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The Gesamtkunstwerk as a Synergy of the Arts

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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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Chapter 1 Perception and (Literary) Description of a Cultural Landscape as a Gesamtkunstwerk: (Beatrice Nickel)

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Perception and (Literary) Description of a Cultural Landscape as a Gesamtkunstwerk

Beatrice Nickel

This paper is an attempt to apply the concept of the Gesamtkunstwerk (the total work of art) to the poetic perceptions and literary representations of cultural landscapes in 18th century European travel writing. The analysis focuses on literary descriptions of Tahiti, imagined as the Garden of Eden and believed to be an epitome of the most favorable conditions of every imaginable aspect of human life at the time.

It is for this reason that Louis-Antoine de Bougainville, James Cook, Georg Forster and other 18th century European explorers aspired to address all of the senses of their readers in their depictions of the newly discovered island of Tahiti. In their writings, they highlight, for example, its perfect climatic conditions, the beauty of both the island (its geomorphological structure, flora and fauna) and its inhabitants, the smell of plants unknown in Europe and, last but not least, the acoustic dimensions of the “natives’ ” lives – the natural “soundscape” of Tahiti, the natives’ music and singing. Thus, Tahiti becomes an object of what might be called the process of pre-romantic aestheticization, in the sense of the Gesamtkunstwerk. What is presented as “nature” in the European travel literature of the 18th century always bears its author’s ←27 | 28→cultural imprint and is, consequently, fictionalized. Therefore, the border between reality and art (especially literature) becomes blurred, just as it does in the case of the Gesamtkunstwerk, which,...

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