Phantom Limbs

Spring 2016 . Volume 1 . No. 1

Phantom Limbs, by way of introduction

April Durham, PhD
March 2016

Bodies and selves, subjectivity and physical form, these are the stuff of the individual. My body is the way I (as a subject) experience the world and am treated or, with a certain kind of body, ignored or abused under laws and traditions of the culture in which I live and move and have my being. But if Kathy Acker’s fiction (discussed with more detail in the interview with Chris Kraus) is any testament to the condition of the “I,” it is possible to confound the static eminence of the first person by putting “the fake first person next to the true first person,”[i] (Acker 7) and shaking things around until the problem of the “I” is revealed as “a false problem because it’s a thing that’s made.”[ii] Still, in all honesty who wants to let go of a unified subjectivity, just like that? Even I, with my theory of “trans-subjectivity,” processes of self-making that are networked and distributed,[iii] clutch a bit desperately to the position of my Self, if only to justify fending off the processes that link me ambiguously, confusingly, uncontrollably to others.
Still as one very pressing project of feminism and non-normative political discourse is to investigate the disarrangement of stuck positions, be they hierarchic power structures, patriarchal legacies, or purely oppositional arguments that substantiate the very thing they oppose, it is worth continuing to cut the legs off the stable, human figure/self and carry on with the business of imagining difference, well differently. Despite overwhelming personal fears and reservations, we press on with various inquiries into what might arise when we allow the worlds we know and the bodies we believe we understand to be troubled in such a way that, through the fissures and the dark cracks in the sidewalk, new things, chaotic and frightening but fruitful and interesting, can emerge; these are things that are neither this nor that, but which are continually becoming multiple and uncertain and slippery, and gloriously full of possibility.

The phantom limb as a phenomenon and Phantom Limbs as the first issue of Legend Journal both offer the possibility to pull one tangled hair out of the matted jumble that is the material, manifest body and its associated, emergent subjectivities. Echoes from beyond the known and provable realm of the scientific (that is to say the paranormal or the unbelievably weird) are strangely implicated as they affect metrics and measurements, play at evoking suspiciously real affects that, while perhaps not “real” in a strict and replicable sense of the word, are nonetheless touching in material and emotional, physical and expressive ways. Phantom limbs have us speaking in the voices of men and of devils, dancing on the turntables of our past lives, longing as usual for the lover we lost or merely expected, playing with the future of babies and cattle, and imagining men frozen in ice and eating one another for supper as we fly over and plot a map of their rescue in our dreams.

Studies of phantom limbs since the end of the nineteenth-century have found that “following major extremity amputation a large proportion of patients will retain quite specific impressions of their missing limb[s], perhaps for months, years, or as long as they live.”[iv] Feminist philosopher Elizabeth Grosz makes the case for the experience of what is missing as evidence for the process of “body image,” or a material-discursive map of the body to which both the mind and the somatic form adhere even when the actual body is altered.[v] While the phantom mimics what the mind recalls when the more substantial limb was still present, the image is commonly imprecise, with a “‘husklike,’ weightless, and floating character.”[vi] The strangeness of the phantom limb allows it to defy rules governing the more well-known forms of embodiment, following its “own kinds of psychological and physical laws,”[vii] which often means it can exist in different dimensions than it did previously, pass through otherwise solid matter like walls and closed, oaken doors, or wend its way through “the patient’s own body,”[viii] like an errant thread in a weaving that has moved off the grid of the loom.

Grosz declares the phantom “an expression of nostalgia for the unity and wholeness of the body, its completion,”[ix] but I might also claim this specter as being more creative in the labor it performs for the “real” body of which it was once part. Rather than just act to restore what is normal, the phantom limb, the ghostly voice, the lost pleasure center, an unrecalled past life and the dreams of fretful charwomen can offer insight into where bodies might go, what manner of game they might construct for themselves and their associated subjectivities, how they might emerge unbounded by the strict social and political limits of gender, race, class, or lovability, and what forms they might take if they were to be unfettered from the need to be normal in the first place.

The works in this issue chart some of the paths a body can take that are material and fantastic, theoretical and embodied. The interview with author and cultural critic Chris Kraus hones in on the way Kraus pilfers the voice of the men she desires and criticizes as a kind of “limb” that extends the simple diagnosis/analysis of female hysteria and imagining a phantom phallus[x] (she is, after all, the author of I Love Dick). The accompanying short essay considers how Kraus' way of playing with bodies and histories, theories and selves renders a strange kind of feminist play relative to an all-too-serious game of rule breaking and chaotic reimagining.  Stephanie Martz’s poem, Falling Rain, overlaps the body of the natural environment on the body of the writer and the lover who is missing, or will be soon. Scottish video artist Michelle Naismith , whose work considers pathologized affect, gendered identities, and inter-species embodiment in absurdly clinical contexts, offers two videos that make strange inquiry into the very nature of the phantom, be it limb, wound, or a multiplied, unremembered body. Giulia Hoffmann’s essay on Victorian mediumship, “Visions of Travel: Paranormal Arctic Exploration, the Franklin Search Expeditions, and the Frozen Deep,” offers a critical reading of how information achieved through clairvoyance can be both liberating in terms of social restrictions applied based on gender and class, and perplexing in how the expression of that liberation recuperates the imperialistic conditions that require the limitations in the first place. A ghost story from the Victorian lady writer, Edith Nesbit , challenges the credulity of the rational male by a subtle but deadly privileging of wifely intuition in "Man-Size Marble," a short story originally published in Grim Tales in 1893. Finally, Bulgarian curator Dessislava Dimova shares her research  in our creative research project section. An ongoing project, portions of which will appear in subsequent issues, Dimova's work begins with an engagement with the history of the Blind Baba Vanga, the famed but often debunked psychic and subject of inquiry for the Soviet Institute of Suggestology.  Dimova begins her inquiry into how sources of knowledge are legitimated, how the individual and the social bodies respond to incredulous situations, and the way that the quest for truth can cast the scientific observer into the morass of calculating the poetry of his own analysis.

The digital format for the journal is certainly not a new one for the reader, although it is a source of investigation for the editors seeking to make a website a meaningful platform for a journal of this sort. Characterized by hyperlinks, the digital text is not linear like a book or printed magazine. Its very body comprises mangled and stacked phantom, missing, and evident limbs that may be seductive to the reader or just confuse her no end. We hope our paths and nods, links and portals might lead to who-knows-where, and ultimately, be useful in the general production of knowledge and connection, culture and meaning, whatever those fleeting and contested terms mean. We also wish that they may fail to do these things and produce other, unexpected outcomes, nor none. Those possibilities have been and can be better explored in more depth elsewhere,[xi] but we want to point out the considerations informing the layout of the journal.

The journal is divided into five parts: Interview, Literature, Art, Essay, and Creative Research. Each section contains a work or works that approach the theme Phantom Limbs from divers directions. As with any journal, it is possible to hone in on one part or to begin at some notion of the beginning. In each section, there are links, the simplest being footnotes or referrals to artist or author websites and the more complicated being diagrams of thinking important to the editorial and curatorial efforts behind this singular presentation. Some links open to other critical texts or exegesis, while others strive to include in this space some of the more interesting, connected commentaries, images, and trails that could be fruitful for the reader’s ongoing investigation of topics like feminism, queer activism, social theory, and contemporary art and media history.

As with every effort of this sort, the debut of Legend Journal has involved contributions of various sorts from a range of participants. I wish to thank Bryan Gorrie for his belief in what continually seems impossible; Rincon Consultants for their generous bonus program that has funded the publication of the journal; Dessi, Michelle, and Chris for coming out to play; James Tobias for his undiminished and timeless encouragement; and Cookie, Jake, Charlotte, and Alice for their unconditional regard.


[i] Acker, Kathy. Hannibal Lecter, My Father. Ed. Sylvère Lottringer. New York and Los Angeles: Semiotext(e), 1991. 7. Print.

[ii] Ibid.

[iii] See for example, Durham, April. “Slips, Breaks, and Tangles: Creative Collaboration and the Aesthetic Process of Trans-Subjectivity.” Camera Obscura. Publication forthcoming. 2016. Print.

[iv] Livingston, Kenneth E. “The Phantom Limb Syndrome: A discussion of the role of major peripheral nerve neuromas.” Journal of Neurosurgery 2.3 (May 1945): 251-255. Web.

[v] Grosz, Elizabeth. Volatile Bodies: Toward a corporeal feminism. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1994. 70.

[vi] Ibid. 71.

[vii] Ibid.

[viii] Schilder, Paul. The Image and Appearance of the Human Body: Studies in the constructive energies of the psyche. New York: International Universities Press, 1978. 64.

[ix] Grosz, 1994. 73.

[x] Grosz asks “Do women have a phantom phallus? What is the status of a fantasized amputation (such as is required by castration) and a real one? Do women experience the castration complex as a bodily amputation as well as a psychosocial constraint?” Ibid.

[xi] For a few of the many extended considerations of the hypertext as medium, see any or all of the following:
Hayles, N. Katherine. Writing Machines. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2002. Landow, George. Hypertext 2.0: The convergence of contemporary critical theory and technology. 2nd Ed. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997. Aarseth, Espen. Cybertext: Perspectives on Ergodic Literature. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997.