Pain and Literature

I just came across an internet meme that says “Pain changes people, it make them trust less, overthink more, and shut people out”, and I realized that is my book in a nutshell.

Pain also makes people addicted, to painkillers, recreational drugs, alcohol, sex, work, isolation, or just more pain.

I am working on two works-in-progress right now. One is a samurai story set primarily in the Sengoku period. The other is a love story, but mostly a story about pain. Like so many love stories.

Jack Henry Abbot wrote “Everywhere I see pain, I see someone drawing pleasure from pain.” Whenever someone is oppressed, ostracized, or tortured, somebody finds enjoyment in tormenting the victim, even when the suffering itself is spontaneous or random.

What if two people met who were both in pain? The gorillas that we humans inherently are, they would instantly adopt a pecking order and one would start sucking pleasure from the pain of the other. The nature of pain being what it is, the dominant must open his own old wounds in order to get the most from the pain of the subservient. They fall into an affair that is consensual sex on the outside, but is rape and enslavement in their minds. In the process they become heavily addicted to each other.

I have a bad habit with subplots. They tend to be explanatory passages disguised as parallel story lines. The subplot involves another couple, predestined never to have a sexual relationship, who revolve around each other trying to alleviate each other’s pain.

Sometimes, when writers fall into writer’s block, it is useful to ask yourself what the story is about. I did a lot of that, and yet I did not quite capture the essence of it. It is a love story. It is about a man obsessed with a woman and vice versa. It is about mistakes. It is about denial. It is about sexual domination. I kept coming up with all the things that the story was about except that it was about pain.

The book is loosely based on a six page story I wrote long ago about seducing a woman with a congenitally deformed face. In it I wrote “It is both an act of charity and an act of exploitation, and both acts are mine. And, like all acts of charity, it is selfish and evil. Like all acts of exploitation, it is delectable and juicy.” That was the core of the story. I lost sight of that, which was, of course, the source of my writer’s block.

Pain is an incredibly powerful force. It can cause, not only addiction, but also irrationality and violence. It enhances bigotry. It triggers self-righteousness and powers vindictiveness. It is difficult to understand for those who do not experience it, and is acutely isolating. Yet it bonds together people who share it, not necessarily people you should be bonding with, often times quite the opposite, but the bond can be addictive. More often than not, the bond further enhances outraged self-righteousness and aggrieved vengeance.  And there is always a pecking order among people who have bonded through pain. Perversely, although pain is isolating, the irrationality and selfishness it induces can be contagious. Family members of those who have gone through pain tend to inherit the same irrationality of those who suffered the pain directly. Thus pain-induced behavior is carried in the family.

Pain can come in many forms, physical, psychological, emotional, or social. Chronic, unrelenting pain can have basically the same effect as a prolonged incarceration in a concentration camp or a prison; despair, self-loathing, misdirected anger, irritability, violence, and hopelessness. Intermittent pain can lock the sufferer in constant limbo between pain and fear of pain. Sometimes, when lashing out against anyone or anything can provide brief or superficial relief, the sufferer will become prone to sudden outbursts which are often hurtful to others, constructing a chain reaction of pain.

Some literary works are studies in pain. Mix pain with the irrationality of injustice and you get Kafka. Mix it with meaninglessness and dread and you get Beckett. Blend it with utter isolation and numbness and you have Camus. Take apart pain layer by layer in a deliberate dissection and you have de Sade. Throw in lots of pedantic digressions and political opinions and you get Hugo. Tolstoy might as well have said all pain is painful in its own way.

We are all little demons sucking pleasure, however small or brief, out of other people’s pain. That is the nature of our existence. Sometimes, a ray of light illuminates our vision and we see the essence of the thing impaled on the tips of our forks. Burroughs called this frozen moment “naked lunch”. But we have yet to understand how horrifying it should be when we see that it is the imprisoning, dehumanizing, destructive pain suffered by others that is always on the tips of our forks. We cannot understand the horror because we are unable to feel the pain.

And here lies the mission statement of the vaguely defined entity we call “serious” literature. “Genre” literature transport us to a place where we can feel the things we want to feel. “Serious” literature transport us to a place where we can feel the things we prefer to look away from.  Thus, my samurai adventure story is “genre” while my other work-in-progress is “serious”.

So now I know what my story is about. It is a depiction of the nature of pain and our relationship to it in pornographic detail. I do not know if this realization will make it easier to write, but at least I now know the direction it is headed.

 

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