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Opera and Modern CultureWagner and Strauss$
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Lawrence Kramer

Print publication date: 2004

Print ISBN-13: 9780520241732

Published to California Scholarship Online: May 2012

DOI: 10.1525/california/9780520241732.001.0001

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Two or Three Things I Know about Her

(p.19) 1 Opera
Opera and Modern Culture

Lawrence Kramer

University of California Press

Building on a Weberian idea, Jürgen Habermas posited that Enlightenment reason dissected a once-unified worldview into autonomous competing platforms of knowledge, morality, and aesthetics. Opera appears as one of the consequences of this process. Opera's mode of knowledge is typically allegory, that is, the mode of open difference between form and meaning. Opera emphasizes the gap internal to allegory by embedding dramatic action and words in an inclusive but nonspecific support system, namely music, the semiotic openness of which both articulates the gap and fills or even overfills it. To oversimplify, but not as much as it may seem, opera constructs itself out of a divided allegiance to morality and the aesthetic, giving judicial and rational priority to the first and subjective priority to the second. This does not necessarily involve a conflict: Opera is not confined to embodying the typical modern condition of the head and heart at odds.

Keywords:   Habermas, allegory, Enlightenment, semiotic, morality, unified worldview

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