Feeding Upon Death: Pain, Possibility, and Transformation in S. Kay Toombs and Kafka's The Vulture

In Florian Steger & Bettina von Jagow (eds.), Jahrbuch Literatur und Medizin. Universitätsverlag Winter. pp. 135-54 (2014)

Joel Michael Reynolds
University of Massachusetts, Lowell
I argue that clinically-oriented practical and theoretical understandings of pain would benefit by turning to other fields such as a phenomenology and literature. I begin with the work of S. Kay Toombs, contending that her phenomenological account of multiple sclerosis demonstrates how a degenerative condition attendant with pain ultimately effect a constriction of one’s world. Drawing upon two of artist Yosl Bergner’s depictions of the story, I then present a reading of Kafka’s “The Vulture” as a literary account of the constrictive movement of acute, localized pain to chronic, systemic pain. Toombs’ phenomenology and Kafka’s story display the profound effects of pain, and I conclude by discussing the implications of literary and phenomenological accounts of pain for its diagnosis, management, and treatment.
Keywords Pain  Chronic Pain  Phenomenology  Franz Kafka  Multiple Sclerosis  Medical Humanities  Chronic Pain Management
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