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Beautiful Work: A Meditation on Pain

By
Sharon Cameron
Sharon Cameron

Sharon Cameron is Kenan Professor of English at The Johns Hopkins University. Her previous books include Choosing Not Choosing: Emily Dickinson’s Fascicles;Writing Nature: Henry Thoreau’s Journal, and Thinking in Henry James.

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Duke University Press
ISBN electronic:
978-0-8223-9613-0
Publication date:
2000

The stories one tells about pain are profound ones. Nothing is more legible than these stories. But something is left out of them. If there were no stories, there might be a moment of innocence. A moment before the burden of the stories and their perceived causes and consequences. For Anna, the narrator of Beautiful Work, there were moments when it was not accurate to say in relation to pain "because of this‚" or "leading to that." They were lucid moments. And so she began to hunger for storylessness.

In order to understand the nature of pain, Anna undertakes a meditation practice. We tend to think of pain as self-absorbing and exclusively our own ("my pain," "I am in pain"). In distinction, Sharon Cameron’s Anna comes to explore pain as common property, and as the basis for a radically reconceived selfhood. Resisting the limitations of memoir, Beautiful Work speaks from experience and simultaneously releases it from the closed shell of personal ownership. Outside of the not quite inevitable stories we tell about it, experience is less protected, less compromised, and more vivid than could be supposed.

Beautiful Work brings to bear the same interest in consciousness and intersubjectivity that characterizes Cameron’s other work.

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