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

General Discussion about Wagner and The Ring of the Nibelung

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

Postby alberich00 » Mon Apr 22, 2013 12:58 pm

[PH] Here (see below) in 8/93 I introduced my thesis that Ortrud’s and Frederick’s conspiracy with Elsa to make her ask Lohengrin the forbidden question, and expose him as a fraud, was Wagner’s metaphor for man’s inevitable advancement in scientific knowledge of man and nature which would eventually, and necessarily, overthrow the illusions upon which religious man had traditionally depended, and would expose God as merely man’s unconscious invention. I also described how the Folk unwittingly desired to be deceived, and they therefore, for thousands of years, banished or even destroyed truth-tellers who might expose religious faith as an illusion, and that this is the basis of Ortrud’s and Frederick’s banishment, a metaphor:

[PHl]
[PH: THE FOLK’S FAITH BANISHES ORTRUD AND FREDERICK, I.E., BANISHES SCIENCE & REASON]

[P. 12] “ … to understand Frederick’s and Ortrud’s banishment we need only remember that during the long period in which mythological, religious thought held sway, but modern science wasn’t yet born, nature’s truths and those who affirmed them were in a sorry plight. Why? Because during all this time [P. 13] the Folk, we ourselves, unwittingly desired to be deceived, and could still get away with it! Maybe this is what Ortrud meant when she called Christian faith in God’s transcendence Wahn (illusion; semi-conscious feigning; madness) and cowardice (LOH Act 2 Sc 1). This cowardice is inability to face mother nature’s truth (NOTH), and this Wahn is the consoling illusion we substitute for it. How can she restore her power, and show that Wahn conceals it? Why, only by exposing the secrets of the lovers’ night (unconsciousness) to daylight consciousness.”

[PH] And here in 8/93 I described how individuals in command of what I would call artistic magic made the Folk, their audience, emotionally dependent on the illusion that gods had made the world and given man rules of moral guidance, and that exposing this fact to the public could have catastrophic consequences, which is precisely why the general religious population fears the questioning of faith to the point of unreflective acceptance of censorship, a denial of freedom of inquiry:


[PHhh]
[PH: THOUGH LOHENGRIN’S ESSENTIAL RELIGIOUS SINS WERE THE DENIAL OF MOTHER NATURE’S TRUTHS, AND THE HYPOCRISY INVOLVED IN SMUGGLING THE NATURAL BACK INTO THE DIVINE FROM WHICH RELIGIOUS BELIEF HAD BANNED IT, LOHENGRIN WOULD BE SINNING AGAINST THE FOLK IF HE EXPOSED THESE BITTER TRUTHS TO THEM AND THUS EXPOSED AS A FRAUD THE WAHN, SELF-DECEPTION, HE PERPETUATES]

[PH] “Lohengrin’s third sin is this: assuming he’s committed to redeeming our unwitting hypocrisy from the knowledge which might expose it, that he feels bound to console us with illusion (Wahn) for the knowledge (NOTH) Eve gave Adam, is it not an unforgivable sin to expose the very hypocrisy he perpetuates? Lohengrin and his breed (other Grail knights) had made us so emotionally dependent upon this self-deception (Wahn) for our happiness, that to expose the truth (NOTH) might bring us unbearable pain (NOTH), or open in us an irredeemable, ‘unhealing’ wound (NOTH).”

[PH] And here in 8/93 I described how Lohengrin’s fear of the truth, fear of exposure, represents the vulnerability of religious man’s faith for which secular art, which stakes no claim on the truth which can be refuted, holds the solution. This explains why Lohengrin must leave, and why Elsa’s offer to share with him the secret of his identity so that she can help him keep his secret and protect him from the harm which exposure would bring (namely, protect Lohengrin from the consequences which would follow if the faithful were forced to recognize that religious faith covers up the fact that religious belief is an illusion, and that their religious belief is just a form of art which makes the mistake of insisting on belief in its own reality), offers the only solution to religion’s problem, namely, that art is freed from fear of exposure, fear of the truth, because it stakes no claim to the truth, but offers man pure feeling. And here I introduced my decisive, and so far as I know, wholly original contribution, that Elsa in effect offers to keep the secret of Lohengrin’s identity in the strictest sense, by knowing it for him, so that he need not know it himself. It is this that is the key to grasping Wotan’s confession to Bruennhilde of his need for a hero freed from Wotan’s own vulnerabilities (like fatal self-knowledge), and it explains why Bruennhilde tells Siegfried that she is his “self,” and knows for him what he doesn’t know (Siegfried having told Fafner that he doesn’t yet know who he is) as we hear the Fate Motif, #34. And, as demonstrated in my 5/95 published version of this paper, it is also the key to grasping the allegorical logic of not only the “Ring” but also the allegorical logic of Wagner’s three other mature music-dramas, "Tristan and Isolde," "The Mastersingers of Nuremberg," and "Parsifal":


[PHjj]
[PH: ELSA CAN ATONE THE SIN OF DESTROYING RELIGIOUS FAITH BY KNOWING LOHENGRIN’S SECRET FOR HIM, SO HE NEED NOT KNOW IT HIMSELF; TRANSLATION: THE SECULAR ARTIST NEED NOT BE SELF-CONSCIOUS ABOUT THE NEED TO PROTECT DOGMATIC BELIEFS FROM INTELLECTUAL INQUIRY, SINCE HE STAKES NO DOGMATIC CLAIMS]

[PH] [P. 27] “Can Elsa atone a sin she herself called irredeemable ('He who doubts his mission will never recover from disaster' (LOH Act 2 Sc 4))? Lohengrin thinks she can, but she must be separated [P. 28] from him to atone. It seems Lohengrin is ‘too conscious’ of his own identity to redeem others or obtain redemption for himself, since the redemption he offers depends on a prohibition on making his own self-knowledge public (conscious). Lohengrin needs to be able to break the Grail knights’ taboo on sexual union without risking making this shameful NOTH conscious, even for himself. He needs, in other words, to add one special condition to Elsa’s offer to share his NOTH in love’s night. What is it? How can Elsa atone? How else than by fulfilling her offer to keep his secret in the strictest sense, by knowing it for him, so he need not know it!

In view of his need to keep his self-deception, his true identity as a hypocrite, a secret even from himself, wouldn’t it be a great advantage for Lohengrin to cease to be conscious of who he is, to become a divine ‘fool’, and thus to regain his own lost innocence by letting Elsa take on the burden of his guilt? This can be done if Elsa conceals even from him his ‘conceptual’ knowledge of who he is, his NOTH. Elsa can thus redeem him from himself, and redeem the redeemer.”

[PH] In the following passage Hoeckner distinguishes dogmatic wonder (religious faith) from poetic wonder (secular art, music, feeling) in greater detail:


22. BH: POETIC WONDER IS UNDERSTANDING THROUGH FEELING, LOVE, MUSIC, MUSICAL MOTIFS, NOT FAITH. THIS CONCEPT IS BASED ON FEUERBACH’S NOTION THAT ALL THAT RELIGIOUS MEN CALL DIVINE IS REALLY ALL-TOO-HUMAN, PHYSICAL, MORTAL, WHICH IS WHY LOHENGRIN LONGS TO BE A HUMAN BEING, NOT DIVINE

[#] [BH] [P. 253] “Again, Lohengrin does not want to be ‘only’ worshipped (as absolute artist), but loved (as a human being). Moreover, this contradiction in Lohengrin’s appearance ‘interlocks’ with the opera’s subject matter and its artistic [P. 254] realization: a dogmatic wonder cannot be the subject of a poetic wonder, since

‘the poetic intellect, for the effect of its message, is not at all interested in belief but only in understanding through feeling. It wants to display a great combination of natural phenomena in an easily perceptible image, and this image must therefore correspond to these phenomena in such a way that involuntary feeling may absorb it without reluctance, and not be asked to explain it; whereas the characteristic of the dogmatic wonder consists in despotically subjugating the search of understanding for such an explanation, while seeking its effect precisely in this subjugation. The dogmatic wonder is therefore quite as unfit for art, as the poetic wonder is the highest and most necessary product of the artistic power of perception and representation.’ [‘Opera and Drama’, 220 (II, 211f; translation modified)] “

[PH] In the passage below Hoeckner follows Nattiez’s lead in describing Lohengrin as Wagner’s metaphor for a dramatist or composer of absolute music who is unable to unite in a fully loving and artistic union with Elsa because he is only capable of abiding by the law (religious faith, divine law, the total segregation of one art from another), and can’t love:


23. BH: LOHENGRIN IS THE SEED WHO CAN’T FERTILIZE ELSA SINCE HE DEMANDS ONLY LAW (RELIGIOUS FAITH), AND CAN’T LOVE

[#] [BH] [P. 255] “As an allegory of poetic intent, Lohengrin is brought forth by Elsa in a scene that exemplarily proceeds organically from the ordinary to the extraordinary. However, as a character in the plot, Lohengrin remains a wonder: to vary Wagner’s terminology, Lohengrin is the fertilizing seed that ultimately fails to fertilize. His miraculous coming should appear natural, like the artistic creation that effaces all traces of its creation, yet the people’s exclaiming ‘a wonder’ inevitably defeats Lohengrin’s purpose. Therefore Lohengrin must hide his origin and ‘despotically’ subjugate Elsa’s potential inquiries:

‘Never shall you ask me,
nor desire to know,
whence I came on this journey,
nor my name or nature.’

Paradoxically, Lohengrin, in his desire for human love, uses his commandment of ‘absolute belief’ to conceal his own absoluteness.

Lohengrin’s demand of absolute belief will prove to be incompatible with Elsa’s love, since love – as Wagner [P. 256] might have learned from Feuerbach – can never be demanded by law but is born out of freedom.”

[PH] In the following passage Hoeckner introduces the Feuerbachian concept that the religious longing to renounce and transcend the real world is a covert longing to enjoy the bliss of this natural world, but artificially purged of its intrinsic link with the anguish of life. In other words, it’s a longing for immortal life in the face of its absurdity. Of course, in several passages from my 8/93 paper I described Lohengrin as a representative of this futile human impulse to posit the transcendence and immortality of what can only exist in nature as fleeting and mortal:


24. BH: WAGNER: THE GRAIL REPRESENTS MAN’S LONGING TO SATISFY THE SENSES, BUT OUTSIDE OF THE SENSUAL WORLD

[#] [BH] [P. 256] " … we need consider only Wagner’s own program note, which he wrote for a series of 1853 Zurich concerts including highlights from the opera, to give the audience some background, knowledge which an audience in the theater might not have needed. However, the program note is pertinent to the contradiction between belief and love that divides Lohengrin and Elsa within themselves and separates them from each other. In a paragraph preceding the programmatic description of musical events, Wagner introduced the myth of the grail, Christ’s cup which, as the fountain of imperishable love, comes to loveless earth as a result of human desire for this very love:

[P. 257] ‘Enchanted imagination … set both source and bourne of this incomprehensible desire for love outside the actual world, and, longing for a solacing sensuous image of this suprasensuous, this fancy gave to it a wondrous shape; soon existing in reality but far beyond approach, it soon was believed, yearned for and sought under the name of the “Holy Grail.” ‘ “

[PH] In my 8/93 paper I dealt in considerable detail with the notion (ultimately traceable to Feuerbach) that man’s allegedly spiritual longing to transcend the real world known to the senses actually has a physical, natural origin, and that Wagner concurred:


[PHj]
[PH: WAGNER: RELIGIOUS MAN’S FAITH IN A REDEMPTION IN PARADISE IS ACTUALLY A FRAUD, WAHN, AN EXPRESSION OF A HYPOCRITICAL DESIRE TO SEGREGATE THE BLISS OF NATURAL LIFE FROM ITS INHERENT CONCOMITANT, PAIN AND DEATH, AND ENJOY IT ALONE IN THE ABSTRACT]

[P. 8] “Wagner often insisted that Lohengrin was a pre-Christian figure co-opted by Christianity, and on this subject of redemption from our only world in ‘other worlds’, he said:

‘The really perplexing problem … is always how, in this terrible world of ours, beyond which there is only nothingness, it might be possible to infer the existence of a God who would make life’s immense sufferings merely something apparent, [P. 9] while the redemption we long for is seen as something entirely real that may be consciously enjoyed. This may not be a problem for philistines – especially for the English variety: the reason they get on so splendidly with their God is because they enter into a contract with Him, according to whose terms they have to fulfill a certain number of contractual points, so that, finally, as a reward for various shortcomings in this world, they may enjoy eternal bliss in the world to come. But what do we have in common with such vulgar ideas?’ [6/7/55 Letter to Franz Liszt; ‘Selected Letters of Richard Wagner’; P. 344)”

[PH] And here in 8/93 I introduced my notion (which I later realized originated in Feuerbach) that Lohengrin, in seeking marriage with Elsa, is actually striving to redeem himself from the unsatisfactory imaginary utopia of the spiritual, anti-natural Grail realm of the imagination, by smuggling real, substantial, physical reality and love back into the allegedly spiritual realm from which faith had banished it, but that this can only be done unconsciously, as otherwise the hypocrisy would grow too conscious:


[PHff]
[PH: LOHENGRIN MUST SMUGGLE THE EARTHLY INTO THE IMAGINARY SPIRITUAL PARADISE FROM WHICH IT HAD BEEN ARTIFICIALLY BANISHED, UNCONSCIOUSLY, AS OTHERWISE HIS HYPOCRISY WOULD BECOME TOO SELF-EVIDENT]

[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 following passage Hoeckner proffers the originally Feuerbachian notion (taken up by Wagner) that religious belief was the first product of unconscious human poetry, or artistic impulse, and also that this earliest human expression of the religio-artistic imagination must have been unconscious, as otherwise it could not engender belief in its truthfulness, concepts which, again, were central to my 8/93 paper:


25. BH: WAGNER STATES THAT GOD IS THE FIRST CREATION OF UNCONSCIOUS HUMAN POETRY: EARLY MAN UNCONSCIOUSLY IMPUTED HUMAN-LIKE MOTIVES TO NATURAL EVENTS, OR AS THEIR CAUSE, AND CALLED THIS CAUSE GOD

[#] [BH] [P. 257] “Well versed in Greek mythology, Wagner saw the archetype of Lohengrin’s story in the legend of Zeus and Semele:

‘It was no God that created the encounter between Zeus and Semele, but man, in his most human desire. Who had taught man that a god could burn with love toward earthly woman? For certain, only man himself.’

[BH] [Footnote 57: ‘God and gods are the first creations of human poetic capacity: in them man imagines the essence of [P. 258] natural phenomena as derived from a cause: involuntarily he understands this cause as nothing other than his own human essence, on which alone this imagined [gedichtet] cause if based.’ [‘Opera and Drama,’ 161 (II, 153f; translation modified)]

[#] [BH] [P. 258] Again, Wagner was adapting the Feuerbachian idea that God is an unconscious product of human consciousness. [Footnote 58: ‘However, if religion, God’s consciousness, is referred to as human self-consciousness, this does not mean that the religious person would immediately know that his consciousness of God is the self-consciousness of his life, since the lack of this knowledge precisely establishes the particular nature of religion.’ (“The Essence of Christianity,” 16; Ludwig Feuerbach)] “

[PH] Throughout my 8/93 paper I stated my thesis that the God and Heaven from which Lohengrin allegedly descends in order to redeem Elsa and the Folk is a metaphor for what Wagner regarded as a figment of our poetic/religious imagination, an imagination which had to have created the gods unconsciously, as otherwise man would have recognized himself as the founder of the gods rather than as a product of the gods. One aspect of Wagner's Feuerbachian thesis re the religious origin of art-creation, or religion’s origin as poetic imagination which takes its products as more real than reality itself, was, in my view, Wagner’s notion that the authentically unconsciously inspired artist (he clearly saw himself as one) is unaware of the true origin and source of his own inspiration:


[PHb]
[PH: WAGNER STATED THAT FOR THE AUTHENTIC ARTIST HIS ART CAN REMAIN AS MUCH A MYSTERY TO HIM AS TO HIS AUDIENCE. I NOTED, OF COURSE, THAT THE AUTHENTICALLY INSPIRED ARTIST MIGHT IN FACT REVEAL MORE TO HIS AUDIENCE THAN HE IS CONSCIOUS OF HIMSELF]

[PH] [P. 1] “With due caution we’ll … occasionally call upon Wagner to explain things to us, remembering always that, as he himself said, an artist’s art can remain a mystery even to him (8/23/56 Letter to August Roeckel; ‘Selected Letters of Richard Wagner; p. 357).
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