Music and Musicology in the Light of Intermediality and Intermedial Studies

Mats Arvidson

[1] Background and Aim

This article has been a long time in the making. It began as a comment on the ongoing debate about the contemporary importance and status of musicology within the humanities. In attempting to navigate between the various contributions to this debate, primarily published in STM-Online, and in order to position myself as both a musicologist and non-musicologist (intermedialist) in relation to it, I discovered a number of potential directions and indirections which musicology could follow which became increasingly difficult to gain an overall and coherent picture of. The original article became increasingly complex and difficult to grasp with regard to both aims and issues, and led rather into a cul-de-sac than to anything fruitful or constructive for either myself or for those also contributing to the debate. Instead, in the article you are now reading, I shall try to show how the aesthetic disciplines, to which musicology belongs, have suffered from a crisis of creativity for the past decade or so. By crisis of creativity I mean the development of new theories, which can contribute to new knowledge about music, from both historical and contemporary perspectives. With the help of theories that normally lie outside of the institutional discourse of musicology, I shall argue that what is known as an intermedial perspective can contribute to a new understanding of music.

My aim with this article is not, therefore, to contribute further to the debate, even if I will, in some respects, be referring to it. The aim is, rather, to introduce the concept of intermediality and the discipline of intermedial studies into the discussion of musicology as a discipline.[1]

[2] Literary studies and intermediality

It would seem natural to begin a discussion of intermediality with reference to the discipline from which it has sprung. Ten years ago (2001) a debate ensued in Tidskrift för Litteraturvetenskap (TfL) [Journal of Literary Studies] as to whether literary studies in Sweden were “theoretically underdeveloped” in comparison with the other Nordic countries. One of the fields within literary studies which was noticeable for its absence from this debate, but which was growing in acceptance, was what is today known as intermedial studies. At that stage, this area of study was characterised by its willingness to redefine the identity of the discipline. Ulla-Britta Lagerroth, a literary scholar, argued that this field challenged a discipline that was suffering from a crisis of both identity and legitimacy (Lagerroth 2001 pp. 26–28). Lagerroth described the situation in the following manner:

The traditional structure of the academic discipline, which has been created through the defence of a territorial mentality enshrined in the spiritual “purity” of the discipline, has, for a long time, shown itself to be unsuited to the understanding of a large number of cultural phenomena, both from historical and contemporary perspectives. Literature, visual art, music, theatre etc. have been kept strictly isolated from each other in both teaching and research. (Lagerroth 2001 p. 31)

In Lagerroth’s view, this autonomous and territorial mentality is one of the reasons why the aesthetic disciplines are in crisis. She suggests that one of the “ways for literary studies to resolve this ‘crisis’, to which these insular tendencies have led, is to recognise the border-crossing qualities of classical aesthetics” (Lagerroth 2001 pp. 31–32). A few years later the debate in literary studies was rejoined. Among others, Torbjörn Forslid & Anders Ohlsson’s Hamlet eller Hamilton? Litteraturvetenskapens problem och möjligheter [Hamlet or Hamiliton? The problems and potentials of literary studies] (2007), raises, in many respects, issues similar to those discussed by Lagerroth. In the view of some literary scholars, the kinds of questions previously asked in the discipline are no longer strictly relevant (Forslid & Ohlsson 2007 pp. 13–17). In literary studies the questions asked ought to deal instead with the increasingly intensive media culture that is apparent in contemporary society, among other things. Forslid & Ohlsson argue, with literary studies in mind, that traditional practice needs to be extended and opened up: “literary studies must, to a greater extent, be open to different social contexts”, and the basis for this process of extension and opening up should be “the many facetted interplay between literature and the other arts and media” – an “intermedial perspective” (Forslid & Ohlsson 2007 pp. 102–5).

Another example where the intermedial perspective ought to play a natural role is in film studies. However, in her article “Intermediality in Film: A Historiography in Methodologies” (2010), Ágnes Pethö argues that intermediality has been received with some scepticism and ambiguousness in the discipline. She points out that film theory has also been through and, to some extent, is still going through a crisis similar to that experienced by literary studies. However, according to Pethö, a specific intermedial theory of film has not yet emerged, and one possible reason for this is that scholars of film studies work from a “purely” aesthetic standpoint rather than one based on theories of media. Above all, there is no communication between these fields (Pethö 2010 pp. 39–46). Besides, the perception of film as a medium has been restrictive rather than border-crossing:

[M]ost mainstream theoretical writings (almost all the Film Studies or Film Analysis handbooks available, for instance) treat film as a monomedial entity, without taking into account its intermedial aspects. (Pethö 2010 p. 46)

Just as literature as medium needs to be problematised, film also needs to be problematised as a medium. Is it a medium that integrates with other types of media, or is it a medium that has developed certain forms that can be called intermedial? The central question I wish to raise here is whether intermedial studies, in the shape of a separate academic discipline, could facilitate the development of theoretical positions in a film studies discipline that treats the intermedial aspects seriously (same question could of course be raised to any kind of aesthetic discipline). With reference to Jürgen E. Müller, the media studies scholar, Pethö suggests that it is not certain that intermediality can offer anything as secure, or of the same status, as a “closed scholarly paradigm” (Pethö 2010 p. 40). On the other hand, Müller argues that media studies needs to address what he calls the transdisciplinary challenges that appear in the intermedial process. The crisis that the disciplines in the humanities have faced with regard to theory and method is equally relevant to media studies; he argues that “their methodologies [i.e. media studies] are only suited for the study of one specific medium or even only specific aspects of that medium” (Müller 1997 p. 295). The media have been regarded as isolated monads and research into intermediality can contribute to a clarification of the instable relations that exist among them (Müller 2010 p. 18).

In relation to musicology, I see the above-mentioned debate to be of interest. Is the argument presented here restricted to literary, film and media studies, or is the “many facetted interplay with the other arts and media” also relevant to musicology as a discipline? This argument is also relevant to the debate on the importance and status of musicology that Lars Lilliestam, professor of musicology at Gothenburg University, initiated with his article “Vad gör vi med musikvetenskapen?” [“What do we do with musicology?”], published in STM-Online (2005).[2] Lilliestam expresses concern about the importance and status of musicology, and is critical of a discipline, which avoids dealing with social contexts or contemporary issues. The “intensive media culture”, mentioned above, could provide an argument for musicology to embrace social contexts and contemporary issues. But is it really the task of musicology to do this? Would not an intermedial perspective be rather more suitable to understanding such a culture? The question is not an entirely easy one to answer, since the current status of intermedial studies as an academic discipline rests on unstable ground. Within the debate on the status of the discipline of musicology, it would appear that there runs a dividing line between the various standpoints scholars take on what musicology is and what it should aspire to be. I would maintain that on one side of this dividing line the debate opens out into an intermedial perspective, even if the term intermediality is not mentioned.

In the following, I shall attempt to navigate the followers of musicology through a number of texts, which treat the development of the intermedial perspective and discuss its potential role in a humanities discipline, both in the present and in the future. Two parallel strands are followed (if somewhat loosely). These are 1) the “interarts” strand and 2) the Cultural Studies/media studies strand. This is followed by a comparison of the two strands in graphic form and examples of the ways an intermedialist can work with musical analysis. This comparative study leads into a major section on musicology as a discipline, where the question of representation is brought to the fore, and a number of selected historical examples are included. These historical examples have been chosen to illustrate how the autonomous and territorial mentality, which Lagerroth suggests is the cause of the crisis in the aesthetic disciplines, is ideologically based. I argue that the question of representation can be seen as the dividing line, which then branches out into an intermedial perspective. The questions I foreground in particular are:

[3] Intermedial Theories

The term intermediality was coined by the German scholar Aage A. Hansen-Löve in 1983 and was conceived in analogy to intertextuality. The aim was to capture the relationship between literature and the visual arts in Russian symbolism. The term is, however, often confused with intertextuality, which should rather been seen as a variant of what Werner Wolf, professor of English and General Literature, calls intramediality, i.e. homomedial relations between verbal texts. Intermediality, in contrast, deals with the transgression of borders between media, i.e. heteromedial relations between different semiotic sign systems (Wolf 2005 p. 252). I will return to Wolf later in my article.

[4] From interarts studies to intermedial studies

One of the most prominent scholars in intermedial studies is the literary scholar Claus Clüver. In a number of articles, he has formulated and discussed – often in dialogue with others – the theoretical foundation on which current intermedial research is based. Naturally, a great deal has altered since the publication of his article “Interartiella studier: en introduktion” [“Interarts Studies: An Introduction”] in 1993. At the same time, the article says a great deal about the origins of intermedial studies, and to some extent about its future. Additionally, I would argue, it also draws attention to inertia in establishing new institutional disciplines in the humanities. However, one could also claim that, despite everything, the existing disciplines in the humanities quit themselves well in competition with the new, essentially well-justified disciplines. In Sweden, only Lund University offers undergraduate courses up to bachelor level in intermedial studies, even though separate undergraduate courses are offered and Ph.D. theses exposing intermedial perspectives have been defended in various academic contexts in Sweden (not to mention in literary studies at Stockholm University). This situation may partly be explained by the existence of sophisticated bodies of theory in the traditional disciplines, though it can also be argued that the traditional disciplines are possibly too constrained by their theoretical structures. Clüver writes as follows:

For a long time, the traditional structures of the academic disciplines and the training they offer have shown themselves to be unsuited to treating a range of cultural phenomena, both historical and contemporary, where inter- and plurimedial texts dominate. (Clüver 1993 p. 18)

Little seems to have changed between the appearance of Clüver’s quotation above from 1993 and Lagerroth’s remarks from 2001, quoted previously. But at the same time, as Clüver argues there has always “existed an interdisciplinary discourse [...] which has dealt with areas of contact among the arts” (Clüver 1993 p. 18). Despite everything, this interdisciplinary “discourse of the arts” has, however, found a role in the institutions; at first under the name of interarts studies and later as intermedial studies. This shift from “arts” to “medial” is vital in this context, and is something I will return to later in this article in connection with a discussion of the importance of the idea of the medium for intermedial studies. According to Clüver, the growth of interarts studies is based on two phases of Western culture: partly one, which was devoted to art and the arts, and partly one evolving from the creation of the universities and departments that “canalised this discourse” (Clüver 1993 pp. 18–19).

Studies of the various arts have, generally, been isolated from each other. The transition during the 18th century from a rhetorical to an aesthetic focus resulted in a new status for all the arts. This is valid not least for that which Gotthold Ephraim Lessing formulated in Laokoon: Oder, Über die Grenzen der Malerei und Poesie [Laocoon: an essay on the limits of painting and poetry] (1766), namely the emphasis on the need for each of the arts to be true to itself. Clüver, and many who agree with him, argue that Lessing still constitutes a classical point of reference for the interarts discourse (this is demonstrated not least by the large number of publications on the interrelation of the arts today) (Clüver 1993 p. 19, and Clüver 2007 p. 23). The above-mentioned efforts continued during the 19th century and culminated in the 20th century in, among other things, the rejection of “literary” qualities such as representation and narrativity, within visual art, sculpture, music, and dance.

At the beginning of the 20th century, however, there emerged a “mutual illumination” of the various arts, which later became a part of the scholarly field termed “research in comparative literature” (Clüver 1993 p. 20). The disciplines were, nevertheless, still distinct and, more importantly, there was no critique of their autonomy. But, the fusion of the arts throughout history has led to new art forms and has, thereby, stimulated a renewed interest in the study of the interrelation of the arts. The most important consequence of this renewed interest is the creation of cross-disciplinary discourses, Clüver argues. Interarts studies are one example of this; another is the appearance and growth of Cultural Studies. However, when the term intermediality appears in articles today, it is worth noting that scholars in the Cultural Studies tradition also lay claim to it. It thus appears that two parallel discourses exploit the same concept without much contact between them – this is most apparent in a close study of the lists of works cited in the respective fields of study. Even if these parallel activities are still “frighteningly” unaware of each other, the borders between them are beginning to dissolve. In Sweden, the musicologist and media/communications scholar Johan Fornäs is one academic who, in recent years, has promoted intermediality as a key concept in the Cultural Studies tradition, as well as in media studies. I shall return to his work later in this article – not least in relation to his argument for the establishment of a new scholarly field centred on intermedial studies.

Furthermore, Clüver notes, interarts studies are mainly carried out within the existing framework of disciplines – and this is still the case today (at least in Sweden). This is because those who run interarts studies have been schooled in one or more of the traditional disciplines, and, thereby, have theoretical and methodological starting points which, naturally, originate from their “own” disciplines (musicology, art history, and film, literary and theatre studies) (Clüver 1993 pp. 22–23). In addition, I would argue, the concept of the work (the musical artefact) still constitutes the “foundation” of musicology, at least as discipline. The debate on musicology bears witness to this since, in this case, a “traditional musicology” (formalist and aesthetic) is counterpointed to a “heavily theoretical scholarly method (contextual)” (see e.g. Lundberg 2006). The shift from interarts to intermedial can be interpreted as expressing such a change: a shift from the study of the arts and works of art to a study of both the technical and qualifying media. The question that Clüver asks is how are we to understand not only concepts such as the arts and works of art, but also the relation between art and non-art? Such propositions make it generally difficult for the discourse to define the object to be studied. But, as Clüver writes, the interarts discourse does not demand that the object of study is seen as a work of art, rather it is the nature of the problem to be examined which determines what a suitable object of study is. The subjects of interarts relations are, despite everything, art and moreover what is considered to exist between at least two “texts” (or media) (Clüver 1993 p. 24). For example, it can be a question of the following apparently simple arrangement: 1) literature in music; 2) music in literature; 3) music and literature (Scher 1993). An equivalent arrangement can also be generated between visual art and music, and between literature and visual art. Arrangements or systematisations of this type are to be seen as attempts at achieving an overview of the intricate relations, which can materialise between and among the arts. But it is essential to bear in mind that such a systemisation has to be dynamic and adaptable – it is essentially there as an aid to navigation among the intermedial relations and a support in analysing them.

The interarts discourse has experienced a transformation in which there has been a broadening of perspectives from one based on the analysis of the work to the analysis of the structures to be found behind all sorts of texts. Moreover, the growth of semiotics as a discipline has been of great importance. The following illustrates the transformation Clüver is discussing. He sees a shift from research in comparative literature to visual poetry (Bildgedicht), where the discourse on the struggle between representation and description (Paragone and ut pictura poesis) is paramount (Clüver 1993 pp. 38–41). Ekphrasis has, not least, become relevant to this conflict. This transformation moves on to an interdisciplinary perspective, in which the borders of the disciplines have been respected, but use is made of common theories and methods, and finally towards a cross-disciplinary discourse, which according to Clüver is

thought of as solving a paradoxical conflict [aporia]: it has taken cognizance of the institutional realities whilst claiming that the existing disciplinary structures are inadequate for dealing with the issues and tasks that are the objects of the discourse. (Clüver 1993 p. 41)

The discourse is currently dominated by models introduced by modern literary theory, which can be an obstacle to representatives of other disciplines than literary studies to studying intermediality. Moreover, this discipline leads the others in the development of intermedial theory (Clüver 1993 p. 43). The study of music, for example, as an intermedial phenomenon rests, to a large extent, on ideas and concepts taken from literary studies. This poses a challenge for the future of the discipline.

As is apparent from Clüver’s article, the focus has been mainly on the study of interrelations between literature and the other arts. More recent studies have also incorporated relations between visual arts, music, dance, performance, theatre, film and architecture, where the word plays a much more subordinate role (Clüver 2007 p. 20). Moreover, as previously mentioned, Cultural Studies and media studies have applied intermediality with a particular focus on production, distribution, function and reception, but where the notion of the work and its “content” has been excluded. To summarise, it can be said that interarts studies as intermedial studies appears in connection with a transformation of theory and practice in the interdisciplinary discourse, and that interarts studies and intermedial studies and media studies have moved closer to each other (Clüver 2007 pp. 20–21). The expansion of the field to embrace phenomena, which have previously been ignored, and to incorporate new types of questions is also a part of a process of transformation, i.e. from interarts studies to intermedial studies (Feldman 2000 pp. vii–viii). This also implies that new questions have to be discussed, such as what is a medium. Today, the concept of medium is at the core of what constitutes intermediality (Clüver 2007 pp. 28–30).

[5] Intermediality and medium

For the literary scholar Lars Elleström, in his article “The Modalities of Media: A Model for Understanding Intermedial Relations” (2010), the question of what constitutes a medium becomes increasingly important. Elleström begins by formulating a problem that has as its point of departure the transitional process from interarts to intermedial, as described above, or expressed in the following way: from the interrelationship of the arts to the intermedial relations of the arts and their media. Elleström writes as follows: “The problem is that intermediality has tended to be discussed without a clarification of what a medium actually is” (Elleström 2010 p. 11). The actual prerequisite for understanding the nature of intermediality is the need for such a clarification, since intermediality aims to show what is “bridged” between the media:

Media, however, are both different and similar, and intermediality must be understood as a bridge between medial differences that is founded on medial similarities. (Elleström 2010 p. 12)

Elleström’s aim with his article is very ambitious (unfortunately space does not permit a discussion of the details of his argument). He wishes to provide a theoretical framework which will explain and describe how media are related to each other by asking the three following questions: 1) What do the different media have in common? 2) What distinguishes them from each other? 3) How are these differences bridged by intermediality? To be able to answer these questions in any respect, it is necessary to distinguish between three types of media: 1) Basic Media, 2) Qualified Media and 3) Technical Media. These three types are not, however, distinct from each other but are complementary. A vital aspect of Elleström’s theoretical framework is the additional emphasis on the meeting between the material, the perceptual and the social, and, not least, the emphasis on the concepts of Modality and Mode. As has already been mentioned, intermediality has not only its roots in aesthetics, but also in media studies and Cultural Studies. Elsewhere, the concept of multimodality, with its roots in other fields such as social semiotics and medicine, has become increasingly important (Elleström 2010 p. 13). But, as Elleström notes, there are seldom referential links between intermediality and multimodality, and this acts as the springboard for the development of his argument (as we shall see this is a truth with some modification – in the tradition of Cultural Studies, attempts have been made to unite these two ideas, but without a link to aesthetics).

First and foremost, what then is the difference between modality and mode? Put simply, mode deals with a way of being or doing things, whilst modality deals partly with the combination of text, image and sound, and partly with sight, hearing and the tactile. The relations between different types of media and art forms are usually described through the “conceptual” units of text, image and sound, etc. But, according to Elleström, this is limiting in two respects. Firstly, the units that are compared are considered to be fundamentally different types of media, with nothing in common. This results, first of all, in a need to clarify which aspects are relevant for comparison and, not least, how they are related to each other. Secondly, the materiality of media is generally not distinguished from the perception of media. From these two issues Elleström designs a model comprising four types of modality: 1) Material modality: the human body, flat surfaces and three dimensional objects, sound waves; 2) Sensory modality (five modes): sight, hearing, taste, smell, touch; 3) Spatiotemporal modality (four dimensions): width, height, length, time; 4) Semiotic modality (three main types): signs of convention (symbolic signs), signs of likeness/semblance (iconic signs) and signs of real relationship (indexical signs) (Elleström 2010 pp. 14–22). In addition, there are two qualifying features of media: partly an historical, cultural and social feature, and partly an aesthetic and communicative feature, which often interact:

[T]he aesthetic and the communicative features of a medium often arise, or become gradually accepted, or disappear, at a certain moment in history and in certain socio-cultural circumstances. (Elleström 2010 p. 26)

Thus, the qualifying features, mentioned above, cannot be demarcated from each other when discussing the medium as a concept. All four types of modality and the two qualifying features have to be taken into consideration if medium as a concept is to be understood. The types of media, which are identified by their modal appearance, are what Elleström calls basic media. The arts and other types of cultural media always rest on their qualifying features and are called qualified media.

What status does intermediality have in Elleström’s theoretical framework? He considers that intermediality arises in the crossing of constructed media borders. Borders are needed, however; media differ from each other partly because of modal differences and partly because of differences in their qualifying features. These two borders of the media – the modal and the qualifying – can be transgressed in different ways: 1) Through combination and integration; 2) through mediation and transformation. Mediation and transformation, thereby, belong together with the question of what a technical medium is (the third type of medium). This is designated as “realizing ‘form’ while basic and qualified media are latent ‘content’” (Elleström 2010 p. 30). The link between form and content is that between the technical medium and material modality. Intermediality deals with both the relationship between a basic medium and a qualified medium, and the connections between and qualities of specific works, their realisation and media products.

In order to exemplify this, I wish to foreground mediation and transformation. In this context, it is important to understand both the differences and the similarities between mediation and representation. Whilst mediation deals with the relationships between technical media and basic media and qualified media, representation deals with the relationship between technical media and qualified media and what these represent. In the process, we have also slipped into semiotic modality. When the mediation of basic media and qualified media through technical media is restricted to modal capacities, it is a case of transformation. A typical example of this is ekphrasis. This is a transformation of basic media and qualified media into other basic media and qualified media. This can, for example, be a matter of a verbal narrative, which is transformed into a symphonic poem, or of a musical form that can be traced in a novel (such as in Thomas Mann’s novel Tonio Kröger). This type of intermediality, i.e. the semiotic modality, differs from the Cultural Studies perspective and to some extent from media studies. The next question is thus how intermediality is characterised within these disciplines.

[6] Intermediality and Cultural Studies

In his concluding subheading to the article “On No Man’s Land. Theses on Intermediality” (2001), the media studies scholar Mikko Lehtonen makes the following point: “Studying intermediality questions academic disciplinary borders” (Lehtonen 2001 p. 82). Lehtonen’s approach to intermediality differs from those of Clüver and Elleström. His overriding aim is to introduce intermediality into the arena of Cultural Studies. The genesis of this aim can be found in the following quotation:

Let me start with a puzzling paradox: Neither the social theories concerning modernity, modern publicity or media nor the humanist theories regarding different cultural forms, types of texts or genres pay any significant attention to the fact that the past and present of contemporary culture and media are indeed part and parcel of multimodal and intermedial culture and media. (Lehtonen 2001 p. 71)[3]

The quotation strikes one as somewhat paradoxical. Lehtonen does not seem to display any traces of an awareness of history. This is particularly interesting when he argues that the scholars he refers to constitute an exception in the debate on intermediality and multimodality – in fact none of those he refers to actually uses the term intermediality (Lehtonen 2001 p. 71). The scholars he cites belong to a different strand in the tradition of the humanities than the one Clüver and Elleström belong to. They are primarily historians of the media, media studies scholars, linguists and Cultural Studies scholars. Equally, the reverse is true. Even though Clüver and others mention Cultural Studies and media studies in their respective writings, there is little reference to scholars in this tradition. This depends, of course, on how one defines Cultural Studies. When, for example, Walter Bernhart, in the introductory chapter to the book Word and Music Studies. Defining the Field (1999), writes about the influence of Cultural Studies on “word and music studies”, as it manifests itself in the “new musicology”, it is not apparent to anyone acquainted with the subject of intermedial studies where the border is drawn between these two interdisciplinary discourses (Bernhart 1999 p. 2). To take one example, I would regard Lawrence Kramer’s “word and music studies”, as intermedial rather than belonging to the Cultural Studies tradition. I shall return to Kramer in a later section when I discuss musicology as a discipline.

It seems more appropriate to consider Lehtonen’s description or characterisation of late modern society as an expression of one strand of the previously mentioned parallel strands in studies of intermediality. However, Lehtonen’s definition of intermediality appears as somewhat diffuse. According to Lehtonen, intermediality is intertextuality transgressing media boundaries (Lehtonen 2001 p. 71), but this would scarcely be considered as intermediality from an interarts perspective. It can be compared with Wolf’s definition, which refers to heteromedial relationships between different semiotic sign systems. Nevertheless, just like Elleström, he poses the vital question on the nature of the relationships between the multimodal and the intermedial, but his answers are partially different. Even here, the reader is not absolutely clear exactly what Lehtonen means with the term multimodality; one cannot discern the distinction Elleström makes between sound and hearing, for example. The spoken and written languages are multimodal, as are images, but we do not learn much more. However, to a great extent, Lehtonen emphasises, as I see it, material modality, and how the various materialities are related in either, what he terms, a vertical or a horizontal intertextual relationship. The vertical focuses on the relationship between what are known as primary texts and secondary texts, which often appear in different media. In contrast, the horizontal focuses on the implicit relationships between primary texts, which can be a case of genre or theme, for example (Lehtonen 2001 p. 76). Both types of intertextuality are simultaneously examples of intermediality.

Furthermore, Lehtonen maintains that forms of representation have diversified as multimodality has expanded and intensified. The reasons for this intensification are linked to a number of processes that have taken place: 1) medialisation; 2) concentration of the culture industry; 3) globalisation and, not least, 4) digitalisation (Lehtonen 2001 pp. 76–82). The principal difference between multimodality and intermediality is that the latter characterises the creation of meaning in the former’s cultural transformation, i.e. the semiotic modality of Elleström’s categories. But Lehtonen is not particularly interested in how this type of intermedial relation is realised, i.e. how the creation of meaning occurs in terms of content. It is not the text, the medium or the art form itself, which is in focus, but rather production and the material modality. For Lehtonen, the study of intermediality has a particular role in Cultural Studies; this is because Cultural Studies arose, in part, as a critique of the existing borders of the disciplines (Lehtonen 2001 p. 82). However, I am not entirely convinced by this argument. It is not the task of intermediality to question the academic disciplines. On the other hand, these types of studies lead to a questioning of the disciplinary borders and thereby also raise a question as to whether intermediality should become an intra- or an extradisciplinary phenomenon.

[7] Dysfunctional disciplinary borders and the need for a new foundation discipline

The literary scholar Jørgen Bruhn has formulated his position on the future development of intermedial studies in a manner that deserves attention:

[I]ntermedial studies ought to break out from its current marginal status, since the field has the potential to become the basic discipline in the humanities. (Bruhn 2009 p. 23)

Equally, Bruhn argues, intermedial studies should not expand at the expense of other disciplines purely on the basis of “ideological or aesthetic arguments” (Bruhn 2009 p. 33). Bruhn’s vision of future research is based rather on epistemological arguments, since “intermediality acts as a general condition for all forms of cultural expression. The pure, distinct medium is both an historical and ontological illusion” (Bruhn 2009 pp. 26–27). He refers to two key scholars who have engaged in intermedial studies without applying the term: W. J. T. Mitchell and Nicholas Cook. In their separate ways and within their separate disciplines of art history and musicology, respectively, both have developed theories, which today constitute a vital element of intermedial theory. Mention should be made of Mitchell’s concept of the imagetext, which I discuss later, and Cook’s metaphor model for the analysis of meaning in music (see Cook 1994; 1998a; 1998b; 2001). Bruhn argues, in conclusion, that intermedial studies ought to become a “basic discipline that is a prerequisite for all research in the humanities” (Bruhn 2009 p. 34). At the same time, he restricts his study to the aesthetic disciplines. To what extent this restriction is a practical matter, or whether there is an ideological argument underlying his choice is not stated. But, if we are to take seriously his contention that “intermediality acts as a general condition for all forms of cultural expression”, then the aesthetics viewpoint needs to be broadened to also include the areas Lehtonen wishes to study, i.e. material modality.

The link between Bruhn and Lehtonen can be found in Johan Fornäs. In a number of studies – both ethnographic and theoretical – he has foregrounded the term intermediality in a way which is reminiscent of Lehtonen’s approach. First and foremost, he argues that there has been a struggle between different types of media studies, which has resulted in a number of currents in media research. These currents have served to revitalise both the perception of the medium as a concept and of the disciplines. One of these currents is of particular relevance to intermediality. To mention one example, digitalisation has given rise to a questioning of the current focus of media studies on the “journalistic” media by drawing attention to other forms of media such as books, photographs, sound recordings and film. Digitalisation has also nourished an intermedial current, Fornäs argues:

Digitalization has also nourished a […] multi- or rather intermedial current, in that the digital formats enable a convergence of media that have previously been developed in mutual separation. But this strengthened awareness of intermedial relations has grown in other media areas as well, as in interarts studies and literary intertextuality. (Fornäs 2008a p. 895)

Furthermore, Fornäs maintains that these currents threaten to make the inherited borders between aesthetic disciplines outdated. The combination of these two currents (the digital and the intermedial) indicate a need to expand and re-think existing basic concepts in media studies – not least regarding the question of what constitutes a medium (Fornäs 2008a p. 898). Like Lehtonen, he underscores how the multiplication of different forms of media in the late modern, digitalised, society has made the intermedial perspective a key factor. But, in contrast to Lehtonen, Fornäs displays a greater awareness of the emergence of intermedial studies in the humanities and the aesthetic disciplines.

What Fornäs would like to see is not only an increased movement between media research, aesthetic theory and research into the digital media (Fornäs 2004 p. 133), but also the establishing of a new research field (Fornäs 2008b p. 320). In this context he proposes four features essential to the formation of such a field of research: 1) historising the media; 2) a wider concept of medium; 3) interaesthetic disciplinary borders; 4) the material nature of culture. The third element concerns the multimodality of intermediality, i.e. about the disciplinary borders between the humanities and the aesthetics “on the grounds that the complex flow of intermediality and the multimodality of every form of expression make the mutual borders between literary studies, film studies, art history and musicology dysfunctional” (Fornäs 2008b p. 326). In this respect, Fornäs and Clüver are in agreement on the limitations of the aesthetic disciplines. Let us, for a minute, leave the discussion on the possible dissolution of disciplinary borders and be more concrete in our approach and ask ourselves: What is the current state of intermedial theory?

[8] Typology of intermedial connections/links

The matter of how narrow or broad the definition of intermediality should be brings the question of its interaesthetic disciplinary border into focus. One way of navigating through this intermedial space is via typologies of various sorts. In the table below, I set a Cultural Studies perspective against an intermedial one with the intention of indicating potential intermedial links. The aim is to compare the two parallel strands in diagrammatic form in order to distinguish similarities and differences. The typology is, however, incomplete. Others have made more detailed graphic representations of typology, but, as far as I am aware, no one has compared the two approaches with each other.[4]

As is apparent from this simplified outline of the typology of intermedial connections, two parallel conceptual frameworks have evolved. Though the differences between the two lie, on the one hand, in an emphasis on material modality and, on the other, in an emphasis on semiotic modality, the conceptual frameworks are surprisingly similar. The plus signs (+) outweigh the minus signs (–). There is, therefore, the potential for a greater flow between the two fields of study, which would strengthen the formation of intermedial theory.

[9] Typology in Practice – An Interaesthetic Approach

The interdisciplinary field of activity that forms the root of intermedial studies at Lund University is, to borrow Fornäs’s term, interaesthetic. I see this emphasis on the aesthetic as vitally important. It demonstrates the importance of an historical awareness in the study of intermediality. This is not to say that the present is less important; rather the opposite, I would contend. The two qualifying features of media, the historical and the aesthetic-communicative, are always linked to the technical medium. This opens the way for a bridge (inter) between art forms and other types of media that are not aesthetic. It can, for example, be a case of advertising which is rhetorical-communicative and whose creation of meaning (semiotic modality) depends on the technical medium as such (material modality). I shall now exemplify some of the areas of intermediality that I find of particular interest from a musicological viewpoint. The examples are brief and are not intended to offer any kind of sustained analysis. My point of departure is Wolf’s typology.

[10] Extracompositional intermediality: ahistorical and historical transmediality

The extra compositional intermedial relations can appear at two levels: either as a transmedial phenomenon, or as an intermedial transposition. The term transmediality is applied to phenomena, which are non-specific to the medium in question. As an example of this variant I wish to draw attention to Karl Axel Pehrson’s (1921–2005) lithograph Flätan [Plaits] (1949). From an intermedial perspective this work is interesting both as an ahistorical and historical transmedial phenomenon. The art critic, Ulf Hård af Segerstad writes as follows about Pehrson’s lithograph: “the vertical and horizontal bands entwine ’with each other through displacement which means that one cannot follow one band but one is lured into another – which results in a constant shifting of experience, which we can call polyphone’” (Arvidson 2007 p. 83). It is the formal unit of polyphony, which invests the work with intermediality, i.e. this is an example of an ahistorical transmedial phenomenon. The work is also an example of historical transmediality. This refers to typical historical characteristics, which are common to either the levels of form or content in different media in the same period of time. In post-war Sweden, there was an intensive debate on the interrelationships of literature, visual art and classical music. What appears particularly interesting is that, at this time, the arts were considered to be difficult to understand and, not least, to represent a sense of autonomy, while at the same time there was a striving to uncover a common denominator among them.

[11] Intracompositional intermediality: plurimediality

Plurimediality appears when two or more media are openly present in a given semiotic unit. This simultaneous presence is described by Wolf as follows: “This co-presence implies that the components of the medial mixture are discernible on the level of the signifiers without being semiotically dependent of each other” (Wolf 2005 p. 254). As an example, I would like to suggest the development of what is known as graphic notation.[5] This type of notation is an increasingly interesting phenomenon in the latter half of the 20th century. In his book, Visible Deeds of Music. Art and Music from Wagner to Cage (2002), Simon Shaw-Miller draws attention to this phenomenon as a hybrid form of the arts, containing an “instable relationship between the constituent parts”. To Shaw-Miller this is an example of a transformation, but one, which does not take place between two media, as in ekphrasis, for example, but within a work, i.e. what I would term an intracompositional transformation (Shaw-Miller 2002 pp. 1–35).

[12] Intracompositional intermediality: explicit and implicit intermedial references

Intracompositional intermediality does not always mean that the types of media within a work are explicitly present. They can also be present at a conceptual level. Here I would like to propose two examples. One is Thomas Mann’s novel Doctor Faustus (1949 [1947]), which is an example of explicit intermedial reference (the musicalisation of literature) (Mann 1996 [1949]/1947 pp. 371–79). The basic medium is homomedial, but refers expressly to other, fictional, works of music. The main character in Mann’s novel, the composer Adrian Leverkühn, composes an apocalyptic choral work – Apocalipsis cum figuris; this work is in itself an example of implicit intermedial reference, as it is conceived from a number of different types of literary and art forms – not least Albrecht Dürer’s woodcut series The Apocalypse (1498). It is, naturally, difficult for a reader to gain an idea of the actual sound of the music, but there are clues (sometimes quite detailed ones). Leverkühn’s childhood friend Serenus Zeitblom describes a segment of it in the following manner:

In the place the four voices of the altar order the letting loose of the four avenging angels, who mow down rider and steed, Emperor and Pope, and a third of mankind, how terrifying is the effect of the trombone glissandos which here represent the theme! This destructive sliding through the seven positions of the instrument! The theme represented by howling – what horror! (Mann 1996 [1949]/1947 p. 374)

And in a conversation with Sammael, the devil with whom Leverkühn signs a pact, we gain an understanding of the music that has been conceived:

[T]he masterpiece, the self-sufficient form, belongs to traditional art, emancipated art rejects it. The thing begins with this: that the right of command over all the tone-combinations ever applied by no means belongs to you. Impossible the diminished seventh, impossible certain chromatic passing notes. Every composer of the better sort carries within himself a canon of the forbidden, the self-forbidding, which by degrees includes all the possibilities of tonality, in other words all traditional music. What has become false, worn-out cliché, the canon decides. Tonal sounds, chords in a composition with the technical horizon of today, outbid every dissonance. (Mann 1996 [1949]/1947 p. 239)

A musicologist would instantly recognise the rhetoric involved. It is the language of Theodor W. Adorno that emerges. Leverkühn’s choral work is an expression of what Adorno would term true music, i.e. a work of music that expresses the contradictions that lay claim to truth (Mann 1949).[6]

The second example I wish to refer to concerns implicit intermedial references. These types of implicit references can be expressed in various ways. It may be a question of ekphrasis, i.e. a verbal representation of a visual representation, or programme music. It can also be a question of imitations of form. For example, mention can be made of Gustav Mahler’s third symphony (1895/96), the programme music titles of which disappeared (were deleted), but were still present in terms of perception. What we should not forget in this connection is the communicative context in which music appears (Cook 1994 and 1998a). The record sleeve, to take one example (another is the dust-jacket on a book), can turn the homomedial medium into an intermedial one simply through its existence. Elsewhere, I have argued that music in relation to text and image can act as the “Other” (Arvidson 2011 p. 91–108).[7]

[13] Music and representation

One of the central issues, which the debate on musicology has discussed, concerns the nature of the core of the discipline of musicology. Music, most people would answer. But that answer is unsatisfactory. The musicologist Giles Hooper (2006), to name one example, would assert that it is not advisable to define musicology as a discipline on the grounds that it embraces all “statements that are concerned with, or relate, to music” (Hooper 2006 p. 45). But where does one draw the line to the objects constituting a suitable study for musicology? It is clear that music need not be interpreted solely as a sounding material substance, it is also verbal and visual; furthermore these semiotic sign systems are often linked together in the production of meaning. So what then is musicology? This is not a new question, but is it as relevant today as it was 25 years ago? In 1985, the American musicologist Joseph Kerman published his book Contemplating Music: Challenges to Musicology (the same book was published in England under the title Musicology). This work became a vital ingredient in the formation of what is now known as the New Musicology. Kerman criticises the nature of the established discipline of musicology; he proposes a “critical approach” rather than the apparently non-reflective positivistic approach, which, he argued, dominated the discipline (Cook 2010 p. 108).[8] His critique was aimed at both historians of music and theoreticians: the historians of music because they did not use their knowledge as a basis for critical engagement, i.e. the question of what history could contribute from a socio-historical perspective, and the theoreticians for being far too technical and, to some extent, incomprehensible, by their replacing of personal, lived experience with the jargon of the natural sciences (Cook 2010 pp. 115–19).

The idea of representation appears crucial to the interarts and intermedial discourses. The question of whether a medium can represent anything outside itself, or another medium, has partially informed the struggle between different theoretical positions – and this is the case with music and musicology. The relevance of the term ekphrasis is a good illustration of this conflict. In her article “How to Do More With Words: Two Views of (Musical) Ekphrasis” (2010), the philosopher Lydia Goehr makes this clear. Her aim is to argue for the existence of a musical ekphrasis, which has not been seen as an entirely obvious concept. She seeks to open the way for this possibility by juxtaposing an ancient definition of ekphrasis with a modern one (Goehr 2010 pp. 389–410).[9] Goehr’s argument contains a fundamental critique against those who wish to consider music as separate from the other arts:

Expanding music beyond the modern formalist commitment to “tonally moving forms” is to take a stand against both a restrictive formalism and a censorious brutality, but not against form. (Goehr 2010 p. 390)

But neither philosophers nor musicologists have focused to any extent on ekphrasis. And one possible explanation for this is the shift in the perception of ekphrasis as it has moved from “description” to “representation”. The more ekphrasis as a concept has deviated from description, the more it has become cut off from listening and the temporal (Goehr 2010 p. 393). Seeing music simply in this way is naturally restrictive, and the term ekphrasis has successively become broader in its definition, which has allowed for the use of a musical ekphrasis – though not without criticism:

Although many celebrate the intermedial transition that can now transpire between the sister arts, others anxiously worry that the relationship has become too open. (Goehr 2010 p. 400)

If terms such as description and representation are expanded in meaning and incorporated into the area of ekphrasis, one can ask what remains of ekphrasis itself. Goehr argues that the debate is at a crossroads: 1) either return to the ancient definition, or 2) open up completely (Goehr 2010 p. 401). This debate can be compared to the shifts in the interarts discourse, which Clüver describes above – the struggle between description and representation. Goehr has also problematised the formalist viewpoint in other contexts. I will return to one of these below.

But firstly, I would like to draw attention to the previously mentioned Lawrence Kramer, whose work is often described as belonging to the New Musicology. In his introductory chapter “Prospects. Postmodernism and Musicology” to his book Classical Music and Postmodern Knowledge (1995), he raises a question of epistemology which is of interest in this context. Kramer argues that we have accepted a type of epistemology (”hard epistemology”), which does not encourage us to introduce our subjective interpretations of the “semantic indefiniteness” of music. Who “we” are is worth thinking about – that today’s musicologists are a part of a tradition and, thereby, part of the collective of musicologists, notwithstanding cultural and national differences, does not necessarily mean that they share, on all points, the values and attitudes represented by “we”. The Swedish debate on musicology is clear evidence of this. The problem is rather that today we do not reflect, to a sufficient degree, on our own positions and relationships to this tradition, and take advantage of the mutual differences, which actually exist.[10]

The conviction that musical meaning cannot be understood in purely structural terms is elaborated by both Kramer and Cook elsewhere. Cook argues that music has the potential to create meaning in specific contexts (Cook 1998a). Kramer discusses the relationship of music to various types of imagetexts, among other things.[11] He argues that music, to a large extent, has been divorced from the communicative system where meaning is normally generated. Of necessity, verbal language has been regarded as the dominant force in this system. But, asks Kramer, could music not be a part of this communicative system? Language is not sufficient for the production of meaning and knowledge, i.e. it fails to contribute to an understanding of the world it creates itself – it therefore needs some form of “supplement”. Instead of seeing music as this supplement, the visual has been introduced, thereby the term imagetext, i.e. a relationship that can be seen as both a juxtaposition and as an interrelation. There are historical reasons why music is not included in this relationship, by which I mean that the separation of music from the imagetext is essentially an historic parenthesis that emerged in the early 19th century, but has dominated our understanding of the relationship of music to society and other forms of aesthetic expression. One solution is to see music both as the “Other” in the specific imagetext and as an integrated part of the communicative system (Kramer 2002).[12]

Here we can reconnect to typology in practice and specifically to implicit intermedial reference (intracompositional intermediality). Mahler’s Third Symphony could then be seen as the “Other” in relation to the programme music titles and sleeve designs on LP records and CDs, and thereby generate a typographical relationship music/image-text (Arvidson 2011). [13] With regard to the production of knowledge, Kramer’s point of departure is that “hard epistemology” is, in principle, oppressive. According to Kramer, this arises from an opposition between facts and values, between the intrinsic and extrinsic. To provide any legitimacy for the New Musicology we need to deconstruct these oppositions and explore what the “and” means in the relationship of music and language (and the visual), the musical and the extra-musical (and the non-musical), subjective musical response and objective musical knowledge, etc. (Kramer 1995 pp. 2–3).[14] Kramer thus finds a solution to the dominance of musical autonomy in the postmodern tradition, a solution that is in line with that proposed by Kerman twenty years earlier. I see the and in Kramer’s deconstructive method as an expression of the intermediality of music. Furthermore, the conjunction places other demands on the choice of theory and method than those accorded to traditional musicology. This conjunction is at the heart of intermedial theory, and is, thereby, integrated into an extended system of communication.

Kramer’s argument is reminiscent of that followed by Lydia Goehr in her article “Writing Music History” (1992). In this she traces a tendency in the writing of the history of music, namely an attempt to unite “works of music” as “pure units” with their own (intrinsic) values and meanings, with an attempt to recognise the fact that these are conditioned by historical, social and psychological contexts (extrinsic values) (Goehr 1992 p. 185). Her argument also revolves around the borders between “the musical” and “the extra-musical”, “the aesthetic” and “the historical”, and “the literal” and “the metaphoric”. Furthermore, Goehr argues, this division confirms the privileged status, both in terms of the ontological, epistemological and the evaluative, that the musical (the aesthetic, i.e. the work of music) has acquired in preference to the extra-musical and the historical (Goehr 1992 p. 187). This division is explained by an essentialist logic, which has satisfied the search for something constant, but not just that, the essentialist interpretation is also the musical. The musical consists of monadic qualities, which are intrinsic, structural, pure and abstract, in contrast to the extra-musical (relational) qualities, which are intentional, referential biographic and impure. But, this division is, just as Goehr shows, problematical as it is difficult to decide what really is musical and what is not. This division appears problematical, not least, when one ought to consider what distinguishes the extra-musical from the non-musical. The extra-musical could be a musical quality, and thereby belong to the musical, but only by chance. We are, therefore, dealing with musical qualities that are both essential and contingent, both constant and occasional.

But, how can something be both simultaneously? Above all, what is it that decides which features of the extra-musical are to be subsumed under the musical and not under the “non-musical”? One answer is that it is the context within which the classification is made which decides whether it is a musical quality or not, but this implies first of all that the context must be determined and secondly that there are no essential (constant) qualities, everything is contingent. This is an argument against the existence of “pure” works of music. Just like Kramer, Goehr asserts that the reason for this division between the musical and the extra-musical is historical, beginning in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, i.e. almost contemporaneous with Lessing’s Laokoon. Prior to the 19th century, music was considered as an integral part of the social world; it had a social, religious and political function, where the meaning of music was defined in accordance with these functions: catharsis (cleaning function) and mimesis (imitative function). Later this function was altered; music was to free itself from its dependence on the extra-musical, which meant that it acquired a special status. Goehr writes:

Thus, influenced by a complex interplay of enlightenment, idealist, and formalist strands in the new aesthetic theorizing, music was willingly granted membership in the recently-founded club of autonomous and elite fine arts. (Goehr 1992 p. 192)[15]

It is the myth of the non-representability of music (the semantic indefinability), as part of the modern musicology that Kramer seeks to deconstruct through the relation of music to the imagetext. This myth is associated with the notion of absolute (autonomous) music. The capability or non-capability of the arts for representation re-emerges throughout history. Sometimes it is argued that representation is assuredly possible, but not to be aspired to, sometimes because it is not possible at all – particularly with regard to certain of the media/arts, such as music. The capability or non-capability of representation is a weapon used to establish the mutual hierarchy of the individual arts, throughout history. I shall discuss this in the next section.

[14] The battle of the arts: a battle of the aesthetic disciplines?

Perhaps the above-mentioned myth is connected to a worry or fear that the descriptions or representations of the medium/art in question would replace the immediate perceptual experience of the medium/art itself and thereby make it redundant. It is an argument put forward by Goehr (Goehr 2010 pp. 402–5). This is what W. J. T. Mitchell would call ekphrastic fear (Mitchell 1994 pp. 151–82).[16] Lessing is one of those who has problematised this question; his importance for the rise of the aesthetic disciplines should be evident by now. But how does his view of the arts connect with music and musicology? In Lessing’s wake the same ideological rhetoric recurs time and again. Irving Babbitt’s The New Laokoon. An Essay on the Confusion of the Arts (1910), Rudolf Arnheim’s “A New Laocoön. Artistic Composites and the Talking Film” (1938), Clement Greenberg’s “Towards a Newer Laocoon” (1940), and Theodor W. Adorno’s Philosophie der neuen Musik [Philosophy of Modern Music] (1949) assert the “purity” of all the arts, i.e. their separation from one another (cf. Goehr’s discussion above of works of music as pure units). From this standpoint, the various semiotic sign systems, such as painting, poetry, architecture and music, should not be mixed together as they have different aims to fulfil (spatial and temporal aspects). Below, follow a number of historical excursions into the work of some of the above-mentioned theoreticians, in which my aim is to demonstrate that the “battle of the arts” has, in part at least, left its mark on the aesthetic disciplines.

Certainly, Lessing, who is probably the first to treat the spatial and temporal aspects of the relationships of the arts to each other in a systematic way, does not discuss the relationship of music to the other arts. But I would still maintain, perhaps with some boldness, that the general aesthetic discourse on the autonomy of the arts from Lessing onwards has also influenced the perception of how music ought to be studied, i.e. a discourse which has later become institutionalised. Lessing formulates it in the following way in Laokoon (English translation from German):

I argue thus. If it be true that painting employs wholly different signs or means of imitation from poetry, – the one using forms and colors in space, the other articulate sounds in time, – and if signs must unquestionably stand in convenient relation with the thing signified, then signs arranged side by side can represent only objects existing side by side, or whose parts so exist, while consecutive signs can express only objects which succeed each other, or whose parts succeed each other, in time. (Lessing 1984/1766 p. 78)[17]

The Lessing quotation sets the agenda for an ideological and hierarchical struggle among the arts, which has stretched, from the end of the 18th century to the present day. For example, Babbitt’s study of “The New Laokoon” is, in Simon Shaw-Miller’s words, “ideologically driven” (Shaw-Miller 2002 p. 29). Hybrid art forms such as programme music are problematical, argues Babbitt. Composers have displayed the same excessive respect as the Romantic painters in words, and have exposed themselves to the same criticism:

As Sainte-Beuve would say, they have transferred the capital of music from Rome to Byzantium; and when the capital of an empire is thus pushed over to its extreme frontier it is very close to the barbarians. (Babbitt 1910 p. 171)

Babbitt associates the hybrid, impure arts with “barbarism”, and the pure ones with the civilised and rational.[18] Babbitt also declares that music, together with the other arts, has been driven towards impressionism; above all, music has followed the developments in literature, which means that Claude Debussy’s music, for example, reflects an approach that in literature is already outdated.

The art critic Clement Greenberg concludes his article “Towards a Newer Laocoon” (1940) with the following lines: “I find that I have offered no other explanation for the present superiority of abstract art than its historical justification” (Greenberg 1986/1940 p. 37). In this short article, Greenberg discusses purity in art; the appearance of abstract art completes a teleological notion based on the individual specificity of the medium.[19] Greenberg assuredly does not deny that there has been, is and will be “such a thing as a confusion of the arts”, but in an historical perspective he sees a problem with this confusion (Greenberg 1986/1940 p. 23). The problem arises when a single art acquires a dominant status, as with literature in Europe during the 17th century, and, thereby, becomes a prototype for the other arts:

[T]he others [i.e. the other arts] try to shed their proper characters and imitate its effects. The dominant art in turn tries itself to absorb the functions of the others. A confusion of the arts results, by which the subservient ones are perverted and distorted, they are forced to deny their own nature in an attempt to attain the effects of the dominant art. (Greenberg 1986/1940 p. 24)

Perversion becomes increasingly apparent during the Romantic period. In order to “preserve the immediacy of feeling”, which characterises the “Romantic theory of art”, Greenberg argues, it became necessary for art to suppress the role of the medium – the medium blocked the experience of the receiver (Greenberg 1986/1940 p. 26). To begin with, poetry was elevated above the other arts since poetry as a medium came nearest to not being a medium at all; the reader fled into the effect of one of the other arts: “Each art would demonstrate its powers by capturing the effect of its sister arts or by taking a sister art for its subject” (Greenberg 1986/1940 p. 30). Painting was later perceived as the most receptive of art forms; simultaneously music began to acquire a special position in relation to the others. Greenberg writes:

Because of its “absolute” nature, its remoteness from imitation, its almost complete absorption in the very physical qualities of its medium, as well as because of its resources of suggestion, music had come to replace poetry as the paragon art. It was the art which the other avant-garde arts envied most, and whose effects they tried hardest to imitate. Thus it was the principal agent of the new confusion of the arts. (Greenberg 1986/1940 p. 31)

This can now be seen as problematical, given Greenberg’s argument about purity in art. But, he argues that one needs to understand music as a method rather than as an effect. Thus, the expression that all art seeks to achieve the same state as music, should be understood as the process towards the medium in question, and not the reception of it (Shaw-Miller 2002 p. 30).

Even if Babbitt, and to some extent Greenberg, discuss music in their studies, it is Adorno who must be regarded as the most familiar with music as a medium. In his Philosophy of Modern Music, Adorno criticizes Stravinsky’s music, saying that it represents a sort of pseudomorphism of painting as the composer strives to express a spatial perspective (Adorno 2004/1949 p. 191).

In the pseudomorphism [the music] establishes itself as an arbiter of time, causing the listener to forget the subjective and psychological experience of time in music and to abandon himself to its spatialized dimension. It proclaims, as its unique achievement the fact that there is no longer any life – as though it had achieved the objectification of life. (Adorno 2004/1949 p. 195)

As with Babbitt, Adorno makes a comparison with Impressionism in the visual arts. One reason he gives is that composers unintentionally followed the unique situation in France, where the development of painting was superior to that of music (Adorno 2004/1949 p. 191). The link to Lessing’s Laokoon appears to be clear in Adorno – even if he does not mention him by name.[20] What the examples mentioned above deal with is the definition of art forms by reference to their characteristic or media specific limitations whereby each art form distinguishes itself from its fellow arts in terms of spatial and temporal factors. This definition has, furthermore, influenced the lines of demarcation pertinent to the insular states of the aesthetic. Musicology is to devote its time to the study of music, art history to the study of the visual art forms, literary studies to the study of literature, etc.

[15] Musicology as multidisciplinary and intermedial studies as interdisciplinary

One of the questions I have chosen to ask is whether there is a place for a “new” humanities discipline, both in the present and in the future. I am not alone in discussing this matter, but if we are to take it seriously a number of supplementary questions need to be asked. What role will such a discipline play? How is it to be characterised? How should it relate to the existing aesthetic disciplines, such as musicology? I have no concrete answers to these questions, though in the following I do sketch a direction we can move in.

To begin with, if we accept the premise that society today is characterised by an intensive media culture, and that this also means that all cultural expressions are woven into one another (a multimodal and intermedial culture), then for an intended humanities discipline to understand this culture a specific, clearly formulated body of theory is needed. In the context of the discussion above, there appears to be an increasing demand for a body of theory that has been formulated within the field of intermedial studies. However, there is some dispute as to whether this body of theory is sufficiently stable to form a scholarly paradigm, i.e. to become a discipline (Müller). Should intermediality to be regarded as an intra- or extradisciplinary phenomenon? Some argue that the current disciplinary borders in the aesthetic subjects are dysfunctional in relation to the intensive media culture we see around us, and it is here that intermediality can play a natural role in a new scholarly field (Fornäs). Or is it possibly the case, as Bruhn argues, that intermediality can certainly form the foundation discipline of the humanities, but that this should not be at the expense of the other aesthetic disciplines? One question, at least, ought to be asked in this context: What is needed to create a new discipline?

In the discussion above, a number of closely related concepts have been used to describe how the interarts and intermedial discourses should interact: multidisciplinary, interdisciplinary, crossdisciplinary, transdisciplinary and not least interaesthetic. It is important to be aware of their meanings when these terms are used. What is actually meant? Is it a matter of terminology or of practice? There is a risk that the cross- and interdisciplinary become multi-disciplinary, when the intention was the opposite. This type of practice is restricting, as the units, which are included in the term “multi”, have a tendency to “multiply” and not to integrate (which is particularly apparent in Cultural Studies). No transfer takes place. One of the documents published by the National Agency for Higher Education (”Tvärvetenskap [Interdisciplinarity]”: 2007 pp. 9–13) seeks to clarify the difference between interdisciplinarity and multidisciplinarity. Multidisciplinarity, it argues, means the cooperation between different areas of knowledge in approaching a mutual problem, but where each researcher remains within the framework of his/her own field. Interdisciplinarity, on the other hand, means that researchers move in borderland areas and together create a new field. It is, primarily, the degree of interaction that determines the potential for new disciplines. I would argue that in order for intermedial studies to continue establishing itself as a new scholarly field, this disciplinary difference needs to be taken seriously. The creation of intermedial theory can only come from within. Only then will it constitute a fruitful supplement to the other aesthetic disciplines, and only then can it become the future foundational discipline of the humanities. Therefore, “inter” must be taken seriously – we do not do multimedial studies (even if this is part of the terminology). The theory of musicology should also grow from within, but today, its core, its characteristic, is more an expression of the multidisciplinarity. Nevertheless, parts of the new musicology, which is no longer particularly new (Kramer 2011 pp. 63–64), are leaning towards intermedial rather than conventional musicological research perspectives, and, on the basis of the discussion above, ought rather to be part of a scholarly field other than that of musicology. I suggest that this scholarly field should be intermedial studies.


Adorno, Theodor W. 2004 (1949): Philosophy of Modern Music, London & New York: Continuum.

Albright, Daniel 2000: Untwisting the Serpent. Modernism in Music, Literature, and Other Arts, Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Arnheim, Rudolf 2007 (1957/1938): “A New Laocoön. Artistic Composites and the Talking Film”, in Film as Art, reprinted, Berkeley: University of California Press, 2007, pp. 199–230.

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[1] I would like to express my sincere thanks to the following colleagues who have made valuable comments on the text at various stages of its development: Mikael Askander (intermedial and literary studies), Olle Edström (musicology), Ingrid Fioretos (ethnology/social anthropology), Mattias Lundberg (musicology) and Björn Magnusson Staaf (archaeology and museology). I would also like to express my thanks to David Bell who helped me translating the article into English.

[2] This article was followed in the same volume by a number of comments from other musicologists in Sweden and a reply by Lilliestam. For a summary of Lilliestam’s views on musicology, see Lilliestam 2009: “Musikvetenskap som kulturvetenskap”, in Säg det om toner och därtill i ord. Musikforskare berättar om 1900-talets musikliv, Olle Edström (ed.), Stockholm: Carlsson Bokförlag, 2009, pp. 134–81.

[3] My emphasis.

[4] The intermedial concepts used in this diagrammatic organisation of intermediality are taken from Fornäs 2004, Lehtonen 2001, and Wolf 2005. See also Lund 2002, pp. 9–24 and Clüver 2007, p. 26.

[5] This is also an interesting aspect of the discipline. Could such a study be considered as “strictly musicologist”? As W. J. T. Mitchell, the art historian, has argued, the visual aspects in the written language, to the extent they have been discussed, have been regarded as exempted from separation, and that these aspects have been subordinated to the verbal. But is it actually possible to separate these two aspects – the apparently spatial and temporal – from each other? The comparison with music and the growth of notation is interesting with regard to the location of the discipline – not least with regard to the development of what is known as graphic notation. See W. J. T. Mitchell 1994: “The Politics of Genre: Space and Time in Lessing’s Laocoon”, in Representations, nr. 6, 1984, p. 101.

[6] Here it is quite clear that Mann has used Adorno’s philosophy of music as a source of the musical elements in the novel.

[7] Here I discuss Gustav Mahler’s Third Symphony and the relationship of the symphony to the sleeve images. These are Gustav Klimt’s The Kiss, and Maurice Sendak’s “What the night tells me …”.

[8] Cook has written a brief and succinct overview of Kerman’s views on musicology as a discipline in his book Music: A Brief Insight (2010), which I recommend reading.

[9] See also Siglind Bruhn’s studies of ekphrasis 2002: “Musikalisk ekfras”, in Intermedialitet. Ord, bild och ton i samspel, Hans Lund (ed.), Lund: Studentlitteratur, 2002, pp. 193–201, and 2001: “A Concert of Painting: ’Musical Ekphrasis’ in the Twentieth Century”, in Poetics Today, vol. 22, no. 3, 2001, pp. 551–605.

[10] This critique of the lack of self-reflection is, naturally, only partially true; not least with regard to what has been published about the core of musicology in the electronic journal STM-Online during the past 6 years. At the same time, I would maintain that there is still a great deal to be explored on the issue of epistemology, for example.

[11] In this context, it should be mentioned that Kramer takes his arguments and terms from W. J. T. Mitchell 1994: Picture Theory. Essays on Verbal and Visual Representation, Chicago & London: University of Chicago Press, footnote 9, p. 89.

[12] What I mainly refer to in the body of my article are the two first chapters in Kramer’s book, i.e. “Introduction: Sounding Out. Musical Meaning and Modern Experience”, and “Hercules’ Hautboys: Mixed Media and Musical Meaning”.

[13] Here I discuss the concept of imagetext and its relation to music.

[14] The relations to the visual and the non-musical are my additions.

[15] See also Roger W. H. Savage 2010: Hermeneutics and Music Criticism, New York and London: Routledge, 2010, p. 34–35, where he shows how the difference between music and language can be indentified as the source of the division within musicology between formalist practice and forms of criticism dealing with the construction and representation of music.

[16] The specific text in question is “Ekphrasis and the Other”, which has been published in various contexts. I am referring to the text that is included in Picture Theory. Essays on Verbal and Visual Representation (1994), Chicago & London: University of Chicago Press, pp. 151–83.

[17] Someone who replies to Lessing’s Laokoon, and who also includes music in his argument is Johann Gottfried von Herder (1744–1803). See also Simon Richter 1999: “Intimate Relations: Music in and under Lessing’s Laokoon”, in Poetics Today, vol. 20, no. 2, 1999, pp. 155–173. The whole of this number is dedicated to Lessing and his work.

[18] Criticism is particularly aimed at Hector Berlioz for his work of programme music Symphonie fantastique (1830). See Babbitt, 1910, p. 168.

[19] The teleological idea projected by Greenberg is reminiscent of Adorno’s idea of the embedded qualities of musical material.

[20] See also Daniel Albright 2000: Untwisting the Serpent. Modernism in Music, Literature, and Other Arts, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000, p. 17. Albright also notes this link to Adorno. Albright writes as follows about Adorno’s attitude to Stravinsky: “an attempt to organize a composition in one medium according to alien principles derived from a wrong medium.”


©Mats Arvidson, 2012

STM-Online vol. 15 (2012)


ISSN: 1403-5715