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Phantom Pains and Prosthetic Narratives

From George Dedlow to Dante

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  02 February 2021

Alastair Minnis
Affiliation:
Yale University, Connecticut

Summary

'Phantom limb pain' designates the sensations which seem to emanate from limbs that in reality are missing. The phrase was coined by the American Civil War surgeon, Weir Mitchell, in reference to his fictional amputee, George Dedlow. Contemporary neuroscience holds that the brain encloses a schema which covers the whole body, and asserts its unity even if certain parts are missing. Reading backwards from Dedlow's sufferings, Alastair Minnis traces the medieval precedents and parallels, focusing on Augustine and Dante, who subscribed to the notion of a 'body in the soul'. Dante's souls in purgatory self-prosthesize with aerial phantoms as they long for the full embodiment which only the resurrection can bring. Is a complete body necessary for personhood? And how can the gamut of human feelings be run if parts or the entirety of one's body does not exist? Combining medieval studies and contemporary neuroscience, this absorbing study explores the fascinating and surprising history of phantom pain.
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Online ISBN: 9781108989695
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication: 18 February 2021
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© Alastair Minnis 2021

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