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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 6 The Total Work of Entertainment: Transmedia Expansion and Participatory Viewing in Contemporary TV Series: (Gianluigi Rossini)

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The Total Work of Entertainment: Transmedia Expansion and Participatory Viewing in Contemporary TV Series

Gianluigi Rossini

In their Dialectic of Enlightenment, Horkheimer and Adorno describe television as a corrupt, paradoxical realization of the Gesamtkunstwerk:

Television aims at a synthesis of radio and film, and is held up only because the interested parties have not yet reached agreement, but its consequences will be quite enormous and promise to intensify the impoverishment of aesthetic matter so drastically, that by tomorrow the thinly veiled identity of all industrial culture products can come triumphantly out into the open, decisively fulfilling the Wagnerian dream of the Gesamtkunstwerk, the fusion of all the arts in one work. The alliance of word, image, and music is all the more perfect than in Tristan because the sensuous elements which all approvingly reflect the surface of social reality are in principle embodied in the same technical process, the unity of which becomes its distinctive content. (quoted in Kellner 30)

Writing in the forties, the two philosophers could not predict what would take place roughly fifty years later, when the digital revolution created the possibility for all mass media – indeed all media and content – to be embodied in the same technical process. In our digital age ←107 | 108→“many works of art, cultural artifacts, literary texts and other cultural configurations either combine and juxtapose different media, genres and styles or refer to other media” (Rippl 1), which is one of the main...

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