This site has recently received four questions about that go beyond looking looking at the lyrics, and ask about the sound music makes:

Some people are pointing to a meta post and arguing that these questions should be closed immediately.

Poems should be on-topic without further qualification. For hundreds of years, poetry was nearly the only type of literature produced, and some of the greatest works of literature are poems.

I favor allowing questions about songs as long as they are literary questions. Questions about word choice, symbolism, historical context, or narrative structure of a song should be allowed, but as soon as you get into the musical aspects of the song, it should probably go to Music Fans. (And if we do end up allowing identification questions, I'll fight to the death against allowing "identify this song".)

Basically, if you could ask the same question about a poem, I think it should be on-topic, but questions specific to the musical aspects of a song should go to Music Fans.

This meta post was posted at the start of the private beta. Is it time to reexamine the meta post? Do we still agree with it?

  • 2
    Hmm, I'm not sure whether to upvote or downvote this. On the one hand, the recent disputes about music questions suggest that we do need to revisit this issue. On the other hand, having a 'probation period' of not closing questions which are off-topic according to current policy ... somehow feels like a bad idea. I'd much prefer a meta question along the lines of "Should we change/revisit this old policy made during private beta?", rather than this idea of a trial period.
    – Rand al'Thor Mod
    Commented Sep 3, 2017 at 15:30
  • 2
    I agree with you very strongly - music, not necessarily music theory, but music itself - is very easily arguably literature. That being said, I also think this post may be more successful if framed in terms of revisiting policy as a discussion, rather than revisiting in the context of action. On the other hand, (and this is more @rand), deciding to give them a test period/trial run really is the primary outcome of permitting music questions, either way, so it less changes what happens, and more how it's framed.
    – user80
    Commented Sep 3, 2017 at 16:16
  • @Emrakul I took your advice and reworded the question. I'm not necessarily convinced that this is the most productive way to word the question, but since you're better at this thing I'm deferring to your judgement.
    – user111
    Commented Sep 3, 2017 at 17:32
  • @Hamlet Thank you for the edit. I've now upvoted this.
    – Rand al'Thor Mod
    Commented Sep 3, 2017 at 18:38
  • 5
    To tell you the truth, so far, my only real takeaway from this question is that everyone is unhappy for their own reasons, and nobody's satisfied with any solution. I want to re-frame the problem away, because I think it can be done. I'm mulling this over, and will likely post a new question soon.
    – user80
    Commented Sep 5, 2017 at 0:19
  • 1
    I've been following this meta post since it's posted since I'm interested in the result (though I probably not participating on this site since I lack the expertise), but I find it rather surprising that there are no answers from other than Hamlet (the OP) and EJoshuaS (another user who has posted a music-related question). It seems this meta post is a losing battle since the beginning... now I'm worried, will Emrakul's meta post receive a better reception than this?
    – Andrew T.
    Commented Sep 6, 2017 at 9:00
  • @AndrewT. only one of the four example questions have been closed, and that question was reopened. Which suggests that, lack of meta participation aside, that the community does have an opinion about this. But yes, I wish there was more participation, which would do a better job revealing the why behind all of this.
    – user111
    Commented Sep 6, 2017 at 15:52
  • @AndrewT. if you find this stuff interesting, there's been a very interesting (and sometimes productive, sometimes not) conversation in our site's chat room that you might want to take a look at.
    – user111
    Commented Sep 6, 2017 at 16:14
  • 1
    Nearly all the answers here seem to be just one person (you) writing argument after argument for why questions about music should be on-topic. Which is more important, the argument or the conclusion? It almost seems as though you've already decided on the conclusion and are coming up with new theories of site scope just to justify your position on one issue. I have to wonder if you're too emotionally invested in this issue. (I also haven't been following site activity very well in the last week, so apologies if you've already taken a step back from it.)
    – Rand al'Thor Mod
    Commented Sep 11, 2017 at 22:18
  • @Randal'Thor "Which is more important, the argument or the conclusion?" Let's do what you are telling me to do and take a step back from the issue. The music tag currently contains five questions. I think there's a very plausible argument that those five questions have the potential to drastically increase our understanding of literature. But at the end of the day, it's still five questions. Will the conclusion--whether to close or leave open these questions--matter that much? It might harm the site, but it's still five questions...
    – user111
    Commented Sep 11, 2017 at 22:48
  • @Randal'Thor however, the process by which we reach a conclusion will matter. It will matter because whatever process used to reach a conclusion will most likely be used again. So the process used to make the decision will have far greater impacts than the actual conclusion. Since this is a meta discussion, that process will be a convincing argument. So yes, the argument is much more important than the conclusion here.
    – user111
    Commented Sep 11, 2017 at 22:51
  • @Randal'Thor however, this community has made a decision about these questions: they are still open. Of course, we're missing the why behind that decision. The fact that people have made decisions without pausing to discuss why is disappointing. I don't think it's healthy. And no, the meta post that everyone is pointing to as a consensus is not an explanation of why. (It also isn't a consensus, given that at least five people disagree and voted to reopen a question about an instrumental [abeit one with a textual narrative, but the specific question was about the music, not the text]).
    – user111
    Commented Sep 11, 2017 at 22:54
  • @Hamlet "Will the conclusion--whether to close or leave open these questions--matter that much?" Well, you're the one who's fighting so hard over them :-) My point is exactly that the argument is more important than the conclusion, and yet all your answers here are trying different arguments to reach the same conclusion, which suggests the opposite. And yes, it's disappointing that the votes here on meta aren't matching the close/reopen votes on main. I guess some of the voters have enough rep to DV but not enough to VTC?
    – Rand al'Thor Mod
    Commented Sep 12, 2017 at 9:39
  • @Randal'Thor "guess some of the voters have enough rep to DV but not enough to VTC?" or maybe people just don't like any of the arguments I've presented? "all your answers here are trying different arguments to reach the same conclusion," I really see my four answers as four different sides of the same answer.
    – user111
    Commented Sep 12, 2017 at 15:08

5 Answers 5


I think "Literature" has proven to be an effective name for our site. It's attracted the people we want to attract. But I am not convinced that "literature" makes an effective scope for our site. It has a lot of problems that we keep running into:

  1. Literature is an incredibly subjective concept, and as a result it's hard to pin down a definition for us to use. For example, there is a valid argument that literature should be a synonym of "art". Because of literature's subjective nature, there isn't really a way to refute that definition. There are of course a lot of definitions, but there is no one right one that we can all point to.
  2. Literature comes with a lot of baggage that we're trying to avoid. For example, part of the definition of literature that many people use includes a value statement, e.g. some works are of superior quality and count as literature, while some works are not. We're trying to avoid that sort of judgement in our scope, but it's hard to do that if we're basing our scope around a word that has that sort of judgement built in from the beginning.

I think perhaps we would be more productive if we used a different word as the basis of our scope. After some thought, I've come to the conclusion that "reading" is the best word to build our scope around. It is sufficiently flexible but also not too broad. It allows for some subjectivity, but not too much. This is why I propose that:

Our site is about the theory and practice of "reading"

Now, what are the sorts of questions you can ask about "reading"?

  1. We read books. We can ask questions about books.
  2. It's possible to read from memory. With oral literature or a theater performance or, yes, a performance of music, you are reading out loud a text located in your head.
  3. We read some types of visual media (e.g. comic books), but not others (e.g. a painting or a movie).
  4. Computers can read things. You could ask a question about a computer program designed to, say, make a graph of how emotions in a novel change over time.
  5. Questions about understanding what you read would be on-topic.
  6. Questions about the physical objects that you read (books) would be on-topic.
  7. Questions about the psychology of reading would be on-topic (e.g. what's happening in your brain when you read).
  8. Reading things silently is only one way to read. We also read things aloud. Asking about pronunciation, performance, etc. is on-topic here.

As you can see, this definition anticipates a lot of questions that we haven't asked about yet. But I think we would all agree that these are good questions.

Here are some things that would be off-topic:

  1. Most questions about a lot of different types of art, such as cinema.
  2. Question about how to write things, such as how to write computer code or how to write a novel.

Of course, perhaps someone will want to come along and make the argument that you can "read" video games, or that you can "read" movies, or that you can read some sort of art form that hasn't been invented yet. I'm not entirely sure what "reading" a movie would look like, but I'm going to assume that questions about "reading" movies are a small subset of all of the possible questions about movies. Which I think would be acceptable to everyone.

A scope about reading is pretty flexible but not too flexible.

I'm not convinced that deciding our scope in this way (with a definition) is a productive way to make scope decisions. But if that's the way the community feels is best, then I'll go along with it, and I'll try to rally the community behind the best definition that I am aware of.

By my count, all four of the proposed questions fall under a definition of reading:

  1. Is Bob Dylan's "A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall" supposed to be uplifting or mournful? -- question about reading something aloud
  2. What changes when you adapt Dickinson's "I'm Nobody" to an acoustic rock song? -- question about reading something aloud
  3. Why is "I Dreamed There Was No War" a war protest song in spite of having no lyrics? -- It's about the meaning suggested by the reading of a title.

  4. In Peter and the Wolf, why is Peter represented by a String quartet? -- various reasons, take your pick of the one you find most compelling:

    • It's about a written story that is accompanied by music. The music contributes to the reading of the written story. (Close voters: if you have questions, the wikipedia page explains this).
    • Even ignoring the written story component, there is a story present in the music, and it is possible to ask questions that are the same as if the story was written down, e.g. "who is the character represented by the flute. Why are they represented by a flute". In this sense, what we are doing is similar enough to reading that we can say we are "reading" the instrumental composition, even though the physical mechanics are different. Like I said, the concept of reading is flexible. But also, there are questions you can ask about music that aren't related to reading, so this is not too flexible.

    • I don't know which of these two reasons is convincing. You don't necessarily have to agree with both. But I'm pretty sure at least one of them is.

  • 6
    Starts interesting, but then your interpretation of "reading" seems to get as vague as all the definitions of "literature", and metaphoric enough to possibly count pretty much all kinds of engaging into art as "reading". This might very well be intended and not necessarily seen as a bad thing, but it doesn't seem to improve the whole ambiguity and scope problem too much either. Commented Sep 4, 2017 at 20:50
  • 2
    @CahirMawrDyffrynæpCeallach yes, this answer does leave a lot of ambiguity, and kicks a lot of issues down the road to be dealt with later. That is by design. But I do think this proposal is an improvement from the idea that the site is a site about literature, for a lot of reasons. One reason is that while the definition of literature is political, the definition of reading is more neutral. For example, for many people, literature means works that are "culturally significant". The word "reading" does not have that baggage. I'll probably edit this answer at some point to elaborate on this.
    – user111
    Commented Sep 4, 2017 at 21:22
  • Another argument in favor of reading rather than literature is that while reading is still a subjective and broad definition, it is not nearly as subjective or broad. There is a reasonable argument that any work of art should be considered literature. Reading presents less of a challenge.
    – user111
    Commented Sep 4, 2017 at 21:44
  • I think there is quite a lot to be said for ‘reading’ as scope, but remain confused as to why that puts theatrical performance ‘in’ but cinematic performance ‘out’. Can you expand on that perhaps? Why a stage performance of Romeo and Juliet counts , but not a film version?
    – Spagirl
    Commented Oct 8, 2017 at 7:40
  • 1
    @Spagirl I'm not sure. Going with this scope would require defining reading. I think defining reading is easier than defining literature, but still difficult.
    – user111
    Commented Oct 8, 2017 at 10:28
  • @Spagirl The problem with these scope discussions is that defining literature is actually a lot harder than it looks. If we want to have productive scope conversations, we need to do one of two things. We can try to define literature, but that will require a lot of research and reading. Or we can eschew the idea of defining literature and limit our scope to questions we think will "work" on this community. But to figure out what questions will work, we need to ask questions and see what questions work and what questions don't; we can't really speculate our way through that question.
    – user111
    Commented Oct 8, 2017 at 10:32
  • A third option is just to say that if enough academics who are in English or literature departments study a certain topic, that topic is off-topic. I'm not a fan of this, because while I think this site needs to learn from academia, I don't think we should be accepting everything academia does uncritically. But it's an option.
    – user111
    Commented Oct 8, 2017 at 10:35
  • So far, these scope discussions haven't been productive because everyone is throwing out their own personal definition of what literature is, and then not really engaging when people disagree with that definition. I can count the number of people who have, say, read an academic article, or really anything other than a dictionary definition on one hand. And this is one of the things that is making the site toxic: see the downvotes on questions about music, or questions about interactive fiction, or see all of the downvotes that are being used as anonymous close votes.
    – user111
    Commented Oct 8, 2017 at 10:41

The Literature Stack Exchange is actually two different sites rolled into one. We are a:

  1. Site about books (e.g. the questions about , basic plot points, and ).
  2. Site about literary theory and criticism (e.g. our close reading questions, our questions about literary theory, our questions about critical reading, and our questions).

What we've been trying to do is find one scope, one definition of literature, that encompasses both of these topics. But what we hadn't realized is that because our site is two sites squished into one, we need two scopes.

Therefore, I propose a simple test to determine whether a question is on-topic or off-topic:

  1. Is the question about books?
  2. Is the question about literary theory and criticism?

If the answer is yes to either of these questions, then it is on-topic. If no, it's off-topic. Pretty simple right!

What counts as literary theory and criticism? Literary theory and criticism actually has nothing to do with the medium being analyzed. It is a certain class of questions that were mostly developed to interpret things like novels, but which can also be applied to non-novel art.

This is of course a bit handwavy. We would have to resolve what counts as literary theory and criticism in a future meta post. But it's a start, and this scope is an improvement on trying to find one definition for two very different topics.

  • 2
    I'm not convinced by the details here. I'm not too worried about the literary criticism part, but the other point seem to conflate books as objects and a more abstract meaning that is not less vague than "literature". It also misses that some questions about authors should be OK.
    – andejons
    Commented Sep 6, 2017 at 6:09
  • @andejons my opinion is that on any site whose scope is "books", questions about authors would be on-topic, as well questions about the creation process of those books, questions about how books are read, etc. I also think questions about authors would fall under the "literary theory and criticism" component: if done right, relating meaning to the biography of the author can be a useful technique. (This means that questions about authors biography would be on-topic, because otherwise how can this site be a tool to help people do research?)
    – user111
    Commented Sep 6, 2017 at 15:48

Let's start at the very beginning. What is a scope? What is its purpose?

One of the reasons why Stack Exchange is different from a lot of other Q&A sites on the internet is that our sites have scopes. Unlike Yahoo Answers or Quora, where you can ask questions about any topic under the sun, each Stack Exchange site has topics that they always accept questions about, topics that they never accept questions about, and topics that they sometimes accept topics about. Why? Well, it has to do with the idea that Stack Exchange sites are online communities that come together and share knowledge. Too big of a community, and you can't get a critical mass of people who can answer all of the questions in that community. The right size is usually around the size of a university department.

So: the right size [for a Stack Exchange site] might be somewhere around the size of a university department. Somehow, the cultural anthropologists don’t mind sharing a building with the physical anthropologists, and when they both find themselves at the Yale-Harvard football game, you can bet that they’ll sit together and find something anthropological to talk about. Similarly, at Stack Overflow, the Java Entity Bean programmers at insurance companies don’t mind all the iPhone developers asking Objective C questions about the horrible, horrible game they’re working on. Heck, they might become iPhone developers one day. And they both share the humiliation of not being able to fix their uncle’s virus-infested Windows XP machine when they’re home for Thanksgiving.

If you know anything about university departments, you'll know that they don't come together based on strict, objective definitions that everyone agrees on. This is particularly the case for something as subjective as Literature, where I would be shocked if you could find me a department at any university in the world where more than two members of that department shared the same definition of Literature. In fact, if you go to the webpage of any large university department (here's Harvard's), you'll find that professors will study everything from "visual media" (David J. Alworth at Harvard) to poetry (Jorie Graham at Harvard) to drama (Marjorie Garber at Harvard) to film (Kathryn Roberts at Harvard). I haven't found any at Harvard during my very cursory search of their department, but I'm sure that depending on the university, yes, there will be professors who study, write about, and teach about music as well. But despite working on all these separate topics, and despite not sharing the same definition of literature, somehow members of literature departments manage to share the same building and (sometimes!) collaborate.

All we're trying to do is share the same building and collaboratively build expert Q&A about literature. In that respect, we're just like any university department.

Scope is a tool to help us build a community. I worry that in our discussions about formulating a definition of literature that we can use as a scope, we have lost sight of what scope is actually for.

Let's review our efforts to find our site's scope. We started by trying to explicitly define literature. Why don't we all agree that Literature is about text? Because many would argue that such a definition is too broad--it includes works such as instruction manuals, which some argue couldn't possibly be literature. And many would also argue that such a definition is too narrow--it excludes oral literature, and ignores the fact that not all writing is textual (here is a western example and a non-western example). OK, why don't we define literature as anything with a narrative? Again, some would argue that this definition is too broad (it includes film, for example), while others would argue that this is too narrow (good luck finding a narrative in "The apparition of these faces in the crowd; / Petals on a wet, black bough."). It quickly became apparent that coming up with a strict definition was an unproductive exercise.

We then moved on to our current strategy, which is to appeal to some definition of literature that we all agree on but that we won't explicitly define. Except that we don't all agree on this definition! This becomes quickly apparent any time we try to make a scope decision. You can't resolve any sort of conflict of opinion if the only thing you can do when arguing that, say, oral literature is off-topic, is make claims about a definition that you won't actually define. This approach strikes me as equally unproductive as finding an explicit definition.

I think these conversations will be a lot more productive if we can recognize the difference between the following two questions:

  • is x literature?
  • is x within our scope?

Defining literature is a interesting philosophical exercise but also a subjective one. There will be topics for which it is impossible to come to a consensus about whether they count as literature. But that doesn't mean that we can't come to a consensus about scope. We just have to separate scope from a definition of literature.

Let's return to the idea of a university literature department. What brings a university literature department together? It's not necessarily what they are studying. Some people in a university literature department may study ancient scrolls, others may study pulp paperbacks, others may study music. What brings a university literature department together is how they study things. I guarantee you that everyone in a university literature department knows what close reading is and has used it, in various forms, in their research.

The same thing is true for a math department, or a sociology department, or really any university department sized group of people who are collaborating to produce knowledge. Two math professors may study different things, but I guarantee that they all know how to write a proof. Two sociology professors may study different things, but I guarantee that they all know something about social theory.

Collaborative knowledge disseminating communities, of which university departments are one example, aren't brought together by the things they study but by the methods they use. Rather than trying to find a new way to reinvent the wheel, it seems to me that we should take a page from university department's books and organize our scope around methodology and ways of thinking rather than topic matter.

Now, this leads to the question: what methods do we want to restrict our scope to? Let's review the history of the site:

  1. When we first started out, answers would restrict themselves to quotes from authors. But then we learned about the concept of authorial intent, and that the author's word wasn't enough.

  2. Close reading wasn't a concept people were familiar with until I introduced it in a self-answered question. But now close reading is slowly working its way into answers and becoming part of the site.

  3. Scansion wasn't a concept we were familiar with until I started asking questions. But now we're starting to use it to analyze poetry.

  4. There are other concepts that we are unfamiliar with. But I'm sure we will learn them eventually.

  5. There are concepts and topics that I have introduced, but that have not proven useful. Oral literature is one example.

  6. There are many different ways to study literature. One way is to study literature by asking questions about plot points (which character did x). There is still a methodology behind those questions (reading, finding the scene in question, and writing an answer).

When we, the members of this site, created an Q&A website about literature despite knowing next to nothing about the field, one of the things we signed up for was having to learn new things. We are still learning new things, and have no idea when we will stop learning new things. So yes, if we tie our scope to literary methods, our scope will most likely expand for quite some time. But no, this is not a slippery slope because I can think of a million techniques that we will not find useful and will turn away. I doubt, for example, that we will find the concept of motifs or archetypes (used in Mythology), or perhaps the concepts around framing shots in film (Movies & TV) useful.

Tying our scope to literary methods does not mean tying our scope to academic literary methods. Academia has neglected certain faucets of literature, such as reader response criticism and the study of physical books. That does not mean we have to do that as well.

To recap:

  1. Scope is a tool to build collaborative communities to disseminate knowledge. The most similar analogue to this is a university department.
  2. Collaborative knowledge-disseminating-communities are not organized around what they study but how they study it.
  3. We are still learning how to study literature.
  4. Lets continue learning, and see how we can apply the literary methods we know to songs, and what new literary methods we will learn from studying songs.
  • Make sure to post that exact same answer on the discussions about identification questions as well as questions about collecting and caring for physical books, which are currently on-topic but would have to be reconsidered by the wider implications this entire overhaul of the site scope would bring. Commented Sep 4, 2017 at 14:20
  • @CahirMawrDyffrynæpCeallach no, tying our scope to literary methods does not mean tying our scope to academic literary methods. There are a lot of ways of looking at literature that academia neglects, such as reader response criticism or the study of physical books. That does not mean we need to, or should, neglect these ways of looking at literature as well.
    – user111
    Commented Sep 4, 2017 at 14:48

Just to address the issue of instrumental music:

I recently wrote a somewhat controversial question regarding an instrumental Eagles song: Why is "I Dreamed There Was No War" a war protest song in spite of having no lyrics?

In the comments on the question, I extended the argument that the question was on-topic because its title suggests its meaning. That being said, I would like to propose that instrumental music can be on topic if the title is sufficient for us to analyze. In one sense, a song title isn't all that different from song lyrics. In fact, one test we could use: Would the title suffice as lyrics? If the only lyrics of the song were its title, would we be able to analyze the song? Can we make meaningful inferences about the intended meaning from the title?

This would seem to exclude songs with generic titles (e.g. "so-and-so's 5th concerto") or titles that don't say much about the song's meaning ("Santorini" by Yanni). Quite simply, these are off topic because the written component eludes analysis. "Santorini" doesn't tell us anything substantial about the intended meaning (it's just the name of a geographic area), and "5th Concerto" isn't an actual song meaning. On the other hand, "I dreamed there was no war" doesn't elude analysis - that actually says something about the intended meaning of the song.

Also, questions like this should be about the relationship between the music and the lyrics (i.e. About the overall meaning of the song), rather than just about the music itself. A question like "who played bass on this song?" or "what key is it in?" would almost certainly be off topic, unless the question directly relates to the song meaning. In other words, if "who plays bass on this song?" doesn't tell us about the song's meaning, it's irrelevant to questions on this site.

Any thoughts on this as a criteria? Is it objective enough to apply consistently, and are songs like this within the site scope?

I'll also propose that the music is just as relevant to song meaning as the graphics are to comic books and graphic novels.

  • It may be that questions about ("so-and-so's 5th concerto") are excellent questions for the site. We don't actually know, because no one has asked such a question.
    – user111
    Commented Sep 3, 2017 at 18:00
  • For me, this test relates to the authorial intent issue. Just because an author gives a work a meaningless title ("5th concerto") doesn't mean that there isn't meaning in the work for us to talk about. And how do we tell which titles are meaningful and which titles are meaningless. It's very possible that a title such as "Santorini" might have a lot to do with a song's meaning. Maybe a meaningless title was chosen to warn against analyzing the song too closely, and thus paradoxically the title has meaning.
    – user111
    Commented Sep 3, 2017 at 18:03
  • 1
    @Hamlet I'd think that those are purely music questions because there isn't any text for us to analyze. Commented Sep 3, 2017 at 18:04
  • 1
    text is not the same as literature. See, for example, literature.stackexchange.com/questions/2584/…, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Snowman, or oral literature. Of course, it may be that we want our scope to be only about works with text. But that is a decision we should make using data (questions about nontextual things don't work), not something we should make on the basis of an appeal to the subjective definition of literature.
    – user111
    Commented Sep 3, 2017 at 18:06
  • 2
    @Hamlet) Yes, you do bring up a good point. It seems like the lines can be remarkably blurry. Certainly we must allow non-textual questions about comics, graphic novels, and songs, where the non-textual part is an essential part of the meaning. At some level, though, it seems like it would be worth asking OPs to justify why their questions are literature questions in "edge cases" - for example, if someone thinks that you can ask a valid literary question about Santorini it seems like the question should explain why it's answerable from a literary perspective. Commented Sep 4, 2017 at 3:16
  • Well, OK, then we're defining our site's scope on the basis of whether a question is a "literary question". Which I actually think is a good idea.
    – user111
    Commented Sep 4, 2017 at 13:41

When this site discusses scope, we tend to confuse two different questions:

  • is x literature?
  • is x on-topic?

There will be things that one could make an argument fall under the definition of literature but we decide are off-topic. So I think that appealing to a definition of literature, which is a broad, vague, and subjective concept, is not the way to go here.

The question "is oral tradition literature?" is intrinsically unanswerable. We've taken two nebulous ideas, "literature" and "oral tradition," tried to determine if one is a subset of the other, and are for some reason surprised and frustrated that we've gotten a nebulous answer back. Trying to cram that answer into a neat little "yes" or "no" box is ultimately going to be a fruitless effort.

We're running face-first into a problem with the name of the site. Unlike on other Stack sites, where "is this about code?" or "is this about pets?" could be used to determine topicality, we aren't in a position to use "is this about literature?" as a litmus test to determine whether something should be on topic. Thinking about whether something counts as "literature" is chimerically misleading, and simply isn't a good test.

When it comes to deciding scope, what people seem to be forgetting is that while it is trivial to close questions that don't work, it is hard to bring back the people you've alienated by closing broad classes of questions, or to recover the knowledge lost by such closures. So there is no reason not to wait, run experiments, and gather data before making scope decisions.

The meta post that everyone is citing does not do that. Rather than explaining why these questions are off-topic, it makes vague comments about the history of poetry. It does not feature any argument as to why music should be off-topic. The arguments that people have made in defense of the meta post are little better. People are appealing to definitions of literature that only they know, and everyone has their own, different reason why these questions should be off-topic. Personally, I would much rather make scope decisions based on actual evidence than this hand-wavy conjecture. This doesn't mean more debate over definitions; it means letting the questions exist and seeing how they do.

I think there is a decent argument that these questions will become a critical part of the site. I am of course speculating in this answer because I don't have any actual data about how questions will do and how they will fit into the site. But I think there's a decent argument that these questions can contribute to this mission in a positive way.

The experience most of us have with reading is reading alone and silently. But that is only one way people read. Reading aloud is just as important as reading quietly. With many forms of art, such as theater or poetry or music, you can not fully understand the work by reading it silently.

When we have allowed questions about the sound of literature, such as my questions, they have done quite well. People were enthusiastic about answering these questions, and they were enthusiastic about asking new ones. It's undeniable that the tag has a place in our mission as a Q&A site about Literature.

If we were to allow questions about the sounds music makes, in addition to the words contained in music, I suspect that these questions would show that they fit in perfectly with our mission. But I don't actually know; I'm just speculating at this point. Lets give these questions a chance and see how they do.

If you are interested, here are some examples of Stack Exchange communities allowing a trial period for certain classes of questions to see how they perform.

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    What is that "mission" you keep referring to in this answer? From the answer it seems to be something like "creating a site for discussing art", but I'm not sure that's really what you're saying (or maybe you are). Commented Sep 3, 2017 at 15:50
  • @CahirMawrDyffrynæpCeallach I am not sure what the mission is. We will discover the mission by allowing people to ask questions about literature, and seeing what types of questions get asked and answered, and seeing how people outside of the site view us as a resource for various topics.
    – user111
    Commented Sep 3, 2017 at 15:51
  • So whatever questions will be on-topic for contributing to the mission are defining that mission then? Commented Sep 3, 2017 at 15:53
  • @CahirMawrDyffrynæpCeallach let me use oral literature as an example. I was the biggest defenders of questions about oral literature. But they've existed for three months and haven't been successful: no one has answered the questions or really asked new ones. So while I would like to wait longer and get more data, there's a good argument that whatever our mission is, oral literature questions wont play a role in it.
    – user111
    Commented Sep 3, 2017 at 15:55
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    But the approach of looking if there was a question asked about some specific thing and then suddenly determining in on- or off-topic purely based on that seems odd (and by your approach you'd come to the conclusion that oral literature doesn't contribute to the mission and is thus off-topic). That's a noble goal for a site that starts out as Everything.SE in order to rein in the mess. But this site didn't start without any sane purpose at all. Commented Sep 3, 2017 at 15:57
  • @CahirMawrDyffrynæpCeallach yes, this site started out with the purpose of being Q&A about Literature. What we've discovered is that everyone has a different opinion about what counts as literature. This makes sense, because a definition of literature is fundamentally subjective. Appealing to definitions isn't productive. Appealing to data is the only way to resolve this and have a sane discussion.
    – user111
    Commented Sep 3, 2017 at 16:01

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