Just in Case of Wagner: Four Lessons on Wagner’s Gods

Murray Dineen


I shall observe in this essay the following principle: when it comes to politics, Wagner’s operas and operatic audiences are in greater need of Badiou than Badiou of Wagner. Badiou’s dependence upon the operatic politics of Wagner, however, cannot be put so easily to one side. The fact that Badiou should leave so compelling an account in his Five Lessons on Wagner is not salved by a reference to “diffidence” in the book’s introduction: “This book possesses something of the diffidence, perhaps, of those fundamental silences that are broken purely by chance” (2010, x).

I shall turn repeatedly to Bruno Bosteels’s work, as I essay something of Badiou’s Wagnerian “diffidence.” Bosteels functions for me as a signpost – Wegweiser, as Schubert called it in Winterreise – pointing the way toward a new aesthetic politics of Wagnerian opera after Badiou, my ultimate concern here.

This essay is aimed at a need for critical perspective in Wagnerian operatic politics, a need that might be filled with reference to Badiou. I begin, in the first section, entitled Wagnerian Metapolitics, by asking the Wagnerian to quit their position as operatic spectator. Opera is an activity with readily discerned consequences; it is not to be seen as an entertainment without consequence.

In the second section, Eleven Requirements of Wagner, following closely to eleven principles given by Bosteels, I show how Wagner himself undermines the Ring as a thing possessed of an essence, a single essential unity. I suggest that Wagner introduced fundamental cracks in the customary façade of operatic essence into the score. Cracks of this sort are written into the character of Wotan in particular. It would be too easy to dismiss this as the fault of Wagner’s compositional craft. Breakage – the sense of a thing broken – seems contrived by the composer to be the true nature of the Ring, if such a sprawling work could possess a single nature. My reader should come away, thus, with a new sense of Wagnerian aesthetics, an operatic aesthetics politicized firmly against the unitary essence so often ascribed to opera as an entertainment.

Thirdly, in the section entitled Census of the Gods, I engage in a close reading of the Ring. I focus on the contractual obligations the Ring libretto requires of Wotan. The fulfillment of these obligations lies seemingly just beyond Wotan’s grasp. Citing Badiou’s Conditions, I invoke the sense of waiting in vain. In all facets of the Ring we are constrained to wait in vain for the fulfillment of obligations produced in shadowy and offhand ways. In particular, we are promised integrity in the libretto and the score, following the long tradition of operatic integrity to which Wagner fell heir – and then made to wait in vain over four long evenings. The rubble of the Gods at the end of the Ring cycle puts to rest any notion of operatic essence and integrity. Should we cling to such a notion, we shall wait in vain for its Wagnerian realization.

Lastly, in the section Failures of the Gods, I suggest briefly the potential of a new operatic aesthetic. I shall draw upon the idea of music as labor throughout the essay. In ending, I propose a remedy for the perfect Wagnerian. By understand how deeply their own aesthetic labor is integrated into Wagner’s oeuvre – especially the effort of waiting in vain – the current practice of assiduous neglecting the politics of the Ring might thereby be reversed.

  1. Wagnerian Metapolitics

I start with a condition set forth by Bruno Bosteels, in the introduction to Badiou and Politics. The condition is framed by a discussion of the term metapolitics, of essential and founding ideas, a foundation that lies beneath all “concrete forms of political practice” (2011, 21). Bosteels notes, however, how Badiou’s usage diverges from the customary, and this is how politics must be reckoned chez Badiou:

Philosophy must cease to evaluate, in the way of an onlooker at a public spectacle or a judge in the tribunal of historical reason, the essence of the political (le politique) and instead ought to put itself under the condition of politics (la politique) or rather of a politics (une politique) so as to investigate which conceptual tools it should develop in order to be able to register in its midst the consequences of a political event” (20).

Following Badiou’s assertion that metapolitics – true politics – is a form of thinking in and of itself (and thus not a form of thinking about foundations), Bosteels adds: “Ultimately, a metapolitical orientation is based on the broad materialist principle that puts philosophy under specific conditions, in this case political ones, instead of raising itself up to the lofty heights of a timeless, self-reliant and unconditioned act of speculative reason.…” (21).

This seems miles from opera, where flights of speculative reason are normally entertained for the purposes of diversion or entertainment. And yet there are at least two links implicit in Bosteels’s thought that might lead us to the feet of Richard Wagner, especially the Ring of the Nibelung. (And here I presume at least a modicum of familiarity with the Ring operas, if only their plots [see Wagner 1976: xixn1 for good translations]. For the initiate, I shall retell in some detail a scene from the Ring below, so familiarity is not wholly requisite.)

The first of these links is historical, reckoned in the sense of operatic history: in listening to Wagner, the position of the listener is shifted from that of Bosteels’ “onlooker at a public spectacle” to that of an active if only semiconscious participant in the determination of the drama. In a recent book following Adorno’s thought (Dineen 2011), I describe the notion of an audience at work in a concert situation where they expect only leisure. Along these lines, we might say that Wagner leaves it to his audience (to a degree quite without precedent in opera) to labor assiduously so as to make sense of the consequences stemming from the action on stage. (And this practice is carried over into the industry of Wagner criticism, and what Badiou calls “debating Wagner as a genre” (2010, 56). Let us say that the division of compositional labor that normally distinguishes composer from audience is shifted; labor in Wagner falls with greater and greater weight upon the shoulders of the audience. Never before has an operatic audience worked so hard at their leisure: the sheer length of the Ring operas, the contrived nature of their plots, the ruses of narrative Wagner employs are quite without precedent, and require of the listener an unprecedented effort to make even an irrational sense of their speculative reasoning. (And the music, Wagnerian music with its evaded resolutions and half articulated themes, is a co-conspirator in this displacement of labor.)

In pre-Wagnerian opera, the nonsensical plots, the insertion of musical ‘numbers’ into an otherwise continuous narrative, the cardboard characters – this is the stuff of merely practical operatic reason, and the conventions of classic opera delimit the boundaries of practice. In writing pre-Wagnerian opera, a composer was constrained to take a certain amount of time in the narrative to show off the capabilities of the singers or the chorus (or the ballet, or diverse props). Material cause – the necessity of hiring singers and entertaining audiences given easily to boredom – governed operatic reason, quite aside from the often obscure machinations of plot. In Weber, in Rossini, in Bellini, Bizet, and Donizetti, even in Gluck, opera has its tried and true material reasons, which countenance a host of narrative and dramaturgical sins, as long as the audience is willing to look the other way. Since the audience by its tastes (and often limited attention span) dictates operatic materiality, the task of the audience is merely to condone the composer’s labor. In doing so, the audience falls back upon practical operatic reason and adopts a passive attitude: entertain me, I’m waiting.

The task of Wagner’s audience, however, is to labor as never before to make sense not merely of the opera itself but of operatic convention as Wagner reconstructs it. As Badiou notes, there are no more numbers, certainly none where they involve operatic ensembles (2010, 85). Instead, the Wagnerian operas, the Ring in particular, yield no ground to their audiences.

This is not to suggest, however, that listening to Wagner is an exercise carried out on “the lofty heights of a timeless, self-reliant and unconditioned act of speculative [operatic] reason,” to paraphrase Bosteels (2011, 20). Like pre-Wagnerian opera in this regard, there is little or nothing in Wagnerian musical form that is to be taken as “self-reliant” or as “unconditioned” by Wagner’s extramusical aims. Listening to Wagner is work; hard labor is displaced from the shoulders of the composer to fall on the back of his audience. Which is not to slight Wagner’s compositional labor itself; in working to make his audience work, the sweat of his brow is made evident throughout his Ring scores. But there are no leisurely heights in Wagner from which to gain operatic epiphanies.

In Wagner, the task of the audience is to dig in and build the very reasoning itself, and to extract a sense thereof – almost any sense of reasoning will do. Wagnerian plots are so elemental and yet so complex, Wagner’s music so lacking in reason and yet so reasonable, that his is an opera at work “under specific conditions,” again to cite Bosteels, and these conditions are not amenable to any absolute understandings achieved on lofty heights, despite what Wagner’s proponents might claim (2011, 20). Writing in the 1930s, amidst the growing Nazi appropriation of Wagner, the leftist music critic Paul Bekker could not see the division of labor described above: “[Wagner] arrived at the view that the artist, being possessed by a spirit of prophecy and endowed with enhanced sensibilities, experiences sympathetically all that the creatures of his imagination experience, till he himself embodies the idea of a People” (1931, 24-5). The root of Bekker’s thought is expressionism, but it bears an uncanny resemblance to fascism (the confusion of the two being yet another symptom of this remarkable era). Implicit is the division of composer from audience, a division based on a distinction masked as sympathy. Wagner stated this distinction plainly, giving himself powers well above censure:

An episode is not completed, until the Man who brought it about … is likewise no longer subject to our arbitrary assumptions as to his doings…. [B]y death is he first freed from this subjection…. That action, therefore, must be the best fitted for dramatic art – and the worthiest object of its rendering – which is rounded off together with the life of the chief person that evolved it…. Only that action is completely truthful – and can thoroughly convince us of its plain necessity…. (1972, 198)

And elsewhere Wagner wrote in similar terms: “It cannot be a sense of duty, then, which drives the genius to accept the terrible self-denial which presenting himself to the public involves. Some secret demonic force must be at work” (1973, 104).

Wagner thus excuses himself from mortal responsibility to his audience. To understand Wagner, the audience must get in and do the work themselves. If instead they choose to leave explication and reasoning up to Wagner, they shall ‘wait in vain’ for their customary reward.

Even in waiting, however, it may be that the labors of Wagner’s audience are not in vain. For as in Beckett, should they wait long enough they will gain an awareness that Wagnerian opera points beyond a commonplace rational sense – beyond commonplace operatic reasoning – to a quite revolutionary aesthetic consciousness, if we can still speak of politics and aesthetics in the same breath when discussing operatic works now almost one hundred and forty years old. (The first complete performance of the Ring at Bayreuth dates from 1876.)

This is, I believe, close to the position adopted by Badiou in Five Lessons on Wagner. Wagner is perennial. History will not consign his work to merely speculative heights, but instead history demands of Wagner’s audiences that they engage again and again in new skirmishes with the composer in ways too diverse to number.

While the first link is historical, then, the second is dramaturgical. The characters on stage, Wotan in particular, are forever negotiating their way around and out of contractual obligations. Most of these obligations are established elsewhere (and then forgotten, or established by sleepy Erda in the first scene of Act Three of Siegfried, who Wotan as the Wanderer drags up from her slumber). Wotan’s obligations are subject to a kind of willful jurisprudence on the part of the gods, such as Wotan’s wife, Fricka. Let us say that, in the act of pursuing his rational goals, Wotan is constantly working to subvert contracts made previously from the lofty heights – the holy foundations upon which Valhalla is erected. These contracts were sanctified in what was apparently (returning yet again to Bosteels) an act of “timeless, self-reliant, and unconditioned … speculative reason” on Wotan’s part as the master and thus sole arbiter of Godly reason. But these contracts have become quite constrained by history and quite dependent upon other characters. (Not the least of these is Fricka, who begins the second scene, Act One, of Rheingold by accusing Wotan of contractual deceit and goes on to upbraid him for much of the scene’s remainder and whenever she appears thereafter.)

Here is a new Wagnerian form of material operatic politics, quite apart from the materiality of an older mode (where the labor of the singer was always foremost in the composer’s mind in terms of entertaining the audience in their leisure). The material conditions under consideration here are the working conditions of Wagner’s audience – the labor involved in validating through listening the worth of the Wagnerian operatic commodity. Without the compliance of the listening audience in adding value in the shape of reasoning and form to an otherwise amorphous Wagnerian mass, Wagnerian opera would have been and would be worthless. That compliance, carried out consciously but more often subconsciously, has made a commodity out of works such as the Ring, which otherwise would have been laughed off the stage, like many of Wagner’s earlier works. (This is not to suggest that Wagner did not rely upon other forms of support, most of these in the shape of direct financial subventions, for example to build Bayreuth.)


The backdrop to the Ring is operatic capital: while a single operatic performance does not in and of itself generate capital, it allows capital to flow and accumulate. Opera is surely the most expensive of entertainment forms reckoned in terms of expenditures against profit (a lesson not lost on Wagner), and a vehicle for leveraging what we shall call state capital – funds from governmental agencies devoted to culture. While the labors of the composers were certainly not minimal, their importance to the material commodity must not be exaggerated (as Wagner was want to do). Instead the grand sums of operatic capital generated initially and to our day by Wagner’s works are attributable largely to the compliance of his audience (including critics such as George Bernard Shaw and film directors such as Chéreau and Syberberg).


Let us call this the politicization of aesthetics, the counterpart of the “aestheticization of politics” that Badiou places on the shoulders of Benjamin: an audience is no longer a spectator but instead a full participant in the making of meaning, after Wagner (2010, 69-70). If ever we thought to leisurely hang some form of coherent story line upon a well-articulated melody (an expectation we might make reasonably of Mozart up to Don Giovanni), so shall it be never more after Wagner. We shall never be leisurely fooled (in that way) again: music as a commodity will present to us our own labor from now on in the form of a fetish.

Whether this change of operatic perspective is revealed in its entirety to Wagner is moot. For the sake of a coherent and singular politics, Wotan is quite willing and capable of rethinking lofty principles in the dirty work of praxis. He effects whatever revolution in principles his will requires. (In an act of almost Christian charity, he is quite willing to sacrifice his favorite daughter, albeit to a fate governed entirely by his self-serving will.) And so we might say of Wagner, that the composer was quite capable of rethinking the aforementioned hallowed division of musical labor between composer and audience. But Wagner rethought this division only to serve his overall operatic aims. Listening to Wagner uncritically is thus a form of Wagnerian praxis, of subverting oneself to these aims at the expense of operatic tradition.

The efforts of Wotan and Wagner to force a unity instead spill forth multiplicity. Wotan’s contracts lead to unforeseen consequences and then to more contracts, and thus more unforeseen consequences. Wagner’s unleashing of operatic convention leads to Wagnerian consequences – the leitmotiv, for example – which, left ill defined, produces new conventions with unforeseen baggage. Leitmotives serve to delineate character (hitherto the task of aria and ensemble). But if character is ill defined in Wagner, then leitmotives will aggravate that fact, necessitating complex guides such as Wolzogen’s (see Billam, n. d.). Leitmotives produce a revolution ever in process, more and more mired in contracts – associations with characters and plot devices – left ill-defined and unfulfilled. It is as if, having told an operatic lie designed to produce unity, Wotan and Wagner are then obliged to the multiplicity of fictions that flow from it. As the Second Norn puts it to her sister, in the Prelude to Gotterdamerung: “Let us spin and sing, but where will you tighten the cord?”

This, then, is the politicization of aesthetics. To return to the quotations from Bosteels with which we began this paper: much as “Philosophy must cease to evaluate, in the way of an onlooker at a public spectacle … the essence of the political,” so too Wagnerian opera marks the end of the possibility of merely “looking on” to something essential in opera (and indeed in all such “entertainments”). Instead the truly critical Wagnerian audience member is obliged by Wagner to put themselves “under the condition of a politics,” and thereby to “investigate which tools it should develop in order to be able to register in its midst,” in the middle of opera, the political nature and consequences of the Wagnerian operatic event. To continue paraphrasing, let us say that, following Bosteels, politicized aesthetics is based on a broad materialist principle that puts aesthetics under specific conditions, political conditions, instead of raising the art work up to lofty heights, timeless, self-reliant, and unconditioned.

  1. Eleven Requirements of Wagner

Consider the eleven requirements – “major principles” Bosteels calls them (2011, 29) – in Badiou’s metapolitical orientation as these might apply to a politicized aesthetics derived from Wagner:

  1. “Politics, or a (mode of doing) politics, is first of all a process or a procedure, that is, an active form of militant practice, and not a form of the state.” Let us keep again to our two links with Wagner, historical and dramaturgical.

First, whatever legislative powers the operatic genre had historically brought to its practice (and Wagner shows in his writings how well aware he was of these legislations), Wagner militated against them. If ever there had been an operatic “state” – a legislative body overseeing operatic mores and practice – Wagnerian opera would have contravened its every mandate. Seen in light of operatic convention, Wagnerian opera was a process aimed at reworking or gutting whatever conventions clung to sung drama. Wagner, however, accomplished this in the very language of these same conventions, to serve the contrary ends of fidelity and expressive force. But we must never trust Wagner on this account. Wagnerian politicized aesthetics, no matter how revolutionary, are made to serve Wagner himself, serve Wagnerian ends, which are not necessarily those of his audience.

Second, Wotan the Wanderer is pressed throughout the Ring to militate against whatever legislation Wotan the God of State has contrived. Surely there was never such a character tilted against himself in opera. Wotan sees slipping from his desire the integrity of the gods, an integrity he must let slip on behalf of the laws of state of Valhalla, notably the ban on incest (as we shall see shortly). Wotan’s politics are a militant form of doing aimed in two opposing directions; they further but ultimately subvert the state.

  1. “As a process or procedure, a politics starts out from that point in the social order that signals the excessive power of the state. This point is the place, or site, of the political event.” Although the first scene of Rheingold is set on the bed of the Rhine river, the Ring opera as an event sets out from Valhalla, the aforementioned bedroom scene, scene two, with Wotan and Fricka. An excess of state power in the drama is clearly indicated by Fricka’s admonishments: her censure is the root and origin of Wotan’s bane. It cuts directly to the quick of his tendency to contract beyond any clear and reasoned ability to pay, a tendency meant ultimately to serve the gods as a whole but which will instead bring about their downfall.

Excess of power – power beyond State measure – walks the boards of scene one of Act Two of Die Walkure. Fricka must censure the incestuous relationship of Siegmund and Sieglinde, a relationship she well knows was contrived by Wotan. Censure is well within her legislated powers as guardian of marriage; the relationship – incestuous – lies well beyond State sanction. Thus she berates Wotan, who, however, is working above and beyond the State to preserve it, unbeknownst to Fricka, or at least unwilling to be seen by Fricka, as a consequence of her husband’s unbridled loins and their contractions.

Wotan’s politics start here: as State executive his powers exceed those normally awarded State operatives even for the sake of the State. Thus the Walsung twins become the site of Wotan’s own political event. Therein the right hand cannot – ought not to – make out what the left will do. In Wagnerian opera, as in politics, the “real” event transpires beyond the pale, and thus exceeds – is excessive.

Wotan’s excess of power takes two forms, in other words. On the one hand, he exceeds State sanction (and threatens the ruin of the gods, his wife reminds him) by condoning incest; on the other hand he aims to save the State, by acting above and beyond State sanction. Wagner put it rightly as a thing beyond normal powers of comprehension, the blindness of the State to its own existence, to the limits of its own constitution. State blindness appears in the guise of Fricka. (Translations are this author’s.)

Wotan: You never learn that which I would teach you. You cannot understand a deed before it arrives.  You can understand only things as given. But what is yet to come – to this I turn my thoughts. Hear one thing! Need requires a hero, who, freed from godly protection, is free from godly rules. Thus only he can accomplish the deed that, although the gods must have it, it cannot fall to the gods to do.

Fricka: With dark reason, you try to fool me…. You try to trick me with new lies, new excuses you would use to escape me. But you plead for this Wälsung [Siegmund] in vain. In him I see only you, for he acts through you alone….

Wotan would contrive a hero above the customary ban upon incest, a hero – a superior man, godlike but not a god – designed however to rescue all such bans. Contractually, such a hero must have nothing to do with the gods. But Wotan has unwittingly bound his hero in obligation to Fricka, who must – and will – force Wotan to observe the ban on incest. The hero who sprung from the loins of Wotan’s labors so as to save the gods must die to maintain Fricka’s honour and thus preserve godly honour. Therein Wotan’s event becomes politics.

An excessive dramaturgical power literally spills from this scene, for the contract is not merely part of the narrative. Wittingly or otherwise, Wagner establishes an obligation to his audience to make sense of Wotan’s debts and their payment. That Wagner himself has no intention to do so in the Ring becomes clear, much as Wotan’s desire to elude all prior contracts reveals itself. The situation is only half annunciated by Fricka to the audience; she seems to leave out the juicy details. All these contracts have been happening unbeknownst to us as audience, although we had our suspicions.

When faced with these half-truths that pop up seemingly without precedent, our patience, like Fricka’s, wears thin. What more dramatic fictions will Wagner reveal – things he neglected to tell us in Rheingold? If this were Rossini, we might content ourselves with lapses in narrative unity. But it’s Wagner, and we grow weary of contending with his god-given callousness towards us. We, ourselves, verge on the edge of revolt, an aesthetic reaction to Wagner’s so-called revolution in excess of the powers normally allotted an opera composer.

Like Wotan, then, Wagner establishes contracts that he too must keep against his wishes. For example, the spectral castle of Valhalla in Rheingold, to which the logic of the opera as a whole refers ultimately, will make no further material appearance, except in flaming caricature in the last seconds of the Ring cycle. All Wagner’s dramatic devices slouch toward Valhalla: it is the embodiment – real and virtual – of the Wagnerian operatic State (with antecedent in Wagner’s Rienzi). And yet it will make no significant return in material form, except in the final conflagration. Indeed Valhalla’s return in the final moments is made accessory after the fact of Brünnhilde’s renunciation in Act 1, scene 3 of Götterdämmerung, where urged by Waltraute to restore order by returning the ring to the Rhine, she refuses: “A glimmer of the ring’s holy fire is more dear to me than all the gods’ eternal fortunes.” In this scene, the weight of the narrative shifts in ways no audience could anticipate, from a comedy of godly ethics to a tragedy of love.

The fact of this dramaturgical denial of the Gods-as-central is an event: the unfulfilled contract to return to Valhalla (bound up with the plot of the cycle) constitutes the dramaturgical event of the Ring, the site where the excess of power in Wagnerian drama becomes clear. The return of a Valhalla unbridled by liens and contracts would establish the sanctity of State; Valhalla is a wish to which all Wotan’s desires, legitimate or otherwise, are bent. That Wagner should deny such a fulfillment requires his audience to conceive of this moment as an event. It is the site of an operatic politics: we are either for or against this Wagnerian reworking of operatic form. This is the moment at which either a politics of aesthetics is born or Wagner’s audience lapses back into Erda’s troubled sleep.

For those wide awake, the fate of the gods is now Wagnerian chaos – confirming what we have all been waiting for. In Wagner, some kind of ending, any kind of ending will do. Discussing the Ring finale, Badiou correctly wards off the spectre of bad dialectics, where “differences are nothing but the means of getting to the affirmative finale” (2010, 78). He locates a resolution of sorts, contingent upon isolating the end of the gods: “…after the gods comes humanity. You can twist it around as much as you like, but the fact still remains that that is how it all ends, and the responsibility for the world formerly ruled by Wotan, the gods, the treaties or the contracts now falls to humanity, represented by the crowd [emerging from the embers], without it being said exactly what this responsibility consists of” (101). And then he goes on to praise Chéreau’s Bayreuth production for the placement of a kind of generic humanity on stage at the end.

But this ignores the role of the audience and its aesthetic politics in relation to Wagner, which we insisted upon above in linking to Bosteels’s conditions. The reconciliation on stage is “generic” in Badiou’s terms: “It is really humanity, stripped of all transcendence and left to its own devices, that will have to take responsibility for its own fate” (101). The audience, however, is not a standard run-of-the-mill audience, instead reinventing itself again and again at each performance when faced with Wagner’s excessive powers. And what every audience must do at the end of every performance of the Ring is to rise up and judge Wagner and the politics of his excessive dramaturgical conceits. Thus the site of Wagnerian politics is created again and again by Wagnerian excess.

3 and 4. “The state is the instance that doubly controls the situation, for example, by first counting all the inhabitants who have the right to be legal citizens, residents or nonresidents, and then, as in a census, by counting these members a second time in terms of various subcategories, or subsets: male and female, immigrant and indigenous, adults and minors, etc.” And: “The difference between these two counting operations, first the elements of a set and then the subsets, corresponds to the difference between the simple presentation of a given situation and its redoubling or re-presentation in the state of the situation.” Wagner and Wotan are always counting (or having characters like Mime do their counting for them, as we shall see shortly). But each entry in the census – Gods, giants, Nibelungen, Wälsung – must be accounted for again, in light of the contracts effected by Wotan over the course of the opera. For, in Wagnerian drama as in the politics of repression, no stone must be left unturned for fear of harboring a potential reversal of operatic logic or the state, especially when dramatic reason is stretched so thinly.

Let us be clear with regard to Wagner: he leaves no stone unturned in calculating Wagnerian dramatic chaos. Where a mistaken census or a change of status occurs – Brünnhilde being a case in point – the redoing of the census extends to encompass great swaths of the action. For if Wotan is to reconfigure citizenship (and he is the principal census judge, in this regard), then all contracts, all liens, must be addressed. And where some dramatic figures must be reconfigured, then the state must be reconfigured too. For “by counting these members a second time,” their status as legal citizens may shift and with it the very notion of a citizenry. If Wotan’s beloved Brünnhilde is to be counted twice, and her status changed, is this not an omen of the end of the gods? And what was Wotan’s contractual role in the conception of certain key Wälsungen, who will figure largely in Brünnhilde’s transfiguration? What does this contractual “sleeping around” do to his status as a god?

5 and 6. “The example of the census already intuitively indicates that there is always an excess of the power with which the state of a situation exceeds this situation itself, signaled by the ‘etcetera’ or ‘other’ that cannot fail to appear at the end of every list of categories…. In an infinite situation, this excess can be shown to be properly immeasurable. It is this simple and fundamental axiom of contemporary set theory that marks the onset, so to speak, of a political intervention.” And “A political process, thus, does not start out from a previously given bond or group … but from a local unbinding of the common struggle.”

Brünnhilde’s transfiguration is merely the consequence of an intervention made by Wotan under contractual obligation to Fricka (the execution of Siegmund, in Die Walküre, Act 2, scene 1.) But in transfiguring his Valkyrie through the vehicle of a ring of fire, Wotan unbinds what was their common struggle as legislated by the State. Formerly her State function was to bear heroes to Valhalla; now she is to wait for a single hero, who will take her.

This produces a new group to which the former Valkyrie must bind. The new group forces a new census (as we shall see below in the discourse between Mime and the Wanderer), one with both immediate and long-term consequences for the gods. Wotan would have liked to keep the whole Walsung clan firmly contained in a category of “other,” beyond the legislative powers of Fricka. Had he succeeded, his power would have been truly “immeasurable.” But he fails; Fricka is keeping count. Thus he must reconfigure the Valkyrie, and in doing so, reconfigure the census to meet his needs.

In similar manner, Wagner counts his audience twice, or rather has them do the counting as part of their indentured labor. They are subject first simply as audience members at an opera, and therein the numeration is made with simple integers, for everyone at the opera is taken to be whole – an integral unit of spectatorship. No doubt, Wagner was familiar with this kind of contract, having participated in the customary division of labor as both conductor and composer prior to the Ring. But thereafter by making his audience constitute the logic of drama and music for themselves, Wagner fractionates his people, the Wagnerians. Some, the skeptical, will participate only in part; others, the unquestioning devotees, will participate wholly; and still others – Nietzsche – will shift across the division. But all, in their own way, will be torn asunder by Wagner, only to be forced to reconstitute themselves by the event at the very end of the Ring.

Wagner, while he might have anticipated this fractionation subconsciously, was quite unaware of its status as an event and its effect upon his audience. The ending of the Ring is a blunt return on the part of the listener, one that Wagner did not have complete control over. For in reconstituting itself as a people, it is quite possible for his audience to be Wagnerian without succumbing entirely to Wagnerian excess. In fact the effect of the Ring may be to produce a Wagnerian for whom Wagner is to be resisted again and again, afresh at every performance, this as a singular act of self-affirmation and the politics of aesthetics.

7, 8, and 9. “Politics is not the art of the possible but the art of the impossible.” And “a militant subject emerges only when the particular terms of the various memberships that define society are put down and abolished in favor of a generic concept of truth as universally the same for all.” And finally, “Politics, in other words, has nothing to do with respect for difference or for the other…. There is thus nothing inherently subversive, let alone revolutionary, about the affirmation of difference, becoming, or flux with the coordinates of contemporary capitalism. Only a strict egalitarian formation can break through this general equivalence of capital disguised as difference.”

Let us take the first statement literally – an “art” of the impossible (this versus Bismark’s original – “study,” or “Lehre”). This is Wagnerian opera, based contractually in the impossible, both the impossible plot (that Wotan should reconcile his tendency to contract with his inability to honor contracts), and the dramaturgical impossible, that a composer should attempt to invalidate the time-honored division of labor (creator versus audience) by forcing both roles upon his audience. Through such an invalidation, Wagner attempts a unified synthesis – a “generic concept of truth” that opera shall be the same for all, available to all willing.

But when his audience rises up at the end of the Ring, they should realize a generic concept of truth quite apart from that intended by Wagner. Like the Gibichung who cluster the stage at the end of Götterdämmerung, their awareness exceeds that of both Wotan (for whom the Gibichung are insignificant in his demise) and Wagner (for whom the Gibichung are merely a plot device in attempting the conclusion of the Ring). What the latter have unleashed in the audience is an unanticipated solidarity, an awareness of a “general equivalence” contrived by Wagnerian operatic capital – the status foisted upon the listener by operatic capital – a kind of operatic “congealed labor time.” As Wagner, the operatic capitalist, would have it, the actual time allotted to the plot of the opera makes no difference; the only vehicle by which Wagnerian operatic worth is to be reckoned is the congealed time of the labor exerted by his listeners. If one should leave the theatre with this awareness of one’s labor intact (despite all the Wagnerian contrivances that would suggest the contrary), then the seeds of an aesthetic politics have been sown, albeit quite against Wagner’s intentions.

  1. “Ultimately, politics is nothing if it is not the active organization of a generic equality, one possible name of which continues to be communism.” It is the extras that elude Wagner’s census – the Ring’s working classes, the little people, the Nibelung horde, the Gibich vassals, and their remnants who walk through the charred landscape at the opera’s end as if finally unencumbered by Wotan’s wiles. And it is Wagner’s stunned and bruised audience exhausted from its labor that will not let itself be compassed. Neither of these is really accounted for as integral players in the drama or the dramaturgy. As I have shown, the characters on stage come close to disrupting Wagner’s dramaturgical equilibrium in Götterdämmerung (Dineen 2011, 169-71). It lies within them at the end of the cycle to shuck off the crisis of difference gone horribly wrong at the hands of the gods. Badiou would find a moral within the opera, in this regard:

We are still left with the hypothesis that after the gods comes humanity. You can twist it around as much as you like, but the fact still remains that that is how it all ends, and the responsibility for the world formerly ruled by Wotan, the gods, the treaties or the contracts now falls to humanity, represented by the crowd, without its being said exactly what this responsibility consists of. (2010,101)

And speaking of the ending to the Chéreau Ring:

In fact, I’m inclined to say that this ending consists in the fate of the world being handed over to generic humanity, stripped of all transcendence and left to its own devices, which will have to take responsibility for its own fate. This hypothesis is put forward in Götterdämmerung only after much trial and error and many partial revisions, and it ultimately boils down to this: after the gods comes humanity, regarded in a revolutionary sense, an utterly generic, not specific, sense. (101)

But Badiou does not carry this far enough. He must extend the generic condition to the audience. He needs a generic audience with a revolutionary aesthetic, an operatic proletariat willing to see Wagner’s ability to accumulate capital at their considerable expense.

For it is within Wagner’s audience to quit their labors, endlessly waiting for coherence, if only to descry an end to Wagner’s contrivances. It is their responsibility – given to them inadvertently by Wagner – “without its being said exactly what this responsibility consists of,” to quote Badiou (101). The audience must make an end of it themselves.

Wagner’s ending both is and isn’t compatible with their best interests. Nothing short of an audience dragged down by Wagner from the heights of an aesthetic based on “unconditioned reason” (the postulate with which we started this essay) will suffice to end this Wagnerian contrivance. Thus Wagner, while working at the margins of operatic reason, works inadvertently to reveal its excesses and thus politicize it.

  1. “Politics cannot be referred back to any ontology as first philosophy but also, and perhaps primarily, that all emancipatory thought must likewise refuse to rely on an anthropological pre-understanding of what constitutes human nature.” Perhaps it is most difficult, certainly in our era where the artistic evidence of human nature is so freely available in facsimile, not to refer back to a first-philosophy of Wagner’s art. That is after all the proper domain of classical aesthetics and its relation to art. But as Wagner shows – both intentionally and unintentionally – his art congeals only in the unity of a growing consciousness, both onstage and in the audience.

Any anthropology, any account of human doings, any narrative that would seek to classify an inherently artistic ability in Wagner’s audience – under the rubric of taste for example – is invalidated by Wagner. If by taste we mean surrender to the composer as arbiter of taste, then Wagner’s music constitutes an anthropology of taste as a relic. To this end, all the trappings of gods and the slow progress of the world in the operatic cycle cohere with the surrender of the Norns in the Prelude to Gotterdamerung: “An end to eternal wisdom; the world joins to our counsel no more.”

But if we mean instead a resistance to such an anthropological notion of operatic taste (if we believe that at every performance the audience is offered an aesthetic awareness unanticipated in Wagner’s opera, a resistance to the tyranny of Wagner and his operatic capital) then Wagner’s music is not anthropology, a thing prior to the event. At its best, a Wagnerian anthropology of operatic taste constitutes an object his revolutionary audience needs as a vehicle by which to rise up against him.

Having woven our way through Bosteels’s list after Badiou, let us summarize our position. Since so much writing about music is affirmative of the composer in particular, it will surely have come as a surprise to the reader that we are not willing to place ourselves in thrall to Wagner. Instead, in coming to negative terms with the composer, we have sought out tools with which to “put ourselves under the condition of politics,” of “a politics,” the better to register the “consequences” of Wagnerian opera as a “political event” and understand his requirements of his audience as a form of politicized aesthetics.

The principal tools within our tool-chest are critical. We treat Wagner’s aim ultimately as the accumulation of operatic capital, this accomplished by making the listener the unwitting laborer. This act of reconfiguring the listener is prefigured in one particular operatic scene, to which we turn now.

III. Census of the Gods.

Wagner’s ruse in Siegfried, Act 1, scene 2, is older and even more hackneyed than opera itself. Ask three questions. Move the drama along.

Thus Wotan, master of the gods, in the guise of Wanderer, offers his head should he fail to answer even just one of three questions put to him by the dwarf Mime, the churlish tinsmith. “Three questions, any questions, Mime; my head in the bargain.” Thus begins Wotan’s census. Although it would appear to derive from Mime, its aim, at least initially, would seem to serve Wotan.

Mime: “Who dwells in the deeps.” Wanderer: “Why, the Nibelung, the black spirits [Schwarz-alben], of course! Their leader is Albericht [Schwarz-Alberich]. What’s your second question then?”

“Who dwells on the earth’s surface?” Wanderer: “Why, the Giants of course, Fasolt and Fafner to be exact, as their chieftains.” (Note that Wotan leaves out a key tenant, the race of men, but he will come around to them later.)

“And who dwells upon the cloud-covered heights?” This requires an elaborate answer, for Wotan, hubris at full cock, cannot help but give an ample account of his kin and their hearth, and ultimately his role therein. He put it neatly, expressed in opposition to the Nibelung: “The gods dwell on the heights, Valhalla. They are light spirits [Licht-alben], and their leader is Wotan [Licht-Alberich].”

It sounds tidy, but the Wanderer in delineating this class structure lets slip something best kept hidden from covetous dwarves. Alberich – Schwarz-Alberich – conquered and ruled the Nibelung by means of an all-powerful ring. But perhaps the dwarf is not entirely unaware of this fact, perhaps? (He is well aware.) And left unsaid here is Wotan’s reason for being in Mime’s cave, a reason no doubt that is perturbing – indeed pissing off – that dwarf considerably. Wotan’s reason is to follow the travails of that same ring and perhaps gain a little of its powers for his godly self: “The giants recovered that ring (but who can say precisely how, who indeed?). Then out of avarice Fafner slew Fasolt and turned himself into a dragon, the better to guard the gold, and the ring (oh, did I mention the ring?!).”

And then Wotan’s hubris interrupts the story of the Ring, or rather pushes it conveniently to one side, so as to resume the census, to which the ring is linked inextricably: “Wotan rules the gods, and by his holy spear rules the world. For in its shaft he engraved social contractuals and concordances [Er enschritt in den Schaft heil’ger Verträge Teuerunen].” Neat and tidy, omitting only a modicum of truth.

By this hoary three-question-routine, Wagner allows his apparently dull-witted audience to catch up on the narrative. Large swaths of the Ring are devoted to this indulgence – a persistent abuse of his audience on Wagner’s part, as if Wagner were saying: Did you get my drift, some ten hours ago, in Rheingold, where I showed you (at length, let me remind you), the class structure to this opera. So. Perhaps you didn’t. Just in case, let me say it again: there are three races of living beings….

Three questions, a tidy trick on Wagner’s part, for this sets up three more questions, another excuse to recount, another census, again at the expense of the audience. Now Mime lies contractually obligated to Wotan as questioner, and now Mime’s head is at stake. Says the Wanderer to Mime: three questions, any questions, and now your head in the bargain.

First question, which returns us to the answer omitted in Wotan’s second reply: “What is the name of the race Wotan treated so harshly and yet holds so dear to his heart?” Mime, unsteady character, shaky, knowing full well the true identity of his visitor, is given to running away at the mouth. He should reply, “Walsungs,” and leave it at that. But he goes on to reveal family secrets: incest – the Walsung twins, Sieglinde and Siegmund, are – or rather were – son and daughter of father Wälse, and that fact is one more contractual obligation engraved in the shaft of Wotan’s mighty spear, Wälse and Wotan bearing an ominous familial similarity. “And the Walsung twins in turn gave birth to Siegfried before Siegmund was slain (perhaps the Wanderer is not familiar with these facts, yes?).”

In the stage directions to Wagner’s libretto, it would appear that awareness is concealed. If the Wanderer were aware (how could he not be?), he is not in the least disconcerted about these matters. But in a stroke of genius, in the Chéreau Ring, Donald McIntyre, playing Wotan, makes his disconcert quite clear. Irritated, he fidgets across the stage. Wotan as played by McIntyre is all too aware of this contractual stain upon his mighty shaft, like spilt semen lodged indelibly in some of the deeper grooves.

Second question. “What is the name of the sword that Siegfried must use, if he is to kill Fafner the dragon and gain the gold (the ring! Oh, the ring!)?”

Mime: “Why ‘Notung,’ that’s the name.” But running off at the mouth: “Yes, it’s the sword Siegmund drew from the ash tree (put there, possibly, by Wotan), and the sword shattered whilst in Siegmund’s hand (by Wotan, incidently, but perhaps you knew that?). The sword (a certain) dwarf forged anew for Siegfried – the boy who knows no fear, and thus can and will slay the dragon.”

Wotan, the Wanderer, appears to laugh it off: “Oh you are the wisest one among the wise, my dear dwarf friend, ha, ha, ha.” But he has been caught out. That incident with the sword has cut to the quick of some plans best kept hidden, shady plans on his part, backroom deals for real estate and gold held offshore. The Wanderer must act quickly to deflect this cross-examination (contrived, after all, at his behest, yes?).

Thus Wotan’s third question is meant to deflect this particular path of investigation and ultimately to eliminate this bothersome dwarf: “Who will forge Nottung anew from its shards?”

It is a question Mime cannot answer without facing the truth of his own precarious position in this tidy arrangement – stuck between the gods and the Nibelungen, incapable of forging anew the sword. The only answer he can contrive is his own death warrant expressed as a question: “Who will do it, if I cannot forge the thing?” Another question, however, is not the answer the Wanderer seeks. He puts his reprimand in the form again of census: “Listen you stupid dwarf, Fafner’s killer shall be he who has never known fear, only he shall forge Notung anew.” Thus Wotan’s question deflects attention from himself to Siegfried, and contrives yet another contract: “Watch your clever head there, dwarf. I bequeath its destiny to one who has never known fear.”

There are now many contracts on the dramaturgical table – engraved in Wotan’s mighty shaft – some of them Wotan’s, some of them Wagner’s. Herein lies, I think, something of Badiou’s attraction to Wagner, although Five Lessons on Wagner might not state as much so clearly. Some of these contractual obligations are made explicit: Wotan is married to Fricka, and “Was will das Wieb?” Some are hidden. Wotan’s hallowed obligation is to the integrity of the world: he must deliver up an integral whole, a unity to which the machinations of the Nibelung horde and their errant gold are caustic. And yet he seems to contrive to destroy that integrity, to play – dally – with all-too prescient dwarves who see the rifts running through Wotan’s unitary desires.

So too, Wagner’s hallowed obligation is to dramatic integrity: he must deliver up one operatic whole. And yet, despite all the smoke and fire about Gesammtkunstwerk, he lacked the capacity to do so (at least in the way Mozart still could deliver in operas prior to Don Giovanni). No composer could deliver such by this time in opera’s history, a fact Brahms acknowledged by studiously avoiding opera.

In truth, as Badiou acknowledges, opera was never an integral whole in music. The operatic commodity was never a single integral entity, an absolutely unified thing that could not be split apart by impresarios or conductors to meet the requirements of singers or to humor audience patience. Whole “numbers” were ever being omitted; arias were transposed into more voice-friendly keys; integrity became pastiche; Paris-versions and Vienna-versions were offered up to regional tastes. In truth Wagner succeeded in no small part in preventing the hack-job in the Ring. Who, after all, would dare slice apart the net that holds his writhing music? Who, for that matter, could even find an aria concise enough to shave away? (Which is not to say that directors haven’t tried.) By the very unpredictability of his craft, Wagner shut down the multiplicity that opera always was. But at the same time he contrived a new form of multiplicity. Thus the Ring, against any Wagnerian desire to create an operatic whole, congeals if only by its very failure to congeal as a traditional operatic whole would.

Promising integrity, Wagner’s stock-in-trade is the operatic promissory note, passed to his audience: “I shall pay, just not now, not yet.” His dramaturgical fortune grows through deferral and displacement, and thus by shifting musical labor onto his listener. As Badiou suggests, then, we are made to wait in Wagner as in Beckett, at times unbearably so. Adorno once suggested of Schoenberg’s audience that they must work for their leisure. He meant they come to a concert expecting a commodity, but in return are made to produce one – to create an appreciation of Schoenberg, the product of an arduous labor indeed. And this truth is as perennial for Wagner as for Schoenberg.

For example: Wagner will allow Mime to forget that Wotan’s census omits the race of men when answering to Mime’s second question – what walks the earth? And Wotan forgets to list the most important wanderer therein, surely, the Wanderer himself. These two questions, central to the opera, should have been first and foremost in the mind of Mime and by proxy the mind of Wagner’s audience. They will have to wait until the end of Götterdämerung for these questions to be raised fully, and even then a coherent answer will not be provided, merely stepped aside.

For what dramatic reason, precisely, has Wotan quit the heavens for earth? But neither Wotan nor Wagner answers fully Mime’s question, merely deflects them for reasons mentioned above until they are consumed unanswered in the conflagration at the end of Götterdämerung. This is the sort of unfulfilled contract we find again and again in Wagner, by means of which he causes his audience to labor for operatic reason, and deferring such, he collects their labor as Wagnerian operatic capital.

I believe this is the reason to continue listening to Wagner. The Ring in particular, with its scope tempts us to assume closure and definition to the work itself, to put ourselves in the hands of Wagner and what must surely number among the grandest commodities produced in the nineteenth century. But as I have suggested, a critical Wagnerian audience will go on waiting for closure, albeit waiting in vain to their profit. Badiou, I believe, says as much: “Wagner had such an extraordinary intuition about the intrinsic merit of waiting in vain that he turned it into an unprecedented poetics, an amazing musical system that constantly delays resolutions, thereby creating a state of harmonic uncertainty whose task it is to translate the futility of waiting” (2010, 43) I believe John Deathridge catches an inkling of this in his review of Badiou’s Wagner book:

The important point about, say, Wotan’s long narration in the second act of Die Walküre is therefore not that it is a histrionic story we are bored with because we already know it (including Brünnhilde, who listens with remarkable patience), but Wotan’s and the audience’s subjective reactions to its retelling, the sudden appalling realization of the impossibility of acting on desire with respect to its changing objects in the world of law, of creating freedom as a genuine option, and above all the feeling of finding oneself in a void with no option but to call up something that cannot be named out of nothing. (2011, 106)

This is a prescription for a new aesthetics of opera related to a principle or axiom of aesthetic work: Wagner makes explicit the truth (normally obscured by fetish) that leisure as defined in the system of operatic capital is labor. Any consciousness of this prescriptive approach to opera is bound to be divisive in the sense outlined by Peter Hallward (2005, 773) – to divide the critical from the uncritical listener. But that divide is to be set against the great accomplishment of Wagner (an operation that begins with the secular and anti-aristocratic works of Haydn) in uniting all listeners by their very labor under the conditions of aesthetic capital.

Such are the lessons of Wagner’s politicized aesthetics. Badiou expresses this as follows, from Conditions, after Adorno:

waiting in vain, as opposed to any notion of reconciliation or salvation…. [M]usic must produce something akin to waiting, albeit an unresolved waiting wherein no real outcome of what is awaited ever occurs…. Once again, we encounter the theme of the absolute necessity of preserving the open, with no final resolution in which negation would ultimately be forgotten or eradicated…. To the extent that the idea of form – even negative form – or a work of music is provisionally maintained, it must not at any rate be something that unifies or unites…. [M]usic should not be structured by any process that would involve sublating its inner negativity. Instead from within itself, it should negatively confront what is different from itself…. Adorno’s view is that music should not sublate its negativity but instead let it be and preserve the negative imperative of its being. (2008, 50-53)

Let us say that for the critical audience, for those inclined to working for their leisure with an easy conscience, for a musical proletariat, Wagner and his errant gods are descended from the politics of heaven.

  1. Failures of the Gods.

The following passage, taken from the beginning of Being and Event, might risk being trivialized in any medium other than Wagnerian opera: “When anything is counted as one in a situation, all this means is that it belongs to the situation in the mode particular to the effects of the situation’s structure.”(Badiou 2005, 24) The passage appears as an assertion of Badiouian multiplicity. But a moment’s reflection shows it to be a Wagnerian admonishment: “How convenient it would be to think you have encompassed the singular, to have held firm to one grain of sand on this operatic shore. You have grasped a nothing, in grasping nothing.” Thus Auschwitz is an admonishment and an imperative: “Now … what is meant by Auschwitz?… ‘Auschwitz’ does not merely encompass the empirical fact of the massacre and extermination…. ‘Auschwitz’ is the name of an imperative for philosophy in the sense that any philosophical thinking must be consonant with the measureless measure represented by Auschwitz, while at the same time ‘Auschwitz’ names what is forever external to philosophy: philosophy’s relationship with what is utterly different from it.” (Badiou 2008, 46-47)

From time to time, Badiou has words of condolence to salve this original wound: “It is rational to think the abnormal or the anti-natural, that is, history as an omnipresence of singularity….” (2005: 174) How like this is to Wotan complimenting Mime on his assiduous stupidity in announcing the very conditions for the contract (deliver the fragments of the very sword that only Siegfried can forge anew) that Wotan will use in Siegfried’s hands to destroy Mime. But operatic rationales such as these, in and of themselves, accomplish nothing, merely defer and defer again. Endless waiting. First Fasolt, then Siegmund, then Mime, then Siegfried, ultimately the gods themselves – will the killing never cease? Will no one remain to explain the matter in a final determination.

Badiou emphasizes the appropriateness of music to the “imperative” of waiting in vain and a politics of “justice,” citing the authority of Adorno: “Taking his cue from the Beckett of Waiting for Godot, Adorno claims he is expressing the feeling of waiting in vain, which is a fundamental affect, the feeling that the absolute is not going to come…. It is as a matter of acting negatively, of realizing oneself through waiting in vain. If waiting in vain is indeed an imperative, then Negative Dialectics states that music alone can express it, can bear witness to the fact that justice will be done”(2010: 42-3). Like the leitmotive and the intransigent “Tristan chord,” we are left ever in limbo waiting for such a determination. For, since leitmotives and Tristan chords are the stuff of Wagnerian operatic chaos, a singular determination is not possible.

Thus Wagner’s audience in failing to grasp its own failure, seizes upon a failure. Badiou, citing Lazarus: “The problematic of failure does not permit factual verification; instead of treating the fact as a unit, it carves out its own way” (2011, 46). Failure is produced in a Wagnerian audience under the cumulative weight of four nights of Ring. It is not simply that the Ring ends. Rather, it both countenances and ends opera as a mode of accumulating aesthetic capital. Opera becomes merely a phantom of itself for evermore. The Ring becomes the living vestige of a division within musical labor that once worked in opera. It denotes the vital aesthetic currency of a failed exchange about music and labor.


Works Cited

Badiou, Alain (2005). Being and Event. Trans. O. Feltham. London: Continuum.

Badiou, Alain (2008). Conditions. Trans. S. Corcoran. London: Continuum.

Badiou, Alain (2010). Five Lessons on Wagner.  Trans. S. Spitzer. London: Verso.

Badiou, Alain (2011). Metapolitics. Trans. J. Barker. London: Verso.

Bekker, Paul (1931).  Richard Wagner: His Life in his Work. Trans. M. M. Bozman. Reprint ed. Freeport, N.Y.: Books for Libraries, 1970.

Billam, Peter (n. d.), accessed 27 November 2012. The Leitmotifs of Wagner’s Ring.  http://www.pjb.com.au/mus/wagner/index.html.


Bosteels, Bruno (2011). Badiou and Politics. Durham: Duke University Press.

Deathridge, John (2011). “Waiting for Wagner: Review of Alain Badiou, Five Lessons on Wagner.” The Wagner Journal 5,1: 103-112.

Dineen, Murray (2011). Friendly Remainders: Essays in Music Criticism after Adorno. Montreal: McGill Queens University Press.

Hallward, Peter (2005). “The Politics of Prescription.” South Atlantic Quarterly 104:4.

Wagner, Richard (1972). Richard Wagner’s Prose Works. Trans. W. A. Ellis. St. Claire Shores, Michigan: Scholarly Press, 1972.

Wagner, Richard (1973). Wagner Writes from Paris: Stories, Essays and Articles by the Young Composer. Ed. and trans. R. L. Jacobs and G. Skelton. London: George Allen and Unwin.

Wagner, Richard (1976). The Ring of the Nibelung. German text with English translation by Andrew Porter. New York: Norton.

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