Bianco, Giuseppe, « Life of Pain: Remarks about Negativity and Effort in Georges Canguilhem », dans Miguel de Beistegui, Giuseppe Bianco et Marjorie Gracieuse (éds.), The Care of Life. Transdisciplinary Perspectives in Bioethics and Biopolitics, Londres, Rowman & Littlefield International, 2014, p.151-165.
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In The Normal and the Pathological, Canguilhem provides a definition for health based upon a keenly insightful formulation he borrows from surgeon René Leriche. Health would be – he writes – “life lived in the silence of the organs.” What Canguilhem means by this phrase is that, when the human being isn’t touched by disease, his body “functions” in harmony with the environment, so that he is incapable of perceiving its tacit presence. In contrast, commotion is the product of man’s disease, or of his risking disease. The primary language of the body is thus the language of pain. It is within and through the experience of pain that one grasps the fact of possessing a body endowed with organs, whose behavior is susceptible to change. Canguilhem adds: “The state of health is a state of unawareness where the subject and his body are one. Conversely, the awareness of the body consists in a feeling of limits, threats, obstacles to health.” This allows Canguilhem to assert that a living being’s self-awareness depends on pain and illness. Without undergoing painful ordeals, not only does man, like every other living being, fail to acknowledge his illness, but he also doesn’t have any reason to assert a “normal” identity, which thus remains silent, implicit or rather nonexistent. Outside of the world’s manifest opposition and resistance, as experienced through pain, life has no means of knowing itself. Pain and illness are thus the modalities through which the living has awareness of itself or, at least, through which it has awareness of what, after the fact, becomes health and normality as ideal states for it to restore.