Doubtful Arms and Phantom Limbs: Literary Portrayals of Embodied Grief

Academic Article


  • Theories of grief based on Freud's “Mourning and Melancholia“ typically portray mourning as a disembodied process. This essay investigates the literary portrayal of grief in the context of phantom limb pain, a literally embodied, neurological response to loss. By comparing Derrida's image-based discussion of mourning with theories of embodied habit by Merleau-Ponty and of disability by Lennard Davis, this essay investigates the physical apprehension of loss caused by our habitual engagements with the bodies of our loved ones. Virginia Woolf, Mark Doty, Alfred Tennyson, and Donald Hall portray the physical confusions and discomforts of grief that occur when the griever takes up a habitual position in relation to a lost body. Embodied grief emerges in tangible illusions that, like the phantom limb, memorialize the lost beloved through misperceptions of material presence.
  • Authors


    Publication Date

  • March 2004
  • Has Subject Area

    Published In

  • PMLA  Journal
  • Digital Object Identifier (doi)

    Start Page

  • 218
  • End Page

  • 232
  • Volume

  • 119
  • Issue

  • 2