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Richard Wagner

FIVE LESSONS ON WAGNER

By ALAIN BADIOU

Published 8th November 2010

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Featuring an extensive afterword by SLAVOJ ZIZEK

Translated by SUSAN SPITZER

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PRAISE FOR ALAIN BADIOU:

“A figure like Plato or Hegel walks here among us!” Slavoj Zizek

“An heir to Jean-Paul Sartre and Louis Althusser” NEW STATESMAN http://www.newstatesman.com/books/2009/02/sarkozy-france-badiou-french

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For over a century, Richard Wagner’s music has been the subject of intense debate among philosophers, many of whom have attacked its ideological—some say racist and reactionary—underpinnings. In this major new work, Alain Badiou, radical philosopher and keen Wagner enthusiast, offers a detailed reading of the critical responses to the composer’s work, which include Adorno’s writings on the composer and Wagner’s recuperation by Nazism as well as more recent readings by Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe and others. Slavoj Zizek provides an afterword, and both philosophers make a passionate case for re-examining the relevance of Wagner to the contemporary world.

As the first example of a “mass art”, Wagner’s operas are portrayed as a forerunner to David Bowie and gangster rap, promoting a “terrorist function” of music that breaks down the boundaries between high and low culture.

Wagner’s crucial role in the thinking of Nietzsche, Adorno and Heidegger leads Badiou to posit the composer as the “litmus test” for the role of music in philosophy. Whilst these philosophers tended to criticize Wagner’s attempt to marry nationalism and art as “proto-fascist”, Badiou vigorously defends the positive energy of Wagner’s “enthralling, alluring, deceptive, hysterical, shimmering, seductive, sexual musical edifice.”

Badiou argues that “musicolatry” has replaced idolatry in contemporary society as music plays an increasingly important role in how we define ourselves. Youth culture identifies with music more than any other art form, festivals have created a new type of sociability, and the music industry is a billion dollar enterprise.

In a surprising conclusion, Badiou responds to the criticisms of Wagner by suggesting that the composer represents the possibility for a coming resurrection of high art. This new artistic “greatness” will embrace multiplicity, revel in possibility, tolerate subjective differences, dispense with resolutions and allow endless formal transformations. Badiou forecasts a high art which embraces postmodernism, rather then being destroyed by it and which, instead of focusing on nationalist nostalgia, sees Wagner as preparing the way for future artistic celebrations.

In Slavoj Žižek’s comprehensive 60 page afterword, “the most dangerous philosopher in the West” applies his usual brand of acute anecdotal evidence and astounding critical insight to turn perceived notions of Wagner’s Christianity on their head, comparing Parsifal to the pagan triumph of Lord of the Rings as opposed to the “failure” of C.S. Lewis’ Narnia.

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ALAIN BADIOU teaches philosophy at the Ecole normale superieure and the College international de philosophie in Paris . In addition to several novels, plays and political essays, he has published a number of major philosophical works, including THEORY OF THE SUBJECT, BEING AND EVENT, MANIFESTO FOR PHILOSOPHY, and GILLES DELEUZE. His five recent books THE COMMUNIST HYPOTHESIS, THE MEANING OF SARKOZY, ETHICS, METAPOLITICS and POLEMICS are available from Verso.

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PRAISE FOR THE MEANING OF SARKOZY:

“An enjoyably bilious essay” THE GUARDIAN http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2009/feb/06/alain-badiou-meaning-of-sarkozy

“As the recession worsens and social unrest increases apace, there is every likelihood that the ‘communist hypothesis’ will re-emerge to capture the political imagination.” Michael Cronin, IRISH TIMES http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/opinion/2009/0225/1224241762583.html

“Compared to Guy Debord’s prophetic 1967 masterpiece, THE SOCIETY OF THE SPECTACLE… a thundering, rallying tirade.” Lucy Wadham, NEW STATESMAN http://www.newstatesman.com/books/2009/02/sarkozy-france-badiou-french

 “Strangely compelling.” THE OBSERVER http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/mar/01/nicolas-sarkozy-politics

 “Badiou’s concluding, rousing call for an emboldened left to rediscover and reassert ‘the communist hypothesis’ through new kinds of thought and collective action can’t be dismissed as the pipe dreams of an old militant any more.” Mark Fisher, FRIEZE — http://www.frieze.com/issue/article/the_meaning_of_sarkozy/

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 ISBN: 978 1 84467 481 7 / US$26.95 / £16.99 / CAN$33.50/ 256 pages

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 For more information and to buy the book visit http://www.versobooks.com/books/530-530-five-lessons-on-wagner

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