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Home World Byung-Chul Han's Reflections: How Much Pain Can We Accept?

Byung-Chul Han’s Reflections: How Much Pain Can We Accept?


I don’t want death, I don’t want pain, I don’t want suffering, I don’t want the daily suffering that strains the heart, strains the muscles and clouds the mind. I want happiness, I want well-being, I want the perennial smile of a full life. After all, it was Nietzsche who wrote: “Says pain: perish! But every pleasure wants eternity, it wants deep, deep eternity! ”.

In all the “I don’t want” and “I want” lies the central core of Byung-Chul Han’s latest book, “Society without pain. Because we have banished suffering from our lives ”, published by Einaudi. Useful book because, through the reading of pain made by philosophers and thinkers of the first magnitude such as Hegel, Jünger, Adorno, Heidegger, Benjamin, von Weizsäcker, Kafka and Nietzsche himself, one derives its inevitability and strength, even cathartic, that inevitability and that strength that make the human being, too human, escape.

However, with the Covid pandemic, an epochal tragedy, what we chased out of the secondary window returned through the main door and now lives and dominates next to us, inside us. If Philippe Van Parijs and Christian Arnsperger asked themselves, back in 2003, in a book published by the “Mill”, how much inequality we could accept, it is legitimate to ask ourselves today how much pain we can accept. One hundred thousand deaths, in our country alone, tragedies of loneliness and pain. Yes, how much pain!

A virus has taken it upon itself to forcefully bring it back to its proper place, next to the human, within the human. Han opens with Jünger: “Tell me your relationship with pain and I’ll tell you who you are.” Tell me how you think about it, how you look at it, how you feel it, how much you complain about it and I’ll tell you who you are. Tell me how many times have you thought that it did not concern you, that it did not belong to you, that joy was the only characterizing element of your life, and I will tell you who you are.

The experience of pain should certainly not be wished for, but when it arrives, because it arrives, the right meaning must be attributed to it, not with words but with the feeling that pushes us to free ourselves from the agophobia and from the swindlers who have sold us a false coin, the currency of permanent anesthesia, of palliative democracy, of palliative politics. Pain allows, if properly read, the change of paradigm: no longer a sign of weakness, but of strength, no longer a wound to be hidden or kept at bay, but to be shown without shame, with shining eyes and with the sense of challenge that we must take up.

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Han continues: “Life without pain and with constant happiness will no longer be a human life. The life that persecutes and drives out its own negativity eliminates itself. Death and pain are made for each other. In pain, death is anticipated. Whoever wants to defeat all pain will also have to abolish death. But a life without death or pain is not human, but not dead. The human being kills himself to survive. Perhaps he will be able to achieve immortality, but at the cost of his life ”.

Physical pain, inner pain, psychic pain, pain of time. Bites on living flesh, but they are bites that mark the presence of man and of life, of man in life. Can a man still be called a man without pain? Isn’t he himself inside that pain, the taste of his existence, the daring of a project? Doesn’t love also end without pain? And the philosophy? What generates it, making it indispensable? Aristotle replies: “It was born from Thauma“. Many, perhaps too many, according to Emanuele Severino, translate the Greek term as “wonder”, but for the Brescian philosopher it is a weak and banal translation. Thauma it means fear, terror. About what? Unhappiness, pain, death.

Salvatore Natoli tells us about the forms of suffering in Western culture, the experience of pain, because pain is known by experience. In turn, it is Eugenio Borgna who tells us about the illness, the closure, the dissociation from the world, the schizophrenic ordeal. Yet. It is Camillo Sbarbaro who tells us about his strength: “But my real life comes with you / because when I don’t suffer I don’t even live”. Natoli writes: “If Dante tells us of the sweetness of love that ‘ntender can no one who does not experience it’, even more so must this be said of pain: however in suffering there is not only an inequality between the type of experience and the communication, but there is a recession in communication itself. The risk is not misunderstanding, but the mute suffering that is closely related to death ”.

Yet, no one has been able to speak to me and convey pain to me as much as Umberto Piersanti, poet from Urbino, father of Jacopo, an autistic son who will turn thirty-five on 29 March. She timidly whispered it to me with the verses I love most (“son who turns alone in the carousel / those others reject it / so ancient and slow / but the father is waiting for you / dismayed and secluded behind the trunk / that your gentle smile t ‘accompany / in the circle of the carousel / in the raft where you are without companions ”), but also with his silence, with his not wanting to talk about it.

Jacopo, in the words of Carl Delacato, is the foreigner of the last frontier, he is the tearful smile of an adult who does not know. Jacopo swims, Jacopo runs. His sight has no limits. His horizon is timeless, he who has pain nestled inside is spared at least the knowledge of time, the pain of time.

The father, now in his eighties, writes “the time that has passed / you measure it from the eye that tears you / and you do not know / and your heart trembles if you wait for it / your hands tremble / if you take it off”, the father who knew the earliest form of pain as a child, the day he came home with a two in math. I saw the same pain on my son’s face on his second math test: “Dad, he put me another four.”

No one like Piersanti has given me the image of the trellis to tell of the human condition, of our limit, of our precariousness. But Jacopo is there to remind us at every moment, we are full of everything and happy with nothing, “but I have to find Jacopo again / so I get up / grope in the fog / I’m looking for you again”. Jacopo is the measure of our pain. Carrying him in the mind and in the heart, keeping him next to us, to us who are not allowed to chase him along the seafront of Porto Sant’Elpidio, helps. It is that pain that saves us from not having it. Know about that pain. The pain of a life waiting for the end. Of pain and life.



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