Sophie Calle’s “Exquisite Pain” helped me overcome a bad breakup


Calle titled her collection of conversations Exquisite pain (2003). Each piece includes text from her part of each conversation, along with the photo she took after the breakup – a sad hotel bed with a bright red phone – and the strangers’ stories, with their own photos. When she finished the recordings, Calle seemed to have finished talking about the breakup. She put the work in a museum, turned it into a book, and then, when she was done showing it, she put it in a box. She was fed up with the story.

When I saw for the first time Exquisite pain, I already knew. My boyfriend and I also planned a trip. The day he finished it with me, he booked us into a hotel room in Saint-Louis. He only became my boyfriend after we broke up. When something ends and it hurts you like that, it deserves a traditional label, so everyone knows what you’re talking about when you explain it – which I have done, over and over again. When he ended things between us, we went on a trip anyway.

Afterwards, I kept talking about it: the trip, the sex, the breakup, the way I was in pain. I’ve always talked about us over and over, but it took it to another level. I got along and couldn’t stop it. I just told the same stories over and over again. I sighed into my phone, “Grief is the most annoying emotion on Earth.” No one disagreed with me.

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