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  • Il genio tiranno: Ragione e dominio nell’ideologia dell’Ottocento: Wagner, Nietzsche, Renanby Sandro Barbera and Giuliano Campioni
  • Alberto Giacomelli
Sandro Barbera and Giuliano Campioni, Il genio tiranno: Ragione e dominio nell’ideologia dell’Ottocento: Wagner, Nietzsche, Renan. Pisa: ETS, 2010. 2nded.; 1sted. 1983. 216 pp. ISBN: 978-884672595-0. Paper, €18.

Sandro Barbera and Giuliano Campioni’s book, Il genio tiranno(The Tyrant Genius), relates Nietzsche’s philosophy to the thought of Richard Wagner, Arthur Schopenhauer, Jacob Burckhardt, Ernest Renan, and Robert Musil by focusing particularly on the figure of the “genius,” of which each chapter considers a different sense or aspect.

The first chapter deals with the relationship between the genius and the city. Wagner treated the city as the locus of decline and the annihilation of the subject, referring particularly to the accelerated rhythms of cities like Paris and how they thus become home to décadentsand corrupted modern life. Through the artistic experience of Bayreuth, therefore, Wagner aimed to redeem humanity from the slavery and squalor of such “Zivilisation,” recovering the primal harmony between man and nature that it destroys. Schopenhauer, in his Parerga and Paralipomena, similarly describes the city as noisily nullifying the pathosof distance and the peculiar solitude essential to the genius, and even in his earlier The World as Will and Representationhe presents the city as a huge masquerade concerned with the worship of money. Schopenhauer too appeals to the genius to redeem this condition, claiming that while the common man can be considered a slave of his profession, the work of the genius is rather beyond such practical uses and is noble, since it has an end in itself. Barbera and Campioni show how Nietzsche links these concerns to his own criticism of modernity, in Thus Spoke Zarathustraas well as in earlier works such as The Birth of Tragedy. Thus they consider Zarathustra’s isolation from the city as an existential choice and an exercise in self-discipline against the “small man” and his lies, and note that the image of the “swamp-city” used in the section “On Passing By” echoes that of the “big sewer city” of Paris referred to by Wagner. And even in the earlier Untimely Meditations, Barbera and Campioni claim, Nietzsche sees the genius as a crucial figure in the foundation of a new humanity.

In the second chapter of the book, Barbera and Campioni show how in his Vie de Jésus, Renan describes the figure of Christ as an aristocratic ( charmeur) hero and how, while agreeing with Renan’s conception of a Jesus genius, as a contribution to saving the immediate and sentimental element of Christianity, Wagner rejects Renan’s political vision of a scientific aristocracy built on a mixture between positivism and romanticism. They then show how Nietzsche too engages with Renan’s political project, following Wagner in criticizing its optimistic view of social and scientific progress as a reflection of romantic ideology and its metaphysical foundations.

Then, in the third chapter Barbera and Campioni describe the Wagnerian conception of “absolute music” as a “true dream,” showing how Nietzsche attacks this mythologizing of common life. In such [End Page 493]works as Das Kunstwerk der Zukunftand Opera und Drama, Wagner praises Greek tragedy as an example of a total work of art ( Gesamtkunstwerk), and expresses his desire to revive it. As Barbera and Campioni emphasize, there are also important links between Wagner’s Beethovenand Schopenhauer’s The World as Will and Representationand Parergain this regard. With this background, they proceed to explain how the Wagnerian belief in the possibility of a new fusion between myth and reality is considered by Nietzsche to be a piece of romantic naïveté.

Interesting here are the authors’ remarks about the connections between Nietzsche’s The Birth of Tragedyand the Schopenhauerian and Wagnerian conception of art: the early Nietzsche agrees with the idea that the pain of life can be made tolerable only through art, and particularly by means of the spirit of music, but Barbera and Campioni rightly underline how for Nietzsche the proposed redemption does not have a “nirvanic” value as in...


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