‘Richard Wagner, Fritz Lang, and the Nibelungen: The Dramaturgy of Disavowal’ by David J. Levin

Published by Princeton University Press as part of Princeton Studies in Opera in 1998.

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This highly original book draws on narrative and film theory, psychoanalysis, and musicology to explore the relationship between aesthetics and anti-Semitism in two controversial landmarks in German culture. David Levin argues that Richard Wagner’s opera cycle Der Ring des Nibelungen and Fritz Lang’s 1920s film Die Nibelungen creatively exploit contrasts between good and bad aesthetics to address the question of what is German and what is not. He shows that each work associates a villainous character, portrayed as non-Germanic and Jewish, with the sometimes dramatically awkward act of narration. For both Wagner and Lang, narration — or, in cinematic terms, visual presentation — possesses a typically Jewish potential for manipulation and control. Consistent with this view, Levin shows, the Germanic hero Siegfried is killed in each work by virtue of his unwitting adoption of a narrative role.

Levin begins with an explanation of the book’s theoretical foundations and then applies these theories to close readings of, in turn, Wagner’s cycle and Lang’s film. He concludes by tracing how Germans have dealt with the Nibelungen myths in the Wake of the Second World War, paying special attention to Michael Verhoeven’s 1989 film The Nasty Girl.

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