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The Empathy Exams: Essays
The Empathy Exams: Essays
Leslie Jamison
Graywolf Press, 2014
256 pp., $16.00

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Kelly J. Baker


The Empathy Exams

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Jamison's lovely prose and brutal honesty reveal an uncomfortable truth: our pain doesn't necessarily have greater meaning. Our bodies let us down. They become battlefields. We're left with blood, tears, and scars on our traitorous flesh. In The Body in Pain (1986), Elaine Scarry described the unmaking of worlds (and words) through bodily pain and the making of worlds through imagination. Empathy allows the making of a shared world, a fledgling attempt to bridge the gap between your body and another's. Bodies create and destroy us. Jamison documents exactly what that means while encouraging us to make our empathy larger than might be comfortable. She writes, "I believe in waking up in the middle of the night and packing our bags and leaving our worst selves for our better ones." I hope we can follow her example.

Kelly J. Baker is the author of The Gospel According to the Klan: The KKK's Appeal to Protestant America, 1915-1930 (University Press of Kansas) and The Zombies Are Coming! The Realities of the Zombie Apocalypse in American Culture (Bondfire Books). She has written for the Atlantic, Chronicle Vitae, Faith Street, Religion Dispatches, and the Christian Century's Then & Now. She can be followed on Twitter @kelly_j_baker.

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