This paper is concerned with the disclosive possibilities of the phenomenon of suffering as well as the relationship between suffering and the structure of normality in experience. In the first part of the paper, I will discuss the role suffering has played in descriptions of mental illness within phenomenological psychiatry (Fuchs, 2005; Jaspers, 1997; Parnas, 2000; Sass, 2001; Stanghellini, 2004; Zahavi, 2000). Such descriptions tend to comprise careful, attentive analyses of the experience of mental illness, but in so doing they also offer important insights into mental illness as a form of suffering as well as its relationship with normality. This is achieved in two ways: by outlining the contours of normal world experience against which the suffering of mental illness is profiled, and by making sense of the suffering itself as a felt sense of loss of the normal.

 In the second part of the paper, I will turn to discussions in the phenomenology of illness that conceive of the relationship between suffering and normality in a more dynamic way. Rather than understanding suffering as the mere absence or loss of the normal, these analyses emphasize the restorative capacities through which human agents reclaim a sense of the normality of experience in spite of the loss entailed by their suffering (Carel, 2008; Frank, 2013; Sacks, 1987; Svenaeus, 2000). Inspired by Merleau-Ponty’s and Goldstein’s analyses of the plasticity of embodied and embedded subjectivity (Merleau-Ponty, 2012; Goldstein 2015), these analyses highlight the way in which loss is reconstituted into a new wholeness, so that the integrity of the suffering agent is reclaimed. In spite of this plasticity, I will conclude by noting the limits of the subject’s restorative capacities in suffering and the consequent importance of material as well as formal senses of the structure of normality in experience.


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