Theses Doctoral

As Written: Literary Configurations of Musical Ineffability in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries

Kalal, Peter

As Written presents an investigation of selected literary configurations of musical ineffability in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. By putting literary parables into constellation with media technologies and texts from philosophy, critical theory, aesthetics, and media theory, the dissertation seeks to better understand the ways in which literature engages, discloses, disrupts, and determines musical discourse at times of aesthetic, political, and technological shift.

The dissertation begins by establishing the “cryptographic” ineffable that emerges in early German Romanticism through readings of Novalis. These readings suggest this formulation of ineffability to arise out of an instrumentalization of instrumental music that emphasizes the symbolic relations of musical notation over music’s sound—this in service of a literary and philosophical project that strives to transcend its own medial and epistemological limits. Subsequent chapters will analyze alternative configurations of ineffability in writings by Richard Wagner, Theodor Adorno, Thomas Mann, and Helmut Lachenmann, but vestiges of this “originary” Romantic configuration will remain. Indeed, while the literary texts analyzed in these later chapters will respond to the medial, technical, and technological developments of their historical contexts, more than merely disclosing discursive formulations of musical ineffability, they, like Novalis’ Heinrich von Ofterdingen, will be shown to enact these formulations in forms of linguistic, sonic, and material absence through their complex narratologies and poetologies. How, this dissertation will ask, might literature’s ability to accommodate changing contexts in these configurations ultimately suggest musical ineffability as a conduit through which a music-discursive tradition that emerges in literature around 1800 is able to preserve itself into the twentieth century?


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Germanic Languages
Thesis Advisors
Simons, Oliver
Andriopoulos, Stefan
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
July 16, 2021