Saturday, April 30, 2016

Kanye contra Swift

Spotted in Boston, March 2015

Fans of SGS may remember that early in this blog's history, we posted about the parallels between two of our favorite megalomaniacs, Richard Wagner and Kanye West. But, as a conversation over beers tonight revealed, it is entirely possible that we missed a time when Wagner was Kanyed, by which I mean that once Wagner was told Imma Let You Finished. By Nietzsche. In print. Which was, perhaps, less immediately provoking than Kanye's comments directed at Taylor Swift, but is now indelibly entrenched in history--only time will tell if Kanye's act that launched a thousand memes has achieved the same notoriety.

Allow me to explain.

1) In 1888, Friedrich Nietzsche published The Case of Wagner, a book in which he criticized the master's operatic oeuvre. This stance contradicted the one that Nietzsche had posited in his earlier work, The Birth of Tragedy (1872), where he hailed Wagner as a figure of such importance that his works were in the process of ushering in a revival of classical Greek civilization--specifically its ability to blend the Apollonian and Dionysian impulses inherent in all societies (I'm not making this stuff up. It's really in there. Also something about the veil of Maya).

2) In The Case of Wagner, Nietzsche made an extensive argument that Wagner's stage works were deeply flawed because of their misunderstand of true culture. One of the most evocative phrases in his critique is 'Senta-sentimentality', by which Nietzsche means Wagner's tendency to imbue his plots with too much idealism in their reflection of society, an idealism molded by a dangerously nationalistic and chauvinistic lens. Nietzsche argued instead that Bizet's Carmen, to paraphrase, was 'one of the greatest operas of all time' because it was a love understood through natural impulses (feel free to disagree with this. I'm simply reporting on what happened). However, since Nietzsche was not appearing live at the MTV Video Awards, he could not be booed off, and instead he wrote an extensive essay about the ways that Carmen succeeded while Wagner failed.

Most people view Nietzsche's stance as one of provocation: he was reneging the support that he had lent to Wagner's works in the past by instead putting forward an opera that was, on the surface, far more salacious and sensuous than the works of Wagner, whose sensuality was underpinned by flawed beliefs. Did Nietzsche genuinely enjoy Bizet's most famous opera or was his choice more of a direct challenge to Wagner? The nuances of Nietzsche's argument remain a point of contention.

So it's time that we asked the many questions that arise from these unexpected parallels: did Kanye really believe that Beyoncé's video for 'Single Ladies' was the greatest of all time? Or was this simply a platform that Kanye took in order to criticize the overall aesthetic that Taylor Swift represented? Is this an example of Swifty-Sentimentality? Or was Kanye putting out a rallying cry for the importance of 'put[ting] a ring on it' as an artistic statement? Does this make Taylor Swift a Parsifal amongst 'Single Ladies', and Kanye both Wagner and Nietzsche? Tune in next time, when SGS finds more unlikely parallels between 19th-century aesthetic arguments and contemporary pop music figures.

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