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Richard Wagner, Fritz Lang, and the Nibelungen

Richard Wagner, Fritz Lang, and the Nibelungen: The Dramaturgy of Disavowal

David J. Levin
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    Richard Wagner, Fritz Lang, and the Nibelungen
    Book Description:

    This highly original book draws on narrative and film theory, psychoanalysis, and musicology to explore the relationship between aesthetics and anti-Semitism in two controversial landmarks in German culture. David Levin argues that Richard Wagner's opera cycleDer Ring des Nibelungenand Fritz Lang's 1920s filmDie Nibelungencreatively exploit contrasts between good and bad aesthetics to address the question of what is German and what is not. He shows that each work associates a villainous character, portrayed as non-Germanic and Jewish, with the sometimes dramatically awkward act of narration. For both Wagner and Lang, narration--or, in cinematic terms, visual presentation--possesses a typically Jewish potential for manipulation and control. Consistent with this view, Levin shows, the Germanic hero Siegfried is killed in each work by virtue of his unwitting adoption of a narrative role.

    Levin begins with an explanation of the book's theoretical foundations and then applies these theories to close readings of, in turn, Wagner's cycle and Lang's film. He concludes by tracing how Germans have dealt with the Nibelungen myths in the wake of the Second World War, paying special attention to Michael Verhoeven's 1989 filmThe Nasty Girl. His fresh and interdisciplinary approach sheds new light not only on Wagner'sRingand Lang'sDie Nibelungen, but also on the ways in which aesthetics can be put to the service of aggression and hatred. The book is an important contribution to scholarship in film and music and also to the broader study of German culture and national identity.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-6669-4
    Subjects: Music

Table of Contents

  1. Chapter One Representation’s Bad Object: THE NIBELUNGEN, AGGRESSION, AND AESTHETICS
    (pp. 3-29)

    In may of 1995, Frank Castorf, the controversial artistic director of the Volksbühne (People’s Theater) in East Berlin, presented a radical reworking of Friedrich Hebbel’s grandiloquent mid-nineteenth-century dramaDie Nibelungen.Castorf’s production bore the marks of its aspiration to radicalism on its sleeve, or at least in its title:“Die Nibelungen: Born Bad.” The newly amalgamated title did not just span languages, it spanned cultures, epochs, and genres, for Castorf drew his subtitle from Oliver Stone’sNatural Born Killers. The juxtaposition of Hebbel and Stone was not limited to the title; rather it kept popping up during the course of...

  2. Chapter Two Where Narration Was, There Darstellung Shall Be: WAGNER AND THE SCENE OF NARRATION
    (pp. 30-95)

    In the beginning, there was narration.

    But soon enough, Richard Wagner realized that his latest music drama (already christenedSiegfrieds Tod[Siegfried’s Death]) relied far too heavily upon what he termedErzählungor narration.¹ Thus, in early May of 1851, on the very day he concluded the first prose sketch of the work, he sent a letter to his friend Theodor Uhlig announcing his decision to write what we might label a “prequel,” a prefatory work that would pave the way for his commissioned rendering of Siegfried’s demise.² Without such a prefatory work, Wagner was convinced thatSiegfried’s Deathwas...

    (pp. 96-140)

    In an article published in February of 1924, shortly before the premiere ofSiegfried,the first part of the two-part filmThe Nibelungen,Fritz Lang suggests that the project was conceived in terms of what it was not “in the case ofThe Nibelungen,the point was not to make a film in the American style, with an eye to all possible secondary aims Here the only thing that mattered was the work”¹ Thus Lang juxtaposes his own single-minded dedication to the calculating and distractible mindset in Hollywood A bit further along in the same essay, Lang invokes the same...

  4. Postscript Disavowal and Figuration: THE NIBELUNGEN AFTER THE THIRD REICH
    (pp. 141-150)

    In his 1927 paper on “fetishism,” Freud takes R Laforgue to task for employing a new term—scotomization—where in Freud’s eyes an old term would have done just fine “It is necessary,” he points out somewhat heatedly, “to introduce a new term when new developments warrant it that is not the case here”¹ The “case here” involves the perception of lack and the need to differentiate between the psychic responses that it occasions In order to clarify the problem, Freud invokes a compelling and familiar scene the little boy who must come to terms with the lack that he...