Wagner and Nietzsche

Instructor: Nathan Shields
Goethe-Institut New York
30 Irving Place
New York, NY 10003

“Is Wagner a man at all? Is he not rather a disease? Everything that he touches he makes sick. He has made music sick.” These damning words—from The Case of Wagner, one of the last works Nietzsche wrote before his collapse—constitute his final judgment of the man whose music had been one of the great passions of his life. Nietzsche’s thought was intimately shaped by his long engagement with Wagner’s art, during which he grew from the composer’s most fervent champion to his most profound critic. In The Birth of Tragedy, the young philosopher had hailed Wagner as an artistic savior, whose immense, unprecedentedly ambitious masterpieces would resurrect the tragic drama of ancient Greece and restore the lost unity of human experience. Yet by the time of the Genealogy of Morals, Nietzsche had come to believe that Wagner’s entire oeuvre was fundamentally intertwined with European decadence, his Parsifal the epitome of the world-denying “slave” mentality Nietzsche despised. In this class we will explore the relationship between the two men through an examination of Wagner’s mature operas and musical poetics, Nietzsche’s responses to them, and critical readings by Thomas Mann, Bernard Williams, and others. In the process, we will try to understand what was at stake in their friendship and enmity, not only for them but for us. How did Wagner’s art leave its mark on Nietzsche’s thought? What can Nietzsche’s critique of Wagner teach us about the power and danger of music? And what were the consequences of their relationship for art, for philosophy, and for the history of the twentieth century?

 This is a seven session course and will feature significant contributions from other faculty and considerable in and out of class audio/visual materials (provided either courtesy of the Goethe-Institut or through BISR).

Course Schedule

Monday, 7-9pm
October 28 — December 02, 2013
7 sessions

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