This chapter examines two texts—Romain Rolland’s Théâtre du peuple (1903) and Gabriele d’Annunzio’s novel Il fuoco (1900)—both of which represent in particularly clear fashion at the turn of the century the dual lineage of the total work of art. Both texts have in common in the context of fin-de-siècle decadence the theme of national regeneration, in the service of socialism with Rolland (1866–1944), who draws his inspiration from the French Revolution; and in the service of nationalism with d’Annunzio (1863–1938), who draws his inspiration from Wagner and Nietzsche. Each author dreams of the total work that will transcend the limits of the theatre to effect a reunion of art and life through the mobilization of the masses. Both texts thus stand in the continuity of the conjurations of the total work across the nineteenth century. Their interest for the present purposes lies in their relation to the postwar totalitarian revolutions. The connection in the case of Rolland is straightforward; the reception of Le théâtre du peuple in Russia underlined the continuity (at least initially) between the French and the Russian revolutions. The connection in the case of d’Annunzio is more substantial in that he is acknowledged as a crucial figure—together with the futurists—in the elaboration of a Fascist aestheticization of politics.
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