The communication of pain has been figured, in both the canonical work of Elaine Scarry and in biomedical discourse, as bringing pain up from bodily depths to a surface where it is visibly manifest to others. This study of acute physical pain in three popular American narrative texts and their film adaptations suggests that the oculocentrism of such accounts has elided the significant role of sound, both verbal and nonverbal, in the expression and witnessing of physical pain. Instances of what was classified in the nineteenth century as sensation literature, these three texts produce direct sensory effects. Scott Smith’s The Ruins (2006) is a horror novel, William Goldman’s Marathon Man (1974) a thriller, and Aron Ralston’s Between a Rock and a Hard Place (2004) (film: 127 Hours) an adventure-survival memoir. Reading pain in each of three triple texts—book, film, and the screenplay transmitting pain from one to the other—opens up a new archive of pain texts that promise sensation rather than relief, offering a new perspective on the imaginative—and paradoxically ameliorative—creativity brought into being by the notorious recalcitrance of pain. This essay argues for attention to the protolinguistic pain language of groans and screams; for a poetics of “ouch.”

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