Part 4: Review: Berthold Hoeckner on "Lohengrin" 8/94

General Discussion about Wagner and The Ring of the Nibelung

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Part 4: Review: Berthold Hoeckner on "Lohengrin" 8/94

Postby alberich00 » Mon Apr 22, 2013 12:40 pm

12. [BH] WAGNER: FEUERBACH’S CONCEPT OF THE INVOLUNTARY, ‘UNWILLKUER,’ IS IDENTICAL WITH SCHOPENHAUER’S CONCEPT OF THE ‘WILL’; ELSA, THE UNCONSCIOUS, CREATES LOHENGRIN.

[#] [BH] [P. 241] “When Elsa screams, she no longer has a split vision: her eye is her ear, her ear is her voice, and her voice is her will. Wagner could scarcely have avoided appropriating Schopenhauer’s metaphysics of the will and reading it into his earlier works. In his introduction to the Zurich writings for the 1871 edition of his prose works, Wagner urged his readers to substitute [P. 242] Schopenhauer’s ‘will’ for his Feuerbachian ‘Unwillkuer’ (the involuntary). This shrewd terminological swap, designed to authorize a re-reading of ‘Opera and Drama in Schopenhauer’s terms, falls in line with Wagner’s private remark to Cosima quoted earlier: he reverts to the musical origin of drama. Similarly, the second scene in ‘Lohengrin’ goes through a reversal. At first, when Elsa enters, lost in her dream, the sight of Lohengrin seems to have created her sound. Elsa’s narration of her dream, however, tells us that her vision of Lohengrin originated from the sound of lament, from music dying away into the distance. In her final prayer, this sound creates his sight. Thus, Lohengrin is both created by and born out of music: out of Elsa.”

[PH] Hoeckner recalls here how Wagner suggested we read Feuerbach’s term “Unwillkuer” (the involuntary or unconscious) as identical with Schopenhauer’s concept “Will.” Will for Schopenhauer is the generally unconscious motive or force behind all action and reaction in natural law, plants’ growth, animal instinct, and human motives, both conscious and unconscious. Those familiar with the “Ring” will recall that Bruennhilde described herself in V.2.2 as Wotan’s “Will,” but so far as I know Wagner gave Bruennhilde this line prior to his first known reading of Schopenhauer in late summer or early fall of 1854. In any case, my life-long research has shown, and specifically my 8/93 paper has shown, that we can identify both Bruennhilde and Elsa with Wagner’s idea of the unconscious, and therefore with Feuerbach’s “Unwillkuer.”

13. BH: IN WAGNER’S ‘A COMMUNICATION TO MY FRIENDS,’ WAGNER SUGGESTS THAT LOHENGRIN REPRESENTS OPERA AS FAILURE, AND THAT THIS FAILURE IS REDEEMED BY WAGNER’S ‘RING’

[BH] [P. 243] “Part 2: Lohengrin as Absolute Artist
or
Opera as Failure

[##] [BH] Reading Elsa’s dream scene as an instance of perfect drama ostensibly clashes with the central message of ‘A Communication to my Friends,’ in which he advises his readers not to apply ‘Opera and Drama’ to his operas through ‘Lohengrin,’ but to wait for the ‘Ring.’ Wagner prepares this emphatic announcement of the ‘Ring’ as the true artwork of the future by reading ‘Lohengrin’ as an allegory of opera as failure: despite Lohengrin’s triumphant arrival, he must depart in the third act because Elsa has asked him the forbidden question of his origin. Defending himself against critics’ suggestions that he change the opera’s tragic ending, Wagner claimed that the separation of Elsa and Lohengrin was the trait of the story that had attracted him from the very beginning.”

[PH] Hoeckner astutely offers the very critique of his own thesis, that Elsa’s creative mind itself produces Lohengrin, and that this is Wagner’s metaphor for the creation of the revolutionary music-drama, that I would have offered, namely, that “Lohengrin” overall is about the failure of traditional opera as drama (in that traditional opera makes music the main affair, and the drama is merely a poor scaffolding to support the music, without a figuratively loving and equal relationship with the music) and does not present a metaphor for the creation of the music-drama, at least not in the opening gambit in which Elsa’s expressed longing, dream, and prayer, produce the redeemer Lohengrin. I certainly did not read Elsa’s longing, dream, or prayer as anything other than Wagner’s metaphor for man’s longing to be redeemed from the real world, i.e., redeemed from man’s too-great-consciousness of the bitter truths of the real world, in a consoling world of the imagination (but held to be true), as expressed in religious belief. No, in my interpretation, as detailed in my 8/93 paper, it is precisely Elsa’s offer to share with Lohengrin his secret knowledge of his true identity and origin, in order that she might help him keep his secret and protect him from the danger to which she imagines he will be subject if his secret is revealed, and Lohengrin’s failure to accept her offer, which gives birth to secular art as an alternative to dying religious faith, in the “Ring,” Wagner’s first music-drama, in which Wotan does accept Bruennhilde’s offer to share in the secret of his divine “Noth,” and confesses it to her. In the “Ring,” Wotan effectively confesses, but only unconsciously, that he, the alleged god, has been deceiving himself, and that he is not really a god. This is something Lohengrin, still loyal to religious faith, fails to confess to Elsa.

My prescient answer to Hoeckner’s supposition, above, that Wagner regarded “Lohengrin” as a metaphor for the failure of opera, and the “Ring” as Wagner’s solution to the problem of how to transcend traditional opera in the revolutionary music drama, can be found in the following extract from my 8/93 paper:


[PHtt]
[PH: WAGNER’S ‘RING’ REDEEMS LOHENGRIN’S THWARTED BID FOR EARTHLY LOVE (WHICH IS COMPROMISED BY RELIGIOUS FAITH)]

[P. 34] “And thus it was that Wagner concluded:

'I remain convinced that my Lohengrin … symbolizes the most profoundly tragic situation of the present day, namely man’s desire to descend from the most intellectual heights to the depths of love, the longing to be understood instinctively, a longing which modern reality cannot yet satisfy. ….. This is where my art must come to the rescue: and the work of art that I had no choice but to conceive in this sense is none other than my Nibelung poem.' (1/26/54 Letter to August Roeckel; ‘Selected Letters of Richard Wagner; p. 306)

[P. 35] In Part 2 (SIEGFRIED), we’ll see in our analysis of the RING how Wotan accepts the offer from Bruennhilde which Lohengrin refused when it was made by Elsa, and what consequences follow.”

[PH] In the following extracts from Hoeckner’s chapter, he notes Wagner’s identification of himself with Lohengrin as absolute artist, i.e., an artist who can’t yet find the means to redeem absolute music from its isolation and lovelessness, by joining in a truly trusting, loving union with drama. In Wagner’s autobiographical reading, Wagner’s inability was expressed in his felt need to explain his art through prose works, because he couldn’t find a sympathetic audience for the revolutionary art he wished to produce:


14. BH: WAGNER IDENTIFIED HIMSELF WITH LOHENGRIN AS THE ABSOLUTE ARTIST WHO NEEDS REDEMPTION THROUGH MUSIC INSPIRED BY DRAMA, WITH AN ORGANIC RELATIONSHIP TO THE DRAMA WITH WHICH IT IS ASSOCIATED, BUT WHO COULD NOT OBTAIN THIS REDEMPTION

[BH] [P. 244] “However, it seems that in the context of the polemical tone of ‘A Communication,’ Wagner retrospectively realized the metaphorical potential of this ‘rational’ criticism [PH: i.e., that Wagner had placed too much blame on Elsa and that Lohengrin's separation from her should not have been depicted as inevitable], and, making one of his notorious autobiographical moves, interpreted ‘Lohengrin’ at first as an image of himself. His rhetorical strategy reflects the influence of the leitmotif technique on his writing. Defining his ‘friends’ as those who love him both as artist and as human being, Wagner later portrays himself in

‘that same situation to which I gave artistic form in the subject matter of “Lohengrin”: it is this [the true] artist’s most necessary and most natural longing to be accepted and understood unreservedly, by feeling; and the impossibility – under the conditions of modern art – of encountering this feeling in the uninhibitedness and undoubting certainty that he needs in order to be understood, - the compulsion of having to address himself almost solely to the critical understanding rather than to feeling – it is this that, first and foremost, constitutes the tragedy of his situation.’ (Eine Mitteilung. IV, 298f; translation from Nattiez, Wagner Androgyne, 94; cf. A Communication, I, 344)”

[PH] In the following passage from Hoeckner’s 8/94 chapter he introduces what had long been one of the key sources of inspiration for my interpretation of “Lohengrin,” Wagner’s description of Elsa as Lohengrin’s unconscious mind in “A Communication to My Friends.” This was the very centerpiece of my 9/93 version of my paper “How Elsa Showed Wagner the Way to Siegfried.” I had long held the view (since 1983 when I copyrighted my extensive essay demonstrating the conceptual unity of Wagner’s mature music-dramas, “The Doctrine of the Ring”) that in making his confession to Bruennhilde in V.2.2, Wotan was actually repressing unbearable knowledge, which he couldn’t bear to contemplate lest he lose the grip on his sanity, into his unconscious mind, so Wagner actually describing the heroine from his last traditional opera as the hero’s unconscious mind (in 'A Communication ... ') provided me one of my most fertile insights into the inner allegorical logic of “Lohengrin” and Wagner’s subsequent music-dramas. Of course, Hoeckner puts a rather different spin on this:


15. BH: IN ‘A COMMUNICATION TO MY FRIENDS,’ WAGNER DESCRIBES ELSA AS LOHENGRIN’S UNCONSCIOUS MIND, IN WHOM HIS CONSCIOUS MIND CAN FIND ITS REDEMPTION

[#] [BH] [P. 245] “According to Nattiez, ‘it is through the rhetorical discourse … that the poet, whom no one understands, attempts to make his intentions known, when feeling, embodied in the figure of Elsa, fails to put any trust in him’; art becomes a metaphor of itself. Indeed, in hindsight, Wagner not only read ‘Lohengrin’ autobiographically, but also mapped the relationship between Elsa and Lohengrin onto the gendered imagery of ‘Opera and Drama’:

‘In “Elsa” I saw from the outset my desired antithesis to Lohengrin – not, of course, the absolute antithesis far removed from his own nature but, rather, the other half of his own being – the antithesis that was contained within his own nature and that is only the complement of his specific masculine essence, a complement which he necessarily longs to embrace. Elsa is the unconscious, involuntary element in which Lohengrin’s conscious voluntary nature longs to be redeemed; but this longing, in turn, is itself the unconscious, necessary, involuntary element in Lohengrin, through which he is related to Elsa’s being.’

[BH] [P. 246] According to Nattiez, ‘the figure of androgyny’ takes here ‘the form of a double,’ but in ‘Zukunftsmusik,’ Wagner restated the same relationship, using ‘Poetry’ and ‘Music’ as his protagonists, thus taking away the immediate implications of the gender dichotomy:

‘Poetry will easily find the path hereto (to the intimate union with music), and perceive its final ascension into music to be its own inmost longing, as soon as it grows aware of a need in music itself, which only poetry can satisfy.’ “

[PH] And here, in my 8/93 paper, in contrast to Hoeckner, is my more elaborate parsing of the significance of Wagner’s identification of Elsa as a metaphor for Lohengrin’s unconscious mind, with its very far-reaching implications for interpreting not only “Lohengrin” but many of Wagner’s other operas and music-dramas:


[PHnn]
[PH: IN ‘A COMMUNICATION TO MY FRIENDS,’ WAGNER DESCRIBES ELSA AS LOHENGRIN’S UNCONSCIOUS MIND WHO OFFERS HIS CONSCIOUS MIND REDEMPTION. THIS WAS THE BASIS FOR WAGNER’S NEW UNDERSTANDING OF THE REDEMPTION BY LOVE (THE HERO AS ARTIST-HERO, HIS LOVER-MUSE HIS UNCONSCIOUS SOURCE OF ARTISTIC INSPIRATION), I.E., THE REDEMPTION OF DYING RELIGIOUS FAITH BY WAGNER’S REVOLUTIONARY, SECULAR MUSIC-DRAMAS

[P. 30] “In the end, he [PH: Lohengrin] was so conscious that he couldn’t accept Elsa’s offer to be – let’s say it openly – his ‘unconscious mind’. Elsa had, in effect, offered to let him store, or repress, his abhorrent self-knowledge (NOTH) in her, so he could be freed from fear of daylight, from consciousness of truth. For this reason only, he was unable to gain redemption through her love, and thus also could no longer offer the Folk the Grail’s redemption. Mustn’t we therefore assume that he did maintain the Grail’s oath of chastity after all? He did preserve it, but with what tragic effect … ! Ironically, had he had redemptive sexual union with Elsa, he could have kept the illicit fact of it secret. Luckily for our argument, Wagner is again ready to hand with supporting evidence:

'In Elsa I saw from the outset the antithesis to Lohengrin I was looking for – not of course an opposite in the spiritual sense but rather the other half of his own being – or that opposition already inherent in his own nature and only that complement to it that he necessarily yearns for. Elsa is the unconscious, the instinct in which the conscious, purposive element in Lohengrin’s character seeks to merge itself; yet this yearning is again itself the unconscious instinctive necessity (NOTH) in Lohengrin through which he feels affinity with Elsa’s nature. Through the power of this ‘unconscious consciousness’, such as I myself felt along with Lohengrin, the nature of woman came to me – particularly as I was compelled to depict it with the greatest fidelity – with an increasingly inward understanding. Through this power I succeeded so utterly in identifying myself with this female principle that I came [P. 31] to a total sympathy with its expression by my loving Elsa. I grew to find her so justified at the final outbreak of her jealousy that it was from this very outbreak I first fully comprehended the purely human nature of love.' (6-8/51 ‘Eine Mitteilung an meine Freunde’; Gesammelte Schriften und Dichtungen; p. 301)

So, there we have it! Hasn’t Wagner with great precision defined ‘redemption by love’ as our capacity to restore the innocence of paradise by submerging our conscious, egoistic self-knowledge into our own unconscious mind? Hasn’t he identified conscious mind with manhood, and equated redemption from knowledge, through unconsciousness of it, with womanhood? Isn’t sexual union for him therefore a metaphor for repression of unbearable self-knowledge into the unconscious mind, the ‘womb of night’? Mustn’t this repressed, secret knowledge of NOTH, which Elsa offered to share with Lohengrin, be the true source of inspiration for Lohengrin’s redemptive Wahn, as Ortrud and Elsa oft implied? Wasn’t it therefore this secret NOTH which sustained Lohengrin’s magic so long as it remained unconscious? Can there be any doubt, then, that Wagner saw Elsa’s offer to share Lohengrin’s prohibited self-knowledge in loving union, as the embodiment of his ‘new’ understanding of love, a special Wagnerian sort of redemption by love?”


[PHk]
[PH: LOHENGRIN’S ORIGIN IS NOT SUPERNATURAL BUT NATURAL; IT WAS MAN’S UNCONSCIOUS MIND WHICH INVENTED GOD AND THE SUPERNATURAL. THIS IS THE SECRET LOHENGRIN MUST KEEP, EVEN FROM HIMSELF

[P. 11] “In reality … the paradise we thought we had lost through sin wasn’t a spiritual realm freed from nature, but rather the general unconsciousness or instinctiveness, the life of ‘feeling’, we once shared with all animals. But could we afford to admit this? Wouldn’t we prefer to propose the existence of a realm outside of nature freed from the pain of life in it? If we needed to deceive ourselves about this, wouldn’t mother nature, and our animal nature, once innocent, seem to us abhorrent? Wouldn’t we renounce and disavow them in favor of our beloved spirit realm? After all, in this imagined paradise we’d enjoy life’s bliss without paying nature’s price.

But there was a difficulty! In order to propose the real [P. 12] existence of our paradise, even though we’d invented it, wouldn’t we have to be ‘unconscious’ of having invented it? In a word, we couldn’t very well be conscious of lying to ourselves, could we! This paradise, this ‘magic’, could only have been created by our unconscious mind, where those dreams are born for whose creation our conscious mind can’t take credit. Such is the dream-realm Lohengrin shares with Elsa.

(…)

Doesn’t it therefore seem plausible that Lohengrin is a metaphor for the world of religion and art which satisfies man’s desire for what ‘ought’ to be, or ‘feeling’? Having renounced Ortrud’s real world and power, perhaps he has only magical, or illusory power, but no real power. “

[PH] As readers can see for themselves, Hoeckner never in his 8/94 chapter, or in the 7/97 revised version he published in the Cambridge Opera Journal, drew attention to the key point of Elsa’s offer to share with Lohengrin secret knowledge of his identity, which is that she wished to share this forbidden knowledge in order to help protect him from the harm to which - she surmised (having learned of it from Ortrud) – Lohengrin would be subject if his secret was exposed to the world. For this reason Hoeckner wasn’t able to delineate the logical consequences which follow from construing Elsa as a metaphor for the artist Lohengrin’s unconscious mind. It is this which links Lohengrin, and his insurmountable problem, with the so-called god Wotan and his similar problem:


[PHr]
[PH: ELSA MUST SHARE IN THE KNOWLEDGE OF LOHENGRIN’S SECRET IN ORDER TO REDEEM HIM FROM “NOTH,” ANGUISH]

[P. 17] “But Elsa won’t comply [PH: with Lohengrin’s demand that she never ask who he is or from whence he comes]: she demands that they share ‘conceptual’ knowledge of Lohengrin’s identity in love’s night:

'ELSA: Would that some merit could unite me with you, that I could see myself in pain for you! As you found me gravely accused, O that I knew you also in distress (NOTH) – that bravely I had to bear troubles, if I knew of dangers that threatened you! Would the secret which you conceal from all the world be of this kind? Perhaps disaster would await you, if it became known to all the world? O were it thus, and I allowed to know it; if I had it in my power, no threats could tear it from me, I would be ready to die for you! …. Let me share your secret that I may clearly see who you are! LOHENGRIN: Ah, be silent, Elsa! ELSA: Trusting in me reveal your noble origin! Say without regret whence you came that the power of silence be proved in me!'

(…)

Doesn’t Elsa seem to be saying that Lohengrin may be guilty himself? Offering to share this secret anguish (NOTH) which she assumes Lohengrin suffers from, in order to keep it secret, doesn’t she also suggest that through her love’s protection Lohengrin gains his own redemption? Lohengrin seems to think this also, [P. 18] for he tells her that 'your love must compensate me highly for what I left for your sake,' and 'in your love alone can I find what makes my sacrifice worth while.' Later, he affirms that through her he found 'new happiness' (LOH Act 3 Sc 3). “
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