A Theoretical Excursion
An innovation essential to Richard Wagner’s music was what he called “endless melody.” This chapter scrutinizes his theory of the concept. While endless melody was instrumental in inspiring the stream-of-consciousness technique in fiction, its implications for modernism in general have to do with the aspiration to make everything count, to do away with padding and empty formality. Yet a conflation of intensity with grandiosity is part of its nineteenth-century legacy, and the grandiose brings with it the resuscitation of eighteenth-century theories of the sublime. Those theories were inspired by volcanic activity, a geophysical force called up again in early theorists of cinema, in which we find the perpetuum mobile of endless melody aligned with film’s capacity to unfurl a lava flow of images.
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