Communicative Efficacy of Myth and Das Gesamtkunstwerk: Transcending the Limitations of Art

Daniel C Jones, Purdue University


This dissertation investigates the evolution of myth creation and its conception within German art focusing on the works of J. G. Herder, Richard Wagner, Friedrich Nietzsche, and F. W. Murnau. More narrowly, the role of myth is examined within a framework of the Gesamtkunstwerk. The title for this dissertation intentionally reflects Richard Wagner's artistic ideology of the Gesamtkunstwerk and as such his terminology. It is not intended to suggest that this author adopts the view that the perceived limitations of art can indeed be transcended in the sense of creating art that is itself life. This study demonstrates the significance of changes in the conception of myth creation as it evolved both prior to and following the innovations of Richard Wagner. Regarding Wagner as the central figure for this study provides a focal point around which the creation of myth in German culture evolved. Additionally, this study examines the combined ability of myth and the Gesamtkunstwerk to transcend the perceived limitations of art as a mediation reality. Examining conceptions of myth and its creation in light of the contributions by thinkers both pre- and post-Wagner presents a number of research questions and problems. Defining "myth" is a central problem to understanding its evolution as a literary and cultural concept. This study engages the various definitions of myth relevant to the figures and periods examined. Viewing the contribution of each of these authors also provides a framework against which changes in the conception of myth creation can be understood. Likewise, the conception of myth's communicative function in art can be traced and analyzed through the theoretical writings of these thinkers as well as the relative success achieved by the practical application of those theories within various artistic works. By examining Wagner's artistic works and theoretical writings regarding art and myth, a Wagnerian conception of myth is formulated which informs both previous conceptions of myth—most importantly, but not limited to, those of Herder—and also post-Wagnerian conceptions within, but not limited to, the works of Nietzsche and F. W. Murnau. Each chapter focuses on one of these thinkers, their contributions to the conception of myth and myth creation, the ways these contributions have been (mis)understood, and finally each author's views regarding the ability of myth in cooperation with Gesamtkunstwerk to achieve transcendence of the perceived limitations of art.




William, Purdue University.

Subject Area

German literature|Philosophy

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