In his new book Wagnerism, Alex Ross, the music critic of The New Yorker, examines Richard Wagner’s extraordinarily broad and enduring influence on the arts, intellectual life, and politics, from the mid-nineteenth century to our own time. He addresses a vast range of figures and texts, from George Eliot to Philip K. Dick, from Thomas Mann to Anselm Kiefer, from Baudelaire to Bugs Bunny. The book observes two contradictory tendencies in tandem: on the one hand, a wild proliferation of interpretations and reactions, including feminist, Jewish, gay, African-American, and occult/mystical Wagnerisms; and, on the other, an ideological narrowing, with a far-right, racist, nationalist viewpoint becoming ever more dominant. How can the same composer give inspiration to Theodor Herzl and Adolf Hitler, WEB Du Bois and Houston Stewart Chamberlain? In this talk, Ross explores some of the mysteries of the Wagnerian phenomenon, promising no simple answers.
Alex Ross has been the music critic of The New Yorker since 1996. His first book, The Rest Is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century, published in 2007, won a National Book Critics Circle Award and the Guardian First Book Award, and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. An essay collection, Listen to This, appeared in 2010. His third book, Wagnerism: Art and Politics in the Shadow of Music, was published in 2020. On Nov. 16, Rowohlt will publish Die Welt nach Wagner, the German translation of Wagnerism; a translation of Listen to This will appear at the same time. Ross has received the George Peabody Medal, an Arts and Letters Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Belmont Prize, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and a MacArthur Fellowship.
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