Central and East European
Society for Phenomenology

Conference | Paper

The Social Dimension of Chronic Pain. Despair, Guilt, and Suffering

Irina Poleshchuk

Thursday 2 December 2021

15:40 - 16:20

Zoom 1-1

In The Absent Body, Drew Leder writes that the phenomenological lived body is both the existential as well as the experiential body, and it forms the very core of subjectivity concentrating specifically on presence. Leder also notices that, being a foundation of almost all experiences, the living body continuously tends to recede from direct experience. Our embodied sensibility is the most solid and unescapable form of being present, it is also essentially characterized as the “absent body.” The “absent body” operates in health instances and is widely present in biomedical discourse, however, it has been criticized in phenomenology. The phenomenon of chronic pain renders visible a gap between the “absent body” and sensibility of embodied experience, which opens an inter-affective dimension.

The paper discusses data-driven verbal and visual narratives of mothers experiencing chronic pain. Chronic pain experience rises various questions of the normativity of responsibility and the validity of moral acts in intersubjective relation. Trauma engrained in chronic pain reformulates meanings of intimacy, care, and modalities of female embodiment. The converse of chronic pain sharpens even more the dualism of body-present-in-illness/body-absent-in-health, which is uttered by contemporary phenomenology of medicine. The paper seeks to articulate an ethical relation in chronic pain (especially, the ethical temporality of the mother-child relation) and to sample multiple voices of narratives, which contribute to understanding of complexity and diversity of female subjectivity in pain. Elaborating the transitivity of responsibility launched by specific structure of temporality of chronic pain, I wish to draw attention to the “how” of the social context, in which the illness narrative is constructed, told, and interpreted. Particularly, I wish to sharpen the gap between the medical discourse on disease and the individual traumatized experience of pain made visible in such modalities as guilt, shame, anger, and despair (often read as morbid experiences in the “absent body” paradigm).

The research data represent the narratives of women, which are collected from interviews, comments on social media platforms, and session of art therapies.