2nd International Meeting on Narratology and the Arts

Strasbourg - December 5-7, 2013

From December 5 to 7, 2013, the Second International Meeting on Narratology and the Arts – “Art as Text. Narratological, Semiotic and Transmedial Approaches” – took place at the European Doctoral College of the University of Strasbourg. After the success of the first meeting last year (see report in ENN Newsletter VII, January 2013), Márta Grabócz – with the support of the Institut Universitaire de France – organized once again a stimulating conference that brought together researchers from various fields. This year’s main topic was transmediality in opera.

Keynote lectures were delivered by Béatrice Didier, Marie-Laure Ryan and Eero Tarasti, representing literary criticism, narratology and semiotics. The conference was divided into six sections: 1) “Transmedial narratology (music, text, theater)”; 2) “Shostakovich – transmedial approaches of his opera Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District”; 3) the parallel sections of “Narrative process and music”; 4) “Transmedial narratology – narration and movies, narration and images”; 5) “Transmedial narratology: new perspectives”; and 6) “Transmedial narratology: literary, verbal and graphic media”. The presentations were given partly in English, partly in French.

The first half of the conference was devoted to narrative phenomena in music, with special attention to opera. Béatrice Didier’s (France) opening lecture investigated the question of narrativity in the 17th century French opera and in its constituents: libretto, music, dance, scenery. Małgorzata Pawłowska (Poland) discussed the different musical adaptations of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Through intermedial transformations, she sought to map out the possibility of constructing narratives in music. Siglin Bruhn (USA) examined John Tavener’s opera Mary of Egypt in which icon as visual representation is adopted alongside conventional dramatic features in order to transcend plot, space and time in a spiritual message. Bernard Vecchione (France) outlined a model of transmedial discursive tradition that makes every work of art a sort of intermedial re-writing. At the end of the first session, Tobias Hermans (Belgium) discussed Robert Schumann’s dialogical narrative model of ‘Musikkritik’ in his Neue Zeitschrift für Musik. 

The panel organized for discussing Shostakovich’s opera offered an overview of the opera’s hypotext, adaptations and interpretations. Katalin Kroó (Hungary) focused on Leskov’s short story on which the opera is based, taking into account its literary context, narrative and motivic features, text layers, and meaning formulation in a semiotic framework. Peeter Torop (Estonia) discussed the phenomenon of intersemiotic cultural translation, distinguishing between transmediality, transmutation and transposition in different semiotic systems. Robert Hatten (USA) presented the musical tools of narrative commentary showing empathy for the protagonist. In a paper related to this phenomenon, Esti Sheinberg (USA/Israel) pointed out that the narrative voice in Shostakovich’s opera is far from dehumanizing the victims of Katerina. As it was illustrated, the opera has a double narrative, one of which addresses the unconscious through rhythm, resulting in a psychological complicity at odds with ethical judgment. 

In addition to Shostakovich, Chopin was taken up by a number of the musicologists attending the meeting. Robert Hatten’s approach to musical meaning was represented by Joan Grimalt’s (Spain) paper on the mazurkas as a tragic expressive genre. Julie Walker (France) addressed a variety of narrative structures based on the order of dysphoric and euphoric passages in the late style of Chopin, following the findings of Eero Tarasti’s musical semiotics. Thierry Mathis (France) also examined musical narrativity and expressivity in such French baroque composers as Louis-Nicolas Clérambault and Jean-Férry Rebel with regard to the effects of harmony or dissonance.

The meeting’s second day started with Eero Tarasti’s (Finland) keynote lecture on the possible musical application of semiotic models of narrative functions. He suggested an existential semiotic model consisting of four modes of Me/I-For-Myself illustrated with an analysis of works by Schumann and Mozart.

One of the two parallel sessions continued discussing narrative processes in music, while the other focused on intermedial phenomena in graphic and filmic narratives.

In the first, Christine Esclapez (France) adopted Ruth Amossy’s conception of author’s image to examine Perversions, an intermedial concert-performance by Fatima Miranda. Gabriel Sevilla (Switzerland) analyzed the intersemiotic interplay of verbal, musical and iconic aspects of Oedipus Rex, an opera-oratorio by Jean Cocteau and Igor Stravinsky staged by Harry Wich. Nicolò Palazetti (Italy/France) studied the narrative and non-narrative characteristics in Quatuor à cordes, an early work by the Italian composer Bruno Maderna influenced by Béla Bartók. Using the narratological conception developed by Márta Grabócz, he examined the narrative programs and semantic topoi manifested in the formal structure of the composition. Inès Sevilla (Spain/France) investigated intertextuality and intersemiotic features in Manuel de Falla’s opera adaptation of an episode of Don Quijote. William Brunson (Sweden), composer and expert of electroacoustic music, commented on the four modalities of media formulated by Lars Ellström as docking points between media. He examined the narrative capacity of electroacoustic music, illustrated with the works of Luc Ferrari and Kaija Saariaho.

In the fourth session, Jan Baetens (Belgium) spoke about the narrative pose in the intermedial genre of the photo novel, comparing it to the 19th-century tableau vivant, but also to movies and comic books. Geneviève Mathon (France) compared Henry Bernstein’s melodramatic play, based on music, with its film adaptation by Alain Resnais, focusing on the musical structure and musical references of the play and of the film Mélo. Ágnes Pethő (Romania) examined films by Lech Majewski, Sharunas Bartas, Ihor Podolchak that consist of static images resembling still life paintings and tableaux vivants, thus decomposing the narrative organization of the sequence. Byron Almén (USA) investigated several forms of musically-influenced narrative strategies in the films of Jacques Rivette. Finally, Adrián Bene (Hungary) analyzed various forms of intertextuality and intermediality in Zuławski’s ironic autobiographical fiction, a film adaptation of Mme de Lafayette’s The Princess of Clèves.

The last day’s keynote lecture was given by Marie-Laure Ryan (USA) who proposed a definition of the minimal conditions of narrativity taking the – usually language-based – prototypes of narrative (fairy tale, dynamic stories such as tragedies or thrillers, natural conversational narratives of personal experience, literary fiction) into account. After showing the shortcomings of these models, all having a sort of mimetic power, a scalar conception of narrative was suggested which is a combination of this fuzzy set. Christian Hauer’s (France) aim was to improve Ryan’s transmedial narratology by relying on the recent results in cognitive science and neuroscience in accordance with Monika Fludernik’s concept of experientiality. A psychoanalytic approach to musical narrativity was represented by Mathias Rousselot (France) and Miloš Zatkalik (Serbia), proceeding from Daniel Stern’s concept of proto-narrativity and from unconscious transformations during artistic creation, respectively.

The fields of literature and fine arts were also represented in this morning session. István Berszán (Romania) introduced his conception of “practice research” based on everyday experience and rhythm. Marc Marti (France) studied the intersemiotic interplay of image and text in Goya’s engravings collected as Los Caprichos. Márton Szentpéteri (Hungary) sketched out an example of iconographic intertextuality in Oxbridge collegiate architecture, a practice having manifold narrative capacity.

The last session began with John Pier’s (France) paper on forms of verbal and graphic intermediality found in William Gass’s Willie Masters Lonesome Wife, offering an overview of possible relations between Peircean indexical and iconic use of signs in a plurimedial text. Martine de Gaudemar (France) examined the philosophical background of narrative voice and motives in opera and movie. The problem of voice, narrator and writer was studied in the context of oral vs. written narrative by French narratologist Sylvie Patron. Raphaël Baroni (Switzerland) investigated the narrative devices that occur as an analepsis in comics. In the last talk, Mikko Keskinen (Finland) spoke about the nonlinear, fragmented, collage-like aspects of David Markson’s Reader’s Block as a borderline case between narrative and novel.

The conference proceedings will be published.
A 3rd International meeting on narratology and the arts will take place in 2015.

Adrián Bene
University of Pécs

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ENN is the European Narratology Network, an association of individual narratologists and narratological institutions. ENN aims to foster the study of narrative representation in literature, film, digital media, etc. across all European languages and cultures.

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