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Regular version of the site

Article

Overhearing Diegetic Music in Narrative Fiction: Instances of Verbally Transmitted Musical Experience

Narrative. 2018. Vol. 2. No. 26. P. 221-239.

Seeing it as a test case for the experientiality of narrative, I reclaim the concept of diegetic music from film to literature studies. My concern is whether readers can gain musical experience from what Scher dubs “verbal music”—diegetic music’s textual exponent, which I re-theorize in terms of audionarratology. As a storyworld phenomenon, diegetic music is literally heard by characters. However, we can only privilege it over other sonic events of the fictional universe if a specifically musical experience is transmitted across the borders of the diégèse. Seeking a solution to this problem, I borrow theoretical tools from the philosophy of music and cognitive narratology. First, I map three aspects of music—physical sound, tonal movement, and affective narrative—on what I call the “Triangular Iceberg of Musical Experience,” arguing for their complementary presence in individual listening acts, in different proportions. Second, I apply Jahn’s model of externalization/internalization of stories to show the cyclic nature of music’s circulation, which also applies to transitions of music to worlds of narrative fiction and back. Third, my three example case studies of verbal music outline the routes and constraints for readers’ enactive overhearing of diegetic
music. Finally, I chart some textual variables to be manipulated in empirical testing of my hypotheses as my proposed follow-up to the present study. The essay demonstrates how “musicalized” prose provides a unique meeting point for reader-oriented narrative theory, intermediality studies, and empirical aesthetics.