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Wagner in Tel Aviv - The Unofficial Boycott Should Be Undone

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History was nearly made, and the ability to enjoy Wagner, whether Jew or non-Jew, was once again disturbed - not by Nazis, but by Tel Aviv University.

A "seven-decade unofficial boycott" will continue thanks to the academic institution's decision to cancel a performance by the Israel Wagner Society on the 18 June.

In defence the university has said that it has received angry letters at the inclusion - but instead of challenging opinion (not even prevailing opinion I might add) like universities should, it just buckled, and gave Hitler what he would have wanted - exclusivity to certain very good works of art and expression.

This isn't the first time something like this has happened either. Last year, the Israeli Chamber Orchestra were criticised for playing a festival in Bayreuth, Southern Germany, dedicated to the music of Wagner, with the Conductor, one Roberto Paternostro - who lost many members of his family in the Holocaust - arguing that this was an attempt "to divide the man from his art."

At the time, the great granddaughter of Wagner, Katharina, who was to visit Israel to formally invite the orchestra, called it an opportunity to "heal wounds".

Like with so many artists with foul beliefs, I feel it justified to be allowed to enjoy their art, in spite of them. Art, after all, is something merely facilitated by the artist; your subjective evaluation and judgement is not only important to that art, but vital for its existence.

The artist doesn't forgo their subjective beliefs in the creation of their art, but rather their art forgoes the artist and empowers the reader/viewer. To this end we should ignore the tyranny of guilt that is somehow embedded in our enjoyment of such works of art as Wagner's.

Like how Stephen Fry put it once: "You can't allow the perverted views of pseudo-intellectual Nazis to define how the world should look at Wagner. He's bigger than that, and we're not going to give them the credit, the joy of stealing him from us."

Furthermore on art, Wagner and the anti-Semitic context, in a piece called Why is Wagner worth saving? philosopher Slavoj Zizek vents his criticism on what he calls the "historicist commonplace" that says "in order to understand a work of art, one needs to know its historical context".

Zizek notes "too much of a historical context can blur the proper contact with a work of art".

He then claims that there is the temptation when listening to Wagner to imagine that every sub-text is anti-Semitic, but, using the examples of Parsifal and the Ring, tries to prove this isn't always correct. In the Ring according to Zizek, it is not Alberich's renunciation of love for power that is the source of all evil, but rather Wotan's disruption of the natural balance, "succumbing to the lure of power, giving preference to power over love", which spells doom, meaning also that evil does not come from the outside, but is complicit with Wotan's own guilt. With Parsifal, the elitist circle of the pure-blooded is not jeopardised by external contaminators such as copulation by the Jewess Kundry, but rather from inside; "it is Titurel's excessive fixation of enjoying the Grail which is at the origins of the misfortune".

The point being is Wagner "undermines the anti-Semitic perspective according to which the disturbance always ultimately comes from outside, in the guise of a foreign body which throws out of joint the balance of the social organism".

The overarching thesis of Zizek is that the anti-Semitic sub-text is not always appropriate when engaging with Wagner, and if this art is separate from the evil of the early twentieth century, then there is reason to save Wagner.

The Wagner boycott is one example of denying the world a great artist, and allowing the Nazis a small victory. The point is Wagner can, and must, be enjoyed by anyone who wishes to - Tel Aviv University needs to come to its senses.

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