 10: 1-51. Stable URL:


Arlene Stein (2009) “As Far as They Knew I Came From France”: Stigma, Passing, and Not Speaking About the Holocaust. Symbolic Interaction 32(1): 44-60. Stable URL:


Michael Nutkiewicz (2003) Shame, Guilt, and Anguish in Holocaust Survivor Testimony. The Oral History Review 30(1): 1-22. Stable URL:




Elaine Scarry (1985) Introduction. Pp. 3-23 In The Body in Pain: The Making and Unmaking of the World. New York: Oxford University Press. E-reserve. BJ1409.S35


Esther Cohen (2000) The Animated Pain of the Body. The American Historical Review 105(1): 36-68. Stable URL:


Cassandra Crawford (2009) From Pleasure to Pain: The Role of the MPQ in the Language of Phantom Limb Pain. Social Science & Medicine 69: 655-661. To access, log in to WMU Libraries, go to: and paste in: doi:10.1016/j.socscimed.2009.02.022




Elizabeth Klaver (2004) A Mind-Body-Flesh Problem: The Case of Margaret Edson’s “Wit”. Contemporary Literature 45(4): 659-683. Stable URL:


Melanie Thernstrom The Pain Chronicles. Read about the first half.



Lynn Schlesinger (1996) Chronic Pain, Intimacy, and Sexuality: A Qualitative Study of Women Who Live With Pain. The Journal of Sex Research 33(3): 249-256. Stable URL:


Arthur Kleinman (1988) Chronic Pain: The Frustrations of Desire. Pp. 88-99 In The Illness Narratives: Suffering, Healing, and the Human Condition. New York: Basic Books. E-learning. RC108.K571988



Melanie Thernstrom The Pain Chronicles. Read the rest.


Week 15 (12/13) EXAM WEEK. First half of exam period: Continued Discussion of Thernstrom. Second half: Expressing the Inexpressible, problems in subjectivity, writing, and practice.