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The Gesamtkunstwerk as a Synergy of the Arts


Edited By Massimo Fusillo and Marina Grishakova

Conceived by Wagner as a way to recover the synthesis of arts at the core of Greek tragedy, the Gesamtkunstwerk played a significant role in post-Romantic and avant-garde aesthetics. It was designed to regenerate and defend the public function of art against mass culture and technology, yet at the same time depended on them in an ambivalent relationship manifested by its various realizations. The book reconceives the "total work of art" as a variation of intermediality, a practice that subverts any essentialist vision of artistic languages through complex interplay and blending of perceptions, amplified by new media and the syncretic nature of the cyberspace. The Gesamtkunstwerk can no longer be considered a Hegelian synthesis of arts or a Romantic and Wagnerian fusion of languages: it involves a synergy of different arts and media and captures the digital age’s principle of open textuality without any hierarchy and any organicist connotations. This book reveals the vitality of modern and contemporary Gesamtkunstwerk by mapping its presence in various arts and media.

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Introduction: The Gesamtkunstwerk as a Synergy of the Arts: (Massimo Fusillo and Marina Grishakova)


Massimo Fusillo and Marina Grishakova

Coined by Richard Wagner as a means of reshaping musical theatre and of recovering the synthesis of the arts at the core of Greek tragedy, the concept of the total work of art played a prominent role in the practices of Symbolism and Aestheticism, for instance, in the poetics of synesthesia as cultivated by Baudelaire, Mallarmé, the Parnassians, and Rimbaud. Similarly, avant-garde experiments blurred the borders between the verbal and the visual arts and introduced multimodal artistic forms which made use of typography, colors, typefaces, and texture, and which emphasized the material and visual aspects of language. The strategy of blending artistic languages, when welded to political and existential functions, sought to create a new relationship between art and life and to restore the public function of artistic creation, in opposition to mass culture, technology and entertainment, and yet, at the same time, dependent on them. Although Wagner used various technological innovations in order to implement his aesthetic program, he nonetheless defined the Gesamtkunstwerk as an organism that stood in sharp contrast to the mechanized nature of industrial modernity and, thereby, he revealed the Romantic roots of his aesthetics. The utopian impulse inherent in the conception of the total work of art as a vehicle for mass participation and social reorganization was used by certain totalitarian regimes in order to propagate ideas of national unity and homogeneity. Wagner’s work profoundly influenced various controversial forms of the Gesamtkunstwerk in the 20th century – from the...

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