Literature and Music: Junctions, Intersections, Misconceptions (The 12th annual international comparative literature colloquium of the Slovenian Comparative Literature Association)

Slovenian Comparative Literature Association
Closing date for submissions: 
15 April, 2014
Event dates: 
05.09.2014 - 06.09.2014
E-mail contact: 

Literature and Music: Junctions, Intersections, Misconceptions

The 12th annual international comparative literature colloquium of the Slovenian Comparative Literature Association

Ljubljana, September 5–6, 2014


Moderators: Gregor Pompe, Marijan Dović, and Andraž Jež.


Organized by the Slovenian Comparative Literature Association and Slovenian Musicological Association in co-operation with the Slovenian Writers’ Association, the Institute of Slovenian Literature and Literary Studies at the Research Centre of the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts, and the Department of Comparative Literature and Literary Theory, University of Ljubljana.


The colloquium is part of the 29th Vilenica International Literary Festival.



The international comparative colloquium Literature and Music: Junctions, Intersection, Misconceptions continues the investigation of the inner ties connecting literature to other arts. In this way, the colloquium responds to contemporary trends in arts characterized by the fusion of individual artistic practices and the transgression into the spheres of science, politics, and economy. Since mutual links between literature and music seem particularly strong, the colloquium will try to shed light onto these junctions and intersections from the interdisciplinary perspective combining musicological and comparative analysis.

The most typical examples of combining the two artforms in the media of music are arguably the different forms of musical theatre (opera, music drama, instrumental theatre, scenic compositions), Lied, the symphonic poem and different vocal-instrumental genres; on the other hand, musical elements enter literature most vividly in the attempts to musicalize poetry, and in concrete poetry. Furthermore, the field of mutual influences and inspiration remains wide as well, as there are numerous testimonies of musical inspiration for literary writing and vice versa. The colloquium will attempt to address such problems in two ways: by elaborating theoretical parallels between the two arts, and by scrutinizing the features of the existing outstanding amalgams of literature and music.

From the phenomenological perspective, literature and music are two types of art that differ in the material they use as well as in the way they treat this material. Nevertheless, there are strong common points between literature and music both at the level of the material itself and at the level of its treatment: sound is not only a basic element of music but also a very important part of the literary “sign” (signifier as the sound image since Saussure), while the musical part of literature penetrates the semantic level through intonation as well. We could see something similar in formal structures as well; musical-analytical units such as the phrase, period, or caesura show a clear resemblance with the (literary) rhetoric, whilst the three most exposed levels of language, i.e. phonetic, syntactic, and semantic, could easily be “translated” into discussions on music. However, these parallels already reveal a basic difference: if the semantic level is crucial for literature, in music it is extremely difficult to grasp and describe it in verbal terms. The musical-semantic level is extremely elusive, so it is very difficult to ascribe to music any primary, fixed meanings. And vice versa, even in its most radical formal experiments, literature is irreducible to its phonetic dimension. Hence, the types of linguistic and musical signs, as well as the quality of their meanings, are basically incongruent. Music can influence a literary author and even motivate him or her, just like the literary impulse can trigger the creation of a musical work. But the search of a joint mechanism that can “translate” or compare between the two arts often turns into a painful epistemological impressionism, which, however, does not mean that this type of discrepancy cannot lead to numerous, often successful and innovative works of art.

The main goal of the colloquium will be to try to resolve such methodological dilemmas. The topics of the colloquium will include the semantics of music and of literature; historical connections between literature and music (from the ancient mousikê onward); the transformations of opera in an attempt to come close to the primal mousikê; the form in literature and music; attempts at Gesamtkunstwerk; the relevance of Richard Wagner for the contemporary merging of arts; literature in music, and music in literature; music and/or literature as creative inspiration; the phenomenology of music and literature; literary and musical canon(s); improvisation in literature and music; the musicalization of poetry and the literarization of the symphonic poem; examples of fruitful “examples” of the merging of the two arts; etc.




The working language of the colloquium will be English. In order to enable productive discussion, the number of presentations will be limited to twelve, each not exceeding 20 minutes. Conference room facilities at the Slovene Writer’s Association include a computer and an LCD-projector. The organizers will provide coffee breaks and lunches. All participants will also be guests of the 29th Vilenica International Literary Festival, and will be able to participate in the festival events at the Ljubljana castle (September 5) and in the Vilenica cave (September 6; transport provided by the Vilenica organizers).

Proposals should be sent by April 15, 2014 to They should include 1) the title of the paper, 2) the name and full address of the home institution, 3) an abstract (1200-1500 characters), and 4) a short CV (300-500 characters). As the number of presenters is limited, the organizing committee can only select the most appropriate proposals, notifying the presenters no later than May 15, 2014. A peer-reviewed selection of scholarly articles will be published in Primerjalna književnost (Comparative Literature), the AHCI-indexed journal of the Slovenian Comparative Literature Association.

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