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19 Apr 21

Is the immensely problematic legacy of Richard Wagner merely a German question? Or is it also an American one? In this talk at the American Academy in Berlin, Alex Ross gave a brief survey of the American reception of Wagner, noting the transference of Wagnerian mythic archetypes into American contexts, whether in Western novels or in fantasy films. A crux is the famous helicopter scene in Francis Ford Coppola’s 1979 film Apocalypse Now, where “The Ride of Valkyries” becomes an emblem of destructive American imperialism. As the United States attempts a deeper reckoning with systemic racism, the case of Wagner casts a fascinating light on the still unexamined consequences of mythic imagery in the cultural-political arena.

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