Skip to:


The Ob-Scene of the Total Work of Art: Frank Wedekind, Richard Strauss, and the Spectacle of Dance
Journal Article
Image of 19th Century Music Journal

Although it is probably apocryphal, the etymology deriving obscene from the Latin ob and scena has proved to be enduring because it gets at something in the phenomenon itself. Thus derived, the “ob-scene” would be something opposed to the main event, or, as Svetlana Boym put it, “something played offstage with respect to the performance.” Whatever else obscenity is, it is something that is visible when properly it shouldn’t be, something that shouldn’t hold our attention but does. If we watch a performance with our minds fastened on whatever the obscene object is, then we’re not watching the performance right. That doesn’t mean that the obscene should be hidden; it means that it shouldn’t be, even as hidden. No one sits in a serious theatrical performance hoping for a wardrobe malfunction. The very imagination that would contemplate this possibility would strike us as obscene. If you know obscenity when you see it, that is at least in part because the obscene does not occur to you as viewable before it comes into view. In this respect, being obscene differs from being  perverse, which means to avail yourself of something prohibited by the law of the father but  perfectly in view as prohibited. In what follows, I will tryto argue for ballet as an obscene object in post-Wagnerian drama, musical or otherwise. Although this claim is part of a larger argument, I will  focus primarily on a failed collaboration between two post-Wagnerians, Richard Strauss and Frank Wedekind.

Publication Materials
Full Text Download


Share This Publication