Page 1 of 1

Wintersturmer queries "Parsifal"

PostPosted: Sat Feb 15, 2014 5:00 pm
by alberich00
Dear discussion forum members/visitors:

Wintersturmer just emailed me the following interesting query re the meaning of "Parsifal" and granted me permission to post it here. Feel free to respond. I have my own response forthcoming, but haven't got time today to launch it. I'll get to it soon. It's well worth considering, especially as "Parsifal" is by far conceptually the most difficult and ambiguous of all of Wagner's operas and music dramas:


I'm now making a concerted effort to better understand Parsifal, especially by considering it as a sort of sequel, or continuation of the Ring, as you've suggested. Maybe my first impressions are all wrong, but if one really wants to tie both works together, then Titurel in the bright Grail-castle could be considered as another incarnation of Wotan (after his overthrow) as a symbol of the obsolete, "old time religion:" still barely hanging on, but irrelevant and a burden on Amfortas. The wounded Amfortas might be viewed as the doomed artist-hero Siegfried: the next evolutionary step in satisfying Man's desire for transcendence, but ultimately doomed because of its ties to the world denial of religion, while the worldly sorcerer Klingsor in his dark castle is akin to Alberich and his hoard of forbidden world-knowledge. One side, a world ruled by the emotions and illusions of religion, and on the other, a world ruled entirely by the mechanistic reasoning of the Enlightenment (culminating in an unquenchable desire for more world power), untempered by emotion. But maybe I've gotten it all wrong, and the analogies aren't perfect...

What I do know for sure are the musical references to other works in Parsifal. When Kundry arrives offstage on her horse (possibly as one of her incarnations, the Valkyrie Gundryggia), there is some fluttering music that reminds me of Waltraute's arrival in Gotterdammerung, Act I. During the "swan section" of Act I in Parsifal, there is a short musical reference from Lohengrin. However, the musical segment that has me to most perplexed is the "guiless Fool" motif, which I find bears some similarity to Cooke's "Siegfried's Mission." One can best hear the similarity when it is sung out slowly by Wotan in Act II, Scene I of Siegfried. But again, my mind might be playing tricks on me...

best wishes,

Re: Wintersturmer queries "Parsifal"

PostPosted: Mon Mar 03, 2014 2:32 pm
by alberich00
Dear Wintersturmer:

Finally, finally, I'm taking time today to get back to our wonderful discussion forum and respond to recent queries. Several of your points correspond, to one degree or another, with my own interpretation of "Parsifal." Titurel is indeed (at least in my view) a metaphor for a religious belief which is dying out, which is the belief that believers should not accept death, that there is value in living forever. This is a basis for the notion that the tragic Wagnerian hero, such as Titurel, Amfortas, and Tristan, can't die. Since, in the "Ring," Wagner was thinking in Feuerbach's atheist terms, and carries those terms over into "Parsifal,"
Wagner caricatures this aspect of the old time religion by having Titurel live his outlived life in the grave, making obnoxious claims on the present generation, and his son Amfortas in particular. Amfortas's existential dilemma is that the insistence in several religions on denying the body (including sexual desire and death) and nature (the laws of nature, which give birth to and control man's life), yet ultimately finding all value only in what the body (pleasure, pain, and even the brain and its thoughts) gives us, places man in a terrible dilemma, in which he suffers an unhealing wound, but a wound which man could heal if he renounced transcendence, renounced the very longing for redemption from the world which is the hallmark of many more developed religions.

In other words, so long as Amfortas serves the Grail (the very symbol for man's religious longing for transcendent meaning, which once gave man his life's meaning but now, in the secular age of science, tears us apart and places us in contradiction with ourselves) he now suffers full consciousness of that unhealing wound which formerly, in the innocent age of belief, man could temporarily feel that he had healed through various balms of belief. This is the meaning behind Kundry's and the Grail Knights' futile attempts to find balms to heal Amfortas's wound. Kundry blames herself because, as the religious-and-artistic-hero's muse of unconscious inspiration, she had always to figuratively wound the hero, with her unconscious knowledge of man's inability to transcend the world and attain redemption, in order to inspire him unconsciously to create that religion or work of art in which man might forget what had caused him fear, and wake to a feeling of redemption, having forgotten the nightmare which inspired this longing. Thus Siegfried must feel fear at Bruennhilde's hands before he can, through loving union with his muse, forget that fear, through the creation of a redemptive work of art. That redemptive work of art is the subject of "The Mastersingers," in which the artist hero remains safely unconscious of who he really is.

I don't take Amfortas as Siegfried the artist-hero (that roll actually is taken by Parsifal, though in a sense that is not self-evident) but actually as another Wotan (like his father Titurel), who in the "Ring" represented the very species "Human Being" and in the collective and taken historically represents Feuerbach's own definition of God, which is that mankind, taken collectively and historically, is the basis for our idea of God (since we project our own gifts of mind onto the imagined figure god, and combine them with the mystery of nature, to create our idea of god). Note how kin the knights of the Grail, whom Amfortas no longer sends out to fight for the faith, are with the dead heroes of Valhalla who are no longer sufficient to protect Valhalla from Alberich's inevitable victory over the gods (over belief). Note how Wotan, similarly, no longer has anything to do with Freia's golden apples of immortality. I'm going to quickly save what I've written so far (my computer has a damnable tendency to zap all I've written if I don't save my material in emails after a few paragraphs), and continue on in another post below.

Re: Wintersturmer queries "Parsifal"

PostPosted: Mon Mar 03, 2014 2:55 pm
by alberich00
Though Klingsor seems to echo Alberich in forsaking love, one must remember that Klingsor like the other Grail knights once strove mightily for the sacred, for purity, but just couldn't attain it, so he artificially tried to cut it out of himself through self-castration. Well, self-castration is really a sort of Feuerbach-inspired image of what religious belief in transcendence does to its adherents, similar in this to the image of Titurel living in the grave (since believers in transcendence deny the body, they deny both sex and death). And of course Amfortas suffers from an unhealing wound whose immediate cause was the Spear of Longinus (which is said to have pierced Christ's side) wielded by the self-castrated Klingsor when Amfortas's guard was down, having succumbed to the allegedly sexual advances of Kundry. The Spear of Longinus is another symbol of the Christian's feeling of guilt by virtue of having a body which dies and copulates, a guilt which ultimately can never be assuaged because in Feuerbach's thinking the entire realm of spiritual redemption from our bodily and natural limits is an illusion inspired by the very physical impulses religious belief attempts, futilely, to deny and overcome.

But it gets more complex with Kundry (and "Parsifal" is very subtle and complex and difficult, even by my insane standards). Because Kundry is, in effect, the reincarnation of all of Wagner's prior muses of unconscious artistic (and religious) inspiration, from Senta, through the Elizabeth/Venus combo, and on through Elsa, Bruennhilde, Isolde, and Eva. Therefore sexual union with Kundry is not simply sexual union, because she represents the artist-hero's own unconscious mind, his repository for thoughts too dangerous to contemplate consciously, which, according to Wagner's worldview, are the hidden source of inspiration both for the invention of religions, and subsequently for the creation of the most sublime secular art (once specific religious belief no longer guides the creation of art, in its service). Note how King Marke and Gunther suffer when the artist-hero Tristan and Siegfried, respectively, give their muse of unconscious artistic inspiration away to them. King Marke and Gunther represent here the audience for the artist-hero, but, instead of giving them a redemptive work of art which would have given them temporary healing of man's unhealing wound, Tristan and Siegfried instead, involuntarily, gave their audience the actual muse of art herself, and all her dangerous, formerly unconscious secrets. In other words, the artist-hero Wagner is telling us that in his late tragic works he involuntarily gave away the secret hoard of knowledge (Wotan's confession) which heretofore it had been the purpose of the great inventors of religion, and creative artists, to conceal. This is also the meaning behind the horror experienced by the aristocrats listening to Tannhaeuser's song in which he revealed its true, formerly unconscious, source of inspiration, Venus and the Venusberg (instead of God and angels). It is also the meaning behind Lohengrin's having to leave Elsa.

Getting back to Klingsor. Klingsor in my book is Wagner's image of the ultimate damage caused by the artist-hero who strives so mightily to satisfy man's essentially religious longing for transcendent value that, in the end, he exposes the irresolvable contradiction between the bitter truth about man, and man's inherent inability to accept this truth, to conscious view. Thus it is Klingsor in "Parsifal" who gives the woman who would formerly, when Klingsor the artist-hero was not yet too conscious of who he is, have been Klingsor's muse of inspiration, away to his audience, Amfortas, waking in Amfortas the very unhealing wound which inspired religious seers and secular artist-heroes had formerly assuaged. Kundry too has become too conscious of who she is; she is, effectively, Elizabeth and Venus recognizing themselves as one and inseparable, and is therefore, also, a symbol for man's unhealing wound, i.e., man's being at once a product of, and bound to, his body, yet imagining he can only obtain full satisfaction in a transcendent, spiritual realm of renunciation. The burden is too great for man, especially in modern times when man is becoming too conscious of who he is. Note also that the incipient atonal music often associated with Klingsor is a sort of musical symbol of self-castration, in which modern composers, in order to proclaim man's transcendent value at all costs, excised the very source of meaning itself in music, tonality (please keep in mind as I say this that I realize musical history is much more complicated than that, but nonetheless I believe Wagner instinctively felt this tendency in music had something to do with man's increasing anxiety over the very source of value and meaning).

Saving again to keep from losing, but more in a minute.

Re: Wintersturmer queries "Parsifal"

PostPosted: Mon Mar 03, 2014 3:24 pm
by alberich00
Now the whole point of Parsifal being a pure fool, wakened by knowledge to compassion, is that he, like Klingsor, is also a figure for Wagner's artist-hero, who in our modern, scientific, secular, skeptical time, still instinctively strives to assuage man's (Amfortas's) futile longing for transcendent meaning and value, and as such, is the heir to Christ and Buddha, since the old and dying religious longing for transcendence lives on in the inspired secular artist-hero. The difference is that Klingsor represents what happens when the artist-hero pushes the longing for transcendence to the insane point of exposing the very bid for transcendence, in the arts, to be futile, barren, and effectively self-castrated. Thus modern artists who strive to still express themselves from this old impulse are destined to greater and greater isolation from their audience and from life. This is what Klingsor represents. This is also what Parsifal comes to see he would represent if he continued in this vein, seeking faux redemption through ever more ineffective unions with his former muse of unconscious artistic inspiration (i.e., in his former lives), Kundry. What once was sublime has now become a nightmare, now that the secrets of Tristan's and Isolde's night, or Lohengrin's and Elsa's bed-chamber, have now become common knowledge. Parsifal, in one Wagnerian moment of total recall, suddenly sees himself in all the Grail knights who in modern times have come secretly to Klingsor's Magic Garden to find illicit inspiration from their artistic muses, the Flowermaidens, of whom Kundry is, in effect, the last. He sees that he, himself, in all of his prior incarnations, as, say, Jesus and the Buddha, and all the inspired secular artists, is responsible for Amfortas's unhealing wound, because Parsifal in his past lives (which he had forgotten) had created the very illusions which set mankind up for failure in the first place, i.e., the illusion that man has transcendent value and a spiritual origin and destiny, when in fact man is, even in his most sublime flights of fancy, still grounded in the real world. Seeing this, Parsifal renounces the artificial world of religion and art (the Grail Realm, the Grail conceived of as a mystery, taken together with Klingsor's Magic Garden), in favor of the restoration of Mother Nature, whom the religious-and-artist-heroes had figuratively killed by inventing imagined worlds which deny her truth, so that Nature can regain her innocence. This of course is the meaning of the Good Friday scene. Kundry dies for the same reason the Grail is no longer a shrouded mystery and can now come forever into the light of day, since, the truth being out, the unconscious mind which once served to conceal it is no longer necessary. Parsifal sees, at once, that his ignorance of self, Amfortas's unhealing wound caused by dangerous union with Kundry and her secrets, the Grail knights' malaise, Klingsor's self-castration, and his confusion of his former muse of artistic inspiration with the Mother Parsifal killed through neglect (Herzeleide, a figure for Mother Nature), all stem from the same cause, and he can resolve all these issues at once by renouncing, forever, his prior sin of offering mankind self-deceit in religion and art as a value giver. Now Nature, herself, the truth, becomes the sole value-giver. And therefore Amfortas is healed of his own self-caused wound.

That's it for today, folks!

Re: Wintersturmer queries "Parsifal"

PostPosted: Mon Mar 03, 2014 3:32 pm
by alberich00
I take what I just said back. I forgot to add that Siegfried does not know who he is because Bruennhilde holds this knowledge for him, as she herself tells him in S.3.3, as we hear the Fate Motif #34, since she is his own unconscious mind (and also Wotan's, the repository for his secret confession to her). Likewise, Kundry knows for Parsifal what he doesn't know. Likewise, Sachs shares with Eva in "Mastersingers" Act II the secret of Walther's unconscious inspiration, which she then imparts to Walther in his mastersong dream, as his muse, knowledge of which he remains unconscious. Likewise, Isolde knows Tristan's true identity and keeps it a secret (what is not generally recognized is that she has kept it a secret even from him, until Act III, when he becomes too conscious of who he is and has an impulse to renounce seeking redemption through her any longer). Likewise, Elsa longs to become the repository of the secret of Lohengrin's identity, so she can protect his secret and keep it from becoming not only public, but conscious (even for him), lest its exposure to the light of day endanger him (which it would). Thus we have an explanation for Siegfried's and Parsifal's status as men ignorant of themselves. They are artist hero's whose true identities (as heirs to religious faith's futile bid to grant man transcendent value) remain unknown to them, since they are hidden in their unconscious minds, but nonetheless are exposed to view covertly in their art.