Talia Schaffer has noted that care work needn’t be joined with the feeling of care. This article extends this insight to explore medical kink (“sadomedicine”) as a form of distantiated yet attuned care work that resituates the literary debates on symptomatic versus surface reading. Through the performances of Bob Flanagan, Elizabeth Stuart Phelps’s 1882 novel Doctor Zay, the 1991 film Misery and its source novel, and Maria Beatty’s 2009 film Bandaged, sadomedicine is situated as an engagement with symptoms that delights in surfaces but that might also exacerbate symptoms, introduce them from outside the text, and/or attend to symptoms disconnected from deep pathologies. The term “parasymptomatic reading” conceptualizes this play with symptoms and the surface/depth distinction: it captures the role of the parasympathetic nervous system and its connection to surface bodily responses, the dialectic of sympathy and symptomaticity, and the meaning of the prefix “para” to indicate both proximity and error.

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