The Distressed BodyRethinking Illness, Imprisonment, and Healing

The Distressed BodyRethinking Illness, Imprisonment, and Healing

Drew Leder

Print publication date: 2017

ISBN: 9780226396071

Publisher: University of Chicago Press


This volume uses phenomenological and hermeneutical tools to look at “distressed bodies” – including the experiences and treatment of sick patients, prisoners, and animals. These groups are challenged both by processes from within (the sick body) and outside (social exclusion and objectification). The book draws on literary examples such as Sophocles’ Philoctetes, the author’s own struggles with chronic pain, and clinical and philosophical sources, to understand the many ways illness can shatter one’s life world. This leads to a critical and visionary re-examination of treatment modalities, such as our fetishized fascination with pills, and potential uses of touch and healing objects/environments in medicine. Along the way, clinical diagnosis and bioethical reflection are also rethought. Real-world predicaments generate “texts” embedded in complex “contexts” which often remain unexamined. For example, organ transplantation as practiced reflects Cartesian and capitalist modes of objectifying the body. Yet lived bodies intertwine from birth to death, and beyond—this can lead to a new ways of understanding and performing organ transplants. Similarly, capitalist and Cartesian models shape our harsh treatment of animal-bodies and prisoners in a way that demands re-vision. The book challenges our contemporary factory farms and penitentiaries. Yet in chapters co-written with prisoners we also see how imprisonment can evoke strategies of resistance and redemption, and even close relations with animals as the two shunned groups assist each other. The book ends with a focus on such human-animal “shape-shifting.” Attending to distressed bodies thus leads to a radical re-envisioning of medical, criminal justice, and environmental practices.