Music, Mimetic Manipulation and the Politics of Power in Imperial Germany

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Abstract

This article explores the different modes of power operative in the nineteenth century – from “soft power” persuasion through to more coercive forms of disciplinary power and biopower – and how they made use of music. In doing so, it probes the relationship between the mechanisms of power and how music works on minds and bodies, drawing on theories of mimesis to understand music’s efficacy as an agent of political power. Drawing on texts and practices from imperial Germany, it examines the ways in which the regime and its proxies harnessed music to help secure popular assent and to manipulate subjects into conformity. Nietzsche’s critique of Wagnerian mimesis serves as a springboard for exploring broader conceptions of music’s mimetic power, in particular its capacity to function as a «machine of identification» through which individuals are brought into similarity and collective being. The article explores three case studies of mimetic manipulation: music’s contribution to the soft power strategies of the regime of Wilhelm II; how music served the ends of disciplinary power by helping to inculcate a culture of militarism; and music’s role in instrumentalizing colonial subjects and reprogramming them in the image of their imperial overlords.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3-23
JournalChigiana
Volume52
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2023

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