Pain Studies

Forthcoming March 2020 from Bellevue Literary Press

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’s luminous meditation on pain winds around a beautifully curated series of artifacts. Bits of poetry, ancient medicine, brain science, television episodes, excerpts from the trial of Joan of Arc, and works of art support the spiderweb on which her insights hang like condensed mist. A fascinating, totally seductive read!”

– Eula Bliss

 

Lisa Olstein’s remarkable Pain Studies is a book built of brain and nerve and blood and heart, about what it means to live with pain. Irreverent and astute, synthesizing the personal and the historical, popular culture and poetry and visual art, Pain Studies will change how you think about living with a body in our beautiful and doomed world.

– Elizabeth McCracken


These spectacular sentences chart a thrilling investigation into pain, language, and Lisa 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


Lisa Olstein offers readers an eclectic and deeply personal set of meditations on pain as experienced and remembered, inflicted and endured, perceived and denied. Through neuroscience, literature, and history, from hit TV shows to classical philosophy, this is a unique and fascinating contribution to the literature of pain in general, and migraine in particular.

– Katherine Foxhall


Like a prismatic series of artist’s sketches, Pain Studies offers a dazzling variety of perspectives—personal, political, phenomenological, lyrical—on the unanswerable question of human suffering. Through virtuosic readings of everything from pre-Socratic philosophy to the trial transcripts of Joan of Arc to the cultural semiotics of House M.D., Lisa Olstein brilliantly extends the literature of pain into our contemporary historical moment. But this searching work also illuminates how pain studies us. Turning the last page on Olstein’s agonistic anatomy, we’ve come to know one of hurt’s intimate acquaintances, unbroken by her suffering, or if broken in parts, then painstakingly remade.

– Srikanth Reddy


In Pain Studies, Lisa Olstein paints a sharp-witted and insightful picture of the rollercoaster ride that is called pain. Her own experiences allow her to approach the topic in a way that provides relevant reading to anyone treating or living with chronic pain. As doctors, we need to find more effective ways to help patients dealing with pain. This book is a step in that direction.

– Jill Heytens, M.D.