Language Pangs: On Pain and the Origin of Language/ Ilit Ferber
Language and pain are usually thought of as opposites, the one being about expression and communication, the other destructive, “beyond words,” and isolating. Language Pangs challenges these familiar conceptions and offers a reconsideration of the relationship between pain and language in terms of an essential interconnectedness rather than an exclusive opposition. The book’s premise is that the experience of pain cannot be probed without consideration of its inherent relation to language, and vice versa: understanding the nature of language essentially depends on an account of its relationship with pain. Language Pangs brings together discussions of philosophical as well as literary texts, an intersection especially productive in considering the phenomenology of pain and its bearing on language. The book’s first chapter presents a phenomenology of pain and its relation to language. Chapters 2 and 3 provide a close reading of Herder’s Treatise on the Origin of Language (1772), which was the first modern philosophical text to bring together language and pain, establishing the cry of pain as the origin of language. Herder also raises important claims regarding the relationship between human and animal, sympathy, and the role of hearing in the experience of pain. Chapter 4 is devoted to Heidegger’s seminar (1939) on Herder’s text about language, a relatively unknown seminar that raises important claims regarding pain, expression, and hearing. Chapter 5 focuses on Sophocles’ story of Philoctetes, important to Herder’s treatise, in terms of pain, expression, sympathy, and hearing, also referring to more thinkers such as Cavell and Gide.