21 May 2010 - 22 May 2010 All day CRASSH, 17 Mill Lane, Cambridge and Robinson College, Cambridge


Registration for this conference is now closed.

Conference convenors

Professor Robin Kirkpatrick (Faculty of Modern and Medieval Languages, Cambridge)
Dr Lucia Ruprecht (Faculty of Modern and Medieval Languages, Cambridge)

Conference summary

The cultural history of western civilization frequently contemplates an interconnection between pain, grace and beauty. This has paradigmatically arisen in representations of the Passion of Christ. In the 20th century, the violence of war – reported with unprecedented accuracy of detail – has led at times to suspicion and silence, lest beauty or the cultivation of grace be seen as an encouragement to voyeurism or complicity. Current debate calls for a distinction between a consideration of pain and a consideration of trauma, whereby the impact of pain, revived in performance, may need to be contrasted with the displacements of pain in the trauma of psychic repetition.

In addressing such issues, this conference focuses attention on particular examples covering film, music, dance and text. These examples will be chosen to allow discussion of contrasting cultural moments from diverse language areas and a range of academic disciplines. Literary critics, musicians, dance and film scholars will be joined here by theologians.
The key notes of the conference will be struck by Elaine Scarry (whose seminal work The Body in Pain (1985) was followed in 1999 by About Beauty and Being Just) and by Helmut Lethen (Director, International Research Center for Cultural Studies, Vienna, and author of the influential study on the organisation of affect Cool Conduct: The Culture of Distance in Weimar Germany (1994/2002). Dante’s Commedia attracts attention from a number of participants. The engagement with music includes a study of works by Messiaen written while interned during World War II.  Robert Benigni’s film La Vita è bella will be examined, remembering always the contribution that Benigni is currently making to the study of Dante’s work. Dance and Performance are considered in the response offered to war by choreographer William Forsythe, and in the negotiation of beauty and pain in the works of performance artist Jan Fabre. Questions of literary embodiment are explored, as raised by the anti-Christian cult of beauty in Swinburne’s poetry.

This conference aims to be fully collaborative, drawing from a wide range of academic disciplines and the performing arts. Its collaborative dimension also extends beyond the academic sphere, to involve performers in the arts, some of whom were involved in the experimental treatment of Dante’s work, Experience Dante 2009. The formal sessions held in the CRASSH conference centre will therefore be accompanied by performance sessions to be staged in the Chapel at Robinson College.

Administrative assistance: Anna Malinowska (Conference Programme Manager, CRASSH)


Tel: +44 1223 766886
Email enquiries@crassh.cam.ac.uk