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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 13 The Gesamtkunstwerk and the Nonhuman in Digital Media: (Marco Caracciolo)


The Gesamtkunstwerk and the Nonhuman in Digital Media

Marco Caracciolo1

[The] pulse drums so in my forehead, behind my eyes, that everything dances – the net, the grass; your faces leap like butterflies; the trees seem to jump up and down. There is nothing staid, nothing settled, in this universe.

Virginia Woolf, The Waves

This chapter explores the relationship between two kinds of interconnectedness. The first kind will be familiar to readers of the present volume: it is the inter-art connectedness at the heart of the Gesamtkunstwerk. The concept popularized by Richard Wagner has gone through multiple permutations, as this volume shows, but its primary aspiration – the integration of different forms of artistic expression – has remained consistent. My point of departure is the view that, in the contemporary cultural landscape, digital media prompt a reconsideration ←237 | 238→of the Gesamtkunstwerk. I build on the arguments laid out by Matthew Smith in The Total Work of Art and by Randall Packer in a book chapter on “The Gesamtkunstwerk and Interactive Multimedia:” by partially shifting the agency from creator to receiver of the artwork, digital media deploy multimodal and ludic strategies that foster a different, and richer, sense of connectedness across semiotic modalities (the visual, the auditory, the verbal, and so on). Put otherwise, digital media allow us to revisit the time-honored notion of Gesamtkunstwerk while raising new challenges for discussions on inter-art relations and intermediality.

This chapter leverages this focus on the...

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