New Yorker music critic Alex Ross writes about Alain Badiou's Five Lessons on Wagner (mistakenly presented as co-authored with Slavoj Žižek, who wrote the lengthy afterword). In his substantial essay on Wagner's Ring in the New Yorker Ross agrees with both Badiou and Žižek that in Wagner's music can be found the possibilities of a different world and a new politics.
Wagner's music is marked by a constant tension between a will to power and a willingness to surrender. The contradiction is not one that we should seek to resolve; rather it is integral to the survival of the composer's work. Because we can no longer idealize Wagner, he is more involving than ever. This idea animates Five Lessons on Wagner, a recent book of essays by the philosophers Alain Badiou and Slavoj Žižek. The latest in a long line of thinkers who have tussled with Wagner, Badiou and Žižek try to revise the prevalent picture of the composer as a proto-Fascist - the phrase was "virtually invented to describe Wagner", Badiou says - by heightening his paradoxes. In Wotan's monologue, Badiou sees a pivotal moment in which "power and impotence are in equipoise"; that paralysis creates the possibility of a different world. He goes on to paint the "Ring" as a mythological tale that annuls, one by one, the consolations of mythology. Žižek sees in Brunnhilde's sacrifice the hope for a new kind of politics - a space of selfless action beyond the failed ideologies of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Wisely, Žižek does not spell out what these politics might be. The music offers hope, nothing more.
Visit the New Yorker to read the article in full (subscribers only).
Also check out Alex Ross' excellent blog, The Rest is Noise.