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Küchenhoff, J. (2019). Intercorporeity and body language: The semiotics of mental suffering expressed through the body. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 100(4):769-791.

(2019). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 100(4):769-791

Intercorporeity and body language: The semiotics of mental suffering expressed through the body

Joachim Küchenhoff


The relationship between the body and language has been a fundamental issue in psychosomatic medicine from the beginning. If the existence of a correlation between mental experience and bodily suffering is assumed, the question promptly arises whether the body that has fallen ill is trying to say something—whether the symptom is expressing something that can perhaps be articulated only in this way, by this roundabout route. However, determination of what is being expressed via the body and what the symptom is trying to say is difficult, uncertain, and possible only as an approximation, for a biological process cannot simply be transposed into meaning. Furthermore, it is questionable whether the idea of a transposition into meaning is justified. That would suggest that the content of a symptom could be melted down into words. The metaphor of translation is more accurate; after all, a translation can never transform every nuance of an idea or situation from one language into another without any residue or excess. The notion of translation is used here in a broad sense, an expansion that is now widely accepted, for instance in the field of cultural studies: as Bachmann-Medick (2006, 238, translated) writes: “Translation is indeed increasingly coming to be detached from its linguistic and textual paradigm and recognized as an indispensable practice in a world of mutual dependences and interconnections.” The opposite side of the coin of the intrinsic incompleteness of translation is the patient’s desire to gain a better understanding of his suffering and hence also of himself.

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