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Pain and its Meanings

Friday 7 December 19.00-21.00, Saturday 8 December 10.30-17.00

Watch this video on YouTube.

Nearly everyone has experienced bodily pain, yet describing it is notoriously difficult. In 1930, Virginia Woolf lamented that even a schoolgirl, "when she falls in love, has Shakespeare and Keats to speak her mind for her; but let a sufferer try to describe a pain in his head to a doctor and language at once runs dry".

Is pain really so difficult to articulate? Or can it actually generate creative expression? If so, what do these narratives tell us about the meaning of pain? Some believe it has the power to purge sin; others interpret it as an unjust punishment. Pain can even be regarded as intrinsic to achievement - 'no pain, no gain'. 

This unique two-day symposium brought together some of the liveliest and most widely respected creative and scholarly minds to prod, probe and discuss profound questions about the relationship between body, mind and culture. How and why do we give meaning to bodily pain?

'Pain and its Meanings' was a collaboration between the Birkbeck Pain Project and Wellcome Collection. Please see the Birkbeck Pain Project website for audio and texts related to the event.

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