Colloquium “On Description”

Prague - November 14, 2013

On November 14, 2013, a colloquium “On Description” was held Prague, following in the tradition of interdisciplinary colloquia launched by the Department of Textual Poetics at the Institute of Czech Literature, Academy of Science of the Czech Republic, and continued by its successor, the Department of Theory. This interdisciplinary and international event was organized as part of the project Poetics of Description by Stanislava Fedrová and Alice Jedličková. The opportunity to contribute to the debate was taken up by representatives coming from various fields: analytical philosophy and the theory of fictionality, linguistics and classical philology, literary history, theory of literature and poetics, art history and intermediality. 

In the introductory lecture, Alice Jedličková offered a typology of possible approaches to examining literary description: from the point of view of linguistics, stylistics, narratology and intermediality. Her presentation was followed by the first of the philosophically-oriented papers: focusing on the use of different ways of descriptive identification, based on logical calculus, Marián Zouhar (Institute of Philosophy, Slovak Academy of Sciences, Bratislava) drew attention in his paper, “Descriptive Reference, Descriptive Identification and Semantic Theories of Definite Description,” to the background of particular semantic theories. Linguist Jana Hoffmannová (Institute of the Czech Language, AS CR, Prague) dealt in her paper, “Absent description. Compensation of its evocative and identificatory function,” with natural face-to-face dialogues. As demonstrated by persuasive examples of dialogues from empirical research, bringing refreshing moments to the context of academic debate, descriptive passages contain various means of reference: indefinite or quasi-demonstrative pronouns and fillers. The communicative value of these derives from the “shared” communicative and experiential context of their use. In the second contribution stemming from analytical philosophy, “Identificatory function of descriptions in fictional texts,” Petr Koťátko (Institute of Philosophy, AS CR, Prague) presented his own concept of the relationship between description and identity of fictional entities through an attractive form of a paper constructed as a disputation: both his concept as such and his choice of a dynamic manner of presentation contributed to the vigour of the debate that followed.  

The afternoon program was opened by Alice Jedličková with a paper entitled “Experientiality: Is it connecting or dividing description and narration?” in which she analyzed the relationship between description and narration put in opposition by classical narratology to demonstrate the instrumental advantages of this differentiation in cases when a text displays transient properties. In his contribution “Effet de neige,” Zdeněk Hrbata dealt with the forms and functions of descriptivity in Gautier’s novel Le Capitaine Fracasse in the context of historical poetics, being aware of the presence of genre and discourse models, or, more specifically, their elements in the structure of the novel (e.g. theatre novel and theatricality, adventure novel and the topos of a journey); he also spoke on the transformation of these elements in the film adaptation of the novel.

The last section, devoted to ekphrasis discussed as a sub-genre, a historical-rhetorical form and a super-genre of description, was opened by Heidrun Führer (Lunds Universitet, Lund, Sweden) with a survey of the historical, principally ancient, roots of these various concepts of ekphrasis in a paper entitled “The Trajectory of Ekphrasis.” The paper “Description and its subject: Through the eyes of beholder,” presented by Stanislava Fedrová, included both specific aspects of the functioning of ekphrasis and the characteristic shared by description and narration, i.e. perspective, illustrating this phenomenon with examples from works of classical and modern authors. In the last contribution of this session, “Time is of the Essence: Temporal Transformation in Ekphrasis,” Emma Tornborg (Linné Universitetet, Kalmar/Växjö, Sweden) investigated how temporality changes and manifests itself in the transformation of (oftentimes only seemingly) static visual images into verbal texts.

An informal discussion closing the colloquium confirmed that certain differences between individual disciplines and their way of thinking must be taken into account. At the same time, however, it was confirmed once again how fruitful “transgressing boundaries” can be, resulting in more consistent self-reflection in the initial field.
The proceedings of the colloquium are to be published in a bilingual.


Bohumil Fořt,
Brno University

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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.