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Wagner: Race and Revolution.

Paul Lawrence Rose, New Haven, CT and London: Yale University Press, 1992 (paper ed., 1996). Pp. 246. $.30.00, cloth; $16.00, paper.

Richard Wagner's Antisemitism is well known. Much less known is the thesis that Rose is trying to prove in this interesting book: Wagner's Antisemitism was central to his being-in-the-world from quite an early age. Antisemitism for this great composer was not an aberration, fashion, fad, passing opinion, mistake, social convenience, or creed embraced inadvertently while trying to be a liberal and a revolutionary. Antisemitism, according to Rose, was a crucial element of Wagner's daily choice of his being, a constitutive part of the core of his existence.

To prove this thesis, Rose brings a wealth of important material on Wagner's Antisemitism in his writings and daily life and on the Antisemitism of other intellectuals in the nineteenth century. Much of this material is unknown to the lay reader. It is worthy of being repeatedly presented, so that even scholars of this period will not forget how widespread and acceptable antisemitic ideas and movements were in nineteenth-century Europe. The unearthing and presenting of this material is one of the book's greatest merits, but the piling up of important and intriguing data does not always prove a major thesis. Thus, while being very open and accepting to Rose's arguments and appreciating his scholarly endeavors, this reader was not fully convinced.

Questions emerged. Can and should we accept Rose's interpretations of Wagner's operas as being supposed concealed expressions of Antisemitism? Is the flying Dutchman in Wagner's opera by that name really a sort of wandering Jew in disguise, who must die in order to be redeemed? Most important, did Antisemitism play such a central role in the life of this composer? We must remember that Wagner spent much of his life doing that work for which he is best known to posterity - composing long and difficult operas. Certainly, he hated Jews. But, in the act of composing music - especially operas - such a hatred can be a hindrance, a block to creating a great work. Thus, I find it hard to believe that Wagner's hatred of Jews is central to "The Ring," to "Parsifal," and to his other great operas, as Rose argues.

Put differently, Rose bases his attack on Wagner's art on analogies, such as that the flying Dutchman is analogous to the wandering Jew. Such an approach is problematic, to say the least. Rose mentions correctly that Fyodor Dostoyevski despised Jews, at least according to the historical facts now known, but it would be quite foolish to suggest that hatred of Jews is central to The Brothers Karamazov, or The Idiot, even though it probably would not be difficult to find analogies to support such a view.

Rose has written a good study, which is more important for the historical background that it presents and for the portrayal of Wagner than for the rather far-fetched conclusions it reaches.

Haim Gordon, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Beer-Sheva, Israel
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Title Annotation:Review
Author:Gordon, Haim
Publication:Journal of Ecumenical Studies
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jan 1, 1998
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