Opera and the Culture of Fascism

By Jeremy Tambling | Go to book overview

1
The Sorrows of Richard Wagner

Steeped in sorrows and grandeur, like the nineteenth-century that he so perfectly epitomises, thus does the intellectual figure of Richard Wagner appear to me.

Mann, Pro and Contra Wagner

Relationship is everything. And if you want to give it a more precise name, it is ambiguity.

Mann, Doctor Faustus

In Doctor Faustus ( 1947), the party of visitors who go to Linderhof, Ludwig II's pastiche palace in Bavaria, call the nineteenth century 'dull and melancholy'. Linderhof Mann describes in his Wagner lectures as exemplifying the Romantic 'primacy of the night' over the day, this being 'expressed in the very proportion of the rooms' ( Pro and Contra Wagner, p. 125). In ironic contrast to this world, evocative of the mood of Tristan und Isolde, the company expresses the hope that, in contrast, 'the young twentieth century' (the date is 1925) 'might develop a more elevated and intellectually a more cheerful temper' (ch. 40, p. 416). The melancholy of the nineteenth century drove Ludwig crazy and suicidal, made Wagner neurasthenic, and confined Nietzsche to silence and to the madhouse. And the twentieth century was no different.

Mann divided Wagner up in terms of sorrows ( Leiden) and greatness ( Grösse). The sorrows, which fit with both melancholy and abjection, will be the theme of this chapter, but are they to be gendered as feminine, and is the greatness masculine? Was it a certain public, bourgeois articulation of masculinity and grandeur that held Wagner back from madness, unlike, for instance, Nietzsche? Or perhaps it is the other way round: that the feminine is foregrounded in Wagner, and the masculine is that which suffers, either narcissistically or sympathetically. Who suffers, who is wounded, and who can be 'great' here? I will argue in this part of the book, in which I will raise gender issues for the whole study, that Wagner collapses questions of gender so completely as to make a fascist discourse of control essential to put things back the way they were. Gender-- where modernity conceals neither its good nor its evil, however much it may try

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