Nietzsche's Will to Power and Heidegger's Metaphysics of Pain: A Response to Mitchell

As an occasional feature on TELOSscope, we highlight a past Telos article whose critical insights continue to illuminate our thinking and challenge our assumptions. Today, Erik Pomrenke looks at Andrew J. Mitchell’s “Entering the World of Pain: Heidegger” from Telos 150 (Spring 2010).

Heidegger’s thinking of pain allows for a positive revaluation of pain as openness, not closure, to the world. Andrew J. Mitchell contends in his “Entering the World of Pain: Heidegger,” that “pain is the surest sign that we wholly belong to this world; in fact, pain is nothing other than our contact with the world and our ‘openness’ to it.” Mitchell situates Heidegger against two popular accounts of pain: Freudian psychoanalysis and the humanist interpretation of pain as articulated by Elaine Scarry in her book The Body in Pain. Both models oppose pain and openness to the world and therefore see pain as a withdrawal from meaning. Within psychoanalysis, this takes place in the disengagement of cathexis—divestment of libido from love objects. Within the broadly humanist account, world and body are opposed. When the body demands attention, it necessitates a withdrawal from and contraction of the world. Scarry’s thought is structured by such binary oppositions as pain and meaning, interiority and exteriority, and it will be the task of Heidegger’s thinking of pain to reconfigure these oppositions by holding up pain and language as co-original phenomena—a task that Mitchell illustrates by reading Trakl.

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