Tuesday, August 7, 2007

What's a word stronger than "asinine"?

Found an article on Wagner via Arts & Letters Daily. It's a fairly standard checklist of the various banalities that get trotted out whenever someone gets the notion to write about Wagner. But a sentence at the end is astounding:
And as that devout Wagnerian Michael Portillo pertinently asked in a New Statesman article a couple of years ago, why is it that a love of Wagner is so often taken to signal right-wing, antisemitic tendencies when a love of Richard Strauss, at least on occasion a Nazi sympathiser, signals only the height of good taste?
I'm thinking this has to be satire of some kind. If the comment about right-wing, antisemitic tendencies "signals" anything, its that this "devout Wagnerian" needs to start hanging around with smarter people. I'm really not sure what this question is asking. Every one of its assumptions is wrong. First of all, as soon as the term "right-wing" comes out when dealing with Wagner, you know you're dealing with an ignoramus. The revolutionaries of 1848-9 were "right-wing"? Wagner agreed with Proudhon and was running buddies with Bakunin for God's sake. The claim that people who love Wagner have to defend themselves from charges of antisemitism "often" is ludicrous.

The part of the question about Strauss is the stupidest thing I've read in the last 14 months. The single biggest feature of the history of Strauss reception is the attempt by fellow composers, critics and academics "of good taste" to write off most if not all of his works as kitsch (Schoenberg, Stravinsky, Joseph Kerman in Opera as Drama, etc. etc. etc.). There is no other composer who is accused of bad taste as often as Strauss.

I'm sure Stephen Pettitt meant to get us thinking when he quoted a "provocative" question posed by a "devout Wagnerian" but instead has presented us with a funhouse mirror of stupidity. Every angle reveals something new.

I'm off to put my head in ice water.

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