Part 7: Review: Berthold Hoeckner on "Lohengrin" 8/94

General Discussion about Wagner and The Ring of the Nibelung

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Part 7: Review: Berthold Hoeckner on "Lohengrin" 8/94

Postby alberich00 » Mon Apr 22, 2013 12:53 pm

[PH] And here, below, I quoted the passage from “A Communication to My Friends” in which Wagner identified the woman (Elsa) Lohengrin seeks, to redeem himself from the sterility and loneliness of the imaginary Grail realm, with the earthly, with the real, but that Lohengrin was ultimately unable to relinquish his religious demand for unquestioning faith, for spiritual transcendence:


[PHbb]
[PH: IN HIS ESSAY ‘A COMMUNICATION TO MY FRIENDS,’ WAGNER SUGGESTS THAT LOHENGRIN HIMSELF NEEDS REDEMPTION FROM THE VERY CONCEPT OF DIVINITY. IN OTHER WORDS, LOHENGRIN NEEDS THE EARTHLY (THE VERY THING RELIGIOUS MAN ALLEGEDLY RENOUNCES TO BE WORTHY OF DIVINE REDEMPTION) IN ORDER TO MAKE HIS PARADISE OF THE IMAGINATION PALATABLE]

[P. 22] “Can anyone familiar with Wagner’s discussion of LOHENGRIN in ‘A Communication to My Friends’ deny Wagner felt Lohengrin [P. 23] needed redemption from the sterility of the Grail realm through the earthly love only Elsa could provide us? One quote will suffice:

' … with his entire conscious being he wanted nothing more than to become and be a full and complete human being, able to give and inspire love, - that is, authentically human and not divine … . Thus he yearned for the woman – the human heart. And so he descended from his blissful but empty (sterile) loneliness when he heard this woman’s cry for help … . But around him remained the tell-tale aura of exalted spiritual rank … .' (6-8/51 ‘Eine Mitteilung an meine Freunde’; Gessammelte Schriften und Dicthgungen; p. 296)

What! Does the chaste, sterile Grail realm need sin, carnality, the earthly, to make its abstract paradise palatable? Wouldn’t this imply paradise is merely a refinement of the earthly, as Ortrud suggested? In this case Ortrud’s jealousy is justified since disinherited nature is exploited by the very hypocrites who renounced it. This hypocrisy comes of smuggling into heaven feelings of bliss natural life alone can give, without paying nature’s price in pain and death. Casting off nature’s (Ortrud’s) woe, they refuse to acknowledge her.”

[PH] I only discovered long after having written my 8/93 paper, in my in- depth reading of the four books by Feuerbach which influenced Wagner, that Feuerbach had described in detail how the religious faithful unconsciously smuggle the earthly, the bliss which only real, physical life can provide, into their idea of the enjoyment of redemption from the real world in heaven, and how this involves religious man in the contradiction that, since in real life all that is blissful is inextricably blended with all that causes pain, they can’t be segregated from each other except in man’s arbitrary imagination. I also discovered in Feuerbach, long after I had written the passage which follows, that what man calls spiritual feelings and longings actually have a natural origin:


[PHee]
[PH: ONE OF LOHENGRIN’S SINS, THE SIN OF HYPOCRISY, CONSISTS IN HIS NEED TO SMUGGLE NATURE INTO THE DIVINE, INTO MUSIC, REALMS ALLEGEDLY AUTOMOMOUS FROM NATURE, PURIFIED OF ALL THAT IS NATURAL]

[P. 25] "Second, Lohengrin sins by involving himself in a further contradiction. Having affirmed the Grail realm’s freedom from nature by taking the oath of celibacy, he nonetheless can only redeem the abstract, sterile Grail realm from meaninglessness (from being a ‘wasteland’, so to speak) by smuggling the earthly, which he’d renounced, back into it. In a word, first he denied nature, which was sin enough, and then he hypocritically reaffirmed her. He did so by prohibiting conscious knowledge of nature’s truth, yet gladly accepting nature’s blissful feelings. Since these feelings aren’t spiritual in origin but have a material basis, Wagner could say that:

'It took Nature a very long time to produce passion; this is what can lead one to the heights; music is its transfiguration, is, alone among the arts, directly connected with it.' (1/5/83 ‘Cosima Wagner’s Diaries; Vol. II, p. 986)”

[PH] And here below I pursued in 8/93 my analysis of the concept that in man’s idea of a paradise of redemption from the objective world we live in, he unconsciously smuggles into it what gave him bliss in this life, and arbitrarily leaves out of it the anguish and pain which are concomitants of real life:


[PHff]
[PH: LOHENGRIN MUST UNCONSCIOUSLY SMUGGLE BACK INTO THE PARADISE IN WHICH HE HAD ALLEGEDLY RENOUNCED IT, THE EARTHLY]

[PH] [P. 25] “We might describe this smuggling of natural feeling into an abstract ideal as a restoration of fertility to the Grail’s wasteland, by giving ‘real’ content to its abstract ‘ideal’.

Lohengrin can do this only by seeking out the very guilt and pain (NOTH) which inspired us to invent paradise in the first place, for this real NOTH alone makes this illusory redemption (Wahn) meaningful. Each time Lohengrin offers us redemption, he must, in a sense, repeat or replicate the original, primal, unconscious act whereby we, the Folk, first unwittingly invented paradise as a retort to nature. Doesn’t [P. 26] it logically follow that he, like the Folk, must ‘unconsciously’ gain inspiration from nature’s bitter truths in order to deny these truths?”

[PH] In the passage below Hoeckner introduced Feuerbach’s distinction between faith and love from “The Essence of Christianity” as a key to the distinction between Lohengrin, the adherent of religion’s demand for unquestioning faith, and Elsa, who stands for love. Hoeckner also described this Feuerbachian distinction as the foundation of Wagner’s distinction between dogmatic Wonder, and poetic Wonder (i.e., art): in dogmatic or religious wonder, the laws of nature are overthrown by the incomprehensible supernatural, whereas according to Wagner (and Feuerbach) the artist does not reject mother nature and her laws. This employment of Feuerbach’s distinction between faith and love, and his explanation that it is behind Wagner’s distinction of dogmatic wonder from poetic wonder, is original to Hoeckner, since I had not yet read any of Feuerbach’s books complete by 8/93, when I submitted my paper for review, nor had I applied Wagner’s concept of the Wonder to my analysis of “Lohengrin.” These ideas do, however, play important roles in my subsequent writings on Wagner, particularly in my analysis of the “Ring” as found in my online book “The Wound That Will Never Heal,” which is the centerpiece of http://www.wagnerheim.com.

[PH] However, in spite of my not being aware of Feuerbach’s distinction, nor its application to Wagner’s distinction, discussed above, readers of my 8/93 paper can see for themselves that the distinctions I do make in it are virtually identical, and that I draw the same conclusions from them in many respects.


19. BH: FEUERBACH’S IMPORTANCE: FAITH IS INCOMPATIBLE WITH LOVE, A DISTINCTION WAGNER REPLICATED IN HIS CONTRAST OF DOGMATIC WONDER (RELIGIOUS FAITH) WITH POETIC WONDER (SECULAR ART, AND LOVE)

[#] [BH] [P. 250] " … this attempt to bridge the tragic gap between the divine and human in Lohengrin’s double nature should be understood in terms of the (often remarked but rarely studied) reception of Feuerbach in Wagner’s Zurich writings. Lohengrin longs for the woman who both believes in him and loves him, yet, according to Feuerbach, belief and love are incompatible. In his influential 1841 ‘Das Wesen des Christentum,’ a [P. 251] revolutionary anti-Hegelian attempt to collapse the distinction between God and man into a unitary god-man, Feuerbach devoted a whole chapter to ‘The contradiction between belief and love’:

‘Love identifies man with God, God with man, and, therefore, man with man; belief separates God from man, and, therefore, man from man.

Belief isolates God, it turns Him into a special, other, being; love makes everything in common; it turns God into a common being, whose love is at one with the love towards man. Belief disunites man intrinsically with himself, and, therefore externally, too; it is love, however, which heals the wounds that belief has inflicts [PH: I presume Hoeckner meant to write “inflicted”] on the heart of man.’


20. BH: FEUERBACH’S DISTINCTION BETWEEN FAITH AND LOVE IS THE BASIS FOR WAGNER’S DISTINCTION BETWEEN DOGMATIC WONDER (RELIGIOUS FAITH) AND POETIC WONDER (SECULAR ART, ESPECIALLY DRAMA AND MUSIC)

[#] [BH] [P. 251] "Feuerbach’s antithesis between belief and love became the foundation of Wagner’s distinction in ‘Opera and Drama’ between the ‘dogmatic [Judaeo-Christian] wonder’ and the ‘poetic wonder’:

‘The Judaeo-Christian wonder tore the connection of natural phenomena asunder, to allow the [P. 252] divine will to appear as standing above nature … This wonder was therefore demanded from that person, who could not be trusted as a person and in his natural behavior, but whom one would only believe if he did something unbelievable, incomprehensible. The fundamental negation of understanding was therefore a precondition by the one demanding a wonder and the one who carried it out; while absolute belief was demanded by the wonder-worker and granted by the one receiving the wonder.’ “

[PH] Readers can clearly see, in the passages from my 8/93 I reproduce below, that in spite of the fact that I hadn’t the benefit of reading Feuerbach’s “The Essence of Christianity,” nor of equating its key distinction of faith from love with Wagner’s distinction of dogmatic wonder from poetic wonder, that nonetheless I drew conclusions from my close analysis of the libretto text of “Lohengrin,” specifically, that it concerns the distinction between religious faith, embodied by Lohengrin and his demand for unquestioning faith, and secular art (especially the Wagnerian art of music-drama), embodied by Elsa and her insistence on popping the bubble of religious faith in order to free art/love from its fear, which are somewhat similar to the conclusions drawn a year later by Hoeckner:


[PHp]
[PH: ELSA’S DOUBT: SHE INTUITS THAT LOHENGRIN’S DEPENDENCE ON A FEARFUL TABOO, HIS PROHIBITION ON KNOWLEDGE, IS INCONSISTENT WITH LOVE]

[PH] [P. 15] “But she’s filled with doubt. Why, she must wonder, should her love for Lohengrin depend upon the fearful maintenance of a breakable taboo? Could Ortrud’s warning that Lohengrin might leave her be true? Also, if Elsa did, figuratively speaking, kill Godfrey by giving him God’s forbidden knowledge, [P. 16] mustn’t she know Lohengrin perjures himself for her sake, and that his magic depends upon deceit, as Ortrud said? Since falsehood must ultimately fail when confronted with truth, maybe Ortrud was right to suggest the salvation Lohengrin offers is only temporary. If Lohengrin depends on deceit, we can understand Frederick’s complaint that while he is free to proclaim his true identity, Lohengrin is not (LOH Act 2 Sc 5) Lohengrin’s vulnerability, his dependence on a breakable taboo sanctioned by fear, seems to imply he’s not divine.”

[PH] Why, I asked in my remarks below, should Lohengrin have to leave merely because the Grail is so holy that its knight will be subject to doubt, once his true identity is known? Could it be that he isn’t holy after all, and that doubt might expose this terrible truth?:


[PHx]
[PH: SO HOLY IS THE GRAIL THAT ITS KNIGHT MUST LEAVE THE WORLD IF HIS TRUE IDENTITY BECOMES KNOWN, AS THIS MIGHT LEAD TO DOUBT]

[PH] [P. 19] “LOHENGRIN Act 3 Scene 3

'LOHENGRIN: … a vessel of wondrous power is guarded as the holiest of treasures: so it might be tended by the purest (chastest) of men, a host of angels brought it to this earth …. He who is chosen to serve the Grail is armed with supernatural power … . When he is sent by it to distant lands, named as champion for defence of virtue, his sacred power is not taken from him, if as its knight he there remains unknown: but so holy is the Grail’s blessing, that once revealed, he [P. 20] must flee the layman’s eye; when he is known to you he must depart lest you harbor doubts about the knight.'

What! Is the Grail holier than God or heaven? Surely we can’t still contend it’s identical with God and heaven. If it’s neither holier nor identical, musn’t it be more profane?

Lohengrin, compelled by Elsa’s seeming treachery, now reveals what she wanted to conceal in silence, his true identity as Parsifal’s son.”

[PH] And here in this passage below I suggested in 8/93 that only secular art can replace dying religious faith as a means to express man’s old religious longing for transcendent value, when faith itself can no longer stand up to the light of truth, which is the same as saying that Wagner’s poetic wonder is the sole possible substitute for failed dogmatic wonder, or that sexual love (which in Wagner is a metaphor for the union of dramatic poet with music in music-drama, or a metaphor for art in general as a substitute for dying religious faith) is the sole possible substitute for failed dogmatic wonder (which Wagner construes as similar to the artificiality and arbitrariness of absolute music, the absolute artist, in that it attempts to privilege something as autonomous from the natural world, just as absolute music seems in some sense to be sui generis and disconnected with the real world):


[PHcc]
[PH: WAGNER NOTED THAT IT IS DANGEROUS FOR THE RELIGIOUSLY FAITHFUL TO ACKNOWLEDGE THAT GOD IS NATURE, BUT HE ADDED THAT ART OUGHT TO REPLACE FAITH (PRESUMABLY IMPLYING THAT THE ARTIST COULD, UNLIKE THE RELIGIOUS MAN, ACKNOWLEDGE THAT GOD IS NATURE)]

[PH] [P. 23] “Wagner recognized both the unity of God and nature, and the blasphemy involved in revealing it:

' … a recollection of Aeschylus’s chorus (the female hare and the eagle) causes him to remark on the nobility of this outlook, and he feels it was things like this that might have led to accusations of blasphemy against Aeschylus, the connection between holiness and Nature was probably at the bottom of [P. 24] the Eleusinian mysteries. In our times, R. continues, religion should seek to influence ethics, and allow faith to be represented by art, which can transform illusion into truth.' (11/14/79 ‘Cosima Wagner’s Diaries’; Vol. II, p. 395)

Curiously, Wagner seems to hint that art can do what religion, bound by a fearful taboo on knowledge, can’t do: affirm the unity of holiness and nature. Maybe art can redeem religion as Elsa’s earthly love redeems Lohengrin’s sterile loneliness!”

[PH] In my 8/93 paper, I, like Hoeckner (see below), noted that the general public, the people of Brabant, whom I called the “Folk,” naively accept Lohengrin’s demand for unquestioning faith, as Elsa does too initially, only later breaking faith with Lohengrin (and also therefore with the Folk) to ask Lohengrin the question he forbade:


21. BH: THE FOLK ACCEPT LOHENGRIN’S DOGMATIC WONDER, WHICH CENSORS REASONING

[#] [BH] [P. 252] “This describes Elsa’s situation in the second scene: because nobody trusts her, an ordeal, which generates miracles, becomes necessary. No wonder that, at the end of the scene, the people of Brabant, gazing at the horizon ‘deeply stirred’ by Lohengrin’s sensational appearance, break out into: ‘A wonder, a wonder, a wonder.’ The collective public holds on to this naïve, ‘absolute’ belief which, as a precondition of the wonder, [P. 253] requires the suspension of critical inquiry. In Feuerbach’s terms, belief is built on the ‘special revelation of God,’ who does not arrive through the ‘common,’ human way. From this perspective, Lohengrin’s dilemma originates in his desire to become human, but

‘indisputably there clings to him the telltale halo of heightened nature; he cannot but appear wonderful; the gaping of the common people, the poisoned trail of envy throw their shadow even across the loving woman’s heart; doubt and jealousy show him that he has not been understood, but only worshiped, and force from him the avowal of his divinity, wherewith, destroyed, he returns into his loneliness.’ “ [‘Eine Mitteilung, IV, 296 (I, 340; translation modified)]
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