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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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Modernity's Cutting Edge

Modernity's Cutting Edge

The Salome Complex

(p.128) 5 Modernity's Cutting Edge
Opera and Modern Culture

Lawrence Kramer

University of California Press

Modernization theory threatened the prevalent social order, a key marker of which was the established inequality between the sexes. The resultant nascent feminism and effeminacy, often associated with degeneration or exoticism, became the focus of both science and art. Richard Strauss' opera Salome, reflecting a curious obsession to project the misogynist imagery of the age, pervaded the psyche of a large swathe of the European art force. This chapter seeks to trace the genesis of this obsession. Two elements inform the solution to this problem: feminity, and modernity and technology. Salome represents the extreme feminine fear psychosis of the era, the artistic manifestation of which finds expression in projected fetishism and castration. The earliest important Salome narratives, by Flaubert and Huysmans, establish a fundamental, mutually antithetical two-part pattern—the first part culminates in Salome's dance before Herod; the second dramatizes her relationship to the severed head of John the Baptist.

Keywords:   effeminacy, exoticism, Salome, fetishism, antithetical, John the Baptist

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