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Wagner's Dark Shadow: Can We Separate the Man from His Works?
June 27, 2013 4:31 PM   Subscribe

Nike Wagner, the composer's great-granddaughter, puts the question that this raises in these terms: "Should we allow ourselves to listen to his works with pleasure, even though we know that he was an anti-Semite?" There's a bigger issue behind this question: Can Germans enjoy any part of their history in a carefree way?
posted by the man of twists and turns (122 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite

 
I dunno, I sort of see the problem here to be the inverse: Can we separate Wagner from the country's history after his death? Anti-semitism ran rampant in Europe during his era, and many great works of art betray cultural prejudices of their time we now reject. This is a particular issue in Germany, but it's unfortunately only unique in European terms. That his works were enjoyed by genocidal anti-Semites (and anti-Catholics, anti-homosexual, anti-disabled, and that's not even all of it) seems a tricky patina to erase from the history of his art, but it is not (to stretch a metaphor) inherent in the original polish.
posted by dhartung at 4:41 PM on June 27, 2013 [12 favorites]


How appropriate is it that Wagner has a descendant named for the Greek goddess of victory?

Only way it would be more appropriate was if her name was BRUNHILDE or FREYJA.
posted by grubi at 4:52 PM on June 27, 2013


Huh. Oddly enough, I've been kind of struggling with something similar lately, in that I'd really like to enjoy the music of Burzum, because it is beautiful to me in the abstract, but knowing who is behind it and what he stands for makes it somewhat difficult to just relax and enjoy it as music.
posted by koeselitz at 4:52 PM on June 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


The only way you can enjoy anything is by making that distinction between the artist and their politics. But your ability to do so varies wildly depending on the medium.
posted by gertzedek at 4:58 PM on June 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


I feel like this FPP would be incomplete without a link to Stephen Fry's documentary on the subject, which I have seen twice and which makes a good case for seperating the composer from his views. He makes me want to get tickets to the Ring Cylce in Melbourne, but its sold out.

As for me, I enjoy songs produced by murderers and movies directed by pedophiliac rapists. I think we need to seperate the artist from the art, since the same passion that creates great art can also create great evil. The emotions Wagner inspired in Hitler may be the same ones that make his work valuable to us.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 4:58 PM on June 27, 2013 [13 favorites]


Stephen Fry discussed this on Craig Ferguson a few weeks ago as well. Link to the beginning of that part of the discussion, but really, go back and watch the whole interview afterward, because Stephen Fry and Craig Ferguson.
posted by George_Spiggott at 5:00 PM on June 27, 2013 [3 favorites]


I asked a somewhat relevant question to AskMe and got a bunch of great responses. Can someone be a "hero" if the non-heroic aspects of their life were repugnant?
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 5:19 PM on June 27, 2013


There is a difference between work that pleases our vanity, identity and intellect, and work which moves our spirit. If you let the former prevent you from enjoying the latter you are doing yourself a disservice. Music cannot be evaluated as if it were a newspaper opinion piece or blog entry. People who make a living sensationalizing things like the unsavory elements of Wagner's personality are tragically constipated, and as much as their dog whistle may resonate with their sympathizers, their work will not be replayed, reinterpreted and loved anew for hundreds of years.

Daniel Barenboim conducted Wagner in Israel. That should tell you enough. Of course, Barenboim enjoys music, so he may be irretrievably biased.

I am sympathetic to the notion that Wagner's operatic work had implicit political content, but this nevertheless confuses representation for advocacy. Wagner was a creative genius with the rare ability to compose massive works - our world could use more people like this, not less.

As far as his personal life, I couldn't care much less. You could tell me that Beethoven blinded kittens with a sharpened tuning fork and I would still be able to enjoy his work. To me, music is not about exploring some likeable historical figure and pretending you were him - it is about finding parts of yourself in the work of strangers.
posted by Teakettle at 5:19 PM on June 27, 2013 [13 favorites]


In only a few years, a nation of culture was turned into one of modern barbarians. Is it not also possible that Germany's illustrious past in fact led it irrevocably towards the rise of the Nazis? Could the philosophical abstraction, artistic elation and yearning for collective salvation that drove the country also have contributed to its ultimate derailing into the kind of mania that defined the years of National Socialism? After all, it wasn't just the dull masses that followed the Führer. Members of the cultural elite were also on their knees.
This seems to me to be the central problem. While I don't necessarily believe that Germany's cultural achievements led to Nazism, they certainly failed to inoculate against it. At the very least this indicates the potentially profound gap between aesthetics and morality, not only for the individual artist, but for the society as a whole. On a more speculative note, I wonder what connections, if any, might exist between late 19th/early 20th century German aesthetics and more recent research on the links between feelings of disgust and morality- could perhaps a society that particularly treasures romantic beauty feel an even deeper sense of revulsion toward those deemed insufficiently lovely?
posted by palindromic at 5:34 PM on June 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


While it's hard for me to enjoy the work of actors who are known assholes, since I have to look at their faces, I have no problem with enjoying other forms of art in separation from the artists. But the "bigger question" is a completely different deal.

Can Germans enjoy any part of their history in a carefree way?

Can anyone?
Unless the "part of history" is literally an object from their past - a castle, an opera, a painting - absolutely not. Works of art can be enjoyed in separation from their creator and even their context, but no part of history can be considered without its background. And it is never absolutely pure.
posted by hat_eater at 5:40 PM on June 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


On a more speculative note, I wonder what connections, if any, might exist between late 19th/early 20th century German aesthetics and more recent research on the links between feelings of disgust and morality- could perhaps a society that particularly treasures romantic beauty feel an even deeper sense of revulsion toward those deemed insufficiently lovely?

Oh, absolutly - the power of will, of glory, of heroics can lead to facism easily. Read Norman Spinrad's The Iron Dream, where a traditional fantasy narrative is revealed to have been written by Hitler. I found it interesting that in Django Unchained that the Seigfried legend was used in service of anti-racism.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 5:47 PM on June 27, 2013


Years ago, during the whole "politically correct" hubbub on campuses, I got into a great discussion about this with a grad student in the department where I worked in the office. She said something great in response to my fretting about how people were tying themselves in knots over whether they should use a certain phrase because someone else had used that phrase for something unsavory - the phrase "final solution," in fact. She argued that the phrase "final solution" could actually be used in a lot of other contexts, but if everyone avoided using it because they were afraid of being thought to be Nazis, then in time the phrase "final solution" would ONLY come to be seen as a Nazi phrase - and the language would have lost two perfectly serviceable words. "And if that happens," she concluded dramatically, "then the fascists will have won!"

Similarly, if we shun Wagner simply because of his music's association with the Nazis, then it will be stripped of all artistic worth and become nothing but "Nazi Music," and that means that Hitler will have stolen an entire symphonic opera cycle from the world posthumously.

The question of whether Wagner's own views would make someone uncomfortable to listen to his music is a thornier issue, and one which individuals would most likely prefer to come to their own conclusion about. But avoiding Wagner's music just because of "you know who ELSE liked Wagner?" reasons is...kind of letting the Fascists win.

And anyway, more people associate Wagner's music with Bugs Bunny rather than Nazis by now.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:50 PM on June 27, 2013 [17 favorites]



And anyway, more people associate Wagner's music with Bugs Bunny rather than Nazis by now.


Honestly, that disgusts me more than the association with Nazisim does. I share some of the facist distaste for humor, since it strips things of their greatness and power.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 5:51 PM on June 27, 2013


Honestly, that disgusts me more than the association with Nazisim does.

*stares*

Do you also feel that way about Fantasia? Even knowing that Bugs Bunny and Disney are how millions of people were introduced to classical music in the first place?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:53 PM on June 27, 2013 [13 favorites]


humor [...] strips things of their greatness and power

Usually rightly so and in response to the abuse of said power.
posted by hat_eater at 5:54 PM on June 27, 2013 [1 favorite]





Charlemagne In Sweatpants: "Honestly, that disgusts me more than the association with Nazisim does. I share some of the facist distaste for humor, since it strips things of their greatness and power."

Now that there's funny, I don't care who you are!
posted by Red Loop at 5:55 PM on June 27, 2013 [3 favorites]



*stares*

Do you also feel that way about Fantasia? Even knowing that Bugs Bunny and Disney are how millions of people were introduced to classical music in the first place?


Fantasia at least tried to give things glory through segments like A Night on Bald Mountain. I like Bugs Bunny, but I don't like people associating classical music with Bugs Bunny. It brings things down to that jokey level.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 5:55 PM on June 27, 2013


I'm not commenting until I register my Ozymandias in Ugg Boots sockpuppet.
posted by George_Spiggott at 5:58 PM on June 27, 2013 [21 favorites]


I like Bugs Bunny, but I don't like people associating classical music with Bugs Bunny. It brings things down to that jokey level.

....I'm sorry, but I can't help but think that if we were having this conversation in person, the absolute best thing to happen right now is for someone to have snuck in a whoopie cushion.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:59 PM on June 27, 2013 [11 favorites]


Anyone's enjoyment of a particular piece of art is personal, and if their enjoyment is tainted by the knowledge of something distasteful about the artist, that's their personal experience and you shouldn't blame them for it. Art is experiential, after all. Personally, I still enjoy some art by some horrible fucking people, but sometimes I feel a little dirty about it.
posted by Red Loop at 5:59 PM on June 27, 2013 [4 favorites]


Really, the question is 'can anyone enjoy anything knowing that the way to the present was paved with bodies a mile deep'. None of us are free of that history.
posted by Mei's lost sandal at 6:01 PM on June 27, 2013 [6 favorites]


I suppose that this does demonstrate the power of Wagner's art, in that it caused a material change in the world. For the worst, sure, but it helped cause it.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 6:02 PM on June 27, 2013


Can Germans enjoy any part of their history in a carefree way?

If you think your own history gives you the moral authority to ask a question like this with a straight face, you let us know.
posted by mhoye at 6:04 PM on June 27, 2013 [6 favorites]


Can Germans enjoy any part of their history in a carefree way?


Sausages and Beer.
posted by jonmc at 6:05 PM on June 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


mhoye: "If you think your own history gives you the moral authority to ask a question like this with a straight face, you let us know."

Who is the subject of this address? Whose "your own history" do you mean? Note that this article was written by a German and published in a German magazine. But I guess I don't understand what you mean.
posted by koeselitz at 6:08 PM on June 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


Sausages and Beer.

Neither of which was invented by Germans - the first known mention of sausage was in The Odyssey, and beer's from Mesopotamia.

Hi, my name is EC and I will be your pedant this evening.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:10 PM on June 27, 2013 [7 favorites]


I love Wagner. I'm seeing my first Ring Cycle in August, and I'm full of beaming anticipation.

I defy anyone here to point to a work of art which was made by somebody utterly pure in heart. Because that person, like the hero referenced above, is impossible. No actual human being is so perfect, so unblemished, so sane and correct in all opinions. You trust the art, and not the artist. So I read Chekhov without thinking of what an asshole he was, and listen to Wagner and try to tune into the grand story of redemption and sacrifice he believed he was telling. No human being is a saint, and artists are human beings. Hitler's love for Wagner's work does not irredeemably poison it. I hear Proust was difficult, and that Virginia Woolf was a terrible snob, as well. The social context of their work is interesting in and of itself, but it's separate from understanding it as art, and does not invalidate it.
posted by jokeefe at 6:11 PM on June 27, 2013 [5 favorites]


Der alte Nazi von nebenan - "Die Weimarer Festivalchefin Nike Wagner über ihre Vorfahren Franz Liszt und Richard Wagner, die Freundschaft ihrer Familie mit Hitler und über Angela Merkels einseitigen Operngeschmack"
posted by the man of twists and turns at 6:13 PM on June 27, 2013


Can Germans enjoy any part of their history in a carefree way?

Was Germany even that much of a hotbed of anti-Semitism and bigotry prior to the post-WWI period? Especially compared to Russia or other European countries? That seems like a hyperbolic and loaded question.
posted by Apocryphon at 6:13 PM on June 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


As for me, I enjoy songs produced by murderers and movies directed by pedophiliac rapists. I think we need to seperate the artist from the art, since the same passion that creates great art can also create great evil. The emotions Wagner inspired in Hitler may be the same ones that make his work valuable to us.

A pretty big difference between somebody like Wagner and people like Polanski or say Orson Scott Card is that at least Wagner has the decency to be dead. Listening to Wagner isn't going to enrich his coffers.

That makes a pretty big difference in my view.
posted by kmz at 6:14 PM on June 27, 2013 [8 favorites]


I struggle with this a lot too, and the only answer I have been able to arrive at is that if I'm going to separate the art from the artist, not to separate the art patronage. At least for artists still living.

For example, I think Bouncin' Back (Bumpin' Me Against The Wall) is an absolute banger. But I will never again give Mystikal any of my money, ever. I mean, I even feel a little guilty for enjoying the torrented or streamed versions of the music of someone who gang-raped his stylist and videotaped the rape, and remains not only unapologetic, but wants 'reparations' for what was 'taken from him' in the form of jail time. But I PARTICULARLY cannot see any way I can financially support this person and not be doing something blatantly wrong.

That goes for Roman Polanski too - and any other awful, awful humans that make great art. Listening to other musicians perform the works of the long-dead Wagner, who's living descendants seem thoughtful and reflective is one thing. Financially enabling living artists who continue to do monstrous things - aided by that money no less - is another.
posted by AAALASTAIR at 6:16 PM on June 27, 2013 [3 favorites]


aka what kmz said
posted by AAALASTAIR at 6:17 PM on June 27, 2013


gertzedek: "The only way you can enjoy anything is by making that distinction between the artist and their politics. But your ability to do so varies wildly depending on the medium."

This is an approach that works just fine in cases where it's easy to separate an artist and their politics. The difficult issues arise when that isn't a simple task. The article discusses the fact that many of Wagner's Nazi tendencies can be noted within his work itself.

I don't have that issue, I guess, because I don't know German. Which is why I can (sometimes) enjoy Burzum - because I don't know what Varg is singing, so I don't know it when he's singing some pseudo-Nazi "Odalist" nonsense. But... the knowledge that it's there is tough.

Of course, Wagner and Burzum are absolutely not parallel. It's one thing to say there are Nazi elements within Wagner's work; but, as far as I can tell, they are relatively obscure and not very overt. One can enjoy even the lyrics and the stories behind them generally in a pure way, even if hints are under the surface.

Ironically, however, I can imagine Wagner angrily insisting that anyone who disagrees with him socially and politically ought to ignore his music and leave it to others to enjoy. People now have ways of enjoying Wagner in a more detached way, but what we forget is that Wagnerism was in its own very real way a religion in its time.
posted by koeselitz at 6:18 PM on June 27, 2013


I mean - a good example: one could say that one ought to enjoy the great director Leni Riefenstahl as an artist, completely separate from her political views and affiliations. And that would be fine, were it even possible; but it's a silly project in the face of the reality that, yes, her films were Nazi propaganda films. I can enjoy her skill and take some pleasure in her brilliant use of light and form, but there is no way on earth I'm ever going to be able to sit down and watch any of those Leni Riefenstahl movies without once thinking about Nazis.
posted by koeselitz at 6:22 PM on June 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


Neither of which was invented by Germans - the first known mention of sausage was in The Odyssey, and beer's from Mesopotamia.

Sure. But they do both so well.
posted by jonmc at 6:43 PM on June 27, 2013



I mean - a good example: one could say that one ought to enjoy the great director Leni Riefenstahl as an artist, completely separate from her political views and affiliations. And that would be fine, were it even possible; but it's a silly project in the face of the reality that, yes, her films were Nazi propaganda films. I can enjoy her skill and take some pleasure in her brilliant use of light and form, but there is no way on earth I'm ever going to be able to sit down and watch any of those Leni Riefenstahl movies without once thinking about Nazis.


What about the films she acted in, like her mountineering movies? Or her post-Nazi diving films? Pretty much every great artist has skeletons, and unless the art is done in the service of some horrible idealogy it isn't tainted. And the things that can attract us to art - force, moral certainty, redemption - can also be used to justify bad things.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 6:44 PM on June 27, 2013


The latest Ken and Robin talk about stuff touches on this a little, giving a little potted history of the Völkisch movement, the German variant on the post-Englightenment romantic movements, which gave us both Wagner and Nazis. Guido Von List's book of visions on the nature of runes getting laughed out of serious academia is posited as a possible beginning of the movement's friction with "those people".
posted by Artw at 6:53 PM on June 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


Am I the only person to whom this line of thinking doesn't even occur naturally?

I mean, it's music; if you like it, like it. I like the Internationale, too. And that was the anthem for equal horrors. I love ice cream sandwiches - God alone knows what skeletons the inventor of those has in his closet.

If it turns out that Salk used the N-word once, do we all risk polio to stay pure?
posted by codswallop at 6:56 PM on June 27, 2013 [4 favorites]


for srs
posted by elizardbits at 6:56 PM on June 27, 2013


The overture to Tannhäuser is wonderful.
posted by Ice Cream Socialist at 7:12 PM on June 27, 2013 [4 favorites]


My answer, and understanding, is no. If you lacked integrity in some way, then it extends to your work. It is a psychological and economic truth, because your character and your in/actions are fundamentally interfeeding processes. Moreover, anyone in a creative endeaver (scientist or artist) is especially impacted by this. However, this is different issue from, and completely compatible with, our ability to enjoy somebody else's output. That has more to do with society's task of moving on from the past, etc, which itself is hard work.

tldr: We cannot separate a person from their artifacts of expression; that would be absurd. Doesn't mean we can't benefit from or enjoy some of that.
posted by polymodus at 7:18 PM on June 27, 2013


Someone bottom line this for me. I'm looking for answers here people, not more philosophical conundrums.

Is it ok for me to like Kanye West's music?
posted by Ad hominem at 7:21 PM on June 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


How many millions have been married to Wagner's Wedding March? (Here comes the bride...) When listening, very few people care that Wagner was an anti-Semite.
posted by notmtwain at 7:22 PM on June 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


Honestly, that disgusts me more than the association with Nazisim does. I share some of the facist distaste for humor, since it strips things of their greatness and power.
DEMETRIUS
Villain, what hast thou done?
AARON
That which thou canst not undo.
CHIRON
Thou hast undone our mother.
AARON
Villain, I have done thy mother.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 7:25 PM on June 27, 2013 [7 favorites]


I like the Internationale, too. And that was the anthem for equal horrors. I love ice cream sandwiches - God alone knows what skeletons the inventor of those has in his closet.

Am I the only one who finds it freaky that the second post after this comment came from "Ice Cream Socialist"?
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 7:31 PM on June 27, 2013


Is it ok for me to like Kanye West's music?

No.



Sorry, low-hanging fruit and all
posted by jokeefe at 7:32 PM on June 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


Fine :(
posted by Ad hominem at 7:34 PM on June 27, 2013 [2 favorites]



Fantasia at least tried to give things glory through segments like A Night on Bald Mountain. I like Bugs Bunny, but I don't like people associating classical music with Bugs Bunny. It brings things down to that jokey level.


Gilbert & Sullivan did a good bit of that. With classical composers, they of course didn't have to. Mozart was a genius, but a man who couldn't go through a day without inflicting a fart joke on someone is in no position to complain about being appropriated by the Warner Brothers animators. It's the romantics who took things so seriously, and G&S delighted in bringing them down.
posted by ocschwar at 7:47 PM on June 27, 2013 [1 favorite]



My answer, and understanding, is no. If you lacked integrity in some way, then it extends to your work. It is a psychological and economic truth, because your character and your in/actions are fundamentally interfeeding processes. Moreover, anyone in a creative endeaver (scientist or artist) is especially impacted by this. However, this is different issue from, and completely compatible with, our ability to enjoy somebody else's output. That has more to do with society's task of moving on from the past, etc, which itself is hard work.


Define 'lacks integrity'. I'm pretty sure Wagner was genuine in his anti-semtisim, the same way Lovecraft was genuine in his racism, etc. Though I do agree that I don't like art that's made falsely, or without the full outpouring of the artist's passion and spirit.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 7:49 PM on June 27, 2013


And anyway, more people associate Wagner's music with Bugs Bunny rather than Nazis by now.
Honestly, that disgusts me more than the association with Nazisim does. I share some of the facist distaste for humor, since it strips things of their greatness and power.
The irony is that it was Wagner who made classical music such serious business. Before Wagner, the concert music ("classical") experience was closer to a modern rock concert. People milling about, some seating, some standing. Food and alcohol served. General rowdiness in the crowd.

Wagner sat everyone down in assigned seats and asked them to take the music very seriously.

There is certainly value in taking music seriously, but we have probably also lost a great deal by making it so formal.
posted by b1tr0t at 7:54 PM on June 27, 2013 [5 favorites]


I defy anyone here to point to a work of art which was made by somebody utterly pure in heart. ... No actual human being is so perfect, so unblemished, so sane and correct in all opinions ...

Aw, man, "Nobody's Perfect"? That strikes me as very weak. There are, after all, degrees, and your argument makes no difference between enjoying a melody written by a guy who's mean to his mailman and glorying in a song written specifically to accompany the massacre of peasants. I think I'd have greater respect if you'd said "Y'know what, at some point I don't care. This enraptures me, and I admit that art isn't always good and kind, and that beauty isn't always truthful. I trust to my core humanity to not be lead into badness myself, but I will still experience this."

Mind you, I don't think I've really got any basis to criticize you; I was just a describing an argument for the same position that struck me as stronger. I think this is one of the trickiest and most interesting philosophical questions around, as I've never heard or read anything that puts it on a basis steadier than personal choice. The arguments that strike me as the least correct are those that tell others how they should feel about it.
posted by benito.strauss at 8:07 PM on June 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


I share some of the facist distaste for humor, since it strips things of their greatness and power.

...

Though I do agree that I don't like art that's made falsely, or without the full outpouring of the artist's passion and spirit.
"I think there is nothing so admirable as sunsets," she resumed, "but especially by the side of the sea."

"Oh, I adore the sea!" said Monsieur Léon.

"And then, does it not seem to you," continued Madame Bovary, "that the mind travels more freely on this limitless expanse, the contemplation of which elevates the soul, gives ideas of the infinite, the ideal?"

"It is the same with mountainous landscapes," continued Léon.
...
"Has it ever happened to you," Léon went on, "to come across some vague idea of your own in a book, some dim image that comes to you from afar, and as the completest expression of your own slightest sentiment?"

"I have experienced it," she replied.

"That is why," he said, "I especially love the poets. I think verse more tender than prose, and that it moves far more easily to tears."

"Still in the long-run it is tiring," continued Emma. "Now I, on the contrary, adore stories that rush breathlessly along, that frighten one. I detest commonplace heroes and moderate sentiments, such as there are in nature."

"Yes, indeed," observed the clerk, "works, not touching the heart, miss, it seems to me, the true end of art. It is so sweet, amid all the disenchantments of life, to be able to dwell in thought upon noble characters, pure affections, and pictures of happiness."
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 8:10 PM on June 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


>>Is it ok for me to like Kanye West's music?

>No.


Not only no, but shit no.
posted by codswallop at 8:11 PM on June 27, 2013


Know who else didn't like Bugs Bunny?
posted by Teakettle at 8:13 PM on June 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


I love the idea of dissociation my enjoyment of art from any larger context. I wonder how far I could press the idea?

" Hey, the maker of that game thinks that rape is a cool characterization device."
"So? The gameplay is awesome!"

"The t-shirt was made in a sweatshop where people work for a pittance in hazardous conditions"
"But the important thing is, it makes me look FABULOUS!"

"To get the meat for that hamburger, they're burning down the rainforest. Not to mention all those calories and saturated fats aren't good for you."
" Oh but it tastes SOOO good!"

" That car gets 10 miles per gallon, uses leaded gas, and directly contributes to global warming."
"That's nothing to do with me. Look at those lines! Listen to that engine!"

It makes living in this world so much easier when we can just concentrate on the stuff we like.
posted by happyroach at 8:15 PM on June 27, 2013 [4 favorites]


The overture to Tannhäuser is wonderful.

As discussed with friends, we agree: Wagner's overtures are wonderful.

We also agree that his operas are too long.
posted by ovvl at 8:18 PM on June 27, 2013


I share some of the facist distaste for humor, since it strips things of their greatness and power.

You are Ignatius J. Reilly and I claim my 5£.
posted by hap_hazard at 8:19 PM on June 27, 2013 [7 favorites]


I love the idea of dissociation my enjoyment of art from any larger context. I wonder how far I could press the idea?

" Hey, the maker of that game thinks that rape is a cool characterization device."
"So? The gameplay is awesome!"

"The t-shirt was made in a sweatshop where people work for a pittance in hazardous conditions"
"But the important thing is, it makes me look FABULOUS!"

"To get the meat for that hamburger, they're burning down the rainforest. Not to mention all those calories and saturated fats aren't good for you."
" Oh but it tastes SOOO good!"

" That car gets 10 miles per gallon, uses leaded gas, and directly contributes to global warming."
"That's nothing to do with me. Look at those lines! Listen to that engine!"

It makes living in this world so much easier when we can just concentrate on the stuff we like.


Most people make these arguments, either conciously or unconciously, and many people simply don't care.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 8:19 PM on June 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


I love Wagner because he reminds us of our humanity. It is silly to think any one of us is incapable of atrocities. Many people believe they could not be like Hitler, no matter what. It is far more productive to contemplate how we might be horrible people than it is to simply make work which reiterates our banal ideals. We are capable of evil. We are capable of beauty. We are capable of expressing our will when every other person says we are wrong. We are capable of living and dying as slaves. All of this potential and more is contained in every individual.

Wagner seems to paint a big scary picture, but when you take a few steps back you realize it was a mirror all along.
posted by Teakettle at 8:24 PM on June 27, 2013 [3 favorites]


I also tend to the feeling that I don't want to financially enrich an artist whose politics angers me. This generally means that long-enough-dead artists are fine, but currently alive ones aren't.

And it's really nice for people who can read Ender's Game and not have part of it tainted by the knowledge of what kind of person OSC is, or whichever artist we want to argue about, but it's not as if there is insufficient art in this world to enjoy, that not enjoying some of it -- and it isn't deliberate, for me -- isn't going to mean I never get to enjoy things or that I am doing myself or art a disservice. People can find different things in art, and that includes the effects of the artist.
posted by jeather at 8:39 PM on June 27, 2013


Can someone be a "hero" if the non-heroic aspects of their life were repugnant?

Well, yeah---most heroes have ugly aspects of their life. Martin Luther King was an appalling philanderer, with a lot of sexual encounters that are abuses of power at best. He is also one of the best people the 20th century ever produced.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 8:54 PM on June 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


Another artist with moral/ethical, too-human flaws feels Wagner.
posted by noaccident at 9:23 PM on June 27, 2013


Gandhi regularly slept naked with much younger female relatives, in order to prove his chastity.

When he was confronted and told it was exploitative,he said that it was less exploitative than if he had had sex with them.

His ideals of nonviolence and non-cooperation are tainted.

I'm going to consider anyone who has practiced non-violence or non-cooperation to be complicit and I will assume anyone who does not denounce Ghandi supports exploitation.

Who's first?
posted by Ad hominem at 9:25 PM on June 27, 2013


Music has social meaning, and exists inside a social framework, there's no escaping that. But it can change and evolve over time, and depending on location and context. Its also not just about who composed it, but who consumes it, who performs it, where and when that happens.

His music isn't just about him. It can be about a million things. It can be about bugs bunny, it can be about the techniques that came from his music that are in common use today (leitmotif for example). It can be about the composers who followed in his footsteps and were greatly influenced by his music (Mahler and Richard Strauss spring to mind). If his music is used in a commercial, it can come to mean the company advertised to many people. It can also mean oppression and discrimination. How it comes to mean those things is up to the listener and the social framework within which it is consumed.

I remember once being at a bar and hearing a nice acoustic tune. I was tapping my feet and really enjoying it, when I realized it was familiar. Very familiar but I couldn't put my finger on until the band sang these words "hit me baby one more time". Urgh I had been enjoying a Britney Spears song! How could this happen! Can I enjoy that performance even though I hate the original song? Yes I certainly can (and did). In terms of musical notes on a page, harmony, voice leading etc it was exactly like the original - it was about the performers and the context that changed it for me.

b1tr0t - do you have any cites for the effect Wagner had on arranged seating etc? I've never heard that before, interesting stuff!
posted by Admira at 9:30 PM on June 27, 2013


codswallop: "Am I the only person to whom this line of thinking doesn't even occur naturally? I mean, it's music; if you like it, like it. I like the Internationale, too. And that was the anthem for equal horrors. I love ice cream sandwiches - God alone knows what skeletons the inventor of those has in his closet. If it turns out that Salk used the N-word once, do we all risk polio to stay pure?"

That's simplifying it to the point of absurdity, though. The Polio vaccine wasn't a statement, it wasn't an ideological or political or social act, except maybe in the sense that it prevented a horrible disease. It does not contain Salk's soul. It is not intended to be a communication of something profound. And it cannot say anything about what is right and what is wrong.

I mean - I pointed out above that I'd really like to enjoy what is (at times, to a certain degree) a neo-Nazi metal band. I have said that I probably can, but only because I don't know the language they're singing in. But if it were in English - I mean, can you imagine enjoying a neo-Nazi band? Can you say that listening to people scream racist slogans can have no moral effect or moral value?

Pick some things closer to home - if a hip hop tune has an abhorrently misogynist lyric - or a rock song, like this maybe - do you really think we need to just shrug and say "whatever?" Doesn't the content of music matter? Doesn't music actually say things about our lives - and doesn't it matter when it says things that are horribly wrong?

I say all this because I believe Wagner himself would have been profoundly disturbed by the notion that the content of music shouldn't matter, that music should be something we can enjoy without caring about what it really signifies in the mind of the artist who created it. And while he was wrong about a lot of things, I do think he was right about this.
posted by koeselitz at 9:43 PM on June 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


Wagner's antisemitism, while incontrovertible, is hardly extreme. You can pretty well boil it down to him complaining that the Jews were getting all the good jobs, when he wasn't, and then later comments saying that Jews should integrate more and hinting direly at darker things.

Not laudatory at all, quite deplorable rather, but in the context of the late nineteenth century, not particularly remarkable either. I would particularly point out that he continued to cheerfully employ and associate with Jews until the end of his life.

My belief is that this continues to come up because Hitler saw Parsifal and was deeply inspired (Robert Anton Wilson has him saying, "In that night, National Socialism was born" though I can't find any other corroborating information).
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 10:05 PM on June 27, 2013 [6 favorites]


What good does not listening to Wagner's work because he was an anti-semite do? Does it help anyone living now or in the future? To the level of a moral imperative?
posted by Ironmouth at 10:05 PM on June 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


> I say all this because I believe Wagner himself would have been profoundly disturbed by the notion that the content of music shouldn't matter

I agree - but the content of Wagner's music is, as far as I can see, completely free of the taint of anti-Semitism. By that standard, he's fine.

Compare and contrast with Leni Riefenstahl, a truly fine filmmaker whose work is, quite rightfully, consigned to the dustbin of history because of her work's staunch support of Hitler and National Socialism.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 10:07 PM on June 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


mhoye:If you think your own history gives you the moral authority to ask a question like this with a straight face, you let us know.

Polyphemus had it coming.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 10:10 PM on June 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


> What good does not listening to Wagner's work because he was an anti-semite do?

While I think it's a bad idea in Wagner's specific case, it's a viable strategy "because of the next guy".

If "the next guy" sees that a previous creator's work is mocked, ignored or suppressed because he or she is trying to sell ideas that are today considered universally offensive, it's a strong lesson for them - "don't be a Nazi" (homophobe, etc) "or see your own work discarded and forgotten."
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 10:10 PM on June 27, 2013


consigned to the dustbin of history

Oh, I don't know about that. Look how much she influenced just Star Wars, for example. It's not so much a dustbin as a rusty, hard-to-open file cabinet way in the back corner behind the coffee cart.
posted by dhartung at 10:10 PM on June 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


This is a very interesting question and Wagner is an especially interesting example. There is no universal standard of course for how hermeneutically one ought to interpret art, how much historical context should go into an appreciation of something, and it's usually worth sort of considering any art object in both ways, the disinterested way and the historical way. I usually find then that different artworks, even in abstract mediums like music, tend to have varying degrees of tied-ness to their context.

That is to say: All art is political. There is no doubt about that. There is no such thing as a work of music independent of outside forces that gave rise to it. Politics play a critical role even in harmony and form. Now, one can choose to what degree such an interpretation affects their appreciation of a work. But I find that the more I know, the harder it becomes to ignore. Plus, you miss half the fun. To pick an egregious example, listening to Shostakovich without understanding the context of the works, especially symphonies like 5 and 7, just barely feels like actually listening to it. Or think of Quartet for the End of Time. I mean, that piece is nothing without its origin story, the politics of Messiaen, etc.

It is really, really difficult to ignore Wagner's beliefs when you listen to his music. It is much more than merely his distaste for "Jewishness in Music." His music encapsulates his feelings of Germany. He wanted his music to portray that sense of Geist, the idea that Germany was emerging as sort of the final state of the world, the culmination of all that is. The stories of the operas reflect this. The length of the operas. The creation of this epic and immense world. And especially, especially the harmony. The harmony, so controversial at the time, is the culmination of all progress in Western music up to that time - and Wagner was very conscious of this, this was very intentional. And this apogee of progress in his harmony is a pretty fascist notion. The famous Tristan chord. The rampant and unhinged chromaticism. The grandeur. Wagner was taking one of Germany's great prides, its great achievement in world history - Tonal Music - and putting the final nail in its coffin. On purpose. The severity of his music was an overt statement against the so-called "Jewishness in Music," to be sure, but it was also a statement about the new place of Germany in history. His political ideas are there in the music. In fact, they are one and the same.

Anti-Semitism in Western music didn't start or stop with Wagner, of course. Even Stravinsky complained of "Jewishness" in music. It isn't as much about Wagner being an anti-Semite as it is about his music capturing the spirit of anti-Semeticness and the beginnings of German fascism in fin de siecle Europe, of it sort of being both the anthem for and the musical representation of the attitude that led to Nazi Germany. And that is hard to ignore in the music. At least for me. It really is.

On the other hand, I also get that it's easy to shrug it off. Because it's music. Because it is "abstract." Because it didn't hurt anyone directly. Because music, in the words of the great Leonard Bernstein, communicates only itself. And I get why we want to shrug off the history - because people want to enjoy it. Want to relish in the truly remarkable musical achievement that it is. And we are better, in our age, at separating art and politics in many ways (though in some ways we are regressing, I think, on that front, but that's a different thread). One way to look at art history, especially music, from say ancient Greece until he 1960s is its gradual emancipation from the state and from religion and such. Emancipation from the non-abstract. We are much better now at appreciating it for its own sake. And so I don't think it's as much a moral question of "can we?" Because we can. We are complex beings capable of very complex enjoyment of art. "Should we" is a different question - and one I'm not entirely sure I really have a good answer for.

All of that said, I don't think there is any person on the planet who could possibly listen to Wagner in a carefree way. That is probably the last word that comes to mind when hearing Wagner, complicated history or no.
posted by Lutoslawski at 10:14 PM on June 27, 2013 [6 favorites]


I like what Fry said, when he suggested that Wagner's anti-semitism was motivated by jealousy and spite against Jewish composers who were more sucessful than him. I'd like to believe that that is true.

It is really, really difficult to ignore Wagner's beliefs when you listen to his music.

We encounter the same problems with HP Lovecraft, where his fear and xenophobia and racism gives his work its force. And I think its okay to enjoy things that are motivated by negative emotions, because we all have those emotions, even if they're not aimed at the same object as the singer or composer. I can't imagine what morally pure art is, and I'm almost certain I wouldn't like it since it doesn't come from those messy, ugly human emotions - hate, jealousy, spite, violence - that motivate so much good art.


Pick some things closer to home - if a hip hop tune has an abhorrently misogynist lyric - or a rock song, like this maybe - do you really think we need to just shrug and say "whatever?" Doesn't the content of music matter? Doesn't music actually say things about our lives - and doesn't it matter when it says things that are horribly wrong?


Pretty much, because those emotions are part of us, but listening to that music doesn't make us morally complicit in any way unless we act on it. I listen to lots of blues and old rock and roll and rap and I don't think that makes me more likely to hate women, though The Onion disagrees.





The latest Ken and Robin talk about stuff touches on this a little, giving a little potted history of the Völkisch movement, the German variant on the post-Englightenment romantic movements, which gave us both Wagner and Nazis. Guido Von List's book of visions on the nature of runes getting laughed out of serious academia is posited as a possible beginning of the movement's friction with "those people".


Thank you so much for this.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 10:37 PM on June 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


I can't imagine what morally pure art is, and I'm almost certain I wouldn't like it since it doesn't come from those messy, ugly human emotions

Yeah, I really agree with this. There's a sense in which we (we the internet, especially) seem to have lost a lot of our ability to understand art as metaphor, which is what all art is, even if it came from a pretty ugly place from the artist. Art works precisely because it is open to a variety of interpretations and experiences. It's important to understand Wagner and where his music was coming from hermeneutically and within its context, but if his music then universally means that, well, then music doesn't mean much. I mean, isn't music special precisely because it can unshackle itself?

Many critiques of art these days (not mentioning any recent ones, ahem, ahem), seem to want to force upon art this weird moral imperative to teach people how to live morally or represent some ideal way of thinking about the world. In fact, sometimes, and yes I am being a little hyperbolic here, but people almost want their art to be propaganda of a sort. The truth is that very few works of art come from these imaginary, heroic places, because artists are just people and people aren't jesus. The truly great works of art, Wagner included, are the ones that manage to sort of transcend the ugliness of their makers, to sustain, to appeal to people across the ages, people who get something from the work by bringing their own experiences to it and seeing it in that light.
posted by Lutoslawski at 10:57 PM on June 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


me: “Pick some things closer to home - if a hip hop tune has an abhorrently misogynist lyric - or a rock song, like this maybe - do you really think we need to just shrug and say "whatever?" Doesn't the content of music matter? Doesn't music actually say things about our lives - and doesn't it matter when it says things that are horribly wrong?”

Charlemagne In Sweatpants: “Pretty much, because those emotions are part of us, but listening to that music doesn't make us morally complicit in any way unless we act on it. I listen to lots of blues and old rock and roll and rap and I don't think that makes me more likely to hate women, though The Onion disagrees.”

This is a common way to approach music now, I think, but I have some skepticism about it. I mean, for one, I never said that listening to music makes us morally complicit in anything – nor that music makes us act in certain ways – but it seems like it's really devaluing music entirely if you really believe that the music you listen to doesn't matter to you as a person at all. Which is basically what you're saying if you say that the content of music has no moral or spiritual value.

I mean, you can say 'I don't really care what the lyrics are saying, I'm above it' – but at a certain point doesn't it actually matter what the lyrics are saying? And if it doesn't matter, why aren't you listening to Daft Punk?
posted by koeselitz at 11:08 PM on June 27, 2013



This is a common way to approach music now, I think, but I have some skepticism about it. I mean, for one, I never said that listening to music makes us morally complicit in anything – nor that music makes us act in certain ways – but it seems like it's really devaluing music entirely if you really believe that the music you listen to doesn't matter to you as a person at all. Which is basically what you're saying if you say that the content of music has no moral or spiritual value.

I mean, you can say 'I don't really care what the lyrics are saying, I'm above it' – but at a certain point doesn't it actually matter what the lyrics are saying? And if it doesn't matter, why aren't you listening to Daft Punk?


Quite the contrary: the music that I listen to pretty much makes up who I am as a person. But, for example, most of the music I listen to is made by Christians, and I'm not a Christian. And I can admire HOW somebody expresses their hatred of women or how they tap into those bitter, spiteful emotions without sharing in those emotions themselves. Wagner's tales of conquest and glory can inspire facism, but it can also inspire reflection or just serve as a soundtrack for somebody's own persona, heroic narrative. Art needs to be judged as art, and even writing that is explicitly facist has value.

It goes both ways, too: you can appreciate Midnight Oil or Anti-Flag as bands even if you don't share their politics because they express those politics through relatable emotions - anger, mostly.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 11:27 PM on June 27, 2013


It's such a funny coincidence that this FPP went up today. I was just sitting around this afternoon listening to some Wagner overtures with my baby daughter and got to wondering what exactly was so bad about Wagner in terms of Jews as compared to other composers of his era, since I guess none of the history classes I took ever really covered the question. Pop culture has informed me that Wagner is considered "Nazi music" but I never really knew why. I took a look at his Wikipedia entry and found the following amazing sentence: "While Bayreuth presented a useful front for Nazi culture, and Wagner's music was used at many Nazi events, the Nazi hierarchy as a whole did not share Hitler's enthusiasm for Wagner's operas and resented attending these lengthy epics at Hitler's insistence."

I looooved the mental picture of Hitler dragging all his grumbling subordinates to several-hours-long operas they hated, all trying to act enthusiastic and complaining about it to each other on the way home. Totally cracked me up.

Anyway, I love Wagner and I guess my little girl probably will too. Ultimately I think it speaks to Hitler's basic humanity that he found this music as moving as I do. Humans can do abominable things to one another, and it's useful and fitting to remind ourselves what we're capable of, I think.

That said, I do feel a little weird putting it on when Jewish friends are over.
posted by town of cats at 11:44 PM on June 27, 2013 [3 favorites]


The Nazis killed lots of people, not just Jews. So, nobody should listen to Wagner?
posted by Cranberry at 12:19 AM on June 28, 2013


Daniel Barenboim: Wagner and the Jews
posted by homunculus at 12:21 AM on June 28, 2013


I've been listening to Der Ring on youtube, and I find it longwinded and heavyhanded. I am merely an amateur pianist and I find the music, at this moment, creepily boring. It makes sense to me that a prejudiced man, from the past, should produce something that I, as one member of modern society, find to sound musically narrow-minded. Scientific research has studied the cognitive mechanisms of prejudice, and since music is such a potent form of self-expression, it should not be surprising that there are correlations to be found, for any artist, between the musical and the extra-musical.
posted by polymodus at 1:30 AM on June 28, 2013


happyroach:

I find your argumentem ad extemis to be a non-productive exercise in moral posturing. Certainly there is a point where the immediacy of harm is sufficient to warrant a boycott, but I think it is error to impose the standard in an instance where there is no material impact. I'm not funding the NSDAP by attending a performance of Parsifal.

I would argue that to excise Orson Scott Card or Wagner or -(INSERT FAVORITE BETE NOIRE HERE) would be to impede and reduce the potential curve for the rate of advancement of the collective average of moral, intellectual, and social development within the Western discourse.

While I concede a point may exist wherein there can be a moral reason to boycott art due to the cession of material resources (I pirate all my Polanski films for that reason) to objectionable agendas, I would argue that more harm is done than good by censoring the politically incorrect, and it is the better rule to err on the side of inclusion.

Wagner ain't collecting royalties from the RIAA and using it to publish anti-semitic screeds. To censor Wagner is also to censor an understanding of the temptation of the aesthetics of fascism. It's only by engaging with such art that we can recognize the tropes, and develop a sophisticated appreciation which allows a person to develop an immunity to similar propaganda. By understanding the allure of Wagner, I can better resist the traps of nationalist romanticism. And I get to listen to good music in the process. Think of it, if you will, as antikulturbildung. The process of rejecting evil ideologies by allowing a dose of empathy followed by a rational analysis.

If you only listen to the creative output of saints, you're going to be profoundly bored.

The flaws of the artist, ideological or psychological, are a part of the crucible that establishes the unique aesthetic of every creator. Without said imperfections, you might as well just request your operas from algorithims.

As Leonard Cohen said, "There is a crack in everything. That's how the light gets in."
posted by LeRoienJaune at 1:47 AM on June 28, 2013 [4 favorites]


Teakettle: ...music...is about finding parts of yourself in the work of strangers.

I love that. Beautifully stated, and I think this can be applied to all the arts. Thank you.

I think the points in some of the above comments about patronage are important, in the case of living artists. I'm involved in a tiny music subculture (dark ambient) in which a lot of the musicians are readily accessible to their fans, adding them as Facebook friends and such. They often make their albums available for free listening on Bandcamp and download on a name-your-own-price model, and then self-promote them on Facebook groups via their personal accounts. On occasion I've checked out the personal Facebook page of a musician whose work I discovered this way, and learned to my dismay that they publicly post things that I find morally bankrupt, misogynistic, or otherwise off-putting. This doesn't always interfere with my ability to appreciate their musical output, but it definitely stops me from supporting them financially - especially on Bandcamp, where my name will show up directly on the artist's page as a supporter.
posted by velvet winter at 1:49 AM on June 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


Well-behaved art does not make history.
posted by PsychoKick at 3:36 AM on June 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


I agree - but the content of Wagner's music is, as far as I can see, completely free of the taint of anti-Semitism. By that standard, he's fine.

See Wagners musical taint
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 4:32 AM on June 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


On a more speculative note, I wonder what connections, if any, might exist between late 19th/early 20th century German aesthetics and more recent research on the links between feelings of disgust and morality- could perhaps a society that particularly treasures romantic beauty feel an even deeper sense of revulsion toward those deemed insufficiently lovely?

Loveliness might be a red herring. Nazis made a big show of relaying the olympic torch from Olympia, but that didn't prevent them from destroying the neighbouring town of Kalavryta.
posted by ersatz at 4:36 AM on June 28, 2013


I've been listening to Der Ring on youtube, and I find it longwinded and heavyhanded.

Well I guess the millions of people who have loved them all these years have to bow to your opinion, since you're an amateur pianist and obviously an expert. There are a number of aspects of the work that were revolutionary. I'm reminded of the story about the lady who was peeved because Shakespeare was nothing but quotations.

Wagner was an anti-Semite who was co-opted by the Nazis. That's one of the less interesting things about him, but it's the thing everyone breathlessly rushes to mention whenever he comes up. He's dead. If he were alive and benefitting from his work then being concerned about supporting anti-Semetism would be a valid issue.

I'm the last person normally to dismiss qualms about the perception of supporting an artist's problematic views by enjoying their art, but the continued nontroversy over Wagner is what I find tedious and overly nice.
posted by winna at 4:59 AM on June 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


They're playing Wagner at the opera...

My suspicion is that Chumbawamba supports the natural implications of that song - "no more playing Wagner at the opera". I don't, really, for reasons already articulated, but it's a powerful song.
posted by vibratory manner of working at 5:00 AM on June 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


I've been listening to Der Ring on youtube, and I find it longwinded and heavyhanded.

It could be the performers or director too, they certainly can add or detract from the tone. You might try a different version. Certainly there is a crap-ton of dark, brooding melodrama there, but there are also some very light and lovely moments.

Personally, I love Wagner's music. I can appreciate the stories. I also hate what a bastard he was. On the same note I hate the anti-semitism, sexism, racisim, etc. expressed in many other beautiful works of art, after all I also love Shakespeare.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 5:16 AM on June 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


Metafilter: I find your argumentem ad extemis to be a non-productive exercise in moral posturing.
posted by mecran01 at 5:40 AM on June 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


I love the idea of dissociation my enjoyment of art from any larger context. I wonder how far I could press the idea?

for an interesting contrast one should consider how far people could press the opposite idea - total association of art with a larger context, whether it be the socialist struggle of the people or the glorification of christ to the unbelievers or a woman getting her one true love in life or the glories and moral worth of capitalism

there are examples - you'd have to dig for the art in service of communism, but a big box store near you has many examples of modern christian art, romance novels, and of course, ayn rand

a lot of this stuff is pretty damned dire

--

I've been listening to Der Ring on youtube, and I find it longwinded and heavyhanded.

heavyhanded is a matter of opinion, long-winded isn't - gotterdammerung can be 5 hours long and that's just one section of der ring

that's a lot to ask of an audience

---

my other comments are that i don't understand how anyone can listen to hip hop and say the lyrics can be ignored - the lyrics are pretty much the point in that genre

and that wagner's important advancement of harmony in composition was evolutionary, not revolutionary - 20th century music is where the real revolution happened - several of them
posted by pyramid termite at 6:03 AM on June 28, 2013


So is it weird that I'm reading this thread in Gill Sans?
posted by shakespeherian at 6:13 AM on June 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


So is it weird that I'm reading this thread in Gill Sans?

No, then again I'm reading it in gothic script.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 6:25 AM on June 28, 2013


Not laudatory at all, quite deplorable rather, but in the context of the late nineteenth century, not particularly remarkable either. I would particularly point out that he continued to cheerfully employ and associate with Jews until the end of his life.

Exactly. I do not understand Wagner being treated as the arch-antisemite. Not excusing his beliefs, but there were other artists and writers, throughout Europe and the West, who had far more extreme views. Obviously we look back through the prism of the 20th century, but if Wagner was English, we wouldn't be having this discussion. He didn't have any real causal relationship with the thugs and psychopaths who seized power in Germany well after his death.
posted by spaltavian at 6:34 AM on June 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


> that's a lot to ask of an audience

The Ring cycle supposed to be immersive. For hardcore fans it can't be too long, because hardcore fans have always wanted to live in the world it creates. Direct comparison, people who think the LOTR books are too short, even with Hobbit and Silmarillion thrown in, and everything Christopher Tolkien managed to dig up, because they really would like to pick up and move to Tolkien's world and live there permanently.

If I were worried about the Ring's pernicious influence I'd be more concerned with Siegfried's character defects than with Wagner's. You do spend many long hours in the company of an Aryan ubermensch with a brat's temperament, and the music makes it all very seductive and digestible.
posted by jfuller at 7:06 AM on June 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


He didn't have any real causal relationship with the thugs and psychopaths who seized power in Germany well after his death.

Except the thugs believed they were setting up a nation in Wagner's image.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 7:11 AM on June 28, 2013


Except the thugs believed they were setting up a nation in Wagner's image.

Firstly, that's a pretty gross overstatement. Secondly, that has little to do with Wagner. Wagner was not the intellectual inspiration for National Socialism the way that Marx was for Communism, or even the way Thomas Paine was for American democracy. You're talking about appropriation, not causation.
posted by spaltavian at 7:15 AM on June 28, 2013 [2 favorites]



The Ring cycle supposed to be immersive. For hardcore fans it can't be too long, because hardcore fans have always wanted to live in the world it creates. Direct comparison, people who think the LOTR books are too short, even with Hobbit and Silmarillion thrown in, and everything Christopher Tolkien managed to dig up, because they really would like to pick up and move to Tolkien's world and live there permanently.


There are some highly relevant parallels between Wagner and Tolkein. Both of them created works using Germanic mythology to glorify a Germanic esthetic, out of overt pride in their Germanic heritage.

Tolkein did it without throwing in antisemitism. Or incest.
posted by ocschwar at 7:40 AM on June 28, 2013


You do know that Tolkien's work has (with some justification) been accused of having racist undertones, right?
posted by kyrademon at 7:44 AM on June 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


Firstly, that's a pretty gross overstatement. Secondly, that has little to do with Wagner. Wagner was not the intellectual inspiration for National Socialism the way that Marx was for Communism, or even the way Thomas Paine was for American democracy. You're talking about appropriation, not causation.

Agreed. I remember reading somewhere that much of the Nazi brass disliked Hitler's dragging them along for field trips to Bayreuth.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 7:45 AM on June 28, 2013


You do know that Tolkien's work has (with some justification) been accused of having racist undertones, right?

There's a world of difference between putting inadvertent evidence of your prejudices in your novels (an impossible thing to avoid if you write as much prose as Tolkein did), and being overtly racist, using racist rhetoric to hinder your colleague's careers, et cetera. Tolkein was a man of his time. Wagner was a dick.
posted by ocschwar at 7:50 AM on June 28, 2013


Wagner was not the intellectual inspiration for National Socialism the way that Marx was for Communism, or even the way Thomas Paine was for American democracy. You're talking about appropriation, not causation.

Yes, Wagner was a musician who dramatized mythology while Marx was a history professor that wrote economic treatises, so yes, Wagner did not write the seminal documents that established the National Socialist system - however he, H.S. Chamberlain and Nietzsche are cited by Hitler himself as major life and philosophical influences. Hitler claimed he used to skip school as a boy to sneak into Wagner operas. He personally referred to Wagner's works as "the Gospel" and stated that the Bayreuth Circle was instumental in giving the possibility of a Fuhrer it's wings. The SS even built their subterranean neopagan ritual chamber to resemble the temple from Wagner's own Bayreuth Festival staging of Parsifal! Even his death he and his Brunnhilde were immolated on the pyre of Berlin under seige. So, no, not the author, but certainly a major influence.

Can you blame him for the horrors? Not without a whole lot of extrapolation.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 7:56 AM on June 28, 2013


well, charles manson cited the beatles a lot, too

hey, i think i've just invented a godwin for conversations that are partially about hitler
posted by pyramid termite at 8:25 AM on June 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


Yeah, but Bono redeemed "Helter Skelter" as documented in Rattle and Hum.
posted by mountmccabe at 8:28 AM on June 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


If Wagner were a novelist I think we would be in a very different position but he wrote operas.

This may still present a problem for traditionalist productions that treat the operas and stagings as dead as words on a page but that isn't the only way to put on an opera.

The linked article discusses a production of Hollander by Gloger where he "wanted to stage the opera without any allusions to Wagner's anti-Semitism or the Nazis," which is one option that seems reasonable but there are also more interventionist productions that engage with the complicated history such as Herheim's 2008 Parsifal where Act 2 concludes with the stage being rushed by German soldiers, Act 3 is set in the ruins of Germany after World War 2 and Kundry lives.
posted by mountmccabe at 8:46 AM on June 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


Was Germany even that much of a hotbed of anti-Semitism and bigotry prior to the post-WWI period? Especially compared to Russia or other European countries? That seems like a hyperbolic and loaded question.

Loaded indeed.

It depends on what period you're talking about. There's a reason why the millions of Jews in "Russian or other [Eastern] European countries" spoke a Germanic language and had Germanic names. Mass expulsions of Jews (usually accompanied by hideously violent pogroms) from the various German States happened quite frequently during the Middle Ages, with large populations of Jews emigrating to the then relatively tolerant Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. To be fair, this wasn't exactly uncommon behavior in other Western & Central European countries either, but I think it was a bit more frequent in the German-speaking lands, and full emancipation for Jews came relatively late to Germany, and only after one last pogrom for old time's sake.

The only thing that was particularly noteworthy about German antisemitism as compared to British, French, or American antisemitism in the period leading up to WWI was that Jewish emancipation and German unification came at the same time (1871), which led to an intertwining of antisemitism and German romantic nationalism and a proliferation of far-right political parties who also subscribed to a particularly nasty brand of racial antisemitism. This first wave of German antisemitism was sort of trendy for a while, influencing mainstream conservative politics and informing cultural figures like Wagner. The first International Anti-Jewish Congress was held in Dresden during this period. That strain of political thought survived on the fringes of German politics into the 20th Century, particularly within the völkisch movement and evolved into the National Socialism movement.

I think it's an open question as to whether Germany was a hotbed of antisemitism at this time, since a more casual form of antisemitism was mainstream everywhere in the West. I tend to believe that, but for the national trauma that was WWI and its aftermath, the more extreme strain of volkisch antisemitism would have stayed a fringe movement, but one could make quite good arguments to the contrary.

As for Wagner, I love his music. My family were fortunate enough to have emigrated to America prior to WWI and never went through the kinds of experiences that my wife's German-Jewish family did. They can't listen to Wagner with anything approaching objectivity.
posted by snottydick at 8:58 AM on June 28, 2013 [4 favorites]


For the true Teutonic anti-semite, Wagner's music is not German, but folk-Celtic, given to emotionalism that is Polish and, well, Jewish. See Constantin Brunner's Der Judenhass und die Juden.
posted by No Robots at 9:02 AM on June 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


Was Germany even that much of a hotbed of anti-Semitism and bigotry prior to the post-WWI period?

Wasn't that one of Hitler's issues with what had come before? He found Weimar and the old Empire to have been too soft on the Jews and allowed them to sap and impurify Germany's precious fluids.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 9:07 AM on June 28, 2013


For the true Teutonic anti-semite, Wagner's music is not German, but folk-Celtic, given to emotionalism that is Polish and, well, Jewish.

and now hear wagner as you've never heard him before - the chieftains, frankie yankovic and the klezmatics team up in a new record - selections from der ring des niberlugen with special guests bob dylan as siegmund, sinead o connor as brunnhilde, and bono, in a role he was born to play, as wotan

narration by pope john paul ii
posted by pyramid termite at 9:25 AM on June 28, 2013 [5 favorites]


Apocryphon: “Was Germany even that much of a hotbed of anti-Semitism and bigotry prior to the post-WWI period? Especially compared to Russia or other European countries?”

According to one perspicacious German Jew who happened to have been there, yes:
The longing for the middle ages began in Germany at the very moment when the actual middle ages - the Holy Roman Empire ruled by a German - ended, in what was then thought to be the moment of Germany's deepest humiliation. In Germany, and only there, did the end of the middle ages coincide with the beginning of the longing for the middle ages. Compared with the medieval Reich which had lasted for almost a millennium until 1806, Bismarck's Reich (to say nothing of Hegel's Prussia) revealed itself as a little Germany not only in size. All profound German longings - for those for the middle ages were not the only ones nor even the most profound - all these longings for the origins or, negatively expressed, all German dissatisfaction with modernity pointed toward a third Reich...

The weakness of liberal democracy in Germany explains why the situation of the indigenous Jews was more precarious in Germany than in any other Western country. Liberal democracy had originally defined itself in theologico-political treatises as the opposite, not of the more or less enlightened despotism of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, but of "the kingdom of darkness," i.e. of medieval society. According to liberal democracy, the bond of society is universal human morality, whereas religion (positive religion) is a private affair. In the middle ages religion-i.e. Catholic Christianity--was the bond of society. The action most characteristic of the middle ages is the Crusades; it may be said to have culminated not accidentally in the murder of whole Jewish communities. The German Jews owed their emancipation to the French Revolution or its effects. They were given full political rights for the first time by the Weimar Republic. The Weimar Republic was succeeded by the only German regime--the only regime ever anywhere--which had no other clear principle than murderous hatred of the Jews, for "Aryan" had no clear meaning other than "non-Jewish." One must keep in mind the fact that Hitler did not come from Prussia, nor even from Bismarck's Reich...

Three quotations may serve to illustrate the precarious situation of the Jews in Germany. Goethe, the greatest among the cosmopolitan Germans, a "decided non-Christian," summarizes the results of a conversation about a new society to be founded, between his Wilhelm Meister and "the gay Friedrich," without providing his summary with quotation marks, as follows: "To this religion [the Christian] we hold, but in a particular manner; we instruct our children from their youth in the great advantages which [that religion] has brought to us; but of its author, of its course, we speak to them only at the end. Then only does the author become dear and cherished, and all reports regarding him become sacred. Drawing a conclusion which one may perhaps call pedantic, but of which one must at any rate admit that it follows from the premise, we do not tolerate any Jew among us; for how could we grant him a share in the highest culture, the origin and tradition of which he denies?" Two generations later Nietzsche could say: "I have not yet met a German who was favorably disposed toward the Jews." One might try to trace Nietzsche's judgment to the narrowness of his circle of acquaintances; no one would expect to find people favorably disposed toward Jews among the German Lutheran pastors among whom Nietzsche grew up, to say nothing of Jakob Burckhardt in Basel. Nietzsche has chosen his words carefully; he surely excluded himself when making the judgment, as appears, in addition, from the context. But his remark is not trivial. While his circle of acquaintances was limited, perhaps unusually limited, he was of unusual perspicacity. Besides, being favorably disposed toward this or that mau or womau Jewish origin does not mean being favorably disposed toward Jews. Two generations later, in I953, Heidegger could speak of "the inner truth and greatness of National Socialism."
This is from Strauss' Spinoza's Critique of Religion, from the "Preface to the English Translation" which was written in 1962.
posted by koeselitz at 9:33 AM on June 28, 2013


"Aryan" had no clear meaning other than "non-Jewish

I think his understanding of the Nazi concept of "Aryan" is incomplete, because this is not accurate.
posted by snottydick at 9:47 AM on June 28, 2013


"Aryan" had no clear meaning other than "non-Jewish"

snottydick: “I think his understanding of the Nazi concept of "Aryan" is incomplete, because this is not accurate.”

I think that, as his quotes make somewhat clearer, even the hatred of other races beyond Jews had its roots in the classification of Jews as "untermenschen," and then the extension of this to apply to other races. This should absolutely not be taken as a claim that the Nazis did not target other races or creeds; rather it's a discussion of the roots of Nazi ideology and its hold on the German consciousness.
posted by koeselitz at 10:05 AM on June 28, 2013


as his quotes make somewhat clearer, even the hatred of other races beyond Jews had its roots in the classification of Jews as "untermenschen," and then the extension of this to apply to other races

I don't think he makes that clear at all in the text you posted, and I also don't think that's true. Antislavism is almost as old as antisemitism in the "German" consciousness. They are not entirely unrelated, and are both expressions of a fear/loathing of the "other," but one idea did not spring forth from the other. The notion of conquering and subjugating the "inferior" peoples of the East goes back to the Charlemagne's Holy Roman Empire, and was expressed most explicitly by the religious orders of crusading German knights in the Baltic. Yes, Jews were the first and greatest enemy in the Nazi worldview, but they had lots of other terrible ideas and they did not all stem from antisemitism.
posted by snottydick at 10:23 AM on June 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


Those are good criticisms, snottydick. I agree that antisemitism is certainly not unique; I was also just reading a bit about the history of the pogroms against the Romani peoples, which were quite strident even in the medieval, amounting to the wholesale expulsion of peoples from nations and a huge amount of senseless slaughter.

I do think the general point I was aiming at still holds, though. Prior to "the post-WWI period," Germany was a place where antisemitism was strong and had a very significant cultural impact, even more so than in other European nations where antisemitism was certainly not negligible. One could expand on this by saying it wasn't just antisemitism that was a continuous problem in Germany, but general subjugation of those peoples seen as inferior. And, as I think Strauss correctly states, there was a particularly German set of reasons people had for looking back on the history of such subjugation with fondness; the romantic ideal of what Germany ought to be was wrapped up in purity and the subjugation of inferiority.
posted by koeselitz at 11:10 AM on June 28, 2013


Compare and contrast with Leni Riefenstahl, a truly fine filmmaker whose work is, quite rightfully, consigned to the dustbin of history because of her work's staunch support of Hitler and National Socialism.

There are plenty of fools willing to hold her up as a model. For those who actively collaborated with the Nazis their work is justly to be ignored.
posted by Ironmouth at 11:21 AM on June 28, 2013


What makes the antisemitism of the early twentieth century distinct is that it was based on race rather than on religion: As another perspicacious Jew wrote in 1920:
Irrationality and malice are always lying in wait in the world of men, ready to unleash the shrillest tempests of diabolical barbarism. But wickedness needs to combine with the right kind of nonsense, otherwise it will not achieve the right result: the God, the God who was different—there was a thing! And today it is the race, the race that is different; there's a thing that will prove fateful again for the Jews—and this is one case when we really can hear the grass of history growing.--Constantin Brunner
posted by No Robots at 11:27 AM on June 28, 2013


there was a particularly German set of reasons people had for looking back on the history of such subjugation with fondness

Certainly. I think it's inextricably tied also to their emerging identity as a unified world power. One feature of German and Italian romantic nationalism was this seeming need to play imperialist catch-up with France and, especially, Great Britain. Both Germany and Italy vocally demanded their "fair share" of the world's colonial spoils and seemed to be obsessed with receiving the respect that they felt was due and had long been denied to them. Strauss' point about "longing for the middle ages" is right on in that respect, although with Italy they were looking back even farther. Germany's prewar belligerence had a lot to do with this inferiority complex and desire to be taken seriously by Great Britain and France.

I guess I'm hesitant to let other Western nations off the hook on the antisemitism front because white supremacy was the mainstream normative attitude throughout. Consider the actions & attitudes of white Americans toward indigenous peoples, African Americans, and religious minorities during this period, for example. There was also a rise in French antisemitism at precisely the same time as the first German wave, with the Dreyfus Affair being the famous incident in a larger context of blaming "the enemy within" for the French loss in the Franco-Prussian war, similar to Germany's post-WWI Stab-in-the-back myth. France wasn't also hit with a total economic collapse & massive war reparations as Germany would later be, but you can bet the French far right would have done their level best to capitalize on such a situation.

I think we need to be careful about how we look at late 19th Century and early 20th Century German antisemitism and avoid seeing it as some kind of inexorable march towards the Holocaust. In the context of our knowledge of 20th Century history, it may be hard to see American phenomenon like the Immigration Restriction League, the antisemitism that infused much of the Populist, Prohibitionist, and Progressive movements, the lynching of Leo Frank, antisemitic statements in official U.S. Army manuals, Henry Ford's publication of the Protocols of The Elders of Zion, and similar activities elsewhere in the world as being similar to what was going on in Germany prior to 1914, but I don't think they were all that different.
posted by snottydick at 12:16 PM on June 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


My suspicion is that Chumbawamba supports the natural implications of that song - "no more playing Wagner at the opera". I don't, really, for reasons already articulated, but it's a powerful song.

It's funny Chumbawumba are mentioned, since millions of people listen to them without agreeing with or even knowing about their politics.

Yes, Wagner was a musician who dramatized mythology while Marx was a history professor that wrote economic treatises, so yes, Wagner did not write the seminal documents that established the National Socialist system - however he, H.S. Chamberlain and Nietzsche are cited by Hitler himself as major life and philosophical influences. Hitler claimed he used to skip school as a boy to sneak into Wagner operas. He personally referred to Wagner's works as "the Gospel" and stated that the Bayreuth Circle was instumental in giving the possibility of a Fuhrer it's wings. The SS even built their subterranean neopagan ritual chamber to resemble the temple from Wagner's own Bayreuth Festival staging of Parsifal! Even his death he and his Brunnhilde were immolated on the pyre of Berlin under seige. So, no, not the author, but certainly a major influence.

The problem with Nazism wasn't its aesthetics but the millions of people it killed. We can't hate all art the Nazis liked or we'd be left with no Romantacism, no harking back to Roman architecture, etc. People stil drive Volkswagons and support companies that profited under Nazism but suddenly all art that Hitler loved is suspect? I think any art that can inspire a national movement should be afforded serious consideration.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 4:44 PM on June 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


We can't hate all art the Nazis liked or we'd be left with no Romantacism, no harking back to Roman architecture

Good. The Romanticism the Nazis liked was of the most conventional, half-baked kind. Their imitations of Roman architecture just inflated its size to grotesquery.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 4:50 PM on June 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's funny Chumbawumba are mentioned, since millions of people listen to them without agreeing with or even knowing about their politics.

Yeah, I felt a bit of irony in bringing them up in this context and explicitly disavowing their view on the matter, while applauding their music. I do really like the song, and it seemed apt.

To go into the comparison a little more: much if not most (if not all) of Chumbawumba's work is explicitly ideological in nature, although some of it like 'Tubthumping' is pretty inscrutable if you don't have additional information. It's also not a coincidence that their biggest hit is oblique in its politics. That ties in with the earlier mention of non-english metal bands with nazi associations - there the politics are obfuscated by a language barrier. If the politics of a work can be ignored, most people will do so.
posted by vibratory manner of working at 1:26 AM on June 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think any art that can inspire a national movement should be afforded serious consideration.

Aren't the people opposing Wagner taking his art extremely seriously?
posted by benito.strauss at 10:09 AM on June 29, 2013


That ties in with the earlier mention of non-english metal bands with nazi associations - there the politics are obfuscated by a language barrier. If the politics of a work can be ignored, most people will do so.

Mmm, I think there's also a chance for things to go the other way with non-English bands sometimes - count how many jokes about Nazis people crack in this thread about a Rammstein song, even though the song itself is quite obviously and blatantly abut fuckin'.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:51 PM on June 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


I sing Wagner. I sing it knowing full well that he was a bigoted, sexist, egomaniacal little shit. But he has been dead these many years, and the music remains.

I believe that the solution to the problem of Wagner is for artists to reclaim the music from his legacy. I would love to see more artists of nonwhite and/or nonchristian backgrounds take this music and make it their own.
posted by Pallas Athena at 4:18 PM on June 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


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