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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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Chapter 10 (De)gendering Genres: Androgyny and the Total Work of Art in Matthew Barney’s Work: (Francesca Agamennoni)


(De)gendering Genres: Androgyny and the Total Work of Art in Matthew Barney’s Work

Francesca Agamennoni

The first serious problem that every investigation about the Gesamtkunstwerk and its legacy in contemporary art would inevitably face consists in defining its own field. Far from being a fixed or well-defined concept, it appears more like a metamorphic complex or a heterogeneous constellation of meanings involving different and sometimes conflicting aesthetic ideals which have been gathered over a centuries-old evolution.1 Every moment in the history of the total work of art – from the very first Wagnerian formulation in the 19th century to its contemporary metamorphoses – has provided it with new interpretations: the dream of a “synthesis of all arts,” the abolishment of language specificities, the blurring of art and life, art and politics, highbrow and lowbrow culture. Among these different understandings, the idea of a “synthesis of all arts” is by far the most successful and long-lasting one. It conceives the Gesamtkunstwerk more as a generic attitude which features different moments in the history of arts and culture (such as Greek tragedy, the birth of Opera or even the symbolist synesthesia and the Avant-guard experiences) finding its apex in the contemporary drift towards ←183 | 184→“post-mediality,” “multi-mediality” and “inter-mediality.”2 At the same time, another way of looking at the total work of art is possible: this perspective differs from the latter as it tries to define the Gesamtkunstwerk as a more clearly defined genre with its own structural...

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