The twenty-first century has seen the identification and development of a new literary genre: the musico-literary novel, defined as a novel thematically concerned with music (Harling-Lee, 2020). As a comparative case study, this article considers two musico-literary novels set during conflict: Do Not Say We Have Nothing (Thien, 2016) and The Noise of Time (Barnes, 2017). Set, respectively, in Communist China and the Soviet Union, two communist regimes which historically targeted classical music and musicians, the novels use their conflict contexts as a springboard to explore existential—and existentialist—crises concerning the survival of the self in relation to music. Following Adler and Ippolito’s proposal that ‘extreme cases are valuable in revealing phenomena that are often camouflaged in less extreme … more familiar circumstances’ (Adler and Ippolito, 2016), analysis of the novels’ representations of classical music reveals the powerful potential that music is presumed, by the popular imagination, to offer. With a focus on individual composers and performers, the novels depict classical music as a source of personal identity that is relied upon by individuals for personal and existential expression; for when the state threatens a character’s musical life in these novels, it also threatens a character’s sense of self. Due to the legacy of absolute music, classical music is seen as a source of hope through its potential autonomy from ‘meaning’ even as it promises to be a refuge for the self, embodying a paradox that becomes central to the representation of western classical music in the popular imagination of the contemporary musico-literary novel.
Review of Anna Snaith, ed., Sound and Literature (2020)
Modernist Cultures, 16.2 (2021), 289-294
An academic book review of the 2020 edited collection Sound and Literature, edited by Anna Snaith.
Écouter pour survivre: musique classique et conflit dans le roman musico-littéraire
Luis Velasco-Pufleau and Laëtitia Atlani-Duault, eds, Lieux de mémoire sonore. Des sons pour survivre, des sons pour tuer (Paris: Éditions de la Maison des sciences de l’homme)
Chapter in the edited collection Lieux de mémoire sonore (2021), a French translation of the 'Listening to Survive' (2020) article noted below.
Listening to Survive: Classical Music and Conflict in the Musico-literary Novel
Violence: An International Journal, 1.2 (2020), 371–88
This article addresses the possibility that Western classical music might be used as a source of hope for a post-conflict future by considering a literary depiction of music and conflict resolution. As a case study, Steven Galloway’s The Cellist of Sarajevo is identified as a “musico-literary novel,” and established within the framework of Stephen Benson’s “literary music” and Hazel Smith’s methodological development of musico- literary studies through extended interdisciplinarity. The novel features three Sarajevan citizens who hear a cellist play in the rubble-strewn streets, and their music-listening experiences motivate them to work toward a post-conflict future.
To consider the potential insights and blind spots surrounding ideas about music’s potential power in this narrative, the soundscape of the novel is identified to establish the significance of sound, music, and active listening in the text; parallels are highlighted between the ending of The Cellist of Sarajevo and Michael Walzer’s Just and Unjust Wars, revealing music as an active moral force; and similarities between Galloway’s novel and Craig Robertson’s “Music and conflict transformation in Bosnia” are illustrated, demonstrating how interdisciplinary analysis of a musico-literary novel can offer a valid contribution to discussions surrounding the use of music to exit violence.
The Mediation and Re-creation of Guðrún Gjúkadóttir in English Translations of the Poetic Edda in the Twentieth and Twenty-First Centuries
Postgraduate English: A Journal and Forum for Postgraduates in English, 37 (2018), 1-33
This article offers a new interpretation of the character of Guðrún Gjúkadóttir in the Poetic Edda as a heroic ‘warrior’ with the ability for extreme self-control, based on the comparison of translations of the poems in which she features prominently.
Due to her complex and varied character, this comparison also reveals how the art and function of translations of Eddic poems use the character of Guðrún as a cipher for exploring their wider thematic concerns with Old Norse literature and culture more broadly. These themes include the experience and expression of grief; the relationship between the heart, mind, and emotion; the potential physicality of emotion; the simultaneous roles and duties of women in Norse societies as wife, sister, and mother; the world-view of fate and its relation to guilt; the impact of descriptions to celebrate or condemn Guðrún’s actions; and the concept of revenge as desire or duty.
As each translator necessarily brings different temporal and cultural perspectives to their understanding of the medieval texts, as well as more consciously choosing to emphasise certain aspects in order to accord with their general view of Old Norse society and culture, each translation of the Eddic poems surrounding Guðrún should be viewed as an interpretation. By comparing a range of translations, new insights into the changing re-creation and mediation of Guðrún’s character are revealed, suggesting a new understanding of her fascinating and famous character.