The body uncanny — Further steps towards a phenomenology of illness

Medicine, Health Care and Philosophy 3 (2):125-137 (2000)
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This article is an attempt to analyse the experience of embodiment in illness. Drawing upon Heidegger' sphenomenology and the suggestion that illness can be understood as unhomelike being-in-the-world, I try to show how the way we live our own bodies in illness is experienced precisely as unhomelike. The body is alien, yet, at the same time, myself. It involves biological processes beyond my control, but these processes still belong to me as lived by me. This a priori otherness of the body presents itself in illness in an uncanny and merciless way. The unhomelike breakdown of our everyday being-in-the-world suffered in illness is explored through Heidegger's notion of the world being a “totality of relevance”, a pattern of meaning played out between different “tools”. The lived body is compared to a broken tool that alters and obstruct sour way of being “thrown” and “projecting” ourselves in the meaning patterns of the world through feelings,thoughts and actions. The similarities and differences between this unhomelikeness of illness and the specific unhomelikeness of authentic understanding,reached according to Heidegger in existential anxiety,are discussed. In order to illustrate how the lived body can present itself as “broken” and “other” to its owner, and in what way this unhomelike experience calls for help from health-care professionals, I make use of a clinical example of a severe and common disease: stroke



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