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Pain Studies

by Lisa Olstein

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
3412609,630 (3.45)2
"A fascinating, totally seductive read!" --Eula Biss, author of Notes from No Man's Land: American Essays and On Immunity: An Inoculation "A book built of brain and nerve and blood and heart. . . . Irreverent and astute. . . . Pain Studies will change how you think about living with a body." --Elizabeth McCracken, author of Thunderstruck and Bowlaway "A thrilling investigation into pain, language, and Olstein's own exile from what Woolf called 'the army of the upright.' On a search path through art, science, poetry, and prime-time television, Olstein aims her knife-bright compassion at the very thing we're all running from. Pain Studies is a masterpiece." --Leni Zumas, author of The Listeners and Red Clocks In this extended lyric essay, a poet mines her lifelong experience with migraine to deliver a marvelously idiosyncratic cultural history of pain--how we experience, express, treat, and mistreat it. Her sources range from the trial of Joan of Arc to the essays of Virginia Woolf and Elaine Scarry to Hugh Laurie's portrayal of Gregory House on House M.D. As she engages with science, philosophy, visual art, rock lyrics, and field notes from her own medical adventures (both mainstream and alternative), she finds a way to express the often-indescribable experience of living with pain. Eschewing simple epiphanies, Olstein instead gives us a new language to contemplate and empathize with a fundamental aspect of the human condition. Lisa Olstein teaches at the University of Texas at Austin and is the author of four poetry collections published by Copper Canyon Press. Pain Studies is her first book of creative nonfiction.… (more)
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"Pain Studies" is a door open for engagement with Pain, and especially Migraine. Olstein makes access easy with 38 short segments -- all of which are separate entries into the learning venue.

This work is written at the intersection of shared experience, different perceptions of pain, and use of language to cross over and confront its persistence. Through the prison-prism of migraine, Pain Studies episodically and idiosyncratically explores histories of pain--Olstein reaches out so together "we" experience, express, treat, and mistreat pain. As if in a guided meditation, we are engaged with a surprising range of sources. For example, we share in the trial testimony of Joan of Arc, and the television show procedural "House, M.D.". We analyze rhetorical attributes of pre-Socratic philosophy and mathematical proofs. We sort through literary approaches by Virginia Woolf and Elaine Scarry. Olstein brings us into the perception-based studio work of artists Donald Judd and James Turrell. Written from and into its own urgencies of both form and content, we are also able to converse with "pain experts".

I find this little volume constantly but gently inviting me to take it up again. Always a delight to consider anew, an old acquaintance--Oldstein does not need to explain her assumption that Pain inhabits all of us. While the author experiences "Migraine", and I do not, I found the journey she shares to be comforting across my own experiences. We are all wounded in different ways. It helps to have a guided tour of another's experience and learnings. ( )
  keylawk | Jun 19, 2021 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
This is a book-length prose poem, a meditation on pain (specifically, migraines). While there are occasional glimpses of beauty here, much of the prose is plodding - lengthy lists of symptoms, of medical terms, which while effective occasionally as a literary device, are here overused and overwrought.

The author attempts to draw parallels with multiple cultural touchstones - everything from Joan of Arc to House, M.D. - but they lose me when they quote Jonah Lehrer, a disgraced and discredited science journalist. The comparisons here are heavy-handed, facile.

Those who live with chronic pain may find some tidbits to relate to here, but overall this book is not great. ( )
  Shadow123 | Jan 31, 2021 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
This was a beautiful trip of weirdness with bursts of amazing clarity. Once I realized the author is a poet, I think I appreciated this prose more. I also listened to it on audiobook from the library, and it was an experience like that of a spoken word performance.

Pain is different in every person, yet every person has pain. I’m like the author with times of unrelenting pain that can ebb and flow. I loved how she wove pop culture (House MD) with history (Joan of Arc) along with research and lived experience.

This is definitely an odd read, but I will be returning to it as a kind of solace in understanding as well as lovely prose. ( )
  spinsterrevival | Oct 12, 2020 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I am part of the way through this book. I had initially put it aside for a bit and then with the coronavirus epidemic I think I was reluctant to read about pain. Originally I’d thought it was a regular memoir, which I would have been up for, but it’s a series of essays. That’s OK in that I’m reasonably intrigued by the ones involving the author’s experience, but she has veered off into discussing Joan of Arc now, and I know she is making larger philosophical points, but she’s rather lost me. It seems like a relatively quick read and I’ll probably finish it at some point, and surely she will get back to her own experience. but reading it isn’t smooth sailing for me.
  benruth | May 4, 2020 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
First off, I received a copy of this book through the Early Reviewers program on LibraryThing. I'm grateful to the publisher for the copy of this; I read an ARC, and so some aspects may have changed in the course of publishing.

This book interesting series of meditations on migraine and pain. Olstein draws cultural objects from all over--poets and writers, House, M.D., art, etc. I think some of her interactions with those objects falls kind of short for me--the book itself is not, obviously, a true cultural history in the academic sense of migraine, but it feels a little pulled thin as she tries to create essentially migraine as a kind of epistemology but never really coming to any real stance on it, which is fine since that's not necessarily her aim.

The biggest weakness of the text for me is the lack of engagement with disability studies, or the question of disability at all. I'm not sure if Olstein considers herself disabled, and she seems resistant to considering the question in any serious capacity, preferring to take the pain as its own thing. I just think addressing some of the questions that disability studies has posed about pain (I'm thinking especially the work of Tobin Siebers in Disability Theory around pain, which touches on much of what Olstein writes about here but also extends beyond it in ways I find productive,) or at least acknowledging that thought might really have enriched this. ( )
  aijmiller | Apr 30, 2020 |
Showing 1-5 of 12 (next | show all)
an allusive, sometimes obscure, but more often fascinating meditation
 
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All pain is simple.
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Because what do we ask of language? How do we sort through what we will and will not say, what we can, what we can't. [38]
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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"A fascinating, totally seductive read!" --Eula Biss, author of Notes from No Man's Land: American Essays and On Immunity: An Inoculation "A book built of brain and nerve and blood and heart. . . . Irreverent and astute. . . . Pain Studies will change how you think about living with a body." --Elizabeth McCracken, author of Thunderstruck and Bowlaway "A thrilling investigation into pain, language, and Olstein's own exile from what Woolf called 'the army of the upright.' On a search path through art, science, poetry, and prime-time television, Olstein aims her knife-bright compassion at the very thing we're all running from. Pain Studies is a masterpiece." --Leni Zumas, author of The Listeners and Red Clocks In this extended lyric essay, a poet mines her lifelong experience with migraine to deliver a marvelously idiosyncratic cultural history of pain--how we experience, express, treat, and mistreat it. Her sources range from the trial of Joan of Arc to the essays of Virginia Woolf and Elaine Scarry to Hugh Laurie's portrayal of Gregory House on House M.D. As she engages with science, philosophy, visual art, rock lyrics, and field notes from her own medical adventures (both mainstream and alternative), she finds a way to express the often-indescribable experience of living with pain. Eschewing simple epiphanies, Olstein instead gives us a new language to contemplate and empathize with a fundamental aspect of the human condition. Lisa Olstein teaches at the University of Texas at Austin and is the author of four poetry collections published by Copper Canyon Press. Pain Studies is her first book of creative nonfiction.

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