Covent Garden has commissioned not one, but FOUR operas based on him. I can’t think of another opera built around a philosopher. Maybe Philip Glass’s Satyagraha would count. Wagner was influenced by some philosophers (mostly Nietzsche – or perhaps the causal influence moved the other direction in that case). But an opera about a philosopher?
In theater there’s a long tradition of plays being written (either directly or indirectly) about philosophers stretching back at least to Aristophanes’ comedy Clouds, which stars Socrates. Some philosophers have written plays – think of Machiavelli’s Mandragola. And many philosophers have written about theater – Plato, Aristotle, Rousseau, Arendt, to name just a few.
Anyone know of another opera, though, based on a philosopher?
I just finished James C. Scott’s wonderful short book Two Cheers for Anarchism. In the wake of the Occupy movement and G20 protests, many scholars have been rethinking what political action means, how to perform it, and how to understand these newly emerging political movements. While Scott does not engage the Occupy movement or G20 protests directly, his new book can be thought of as a part of this rethinking. Written in a highly engaging series of what he calls “fragments,” Scott links together a series of brief reflections on social cooperation in the absence of (or despite opposition from) hierarchy, tying such cooperation to a sense of autonomy, freedom, and human flourishing. Scott wants not to eliminate the state but rather to think around it, toward what he calls “anarchist calisthenics.” By this he means individual or collective activities which undermine, side-step, or in other ways defamiliarize the hierarchical and norming patterns which surround us in every-day life. Scott covers a lot of ground here. Readers will find fragments on architecture, traffic patterns, and educational reform, in addition to more traditional forms of political protest and action. There is much of value in this short book, and, hopefully, much that is inspirational.
“There are two novels that can change a bookish fourteen-year old’s life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish fantasy that often engenders a lifelong obsession with its unbelievable heroes, leading to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood, unable to deal with the real world. The other, of course, involves orcs.” – Attributed to writer and producer John Rogers