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The Legacy of Phantom Limbs

Evidence of loss of limbs, through disease, accident, warfare, or ritual has been commented upon since records began. With this legacy, it is remarkable that reports of phantom limbs entered so late into medical records. The experience of sensations in lost limbs provides an example of the ways in which novel phenomena can be interpreted. …

The Body in Question: Phantom Phenomena and the View from Within

“I awoke to consciousness in a hospital-tent. I got hold of my own identity in a moment or two, and was suddenly aware of a sharp cramp in my left leg. I tried to get at it to rub it with my single arm, but, finding myself too weak, hailed an attendant. “Just rub my left calf,” said I,  “if you please.”

Calf?” said he. “You ain’t none. It’s took off.”
“I know better,” said I. “I have pain in both legs.”

“Wall, I never!” said he. “You ain’t got nary leg.”
As I did not believe him, he threw off the covers, and, to

Phantomology: The Science of the Body in the Brain

Part of the work described here was funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation (grant no. 3100-67168.01). This essay is a condensation of several recent publications by the author, focusing on phantoms of congenitally absent limbs (Brugger and Funk, 2005), supernumerary phantoms (Brugger, 2003), hemiphantoms and phantoms of one’s entire body (Brugger, in press), respectively.…

Inside the Phantom Limb: Identity, Emotion, and Rationality

In spite of the astonishing progress we have made in medicine over the past hundred and thirty or so years, there are still those unfortunate times when someone’s limb is so damaged by disease or accident that it must be amputated. The vast majority of people who undergo amputation have a clear sensation that the limb is still there—a phantom limb. …

The Sense of Agency and the Illusion of the Self

If one places phantom limbs within the context of the self, the phenomenology of phantom limbs, confronts us with some very interesting ontological questions regarding mental causation and the function of illusion. Phantom limbs do not exist in the physical world as they are unconsciously generated constructions of the mind/brain As phantom limbs are not in the physical world, we say that they are illusory. The self is also a construction of the mind/brain : the self does not extend into the physical world, and can also be described as an illusion.…

De-ontologizing the Brain (from the fictional self to the social brain)

Phenomena at the intersection of neuroscience and psychology such as phantom limbs, much discussed in the wake of Ramachandran’s work (1998, 1999, etc.), when considered in a philosophical light, might seem to imply the necessity of the first-person perspective, made popular by Nagel (1979) but stemming from the central insights of the phenomenological tradition (Husserl and Merleau-Ponty in particular). …

Real Phantoms/Phantom Realities: On the Phenomenology of Bodily Imagination

“I cannot understand the function of the living body except by enacting it myself,
and except in so far as I am a body which rises towards the world.”
Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenology of Perception

“Nothing will come of nothing: speak again!”
William Shakespeare, King Lear

The Phantom Limb: Body and Language, Cultural Expression and Difference


It would be legitimate to speak of ‘natural signs’ only if the anatomical organisation of our body produced a correspondence between specific gestures and ‘given states of mind’. The fact is that the behaviour associated with anger or love is not the same in a Japanese and an occidental. Or, to be more precise, the difference in behaviour corresponds to a difference in the emotions themselves. It is not only the gesture which is contingent in relation to the body’s organisation, it is the manner itself in which we meet the situation and live it. …

The Trouble with Fanon

9:00 a.m. is an ungodly time for any class to begin. A young white student sits bored among her classmates in a half-empty classroom, waiting for the lecture to start. Head resting in hand, she doodles in her notebook and absent-mindedly glances at a syllabus. The day’s topic reads specters of race. “Something to do with prejudice,” she mumbles to herself, half in the hopes that at least today’s video, what was it, oh yeah, Frantz Fanon, would be something to look at. …

Phantom Limb as Memoir

In 1994, while writing The History of Forgetting, I used the term “phantom limb” for the first time, as a spatial metaphor more than a neurobiological phenomenon. Many famous sites in downtown Los Angeles had been leveled after 1961, particularly a hilltop neighborhood on the western brow of downtown. And despite redevelopment, their absence was still quite evident in 1994—faint traces. …

Dreams, Phantom Limbs and Virtual Reality: Challenges to the Singularity of Space?

In the Transcendental Aesthetic of The Critique of Pure Reason, Immanuel Kant stated the a priori necessity of the singularity of space, “we can represent to ourselves only one space; and if we speak of diverse spaces, we mean thereby only parts of one and the same space … these parts cannot precede the one all embracing space … they can be thought only as in it”. …

The Uncertainty of Placing: Prosthetic Bodies, Sculptural Design, and Unhomely Dwelling in Marc Quinn, James Gillingham, and Sigmund Freud

It is no longer the case that conversations around prosthesis begin and end with the question of deficiency. But this was not always the case. To stress this, David Wills, for instance, in a forthcoming article entitled ‘Preambles: Disability as Prosthesis’ points to ways in which the genealogy of prosthesis is so often conceived of as a discourse of deficiency. Here Wills argues that the matter of identity in disability studies as well as the identity of Disability Studies itself, along with the place of prosthesis within these discourses, has previously been organised, unlike most other ‘minority studies’, around ‘lack or deficiency’. …

The Phantom Limb in Contemporary Art and Exhibition Practice

There are many possible ways of beginning my contribution but I think I will relate to you when Marq Smith and I last met. This was at a conference he co-organised at the ICA, London in 2000 on Prosthetics and Cultural Theory. I was the only person speaking about phantom limbs rather than the main topic which was prosthetics in cultural studies and art. …

Pierre Molinier and the Phantom Limb

Responsible for sensation to the hip and genitalia takes over the sensory function of an absent foot and leg.


The original definition of the fetish finds its roots/routes in the religious practices of so called “primitive” societies. The fetish was defined as a menagerie of objects connected through their properties as magical charms. In nineteenth century Europe the definition of fetish evolved into anything that was irrationally worshiped.…

Listening to Bodies: Bio-Narratives of the Self

My work on phantom limb phenomenon began with a series of artworks that explored ideas of the social affects of trauma and illness. I then turned my attention to other projects, but came back to it, and wanted to address this subject more directly. At that time, I had been doing work that explored ideas and constructions of subjectivity using 16mm film, video, photographs and three-dimensional materials. …

Beyond Reason: Ordure

The rare presence of the Reflexologist

Having just entered the room Sirb was immediately aware of her. The Reflexologist, a rare presence. She was wearing a long black voluminous dress set off by a powerful orange Naga bead necklace. It’s snake like strands a powerful orange. She was the only person who had been in John East`s dream of Louise Bourgeois’ legs now present in the room, and was the person most likely to establish the identity of the leg lying on the ironing table.…

The Press of History on the Nerve of the Moment

On 9/11/2003, two years after the destruction of the twin towers, I wrote a letter that was published in the NY Times:

To the Editor:

With the loss of the World Trade Center, we collectively underwent an amputation. What remains is a collective phantom limb.

Much as a severed limb leaves behind an incontrovertible feeling that it is still part of the body, the twin towers continue to be a part of us.

Insubstantial Media: Ectoplasm, Exposure, and the Still Birth of Film

By the end of the nineteenth century, European and American audiences had temporarily lost interest in stage magic, and the vanishing lady no longer held any particular theatrical appeal. Charles Bertram, the magician who had first introduced the Vanishing Lady Act onto the British stage, writes in 1896: “No place of entertainment was complete without its vanishing lady, but…the illusions which were attempted elsewhere lost all their significance, and eventually ‘wore out’ what was a most startling and marvellous feat.”1…

The Ideoplastic Materializations of Eva C.


My work investigates a space where technology intersects with unconscious desire. Spirit Mediums in particular fascinate me because I believe the apparitions they appeared to materialize, open up new ways of conceptualizing the moving image.…

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June 2009
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