The Empathy Exams Essays Leslie Jamison

The Empathy Exams Essays Leslie Jamison-87
Daum does something similar in her recent collection, sharing all sorts of stories that make her sound occasionally crazy, often rude, and mostly very human.The "unspeakable" Daum is mining runs the gamut, but The Unspeakable is basically a book about stuff most people dare not say, either out loud or on the page.After attending a conference on the mysterious disease, Jamison soon finds herself exhibiting the same skin-crawling symptoms previously noted by her subjects.

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”Women’s wounds are an old story: “They summon sympathy. They yield scars full of stories and slights that become rallying cries.” Jamison charts the bloody parade in the works of Charles Dickens and Stephen King, Anne Carson and Kate Bush.

For women of Jamison’s generation, whose formative soundtracks include Tori Amos and Ani Di Franco, one way to avoid sentimentality is to become “post-wounded,” like the women on TV’s “Girls” — “sarcastic, apathetic, opaque; cool and clever” — but Jamison plants her flag squarely in the middle ground: “I’m tired of female pain and also tired of people who are tired of it.”It’s a rallying cry, almost a manifesto, for the idea of both/and, rather than either/or.

“Devil’s Bait,” in which Jamison visits a conference held by people who identify themselves as having a disease that may or may not be an illusion, is long-form journalism as philosophy, both sharp-eyed and sympathetic.

Jamison exhibits a powerful ability to dwell in uncertainty while still training rapt attention on these people — they believe they are plagued by parasites, evidence of which they see in tiny fibers working their way out from under the skin.

Still more impressive, Jamison uses her essays to not only expound on a whole mess of interesting topics, but also to tell her own story, one marked by powerful personal revelations and a battle with heart disease that could easily frame up its own narrative.

It's a book that feels complete, while also inspiring its readership to want to hear still more from Jamison's unique life and her even more special worldview.Jamison's collection covers a wide range of topics, many of which are compellingly rooted in the medical world (the book's first essay, also entitled "The Empathy Exams" fascinatingly details Jamison's work as a medical actor, tasked with imitating a slew of ailments that budding doctors are meant to diagnose), all of which find their roots in the concept of empathy.Jamison effectively examines both fraught and kind of fun issues, from false murder accusations to extreme endurance challenges to the tragedy of various heroines throughout literature, all of which tie neatly back to the idea of empathy.” Indeed, Jamison’s essays document suffering in many forms—murders, muggings, incarcerations and adventure races—but her through line remains constant: a clear-eyed, eloquent examination of what it means to be both human and humane.Perhaps Jamison’s greatest strength is her willingness to immerse herself into her work, even at the risk of jeopardizing her objectivity.Both are compli-cated topics, fraught with potential minefields especially if the writer is a youngish woman, as Jamison is.In the book’s closing essay, “Grand Unified Theory of Female Pain,” she confronts the idea, in literature and life, of the wounded woman, acknowledging the risk of cliché inherent in its tropes: the bloody first period, suffering in childbirth, the cries for help in anorexia or self-cutting: “How do we talk about these wounds without glamorizing them?Like Jamison, she weaves together wonky topics with her own personal stories, making them seem indelible, fresh, and very unique.A true spiritual twin to Jamison's book, Solnit's 2014 essay collection is similarly preoccupied with the nature and shape of empathy and how it has impacted her own life. In the author's essay collection The Empathy Exams , Jamison instead attempts to unmask what empathy really is, how it manifests itself, and how we can feel it.She doesn't need your empathy, but she'd sure love to see it for further examination and discussion.


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