The Wagner Journal

Richard Mecarsel, Wagner, Artaud and Brecht: The Shaping of Modern Art

Richard Mecarsel, Wagner, Artaud and Brecht: The Shaping of Modern Art

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March 2020, Volume 14, Number 1, 16–30.

Le siècle dont nous ne cessons pas de provenir (The century which has not ceased to be our provenance).

In the process of examining the continuity between 19th-century practices and early modern art, this striking aphorism from Lacoue-Labarthe’s Musica Ficta seems to resonate with particular salience. It is indeed worth considering the seminal input of Romantic-era artists and thinkers with regard to the later developments of theatre throughout the first half of the 20th century. From its roots in German Idealism to its later quest for total art, 19th-century dramatic theory undoubtedly appears as the matrix of debates and ideals that would later shape the modern European avant garde.

In this regard, Richard Wagner obviously appears as a towering and deeply controversial pre-modern figure of his time. Indeed, in the genesis of modern art, the Wagnerian ideal of a unified art form might have been regarded by many as a highly histrionic and demagogical ambition. Whether contemporary with Wagner or retrospective, these debates are far from resolved and were central to the thought of Nietzsche, Adorno and Lacoue-Labarthe himself.

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