‘The Wagnerian Sublime: Four Lacanian Readings of Classic Operas’ by Slavoj Žižek

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In four compelling essays on classic opera, Slavoj Žižek examines how certain structural motifs repeatedly dominate the narratives by putting desire, as pure and captivating as possible, into music and on stage. Wagner’s heroes, for instance, suffer from unbearable longing (Parsifal), an excessive yearning for the absolute (The Flying Dutchman), a deadly surplus of pure love (Tristan and Isolde). But why is desire’s satisfaction fenced off through pain and failure? Why is the unification with the loved one indefinitely postponed? While the impossibility of the sexual relation and postponed fulfillment are crucial moments in Wagner’s dramatic art, Žižek detects similar motifs, along with structures of libidinal antagonism, in the operas of Léo Janacek, Peter Tchaikovsky, and Arnold Schoenberg.

Slavoj Žižek is a Slovenian Marxist philosopher, psychoanalyst and cultural critic. He is a senior researcher at the Institute for Sociology and Philosophy at the University of Ljubljana, Slovenia, and international director of the Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities in London. Together with Dominik Finkelde, he is editor of the series “Lacanian Explorations” published by August Verlag.