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"Green" Wagner - But to What End?

Date and Time: 
Thursday, March 14, 2019. 06:00 PM - 08:00 PM
Meeting Location: 
Humanities Center Boardroom
Workshop: 
Environmental Humanities Project
Meeting Description: 

Kirsten Paige will present work in progress: a paper which uses the political reception of composer Richard Wagner's writings on the sanctity of nature and, in particular, the need to protect animal life, as a case study for interrogating the ethics of Romantic discourses of nature. Kirsten shows that, while these writings seem, on the surface, to be universally liberal and "good," for nineteenth-century Germans, they were part of a larger, völkisch political platform that promoted eugenics and anti-Semitic discrimination. For Wagner and his contemporaries, the idea that nature is beautiful, fertile, pure, and worthy of protection was predicated on odious values that implicated nature as good for some but not for all. This paper goes on to explore the consequences of continuing to promote a Romantic "image of nature" in musicology's ecocritical subfield -- eco-musicology -- and in environmental activism more broadly, given the ethical complexities of underlying Romantic discourses of nature and the extent to which they shaped unintended consequences of environmental action for subaltern populations, both in the nineteenth century and today. The paper concludes by proffering some suggestions for complicating the way we tend to write about music and the environment, arguing that we should not start from scratch and regard Romantic discourses of nature (and music that speaks to those discourses) as irredeemable, but instead view them as bringing to light uneven social realities of environmental thought and action that requires urgent attention in our Anthropocene age.

A draft of Kirsten's paper will be pre-circulated prior to the event (contact vgoog@stanford.edu for a copy). Questions, discussion, and feedback will follow Kirsten's presentation, and dinner and drinks will be served.

Kirsten Paige is currently a postdoctoral fellow in Stanford's Thinking Matters Program. She holds a PhD in music history and literature from UC Berkeley, and her research and teaching interests span science and technology studies, opera and theater studies, and environmental history.

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