Richard Wagner, Fritz Lang, and the Nibelungen, by David J. Levin

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Richard Wagner, Fritz Lang, and the Nibelungen, by David J. Levin

David Levin's study offers an important contribution to two ongoing and equally heated debates: the controversy among music historians and cultural historians on Wagner and antisemitism -- I mention only the excellent study by Marc Weiner, Richard Wagner and the Anti-Semitic Imagination -- and the extensive writings on representations of Jewishness, and the Jewish body in particular; here Sander Gilman's work on stereotypes (e.g., in Jewish Self-Hatred) has been very influential. Levin focuses on the Nibelungen material in its reworkings for the operatic stage and the silent screen and enlists the iconography of antisemitism in a detailed analysis of more basic problems of representation. By describing what he calls the ideological trajectory of the material in aesthetic terms, he not only reformulates the underlying questions of identity, power, and community within and through the domain of the aesthetic, but through his allegorical approach he also forges an alliance between aesthetic and ethical questions that allows him to reconstruct the transferences from aesthetics to politics that, in his view, fuel the antisemitic imagination.

Following an introductory discussion of the proliferation and problematization of narration in the original Nibelungenlied, the study sets out to trace the continuous dissemination of this famous epic into the highly conflicted terms of German modernity: Richard Wagner's opera cycle Der Ring des Nibelungen and Fritz Lang's two-part silent film classic Die Nibelungen. Two-thirds of the book deals with Wagner and his struggle with dramaturgical questions (musical concerns remain largely absent); one-third is devoted to the film adaptation and the necessary translation of the central problem of narration into the terms of vision and visuality. Motivated perhaps by the desire for greater relevance, the postscript extends some of these ideas into contemporary film culture (e. …