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Part 9: review: Millington's "Sorcerer ... " on the "Ring"

PostPosted: Mon Feb 11, 2013 10:20 am
by alberich00
Dear Discussion Forum members/visitors:

This is Part 9 of my review of Barry Millington's new book "The Sorcerer of Bayreuth." It will include material from several chapters, starting with Chapter 9:

[BM] Chapter 9: "The Zurich Years: Wagner's Exile in Switzerland."

"The influence of Schopenhauer should not be overstated ... . On one crucial point he and Wagner were poles apart: where the misanthropic, misogynist Schopenhauer held that love was a destructive force, for Wagner the sexual act provided the path to redemption. In the 'Ring,' the Schopenhauerian notion of renunciation is counterbalanced, indeed outweighed, by the Feuerbachian principle of 'the glorious necessity of love' (the phrase is Wagner's). But Wagner had reasons for his intellectual alignment with the Sage of Frankfurt. On the one hand it suited him to suggest that he was in tune with the latest great exponent of the German idealist tradition (from Hegel to Kant). On the other, Schopenhauer's pessimistic formulation enabled Wagner to make some sense of the lingering existential malaise to which he was prey throughout the 1850's and beyond ... ." ("The Sorcerer of Bayreuth," Page 83)

[PH] Millington alludes, of course, to Wagner's well known critique of Schopenhauer, in which Wagner stated that Schopenhauer was wrong in thinking that one could attain enlightenment and peace only through a stilling of the Will. Wagner countered that in sexual/romantic love one might excite one's Will to the point that it becomes one with all other wills and with the cosmos, so to speak (you'll find two of Wagner's versions of his critique of Schopenhauer in Appendix II of this website, my critical chronological anthology in English translation of Feuerbach's writings and Wagner's writings and recorded remarks, which, by the way, makes considerable use of Barry Millington's and Stewart Spencer's translations of Wagner's letters). But my own research has indicated that quite often when Wagner speaks of sexual love in such a metaphysical context he is really alluding to his employment of sexual love of male for female as his metaphor for unconscious artistic inspiration, which he described to Mathilde Wesendonck as a "marriage of myself to myself." This is especially true of his critique of Schopenhauer. Wagner was really saying that through his musico-dramatic art he could offer himself and others redemption. By the same token, when, in "Parsifal," Wagner seems finally to be renouncing his former high valuation of sexual/romantic love, in Parsifal's rejection of the love/sex Kundry offers (note, she says he can find his redemption/salvation through the love she offers), what Parsifal is really renouncing is any further loving union with the artist-hero's muse of unconscious artistic inspiration. Parsifal is simply dramatizing Wagner's own latter-day critiques of his own highest art, his music-dramas, as a means to redemption.

[PH] Millington also references Wagner's "lingering existential malaise." One aspect of this malaise was that Wagner, prior to his first known reading of Schopenhauer in August or September of 1854, while working on his "Ring," had already embraced a pessimistic understanding of its plot, in which the gods and even hero and heroine are predestined to destruction. At least with respect to the libretto (others would argue for a much stronger Schopenhauerian influence on Wagner's music for the "Ring," most of which he wrote only after becoming familiar with Schopenhauer), there is nothing there (with the obvious exception of what is called the Schopenhauerian ending of the "Ring," which is not performed but is a sort of footnote) which can't be found either in Feuerbach or in Wagner's idiosyncratic and original divergences from Feuerbach which owe nothing to Schopenhauer.

[BM] Chapter 10 - The Rise and Fall of Valhalla: "Der Ring des Nibelungen"

"By the 1840's Ludwig Feuerbach had established himself as one of the most distinctive and controversial philosophers of the era. His 'Thoughts on Death and Immortality' was published anonymously in 1830, and his most influential work, 'The Essence of Christianity,' appeared in 1841. Wagner was certainly reading Feuerbach by 1849 and may well have been introduced to his ideas earlier." ("The Sorcerer of Bayreuth," Page 96)

[PH] I've often wondered whether Wagner discussed Feuerbach with Samuel Lehrs in Paris. In any case, a close comparison of the libretto of "Tannhaeuser," particularly his conversation with Venus, with Feuerbach's "Thoughts on Death and Immortality," etc. suggests strongly that Wagner already knew Feuerbach, at least through conversation if not through reading, by sometime in the mid-1840s.


[BM] "Siegfried, the archetypal hero, represents a set of macho values, a concept of heroism, with which it is sometimes difficult to identify these days. (...) A loutish bully is bad enough, but Wagner's characterization is overlaid with racial stereotyping that makes Siegfried's behavior difficult to stomach. The overtones of racial supremacy are hard to ignore, and the sympathy we are invited to feel for the upstanding virile hero at the expense of the cowering, underdog outsider [Mime] is a worrying aspect of the work." ("The Sorcerer of Bayreuth," Page 101)

[PH] Readers of the product of my lifetime quest to demonstrate the conceptual unity of Wagner's "Ring," "The Wound That Will Never Heal," which is the centerpiece of, know that I interpret Siegfried as one of Wagner's metaphors for himself, the music-dramatist, or secular artist-hero, and that Bruennhilde represents Siegfried's unconscious mind and therefore his muse of unconscious artistic inspiration. She represents the collective unconscious in fact because Wotan, who represents collective, historical man, repressed intolerable self-knowledge into her during his V.2.2 confession, and it is this secret, forbidden knowledge which is the hidden source of Siegfried's artistic inspiration. Millington would surely be familiar with Nattiez's take on this concept (i.e., that Siegfried is Wagner's metaphor for himself, the music-dramatist), since it is the centerpiece of his "Wagner Androgyne," which Millington cites. I wish to note here that Nattiez and myself evidently independently developed an interpretation of Siegfried as Wagner's metaphor for the music-dramatist back in the late 70's or early 80's. Nattiez put emphasis on Bruennhilde as Wagner's metaphor for music, while I initially saw Bruennhilde more in terms of Siegfried's unconscious mind, his muse of artistic inspiration. My "The Wound That Will Never Heal" is the beneficiary of my synthesis of Nattiez's emphasis on the musical metaphor, with my own conception of Bruennhilde as Siegfried's muse of unconscious artistic inspiration, and as the repository for Wotan's dangerous confession of forbidden self-knowledge to her (which of course links my "Ring" interpretation with "Lohengrin"). Nattiez does not incorporate either of these latter insights into his interpretation, but only the identification of Siegfried with poetic drama, and Bruennhilde with music, so that their loving union represents Wagner's ideal synthesis of drama with music as found in his revolutionary music-dramas. I have presented a fairly detailed appreciation and critique of Nattiez within the context of my "The Wound That Will Never Heal."

[PH] I mention this because in my view we can't begin to grasp Siegfried's seemingly loutish character until we grasp fully the sophisticated allegorical logic of Wagner's "Ring." In any case, my notion of Siegfried has nothing whatsoever to do with heroic, macho values of the type which Millington and so many others ascribe to him. He is Wagner's depiction of the authentically inspired artist-hero, without consciously ulterior motivation (like profit or fame or glory) who lives solely that he might obtain inspiration from his muse, his own unconscious mind, to produce inspired works of art. His ultimate and final work of art is his sung-narrative of the story of his heroic life, how he learned the meaning of birdsong (i.e., how Wagner became a revolutionary music-dramatist by grasping the philosophic and religious significance of music), which he sings to Gunther and the Gibichungs (Wagner's metaphor for the music-dramatist's audience) at Hagen's behest in T.3.2. This is Wagner's play-within-the-play, his miniature version of the "Ring" itself. We must also note that Siegfried is similarly loutish and brutal towards his true love Bruennhilde when, through the Tarnhelm's magic, Siegfried poses as Gunther (this, curiously, is one of Wagner's ways of informing us that Siegfried is letting his audience, represented by Gunther, into the secrets formerly kept by Siegfried's own unconscious mind, his muse of inspiration, Bruennhilde.

[PH] Mime, in my interpretation, represents all that Wotan finds prosaic and vulgar and egoistic in his own character. If we wish to see Mime as Wagner's stereotypical representation of Jews and all that he loathed about them, we can see that Siegfried's instinctive contempt for Mime is actually Wotan's self-contempt, since, as I have shown, Wotan figuratively gave birth to Siegfried by confessing all that he loathed about himself to his wish-womb Bruennhilde in his V.2.2 confession, so that Wotan could, in Siegfried himself, be reborn minus conscious knowledge of his true, loathsome identity, forbidden knowledge which Bruennhilde holds for Siegfried, and from which her magic protects him. Her magic protects him only at the front, for instance, because it was Wotan's foreknowledge of the inevitable end of the gods which paralyzed him into inaction through fear of the end, and therefore, by becoming the repository for Wotan's fear of the end, to protect Siegfried from it, Siegfried, the secular artist-hero (who need not fear the death of faith in the gods), does not foresee the end, and does not fear it. Wotan can be understood, in effect, as divided into the real, represented by Mime, and the ideal, represented by Siegfried. It is inevitable, therefore, that Siegfried must eliminate Mime (understood in this universal way as representing universal man's tendency to selfishness and egoism, not as specifically Jewish) in order to free himself from that in his own self which he instinctively finds loathsome and ulterior. Similarly, Wagner stated that the authentic artist begins with imitation (note the name Mime!), but ultimately must transcend this to interpret nature ideally, rather than merely imitate it.

[BM] "Rousseau ... argued ... that the savage 'needs' society if he is to be truly free: the pure state of nature had, he recognized, to be superseded. It is surely something of this sort that Wagner had in mind when he had Bruennhilde send Siegfried off into the world in search of glorious deeds to perform. She knew that he could not remain in a state of nature, though she did not foresee the deception and betrayal his education would involve. Rousseau claimed that man everywhere thinks he is free but is really in chains. This is how we may see Siegfried, as he makes his journey down the Rhine, hastening towards his chains. In a similar way, Wotan himself, compromised by his own deceitful bargains, finds in the course of the tetralogy that he is bound in chains, though at first he assumed he was free." ("The Sorcerer of Bayreuth," Page 105)

[PH] My interpretation of Bruennhilde's inspiration of Siegfried's quest for adventure, the substance of the "Twilight of the Gods" Prologue, Part Two (the first part belonging to the Norns) does not contradict but merely complements Millington's Rousseau-formulation here. Wagner has based this on the conceptual structure of the Venusberg scene in "Tannhaeuser," in the sense that Bruennhilde, like Venus, having unconsciously inspired Siegfried in figurative sexual union to create a work of art, now sends him out into the world to produce this artwork for an audience. Though Venus is reluctant to release Tannhaeuser the artist-hero, nonetheless he must, each time he has acquired unconscious artistic inspiration, wake up in order to create and produce for a public a new work of art. Wagner left the depiction of the fully functioning unconsciously inspired art-hero to "The Mastersingers of Nuremberg," i.e., Walther is a representation of the artist hero during the brief period between the declining of religious faith (when secular art was substituting for dying religious faith, and offering an alternative to science, as a value-giver), and the ultimate self-betrayal of the secret of his formerly unconscious artistic inspiration to the light of day, within the context of a work of art which originally would have been redemptive (like Walther's Mastersong), but now exposes to the conscious mind of his audience the forbidden knowledge which should have remained secret, and which his unconscious mind once preserved in silence. This untoward self-revelation is depicted in "Tannhaeuser" in his spellbound revelation of his sojourn in the Venusberg to the company assembled at the Wartburg for the song contest, and in "Twilight of the Gods" and "Tristan" in the heroes' unwitting betrayal of their muse of unconscious artistic inspiration by giving her and her secrets (of the womb of night) away to their audience, represented by Gunther and Marke respectively.

[PH] Wagner always regarded his initial inspiration as his greatest joy, and often found the compromises he had to make in order to have any chance of performing his works of art (as he'd originally conceived them), his involvement with the world, to be his private hell. But this is perfectly consistent with Millington's Rousseau-inspired interpretation. The primary difference would be, I think, that one can explain much more of the plot in terms of my interpretation than the more general Rousseauan perspective.

[PH: ADDITIONAL NOTE FROM 2/12/2013:] I just recalled that in his "Ring" chapter Millington listed a variety of well known, and some lesser known written interpretations of Wagner's "Ring," including obvious ones like Donington and Shaw, and less known interpretations such as that of Jean-Jacques Nattiez. However, there is no mention whatever, either in this "Ring" chapter or Millington's bibliography, of my online book "The Wound That Will Never Heal," which is posted here at Readers should know that I informed Millington of this website not long after it went online in 5/2011. At the time he told me he didn't have the time that year to look at it. I suggested that if he lacked time he should consider reading at least its 16 page introduction and a few initial chapters. He never got back to me. I reminded him of in January of 2013, when I informed him I'd read his "The Sorcerer of Bayreuth" and intended to post a review of it in the discussion forum, and learned from him not only that he's never looked at it, but also that he won't have time to peruse it this year either because, as usual, he's overbooked. When you consider that contains what is without any question the most comprehensive effort yet made to construe the entire "Ring" conceptually, and coherently, in the literature, one wonders what is at stake for Millington that he hasn't (so he says) even glanced at it, and says he doesn't intend to for the foreseeable future. His time constraints clearly haven't precluded his reviewing numerous original papers in his capacity as Editor-in-Chief of The Wagner Journal, nor have they kept him from finding the time to read any number of new books and essays about Wagner's life and art in order to incorporate their insights in his "The Sorcerer of Bayreuth." So, I ask, what's at stake for Millington in acknowledging the existence of and confronting its contents head-on???