Luna Dolezal, Cathrin Fischer: Losing the Body-as-Home? Nostalgia, Embodiment and the Phenomenology of Illness

In this talk we will explore how nostalgia for the body-as-home has been posited in phenomenological accounts of illness, taking Havi Carel’s reflections on the experience of being an ill person and her theoretical framing of the phenomenology of illness as a central case study. We start by exploring the phenomenology of the body-as-home and how nostalgia can become part of the experience of the ‘lost body’, in the case of the ‘lost home’ of the mother’s body and one’s own body that is potentially ‘lost’ in illness. Drawing on Freud’s conception of the uncanny, we consider how losing the body-as-home manifests in lived experiences of illness, including in the contemporary experience of COVID-19. Through a phenomenological register, we explore how the disruptions of habit and the habitual body can manifest as a sense of loss and a turn towards nostalgia. However, we examine how the privileging of the experience of nostalgia in phenomenological accounts of illness can have worrying implications. We turn towards literature in disability studies where reflections on ableist assumptions about illness and the experiences of congenital illnesses problematize the idea of ‘loss’ as central to experiences of illness and disability. Whilst we do not aim to disregard the phenomenological and psychoanalytic significance of nostalgia in the experience of illness, we take a critical perspective on this phenomenon. Disability studies illuminates that the experiences of nostalgia, loss and suffering are not only located within the individual, but are also shaped by ableist attitudes, structures and perceptions towards illness, disability and ageing.


Luna Dolezal is Associate Professor in Philosophy and Medical Humanities at the University of Exeter where she leads the Shame and Medicine Project and the Scenes of Shame and Stigma in COVID-19 project. She is author of The Body and Shame: Phenomenology, Feminism and the Socially Shaped Body (Lexington Books, 2015) and co-editor of the books Body/Self/Other: The Phenomenology of Social Encounters (SUNY Press, 2017) and New Feminist Perspectives on Embodiment (Palgrave, 2018).

Cathrin Fischer is a PhD student in Philosophy at the University of Exeter, where she is researching the embodiment and imaginaries of disability and prosthesis through a queer-feminist phenomenological lens as part of the Imagining Technologies for Disability Futures project. Her undergraduate (University of Exeter) and postgraduate (University College Dublin) theses have focused on the (inter-)subjective, bodily, and affective dimensions of eating disorders.