Review 'The Wagner Experience' "Rhine" Part 8

General Discussion about Wagner and The Ring of the Nibelung

Moderators: Justin Jeffrey, alberich00

Review 'The Wagner Experience' "Rhine" Part 8

Postby alberich00 » Sun Mar 22, 2015 4:08 pm

Here is my review of Paul Dawson-Bowling's Chapter Fourteen on "Das Rheingold" from his (2013) book "The Wagner Experience."

P. 180: PH: DB's chapter on "Rhinegold" begins well, opening with a remark which resonates with my own earliest memory of experiencing this prelude to the "Ring": DB: " 'Das Rheingold' has an immediacy and brilliance that sets it apart from anything else by Wagner. 'Das Rheingold' draws us wide-eyed into a world of Homeric brightness."

PH: Immediately following this, he tells us two things which one could have read previously in Robert Donington's and Deryck Cooke's books on the "Ring," respectively: DB: "In one sense his [Alberich's] action is the rape of nature out of selfishness and greed, but in another he has paid for it, and paid a terrible price [Donington]. This opening scene has the appearance of purest myth, shimmering with primordial symbols and truths that we half-knew before we were born; but amazingly it is Wagner's own invention [Cooke]."

PH: I mention this not so much by way of complaint (I myself have probably passed on received wisdom in my own writings on this topic, without attribution, many times, because it's impossible to keep on top of the sources of everything one has borrowed, and there is a general fund of wisdom about Wagner of whose original attribution I may well be unconscious or simply can't remember) but because, within a short space, DB's chapter on "Rhinegold" devolves into primarily a paraphrase of the libretto, with interpretation mostly dependent on G.B. Shaw.

P. 181: DB: "It is a 'downfall' story, with Alberich's rape of nature and his sacrifice of love for the sake of power as 'The Ring' 's original sin, its 'Big Bang' in much the same way as Adam and Eve's tasting of forbidden fruit is the Big Bang for the entire Bible. The curse on love and creation of the Ring is the first fatal splice among the threads which the Norns weave into the rope of destiny."

PH: I concur with this statement, and though DB doesn't say so here, it suggests that Alberich's renunciation of love for the sake of power, and subsequent forging of the Ring of power, is, of the two such incidents incidents in the "Ring" (the other being Wotan's ripping the most sacred branch from the World-Ash Tree in order to make the Spear of Divine Authority and Law from it, thereby killing, if you will, the Wagnerian equivalent of the Tree of Life and Turning it into the Tree of Knowledge), the first, though the Norns will later describe Wotan's primal crime "as if" it is first in time, without actually saying so. This is important because I have argued in my online book here at that there are many reasons for assuming that Alberich's primal crime is both logically prior and chronologically prior to Wotan's parallel primal crime. If memory serves, Warren Darcy in his book on "Rhinegold" also argued the temporal priority of primal Alberich's crime.

P. 181: PH: I therefore concur also with DB's following thoughts: DB: "From this event [Alberich's primal crime] flowed all the currents of history that course through 'The Ring,' opening up so many byways and parentheses, some far flung, that 'The Ring' could have ended up as fragmentary as its sources if Wagner had not possessed the intellect and willpower to draw them into a unity. This unity was eventually threatened by 'Goetterdaemmerung,' the very work from which the other dramas evolved backwards, because its action and style are so different from the other three; but in the end the unity remained unbroken."

P. 181-182: PH: However, I cannot concur with DB's critique that the conceptual unity of the "Ring" fails. DB: "There is a corresponding unity among the archetypes of 'The Ring,' which likewise bind it together. Certain other aspects are less tightly knit, such as its more intellectual ideas. These are both arresting and convincing individually, but they are too many and too varied to form a complete, unitary system. Where it does possess an additional and compelling unity is in the music, and this is extraordinary because the weary, disillusioned composer who completed its final page on 23 November 1874 was a different man from the young firebrand who noted down its first musical ideas in November 1848, and his journey through the intervening years had been improbable and fractured beyond belief."

PH: Fractured Wagner's life was in many ways, but I believe I have shown in my online book posted here at that Wagner's "Ring" is unified not only musically, but dramatically and conceptually, from beginning to end, and also perhaps that the music's unity is a testimonial to the conceptual unity. Let me add, I have also demonstrated how the "Ring" is systematically coherent in its allegorical logic with Wagner's 6 other canonic operas and music-dramas.

P. 182: PH: DB launches now into the burden of this chapter which from beginning to end seems mostly to be a paraphrase of the story of "Rhinegold," with some musical commentary, that, insofar as it offers an interpretation, follows in many respects that of G.B. Shaw as found in his "The Perfect Wagnerite."

P. 184-188: PH: DB does, insofar as he agrees with Shaw on this, concur with me, and, if memory serves, with Jean-Jacques Nattiez, that Alberich had nothing to lose in cursing love and was effectively prodded to do it by the mocking and abusive Rhinedaughters: DB: "The Rhinemaidens take the view that they need not fear the dwarf, because he is convulsed with passion, but they have revealed to him their dark, runic prediction, and they misjudge him and overlook the effect of their cruelty. (...) His choice is virtually forced on him."

PH: In my online book here at I have explained how the Rhinedaughters' rejection of Alberich is Wagner's metaphor for a the natural evolutionary process which culminated in human consciousness, but poetically re-imagined as if it were a conscious choice, just as in the Book of Genesis in the story of Eve and Adam.

P. 188: DB: "The theme of the 'Will to Power' [The Ring Motif] broadens and expands into the music symbolizing Valhalla ... ."

PH: DB records this musical fact, originally examined in detail by Deryck Cooke, here, but doesn't pursue a deep conceptual analysis of its implications for our understanding of the "Ring." You will find such a detailed examination in my chapters on Scenes 1 and 2 of "Rhinegold"
here at

P. 191: PH: Again both paraphrasing and quoting from G.B. Shaw, DB tells us how Wotan and Fricka wake up from sleep to see the new abode of the gods, Valhalla, which the giants have completed while they slept, but which Wotan saw in his dreams.

PH: In my online book I have offered a unique perspective on Wagner's conceit that the Giants build the gods' abode and refuge from reality while they slept and dreamed, whereas DB limits himself to aping G.B. Shaw. By the way, most of DB's musical and motival analysis seems dependent on the prior work of Deryck Cooke, as is my own, with the exception that my music consultant Dr. Allen Dunning corrected some of Cooke's errors and added some new insights, which have been incorporated into my online book here at

P. 192-193: PH: DB offers nothing new about Loge, repeating the following received (but rarely closely examined) wisdom about his nature and role in the plot of the "Ring": DB: "When Fricka reproaches Wotan for having selfishly forgotten his contract [PH: that he must pay the previously agreed price, his sister-in-law Freia, to the Giants, in exchange for their labor in building Valhalla], she finds that [he quotes Shaw here] 'he, like herself, is not prepared to go through with his bargain, and that he is trusting to another great world force, the Lie, to help him to trick the giants out of their just reward.' This force is not part of Wotan's natural endowment but is personified in Loge, one of Wagner's most individual creations. He is the god of intellect, argument, imagination, illusion and reason, the god of fire and lies. (...) On the other hand, Loge never deceives himself. (...) As Wotan understands it, Loge has promised to deliver him from his contract with the giants ... , and to find them an alternative for Freia."

PH: DB doesn't suspect any of the important philosophical matter which I have discerned in Loge's machinations to delude the giants into building Valhalla in exchange for something for which he plans to do a 'bait and switch', getting them to agree to another reward. If you read my chapter on Scene 2 of "Rhinegold," you will find a detailed analysis of this agreement, which, if correct, strongly suggests that the Giants are better understood as representing man's basic animal instincts, the will to live (and fear of death), represented by Fafner, and sexual desire, represented by Fasolt, and that Loge represents mankind's (Wotan's) capacity and propensity for self-deceit, a capacity which bore fruit in mankind's unwitting and involuntary collective dreaming of (or invention of) religion and its gods into existence. DB throws too much at Loge to make it all stick: it is absurd to say he represents, at once, lies and illusion on the one hand, and reason on the other. This nonsense has been passed on for decades without any real debate. In my interpretation Loge represents one of Wotan's intellectual capacities, the imaginative capacity for self-deceit which gave birth to religious belief and even the arts. On the other hand, Alberich represents another of Wotan's capacities, the Will to Power inherent in the human mind's ability and propensity to acquire knowledge of the truth, even when that truth does not flatter but rather harms man's preferred self-image.

PH: The reason why the Giants must be offered Freia, the Goddess of both Love and Immorality (and therefore the promise of transcendent value), yet be denied her and offered a substitute, is that though the basic animal instincts are the original motive behind mankind's creation of religious belief and its offshoot, the arts, since religious belief can't really satisfy these instincts in reality, yet must delude them into thinking themselves satisfied, and since the promise of immortal life and love in paradise is inconsistent with the egoistic animal impulses which are the original source of inspiration for these religious promises, the fact of their claim must be denied, yet it must be emotionally satisfied. Thus, once Fafner kills Fasolt (simply proving that the Will to Power and Life, i.e., the fear of death, ultimately trumps love, in the natural world), Fafner retreats with his Ring, Tarnhelm, and Hoard to a taboo place where, as we learn later, Wotan (mankind) never treads, because it represents tabooed, censored knowledge of the origin of religion, and the suspicious vulnerability of faith in the gods to skeptical intellectual inquiry. Through this cognitive sleight-of-hand what originated in egoism and fear and desire is reinterpreted as something divinely sublime.

P. 102: PH: Having more or less paraphrased, and often quoted, G.B. Shaw from P. 93 up to 102, DB quotes from Shaw's book again here, but I reproduce it because it offers another chance to suggest how my online "Ring" book offers an alternative reading of, I think, greater explanatory power: DB: " 'Alberich now demands his liberty [having been forced to give Wotan his hoard of treasure, and Tarnhelm]; but Wotan must have the Ring as well. And here the dwarf, like the giants before him, feels the very foundations of the world shake beneath him at the discovery of his own base cupidity in a higher power. That evil should, in its loveless desperation, create malign powers which Godhead could not create, seems but natural justice to him [Alberich]. But that Godhead should steal those malign powers from evil, and wield them itself, is a monstrous perversion; and his appeal to Wotan to forego it is almost terrible in his conviction of wrong."

PH: DB left out that key line from Scene 2, in which Alberich says that if he sinned (in renouncing love and forging the Ring of power) he sinned only against himself, but Wotan will sin against all that was, is, or ever will be if he takes steals the Ring from Alberich. I have examined this very closely in my chapter on Scene 2, where I have shown that Alberich is basically making a pre-Nietzschean complaint against religious faith, that it sins by taking possession of the human mind, of the power of conscious thought (which is what the Ring represents in my interpretation), not in order to employ thought's rightful use to obtain that knowledge which makes man master of his world, but instead, in order to employ the mind's related (though distinct) power of imagination in order to deceive mankind into seeking the meaning of his life in an imaginary, transcendent world, alleged to be autonomous from the laws of nature, which are the thoughts which Mother Nature, Erda, thinks, her knowledge of all that was, is, and will be. Alberich is basically accusing Wotan (representative of the gods and religious belief) of pessimism, i.e., the sin of world-renunciation, which of course was later, for Nietzsche, the most terrible sin.

P. 203: PH: Likewise DB doesn't make anything more of Alberich's curse on his Ring than G.B. Shaw or others of like mind. He simply paraphrases Alberich's curse with no attempt at analysis: DB: "Just as it brought Alberich power beyond measure, so now it shall convey death to anyone who wears it. It shall bring joy to no one; anyone who owns it shall be eaten up with anxiety; everyone who does not will be gnawed away by envy. it will become a living death for all concerned until it returns to the hand from which it has been robbed."

PH: As I explain in my chapter on Scene 2, though this can (and has been) easily explained as the curse of money, which everyone allegedly wants, but which if one gets, becomes a curse of anxiety for the possessor who worries himself to death to keep it for himself, and from others, I have shown how we can more completely link this curse with all other aspects of the "Ring" by broadening our understanding to see that the greed described in the curse can best be understood as mankind's inherent quest for power through knowledge, and that Alberich's curse is specifically a curse against those who espouse religious belief, because they are predestined in the long run of history to acquire that hoard of knowledge of their natural selves and their natural world which will ultimately undermine their religious faith, and condemn them to foresee a natural death without supernatural consolations. Thus in stealing the Ring from its rightful owner Alberich Wotan, representing religious man's need for consoling illusions which he misconstrues as the ultimate truth, Wotan will forever be nagged by doubt and fear of the end, as the bitter truth, Alberich's hoard of objective knowledge, is predestined by the laws of history to rise from the silent depths to the light of day, and overthrow man's belief in the gods.

P. 205: Here DB describes how Wotan refuses to give up Alberich's Ring to the Giants in spite of its being the price to win back Freia, who is in pawn to them until Wotan can find a substitute payment they will accept: DB: "What was recently at stake is now remote; Wotan who set out to free Freia with the Ring now wants it to be 'the mightiest of mightiest lords'. The decline and extinction of the gods which must plainly follow on the loss of Freia and her apples are of no account. Their pleas and warnings go for nothing. In his lust for power the lord of creation has become like a three-year-old screaming 'mine' when another child shows an interest in a new toy. If all power corrupts, then Wotan is corrupted. He does not yield until he is reached by the voice of the earth-goddess, Erda. (...) Erda delivers two dark oracles. Everything that exists, including the gods themselves, will one day come to an end; the gods themselves will dissolve in twilight ... . (...) Worse, a terrible and instant danger threatens them; to escape immediate destruction Wotan must give up the Ring."

PH: My analysis of this passage from Scene 2 in my online book is too complex to even summarize here, so I would suggest that those interested read it in full. However, I can say in brief that Wotan's sudden urge to give up everything he allegedly stands for, i.e., divinity, immortality, higher love, etc., for the sake of the earthly power only possession of the Ring (i.e., that objective consciousness which seeks to obtain power by accumulating a hoard of objective knowledge of the world), offers us a window into Wotan's strongest, yet underlying and not fully conscious, motives. However, once Mother Nature informs him that the price to be paid for that knowledge (the accumulation of which is inevitable in any case, in the long run) is the loss of all higher aspiration toward transcendent value, Wotan renounces the truth (the power of the Ring) in favor of the consolations of unconscious self-deceit, as found in religion, i.e., as found in the belief in man's transcendent value, which is represented by the Goddess of Immortality and Love, or Immortal Love, Freia. So Wotan consigns mankind to relative ignorance for the next thousand or so years by starting out human history on the basis of religious belief instead of science. Of course, as we all know, before mankind could acquire systematically organized objective knowledge of the world, a long prior period of gestation had to precede the era of science, and that era was the era of religion, of mythology. That is the point Wagner is making with this magnificent and eloquent allegorical trope.

PH: Just in case you may think I'm falsely imputing ideas to Wagner which he is unlikely to have entertained, I would have readers review my online chronological anthology of selected passages from the writings of Ludwig Feuerbach, and the writings and recorded remarks of Wagner, posted here at

P. 206-207: Again, DB entirely depends on Shaw for his own take on Fafner's withdrawing into a cave and transforming himself into a dragon with the Tarnhelm in order to guard his newly won Nibelung Hoard. On this view Fafner is too dense to make any use of the Ring or Hoard, but simply guards it without increasing it or applying it to any purpose. Here's DB's quotation from Shaw on this subject: " 'The world is overstocked with persons who sacrifice all their affections, and madly trample and batter down their fellows to obtain riches of which, when they get them, they are unable to make the smallest use, and to which they become the most miserable slaves.' "

PH: My interpretation takes a completely different tack: Fafner actually represents not only man's primal fear of death, but also, thanks to the magnifying power of man's unlimited imagination (a product of Ring consciousness), Wotan's own fear of the consequences which would ensue for mankind if the bitter truth contained in the Ring and its curse, the Tarnhelm, and the Hoard of Treasure (which I interpret as mankind's gradually increasing hoard of objective knowledge) ever became fully conscious and acknowledged by mankind. Religious belief would end, and thus the twilight of the gods would come to pass. Thus Wotan in effect places a ban on Fafner's lair Neidhoehle (Envy-Cave), which is the same as saying that religious faith censors the advancement of knowledge, which, as it turns out, is an accurate appraisal of the effect religious faith had for over a thousand years of European history, until modern European states sufficiently liberated themselves from the constraint of religious dogma to permit the scientific method to be devoted to the exploration of nature and the discernment of its laws, and the exploitation of its latent powers. Wotan fears Alberich may one day regain possession of the Ring, which is another way of saying that he fears that the full potential of the human mind will one day liberate the Ring, Tarnhelm (in my interpretation the Tarnhelm represents that aspect of mind we call imagination, which can equally be applied to discerning the objective laws of nature, or subjectively altering the truth to create a consoling illusion), and Hoard, and apply the power of this knowledge to bringing about the twilight of the gods.

P. 207: DB: "He [Wotan] must go down to the underworld to find Erda and ask her what to do."

PH: DB knows that Wotan will have sexual union with Erda (Mother Nature), and that Erda will give birth to Bruennhilde, as anyone who follows the "Ring" libretto knows, but he doesn't pursue this issue further. In my interpretation Mother Nature gifts man with the unconscious mind, for which Bruennhilde is metaphor, and, so long as Wotan can repress knowledge of the inevitability of Alberich's victory over the gods by confessing this bitter knowledge to Bruennhilde (Wotan's own unconscious mind, his "Will"), Wotan, not being conscious of it, will not bring this prophecy to pass. But it is inevitable that in time, man's historical time, it will come to pass. Wotan basically learns from Erda that while he can't alter the truth to his liking, he can cease to be conscious of it, and lie to himself about it. Bruennhilde, Wotan's unconscious mind, temporarily redeems Wotan from the wound that will never heal, i.e., from too great consciousness of the bitter truth, by becoming a repository for it where it's secret will be kept, until Siegfried the artist-hero accesses it (accesses his own unconscious mind, again Bruennhilde) for the sake of gaining unconscious inspiration to create redemptive works of art.

P. 207: DB: "Wotan still expresses guilt, remorse and responsibility: 'It was an evil wage that I paid for my building' ... ."

PH: In my interpretation Wotan (mankind) knows, unconsciously, that since religious belief in the gods is a product of unwitting and involuntary collective dreaming, or myth-making, that religious belief is self-deceit, and therefore predestined to destruction. This is the sin he committed, as Alberich said, against all that was, is, or will be, Erda's knowledge, which is the truth, in positing Godhead and transcendence (immortality).

P. 209: PH: Echoing Shaw again, DB says: "A race of heroes will join him [Wotan] in defending Valhalla, but he will raise one hero in particular to do what he cannot do, bound as he is by the law, and wrest the Ring from Fafner. This is the significance of the enigmatic blaze of brass in the orchestra, as the trumpets give out the motive of the sword, Nothung. Although this is not revealed until 'Die Walkuere,' the 'Sword' theme here symbolizes the heroes of Wotan's dawning plans [Wotan's Great Idea]."

PH: In my interpretation "The Valkyrie" concerns the first generation of such heroes, whose archetype is Siegmund. Siegmund is a moral or ethical hero, who stands for what is intrinsically right against the egoistic underpinning of society as a whole, which is predicated on collective egoism and fear. "Siegfried" concerns the second generation of such heroes, typified now by Siegfried, who is Wagner's metaphor for the Artist-Hero. In the "Ring" allegory both ultimately fail to redeem in the face of Alberich's curse on the Ring, i.e., the curse of the truth on any attempt by man to sustain his happiness on the basis of consoling myths, self-deceit. Wotan's hope is that moral heroes and/or artist-heroes can redeem religious faith from the truth which inevitably will rise to consciousness to contradict religion's false claims on the truth.

P. 209: DB: "They are all overcome by Valhalla's glory, except Loge, the realist. He despises these gods with their ideals and their golden apples. Free from self-deception, he discerns the truth behind the facade, and he comments with contempt and irritation, 'They are hastening on to their end. I am almost ashamed to have anything to do with them.' "

PH: In my interpretation Loge is the archetype for Wotan's Waelsung heroes. Just as Loge redeemed Wotan from the truth by arranging to keep the Giants from making their rightful claim to Freia, so that they could feel themselves satisfied without however making their claim on the gods conscious and active, so Siegmund's independent moral rectitude will seem at first to demonstrate that what is good in religious belief (the love of others which is enjoined on believers by religious faith) can live on in spite of faith in the gods being brought into doubt, and later Siegfried the Artist-hero will seem, for a time, to have salvaged and satisfied religious man's longing for transcendent meaning, in his secular art, in the face of the all-powerful rise of scientific skepticism (represented by Alberich's son Hagen, to whom Wotan initially tells Bruennhilde he is leaving the world, and the false glory of the gods, heir, until he comes to believe that the artist-hero Siegfried and his loving-muse Bruennhilde can salvage the gods' essence in feeling and thus become his preferred heirs after all.

PH: Since both Siegmund and Siegfried are Wagner's metaphors for two types of culture heroes who redeem society through an act of defiance against it, in this way they follow in Loge's footsteps also, for the gods regard him as both necessary and dangerous. Loge, as the creator of the very illusions which allowed mankind unconsciously to posit Godhead (symbolized by the gods waking up to find the abode of the gods ready-made), is also on some deep level aware of the shabby origins of the claims of Godhead. So too the culture heroes Siegmund and Siegfried are, as Wotan himself described the free hero he needs, as fighting for the gods in the very act of fighting against them. The hero is free in that he does what he does without the protection of the gods, i.e., without having to subscribe to religious faith, and without appealing to religion's promises. Siegfried's freedom is so great that he is the one who ultimately breaches faith by killing Fafner, Faith's guardian, fear of the truth, in order to secure unconscious access to that forbidden knowledge requisite as the source of inspiration for his redemptive art. Siegfried fears waking Bruennhilde because he intuits that she is the repository of that knowledge which Wotan found so intolerable that he couldn't manage to speak it aloud to himself, but only to Bruennhilde, his own unconscious mind, during his confession.

P. 210-211: PH: On the assumption that the "Rhinegold" allegory primarily proffers a socialist indictment of unregulated markets and rising inequality, DB expresses his sympathy with this indictment and its consequences for our time. Here is his summation of his Shaw-inspired critique of "Rhinegold": DB: "... the gods pass over the rainbow into their new fortress, to music that is Wagner at his most fascinating and equivocal, knife-edged as ... it is between empty bombast and real glory. And with the last notes of 'Das Rheingold,' 'The Ring' softens its socialist emphasis and Wagner's allegory of capitalism gradually recedes and gives way to a 'Ring' of myth-related, psychological truths. Already in 'Das Rheingold,' psychological truths have shone through the politics, and this second dimension blossoms in 'Die Walkuere.' "

PH: It is clear from this entire chapter, and its summation here, that DB doesn't suspect the presence of any significant content outside of G.B. Shaw's take on "Rhinegold" a century ago, an interpretation which has been justifiably very influential, but which has also for this reason left much of the really rich content of "Rhinegold," which links it conceptually not only with the remainder of the "Ring," but also with Wagner's six other canonic operas and music-dramas, unexplored. Read my chapters on "Rhinegold" here at if you wish to grasp what Shaw and DB have missed.

P. 212-213: DB now moves on to assess some specific details of the plot of "Rhinegold" and its characters, starting here with Alberich: DB: "The character of Alberich is not only a political but also a psychological study of trauma and deprivation, and it is the music which gives reality to Alberich's psychotic personality. Through the music, the portrait becomes terrifying. He represents the belief that power over others can compensate for feelings of inferiority. The desire of power over others reflects a misguided attempt to achieve security, but even if it brings a security of a kind, it does not produce fulfillment or serenity. For one thing the possession of power carries with it the fear that it may be lost ... . (...) In a sense Alberich comes to embody the appalling philosophy of O'Brien, an equally terrifying figure from George Orwell's 'Nineteen Eighty-Four.' O'Brien expounds the conviction that the only pleasure that never satiates is power, power over others; and that the only convincing and satisfying proof of power is the pain and torment of others. (...) When rejection and ridicule come in adolescence or young adulthood, particularly from the opposite sex, it strikes at the foundations of a personality. To avoid further pain, people in this situation come to deny any desire for acceptance and love, transforming it into a desire for revenge: Alberich shaking his fist in frustration and vengeance."

PH: DB has taken his primary cue here from Deryck Cooke's interpretation, in which Alberich's rejection by the Rhinedaughters is transformed by him into a quest for compensatory power. This in my view is not wrong, but it is too limited a perspective to demonstrate the true place Alberich holds in the much more comprehensive "Ring" allegory. I tried to demonstrate in my online book here at that Alberich's sadistic driving of his fellow Nibelungs to increase his Hoard of Treasure is actually Wagner's metaphor for the evolutionary drive which became conscious of itself in man, once he attained (through the process of natural evolution) full symbolic, reflective consciousness, a drive to acquire power over himself and his environment through knowledge, and that therefore Alberich represents something which is actually 'inside' the Nibelungs, a truth which corresponds to the Christian idea of man as Fallen and the victim of his own original sin. The Nibelungs in my interpretation are Wagner's metaphor for man as he really is rather than as he would wish to be, whereas the gods represent man's idealization of his potential. Alberich' sadistic cruelty towards his own kind I interpret as an expression of the contempt for man which a person might be expected to feel who knew man as he really is rather than as he wishes he would be, or ought to be, i.e., as driven by egoism and the lust for power, and/or fear, depending upon who holds the power. My perspective can help DB with his following quandary:

P. 213: PH: Having neglected to mention it during his recap of Shaw's interpretation of "Rhinegold," DB now reminds us that Alberich contrasted his own sin in gaining the Ring, with Wotan's allegedly far worse sin if he steals it from Alberich: DB: "Alberich tries to draw a contrast between his own sin, in seizing the Rhinegold and Wotan's doing the same, but it is not true that he sinned only against himself. His real sin was not this theft but his determination to create a world of universal slavery, misery and torment, very much a sin against others."

PH: DB is reading Alberich too literally. In my interpretation, when Alberich says he sins only against himself, he means that as an archetype of man, he sins only against man. DB missed this because he failed to record here the most important thing which Alberich accuses Wotan of, namely, sinning against all that was, is, and will be. It is precisely Erda's (Nature's) self-knowledge of which Alberich speaks, i.e., the objective truth. If Wotan, as the metaphor for mankind's religious desire to posit transcendence of the natural world, steals Alberich's Ring of consciousness from Alberich, Wotan sins against the objective truth by taking man's mind (for that is what the Ring represents) captive in order to supplant the truth with a consoling illusion, such as the illusion of immortality, and more broadly the illusion of transcendent value which is represented by Freia. Wotan is committing the religious sin of world-denial in committing Erda's knowledge of all that was, is, and will be to oblivion, in favor of the illusion that there is a supernatural realm of being, the abode of the gods, Valhalla (the product of a dream). In other words, Alberich sins against mankind's subjective desire for a consoling illusion by forging the Ring whose power consists in discerning the truth, while Wotan sins against objective knowledge (which has no room for man's subjective desire) in taking over consciousness from Alberich, and offering conscious mind an illusory content. So, Alberich sins against humanity (himself, for he is an archetype of man as he actually is), and Wotan sins against the world (in favoring mankind's subjective longing for a flattering view of his own significance, in religious faith).

P. 214: PH: I have sympathy with DB's following words about Alberich and "Rhinegold": DB: [it] "... is Wagner's genius to create in most people a strange sympathy for Alberich. Most people know something of Alberich from within. Although there are not literal human beings in 'Das Rheingold,' I know of no opera which etches out so many human identities with such deftness and concentration."

P. 215-216: PH: I also have sympathy with DB's following brief take on Wotan: DB: "He is not God Almighty, like the God of the Judaeo-Christian tradition. He represents more of Voltaire's sardonic observation that Man made God in his own image. From Wagner's earliest writings on 'The Ring,' his essay on the Nibelungen-drama, it is clear that he conceived of Wotan as a grand but human figure. (...) ... he even describes himself later as 'licht-Alberich'; but unlike the real Alberich, he is eager for power not to dominate but to do things and achieve worthwhile results. He has noble aspirations ... . (...) Wagner told Roeckel that Wotan is us, our very selves,and without appreciating the full complexity of Wotan and his impossible dilemmas, we miss a great deal that the 'Ring' tells us."

PH: I have found it very helpful in understanding Wotan to suggest that Wagner was either consciously or unconsciously referencing Feuerbach's description of God in several of his books as a metaphor for collective, historical humanity, as well as the unconscious and involuntary creation of that myth-making collective man, Godhead, onto whom man projected not only his idealized self, but also the characteristics of collective man such as a relative omniscience and omnipotence (relative to the single man who lacks the perfectibility of collective, historical man), and finally, the characteristics of Nature and its power (represented in the "Ring" by Erda, who becomes Wotan's consort). Alberich represents another way of looking at Wotan, i.e., the real underneath the ideal, which is not only why Wotan describes himself as Light-Alberich (and note, this self-created nickname is in reference to Alberich, not Wotan), but also why the Ring Motif, identified solely with Alberich who alone is worthy of the Ring, transforms into the Valhalla Motif during the transition R.1-2.

P. 216-220: PH: The last pages of DB's chapter on "Rhinegold" are more or less a mere paraphrase of the libretto with a smidgeon of analytic input.

PH: I don't think I'm being ungenerous in saying that with respect to this chapter on "Rhinegold" DB could simply have said 'read such-and-such pages from Shaw's "The Perfect Wagnerite" and a page or two from Dercyk Cooke's chapter on "Rhinegold" and little or nothing is gained by reading DB's chapter. This is sad because DB did have some important things to say about "Dutchman" and "Tannhaeuser," not to mention some other worthwhile observations on the general character of Wagner's art in Volume One of "The Wagner Experience."

Site Admin
Posts: 396
Joined: Tue Apr 19, 2011 11:03 am

Return to General Discussion

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 1 guest