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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 11 Gesamtkunstwerk in Digital Games: The Palimpstine Aesthetics of Dead Space: (Hans-Joachim Backe)

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Gesamtkunstwerk in Digital Games: The Palimpstine Aesthetics of Dead Space

Hans-Joachim Backe

The concept of the total work of art or Gesamtkunstwerk has never been widely accepted within game studies. This can largely be attributed to game studies’ historically difficult relationship with importing larger conceptual frameworks from other disciplines. The development of digital game studies as an interdisciplinary field is generally traced back to the “ludologist-narrativist-debate.” Often hyperbolically portrayed as a vehement dispute between uncompromising proponents of theorizing games, respectively, in terms of literary or film theory, or by developing dedicated concepts, the discussion that took place around the turn of the century was less volatile and more complex than most of its accounts.1 The debate revolved less around questions of the actual applicability of methods – even the most ardent narrativists conceded that a degree of adaptation was needed to make literary models meaningful for the analysis of games – than around the political implications of adopting the methods of existing academic disciplines. The fledgling field of game studies needed to insist on the relevance of its own terminology if it was not to be incorporated into traditional fields, a danger aggravated only by the ongoing neoliberalist restructurings of universities and evisceration ←197 | 198→of humanities faculties. As such, a certain degree of skepticism is always palpable in discussions of traditional, influential models in game studies.

If one puts these issues aside, making the connection between digital games and the Gesamtkunstwerk is by no means...

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