The phenomenology of chronic pain

embodiment and alienation

Fredrik Svenaeus

pp. 107-122

This article develops a phenomenological exploration of chronic pain from a first-person perspective that can serve to enrich the medical third-person perspective. The experience of chronic pain is found to be a feeling in which we become alienated from the workings of our own bodies. The bodily-based mood of alienation is extended, however, in penetrating the whole world of the chronic pain sufferer, making her entire life unhomelike. Furthermore, the pain mood not only opens up the world as having an alien quality, it also makes the world more lonesome and poor by forcing the sufferer to attend to the workings of her own body. To suffer pain is to find oneself in a situation of passivity in relation to the hurtful experiences one is undergoing. In making the body and the world more unhomelike places to be in, pain also tends to rob a person of her language. Severe pain is hard to describe because it pushes the person towards the borderlines of imaginable experience and because it makes it hard to see any meaning and purpose in the situation one has been forced into. The analysis of chronic pain in the article is guided by the attempts made by Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Martin Heidegger to understand the nature of human embodiment and existence, and also by descriptions of chronic pain found in the Swedish author Lars Gustafsson's novel The Death of a Beekeeper.

Publication details

DOI: 10.1007/s11007-015-9325-5

Full citation:

Svenaeus, F. (2015). The phenomenology of chronic pain: embodiment and alienation. Continental Philosophy Review 48 (2), pp. 107-122.

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