- A Note from the Guest Editors
How do opera and philosophy intersect? There is no single answer to this question. From its inception, opera has engaged with philosophical themes across a wide spectrum, including ethics, metaphysics, and existentialism. Equally, from Rousseau through Kierkegaard and Nietzsche, to Adorno, Williams, Žižek, Dolar, and beyond, opera has captured the imaginations of philosophers. And scholars of opera have long, but increasingly of late, drawn on philosophical resources in their investigations, a development documented with particular acuity in the pages of this very journal in recent years. Of course the distinctions are not clear-cut. Many composers and librettists have doubled as philosophers and vice versa (Wagner, Rousseau), and there is a solid argument that opera addressing philosophical themes can itself be a form of philosophy. And while the phrase “scholars of opera” might call to mind primarily academics based in departments of opera, music, or theater, to deny, say, Alain Badiou the status of a “scholar of opera” would be a remarkably zealous instance of border control.
The essays in this issue bear witness to this rich complexity and engage intersections of opera and philosophy from a variety of angles.1 Ranging primarily across musicology, continental philosophy, and analytic philosophy (all broadly conceived), they are united not only by a shared interest in opera and philosophy, but also by a number of key themes within this area. Given that 2013 has marked the bicentenary of Wagner’s birth, it is appropriate that several of the essays are devoted to Wagnerian issues. The focus of these essays, however—and perhaps particularly appropriately for an anniversary—is not primarily on Wagner but rather on Wagnerism, a phenomenon that, as Gary Tomlinson notes, is unique to Wagner: “No one speaks of Verdism, of Bachism, or even of Beethovenism or Mozartism; but Wagnerism we cannot avoid.”
Surveying the history of Wagnerism, Tomlinson notes a recurring trend to equate the effects of Wagner’s music with a “subjective passivity.” Tomlinson shows that not only is this equation false; so too are the premises on which it rests. He makes a startling (and brilliant) case instead for what he terms a parahumanist Wagnerism, a Wagnerism that seeks “to comprehend our participation in Wagner’s music drama according to forces and processes broader than those that have been thought to describe human particularity.” Christopher Norris’s response acknowledges the value of Tomlinson’s recognition that music is above all experiential, yet asks whether Tomlinson might have thrown out the baby with the [End Page 183] bathwater in his disregard for certain specifically human elements—particularly cognitive elements—of such musical experience.
If Tomlinson’s article is about the undoing of Wagnerism, then Katherine Fry’s essay is about its doing. Making deft use of long overlooked archival sources, Fry examines a relationship central to the birth of Wagnerism: that of Nietzsche to Wagner. This relationship may have been tumultuous, but it was also, Fry demonstrates, underpinned by a long-standing analytical engagement by Nietzsche with Wagner’s music, and with Wagnerian rhythm in particular. Aaron Ridley responds by examining the precise nature of this analytical engagement, arguing that it must be understood not simply as descriptive, but also as evaluative.
Departing from Wagnerism, Jonathan Clark’s essay retains a concern with the power of the singing voice, combined with attention to historical method. Taking as his case study Kepler’s Harmony of the World, Clark investigates differing approaches to history, emphasizing the historiographical conflict between historicism and transhistoricism, a conflict collapsed in part at the close of the essay through a demonstration of the mutual complementarity of the two approaches. Clark concentrates in particular on the reading of historical texts, using a poststructuralist apparatus to read a seventeenth-century text, and finding in that same text configurations of thought remarkably reminiscent of such a poststructuralist apparatus. In response, Michael Fend highlights the concrete historical contexts of Kepler’s text, asking how its composition was influenced by religious, political, and philosophical motives.
Moving to contemporary philosophy of the analytic tradition, James O. Young offers a lucid critique of Peter Kivy’s formalist approach...