CFP "In the Dark Spaces of Language. Negotiations of Unintelligibility in Slavic Literatures". HU Berlin, October 8-9, 2020

Manuel Ghilarducci's picture
Call for Papers
October 8, 2020 to October 9, 2020
Subject Fields: 
Literature, Philosophy, Eastern Europe History / Studies

In Ciemność (Darkness, 1866), the Polish poet Cyprian Norwid replied to his readership, which regarded his poetic language as ‘dark’ and ‘unintelligible’ (Uffelmann 1997; Kasperski 2009). The complex rhetoric structure of Darkness shows that the poem was not intended as a poetological explanation, but as a play with the readers’ uncertainties. The readers lose themselves in a labyrinth of enigmatic rhetoric questions and metaphors, ellipses and dashes; the awaited definition of ‘darkness’ and ‘unintelligibility’ is not delivered. Norwid’s Darkness presents reading as an anti-hermeneutic act: reading is not a straight path towards clearness and understanding, but a process in which the readers get lost in the dark spaces of language.

A similar idea can be found in Juraj Briškár’s Sprievodca nezrozumiteľnosťou (A Guide to Unintelligibility, 2015). The instrumental case of nezrozumiteľnosť allows two different interpretations and translations of the title. On the one hand, Briškár’s book presents itself as a guide which aims to help readers find a way out from their incomprehension; on the other hand, the book can be interpreted as an invitation to a journey together with unintelligibility: in this case, unintelligibility itself becomes the aim of every hermeneutic process. In both cases, however, the hermeneutic act is presented as a difficult journey through (dark) spaces.


Inspired by Norwid’s and Briškár’s poetic strategies, we would like to investigate how the concepts of ‘unintelligibility’ and ‘obscurity’ are (re)presented, performed and negotiated in Slavic literatures. We welcome abstracts dealing especially with following themes:

  • Terminological and theoretical problems: Which literary epochs are regarded as particularly ‘dark’ and why? Which terms are generally used in relation to ‘incomprehensible’ literary texts? Can literature help us to find new concepts and categories?
  • Performing unintelligibility: How is unintelligibility constructed in literature? Which are its main forms and motives (e.g. crypt, labyrinth, forest, dark places) and how do they function?
  • Material unintelligibility: How does unintelligibility relate to the visual materiality of a text? Which graphic and typographic signs are considered to be particularly ‘dark’? How are they used to perform a sort of ‘visual unintelligibility’?

Short abstracts (max. 300 words) are welcomed until July 31, 2020.

Contact Info: 

Dr. Manuel Ghilarducci

Dr. Zornitza Kazalarska

Institut für Slawistik und Hungarologie, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Dorotheenstr. 65, Raum 5.26