Jeff Hass "Coping with Suffering: Sense and Perception, Fields, and Narratives of Theodicy"
This paper proposes a novel analysis of the process by which Leningraders framed suffering and theodicy and sought deeper existential meaning in the Blockade. A core component of many narratives of the Blockade of Leningrad was grappling with the suffering, both as one’s own experience and as experienced by others. That suffering and the context that generated it were severe enough to bring Leningraders face-to-face with theodicy: in its secular and religious forms, a painful questioning of reasons for suffering, injustice, and evil that contradicts and shakes be-lief systems to their roots. Using a novel variation of field theory that combines Pierre Bourdieu’s framework with insights from Gestalt psychology and John Martin’s work, I argue that Leningraders’ attempts to cope with suffering and theodicy, and thus to make sense of suffering within a cosmology that would account for the conditions of and reasons for existence, operated at multiple dimensions: 1) a multivocal dialog, that was 2) mediated by field effects, and 3) worked through perception and through sensation.
First, in attempting to make sense of suffering, Leningraders engaged three sources of meanings: from broader media, including “propaganda” broadly defined and reports about the war; from their proximal contexts, i.e. personal observations and experiences of suffering and others’ responses (including heroism, despair, and opportunism); and from their own personal beliefs and dispositions, i.e. habitus (and this is the usual story of coping with theodicy). Second, this engagement was often indirect, through fields of meanings and signals. That is, Leningraders not only talked directly with others; equally important, they lived within a context of various signals, some straightforward and others more subtle, which they perceived and sensed (see be-low). Yet those various meanings and signals were not random and free-floating. They were structured by concrete relations between actors, and between actors and anchors (entities with valences, i.e. significant meaning and emotional investment). That is, some meanings were more significant than others, contributing to coping with theodicy. Further, one’s position in concrete fields contributed to framing theodicy: class and gender were particularly important, although not the only characteristics of field position of significance to field effects.
To illustrate fields and suffering, this paper briefly compares narratives across classes (intelligentsia and working class, broadly defined) and across gender, with a brief discussion of time as an anchor of narratives of suffering.