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The Total Work of Art in European Modernism$
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David Roberts

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780801450235

Published to Cornell Scholarship Online: August 2016

DOI: 10.7591/cornell/9780801450235.001.0001

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Staging the Absolute

Staging the Absolute

(p.77) 4 Staging the Absolute
The Total Work of Art in European Modernism

David Roberts

Cornell University Press

This chapter explores Nietzsche and Mallarmé’s critical response to Wagner, where they articulate the two poles of the total work, the political and the spiritual, respectively. Both Mallarmé and Nietzsche affirm the absolute need of great art at the same time as they assert the primacy of “great poetry and thought” against the seductive power of music. Both are led through their agon with Wagner and the idea of the total work of art to confront the question of aesthetic illusion and to ponder the staging of the absolute in the age of aesthetics that is also the age of nihilism. Mallarmé’s grandiose idea of the Book as symbolist Mystery announces the avant-garde quest for a resacralized theatre; Nietzsche’s prophecy of the coming theatrical age of the political actor and the masses foreshadows the mass politics of the twentieth century.

Keywords:   Stéphane Mallarmé, Friedrich Nietzsche, Richard Wagner, total work of art, avant-garde, mass politics

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