Re-reading The Case of Wagner, or the Stakes of Philosophy as Theatrical Performance
In the field of theater studies, Friedrich Nietzsche’s late essay The Case of Wagner has typically been read as his indictment of the conspicuously theatrical strategies at play in Richard Wagner’s musicology, in the idea of the Gesamtkunstwerk or ‘total artwork,’ and in late nineteenth-century cultural production more generally. Broadly put, this argument is the central one advanced about Nietzsche in Jonas Barish’s Anti-Theatrical Prejudice (University of California Press, 1981), to name just one celebrated instance. And yet, as numerous scholars and philosophers have more recently noted (Fuchs, Puchner, Sloterdijk, Agamben), various aspects of Nietzsche’s own writing can be seen regularly to perform certain theatricalizing maneuvers all their own. In light of these claims and the more general turn in recent theater studies toward the intersections of performance and philosophy, this presentation will use Nietzsche’s Case of Wagner to trace the contours of the precarious and critical ambivalence (as opposed to opposition) he cultivated toward theater in his later years. How, if at all, might we best distinguish between these two conceptions of theatricality in performance, Nietzsche contra Wagner’s? How might doing so help produce a new reading of The Case of Wagner, one that is informed by dramaturgical and performance-based methods of analysis? And how does construing Nietzsche’s writings on Wagner as a form of immanent critique help us to shift our understanding of his larger philosophical body of work?
**Join us Tuesday from 1-2 p.m. in room 202 of 220 York. A light, catered lunch will be provided.**
Joseph Cermatori is a Ph.D. candidate and Javits Foundation graduate fellow at Columbia University, where his research focuses on transatlantic modernism with an emphasis on the interrelationships between theater, historiography, theater theory, and philosophy. His dissertation project draws upon a variety of critical discourses to examine the concept of the baroque as it was developed in aesthetic theory around the turn of the twentieth century, arguing that this period’s emergent avant-garde theaters and its attempts at understanding seventeenth-century cultural production shaped each other in decisive, dynamic ways.
He holds an M.F.A. in dramaturgy and dramatic criticism from Yale University, where he worked as a graduate fellow and assisted with teaching classes on theater history, Shakespeare, and collaborative theater-making. He has worked as a production dramaturg for projects at a number of theaters, including Classic Stage Company, Yale Repertory Theatre, and the McCarter Theatre Center.
Joseph is an active arts critic and a theater artist, an occasional contributor to the Village Voice’s theater section, a member of the Brooklyn-based theater design collective Wingspace, and an assistant editor at PAJ: A Journal of Performance and Art. He is also a co-founder of the UNSCRIPTED, an interdisciplinary working group on performance at Columbia University. Joseph is currently a lecturer on the theater and interdisciplinary arts faculties of Eugene Lang College, the New School for Liberal Arts.