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Wagnerism: Art and Politics in the Shadow of Music

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Original price $23.00
$23.00 - $23.00
Current price $23.00
Publisher: Picador USA
Publication Date:
Format: Paperback
Pages: 784
Availability: In Stock
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For better or worse, Wagner is the most widely influential figure in the history of music. Around 1900, the phenomenon known as Wagnerism saturated European and American culture. Such colossal creations as The Ring of the Nibelung, Tristan und Isolde, and Parsifal were models of formal daring, mythmaking, erotic freedom, and mystical speculation. A mighty procession of artists, including Virginia Woolf, Thomas Mann, Paul Cézanne, Isadora Duncan, and Luis Buñuel, felt his impact. Anarchists, occultists, feminists, and gay-rights pioneers saw him as a kindred spirit. Then Adolf Hitler incorporated Wagner into the soundtrack of Nazi Germany, and the composer came to be defined by his ferocious antisemitism. For many, his name is now almost synonymous with artistic evil.

In Wagnerism, Alex Ross restores the magnificent confusion of what it means to be a Wagnerian. A pandemonium of geniuses, madmen, charlatans, and prophets do battle over Wagner's many-sided legacy. As readers of his brilliant articles for The New Yorker have come to expect, Ross ranges thrillingly across artistic disciplines, from the architecture of Louis Sullivan to the novels of Philip K. Dick, from the Zionist writings of Theodor Herzl to the civil-rights essays of W.E.B. Du Bois, from O Pioneers! to Apocalypse Now.

In many ways, Wagnerism tells a tragic tale. An artist who might have rivaled Shakespeare in universal reach is undone by an ideology of hate. Still, his shadow lingers over twenty-first century culture, his mythic motifs coursing through superhero films and fantasy fiction. Neither apologia nor condemnation, Wagnerism is a work of passionate discovery, urging us toward a more honest idea of how art acts in the world.

Editorial Reviews

The New York Times, 100 Notable Books of 2020 - Chicago Tribune, The 10 Best Books of 2020 - NPR, Best Books of 2020 - Rolling Stone, Best Music Books of 2020 - Financial Times, Best Books of 2020 - Air Mail, Top 10 Books of 2020 - Pitchfork, 15 Favorite Music Books of 2020

"A work of enormous intellectual range and subtle artistic judgment... The book has its own 'Wagnerian' heft and ambitiousness of intent, being nothing less than a history of ideas that spans an arc from Nietzsche and George Eliot to Philip K. Dick, 'Apocalypse Now' and neo-Nazi skinheads . . . Ross has dug deep into some of the most fertile (and occasionally most bizarre) terrain of Western culture, examining and bringing to light the struggles for individuation and self-discovery of a host of reactive minds."
-- John Adams, The New York Times Book Review

"[ Wagnerism] takes up Wagner's protean impact with unprecedented scope . . . The result is an indispensable work of cultural history, offering both a comprehensive resource and a bravura narrative . . . Extraordinary . . . As Mr. Ross richly details, Wagner's appeal to women and gays is a hallmark of his achievement."
--Joseph Horowitz, The Wall Street Journal

Capacious and enthralling . . . In Wagner's operas, sums up Ross, 'we see the highest and the lowest impulses of humanity entangled.' In Wagnerism, however, those impulses--aesthetic, sexual, philosophical and political--are deftly untangled, then enticingly presented for the general reader. The result is a superb example of cultural history and, given its themes, a work surprisingly relevant to this plague-ridden, watershed year.
-- Michael Dirda, The Washington Post

Readers who let Ross lead them anew through the 20th century in 2007's The Rest Is Noise will find familiar comforts in his sure guidance and musical prose. But they'll find dazzling new dimensions in his scholarship, as adept with large swaths of history as attentive to small crannies of expertise.
-- Michael Andor Brodeur, The Washington Post (Best Classical Music of 2020)

"Magnificent . . . Every culture has its own issues with Wagner, and Ross' even hand is especially impressive when taking on the Big One. His explication of Hitler's rise and the legacy of Wagner's anti-Semitism is a moving lamentation . . . In the end, the inconsistencies are what made Wagner matter, and what make Ross today's perfect Wagnerite."
-- Mark Swed, Los Angeles Times

Suavely brilliant . . . [This] magnum opus more than a decade in the making sets out to do nothing less than chart the entire scope of Wagner's influence in Western history and culture, including everything from French Symbolist poetry to 'Star Wars.' That capsule description conveys the work's jaw-dropping blend of ambition and erudition, but downplays its easy accessibility.
--Joshua Kosman, San Francisco Chronicle

Here is cultural history that ties together politics, philosophy, sex, war and race . . . Ross is particularly good at picking apart contradiction--and the legacy of anti-Semitism--infamously embodied by Wagnerian ideas. But this is not a biography of a man. It's a tracing of an aesthetic, one overwrought and foundational, and Ross chips away geologic layers to identify the rot. You'll see your world differently.
--Christopher Borrelli, Chicago Tribune

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