Music and the Unconscious – 12th May 2023 – Symposium


“Music – A Gateway to the Unconscious?”  

Newcastle University – 12th May:  

The most profound legacy of Freud is perhaps his conception of the unconscious. Freud is one of the most significant figures in affording a conceptual legitimacy to the idea, now taken for granted, that there are hidden forces operating within ourselves, shaping our desires, actions, and beliefs. Understanding the effects and the nature of those hidden forces that shape human existence, now bundled together under the concept of the unconscious, entails a greater understanding of what it means to exist as a human. Prior to any investigation of the unconscious, however, and especially given its subliminal nature, one must ask themselves how it is possible to access it at all.  

Before creation, there is desire. Before the artist touches the canvas, before the musician picks up his instrument, there is an impulse. As social animals, humans are inclined toward communication, but we are forced to relay our deepest emotions through language, a communicative device that is often felt as restrictive. The Arts are understood as a set of mediums that enable a transcendence of the barriers of language. A painting and a piece of music are united by their ability to convey an idea with much more vigour and immediacy than can a string of sentences, and more significantly, they are united by their resistance to translation into language; an explanation of either will always involve a reduction. Given this status of the Arts, as a method of transcendence, perhaps it is here we should seek access to the unconscious.  

In a new publication, entitled Listening to the Unconscious, Stephen Overy and Kenneth Smith explore the ways in which music acts as an analogy for, and an account of, the unconscious, and discuss whether the unconscious is the fount of musical creativity. In conjunction with the release of this publication, a workshop is to be held to gather together other thinkers interested in the intersection of psychoanalysis with popular music, or with the wider Arts. We invite speakers who wish to present their own works that they feel would complement such a discourse. Example topics may include: 

  • The nature of the unconscious;  
  • The intersection of the unconscious with music, and the wider Arts, e.g., do the Arts constitute a gateway to the unconscious? 
  • The intersection of the unconscious with creative acts more generally.

Works that might take a critical or refutative stance are also welcomed and encouraged.  

Declarations of interest, along with any further queries, should be submitted to: 

The deadline for submissions is 6th April (06/04/2023).