Feuerbach's influence on "Parsifal" Part 3

General Discussion about Wagner and The Ring of the Nibelung

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Feuerbach's influence on "Parsifal" Part 3

Postby alberich00 » Wed Jun 17, 2015 2:14 pm

Feuerbach's influence on "Parsifal" Part 3:

[Page 21]

confined his limbs; no outwardly-imposed relation hemmed in his movements ... . (...) It was ‘Elsa’ [from "Lohengrin"] who had taught me to unearth this man: to me, he was the male-embodied spirit of perennial and sole creative instinct (Unwillkuer) ... .” [#579W-{6-8/51} "A Communication To My Friends": PW Vol. I, p. 375]

Though readers will find a full explanation of Wagner’s tribute to Elsa above, as his source of inspiration for his invention of the history-less and identity-less Siegfried, in the essay-length elaboration of my talk ‘How Elsa Showed Wagner the Way to Siegfried,’ a quick review of this thesis will be helpful here. Though Lohengrin ostensibly came to earth to redeem Elsa from an allegedly false charge of fratricide, the libretto of "Lohengrin" strongly suggests, and Wagner’s commentary on "Lohengrin" in ‘A Communication to My Friends’ makes clear, that Lohengrin was in fact seeking redemption from the bleak, abstract solitude of the Grail Realm (in which the Grail knights enjoy immortality but must swear an oath of celibacy), by seeking earthly love with a mortal. The reason for this, following our Feuerbachian-Wagnerian logic, is that since the immortality of our soul in heaven is merely imaginary, to make even our imaginary heaven livable we need to smuggle into it what religious conviction told us we’d have to renounce in order to be worthy of admission, namely, all those things which give life its luster. In other words, when we imagine heaven we don’t merely imagine a disembodied spiritual existence without any ego or consciousness (in fact, it is impossible to imagine a disembodied world without in some sense embodying it in an image), but instead picture ourselves enjoying a condition of bliss in heaven unmixed with the pain and dread which is inextricably bound up with the bliss obtainable only within the real world. As Feuerbach put it:

“[P. 137] Even if that which pleases him cannot exist without being associated with that which displeases him, the subjective man is not guided by the wearisome laws of logic and physics, but by the self-will of the imagination. Hence he drops what is disagreeable in a fact, and holds fast alone what is agreeable.” [#100F-EOC: p. 137]

Wagner elaborated on Feuerbach’s concept of smuggling in our extract below:

“[P. 345] This act of denying the will [i.e., self-renunciation for the sake of an ideal, such as conquering one’s own egoism and self-preservation instinct for the sake of others] is the true action of the saint: that it is ultimately accomplished only in a total end to individual consciousness – for there is no other consciousness except that which is personal and individual – was lost sight of by the naïve saints of Christianity, confused, as they were, by Jewish dogma, and they were able to deceive their confused imagination by seeing that longed-for state as a perpetual continuation of a new state of life freed from nature ... .” [#636W- {6/7/55}Letter to Franz Liszt: SLRW, p. 345-346]

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In other words, a religion-based morality which offers eternal bliss in paradise in compensation for renunciation of earthly satisfaction in this life is hypocritically smuggling an egoistic motive into the very spiritual realm, i.e., into our longing for redemption there, which presumably requires renunciation of egoism as the price of admission.

The relevance of our argument above concerning the art of smuggling the earthly into heaven is the following: In my essay ‘How Elsa Showed Wagner the Way to Siegfried’ I also pointed out that the true identity and origin which Lohengrin keeps secret (in a sense even from himself) is that God and the spiritual actually originate in man’s imagination, under the sway of the egoistic desire for infinite pleasure and freedom from pain and fear, which in turn originates in nature, since man himself is the product of natural evolution. The fact that Lohengrin and other Grail knights, who have presumably cast aside the burden of earthly, carnal, mortal existence in favor of a spiritual existence, need to return to earth to seek redemption from the meaninglessness of an imaginary existence, is proof of their natural origin, and also of the natural origin of their ideal, their longing to transcend the physical world and their body. So, when Elsa offers to share with Lohengrin the burden of keeping this secret, but Lohengrin refuses her request, it is left for Wotan in Wagner’s first, revolutionary music-drama, "The Ring of the Nibelung," to share with Bruennhilde his confession of that secret which according to Wotan will remain forever unspoken. It will remain forever unspoken not only because he does not speak it in words, but also because Bruennhilde will keep it secret even from him.

It is in this sense that Elsa - i.e., her offer to share with Lohengrin the task of preserving him from the danger of exposing his secret - showed Wagner the way to Siegfried, and therefore also the way to his revolutionary transition from romantic German opera to music-drama. Thus Wagner said that:

“[P. 345] This [his creation of "Lohengrin"] led me, in the conduct of the scenes ... and dialogue ... , to a path which brought me later to the discovery of possibilities whose logical sequence was certainly to point me out an utter revolution in the adjustment of those factors which have hitherto made up our [P. 346] operatic mode of speech.” [#572W-{6-8/51} "A Communication To My Friends": PW Vol. I, p. 345-346]

[P. 347] Elsa, the Woman, ... made me a Revolutionary at one blow.” [#573W-{6-8/51} "A Communication To My Friends": PW Vol. I, p. 347]

Thanks to our theses that it is through Wotan’s confession to Bruennhilde (recalling that Bruennhilde calls herself Wotan’s “Will”) that the fear-struck Wotan, trapped in a web of historical entanglements, is reborn as the fearless and history-less Siegfried, and that through Wagner’s musical motifs (for which Bruennhilde is metaphor) past and future (reminiscence and foreboding) become present, we can now understand Wagner’s following startling remark to Cosima:

(3F) [WAGNER] “[P. 466] Siegfried lives entirely in the present, he is the hero, the finest gift of the will [i.e., the finest gift of Bruennhilde, who [Page 23] heard Wotan’s confession and will now keep his unspoken secret for Siegfried].” [#820W-{3/12/72} CD Vol. I, p. 466]

Now, in final confirmation that Wotan can live in the present in his new incarnation as Siegfried (or as Parsifal, if you will), through the agency of the unconscious mind and its language, music (i.e. through Bruennhilde’s protective love), note Wotan’s and Bruennhilde’s intimate exchange just prior to his confession:

“Wotan: If I let it be spoken aloud, shall I not loosen my will’s restraining hold? Bruennhilde: To Wotan’s will you speak when you tell me what you will: who am I if not your will? Wotan: what in words I reveal to no one, let it stay unspoken for ever: with myself I commune when I speak with you.”

Now compare this with what Wagner described as the “Wonder” of his musical motifs, which submerges the poet-dramatist’s aim (say, Wotan’s quest to obtain redemption from Alberich’s curse) within the dream realm of unconsciousness and the involuntary. Through the Wonder the secret can remain unconscious even for its author, the poet-dramatist himself:

“[P. 233] The poet can only hope to realize his Aim, from the instant when he hushes it and keeps it secret to himself: that is to say, when, in the language [P. 234] wherein alone it could be imparted as a naked intellectual-aim, he no longer speaks it out at all. (...) A Tone-speech [song] ... is therefore the organ of expression proper for the poet who would make himself intelligible by turning from the Understanding to the Feeling ... .” [#529W-{50-1/51} Opera and Drama: PW Vol. II, p. 233-234]

In the context, of course, Wagner is alluding to music when he says the poet can keep his aim secret by expressing it without words.

In the following extract, for instance, Wagner could well be speaking of the content of Wotan’s confession of his historical entanglements to Bruennhilde when he describes how melody frees the poet’s subject matter from the burden of history and its entanglements:

“[P. 256] ... he [the Poet] has ... freed his subject-matter, as much as he could, from a burdensome surrounding of historico-social and state-religious relations and conditionings. But the poet has never heretofore been able to bring this to such a point, that he could impart his subject unconditionally to the Feeling and nothing else, -- any more than he has brought his vehicle of expression to a like enhancement; for this enhancement to the highest pitch of emotional utterance could only have been reached precisely in an ascension of the verse into the melody ... .

[Page 24]

[P. 263] ... the Poetic Aim can only be realized through its complete transmission from the Understanding to the Feeling ... .” [#532W-{50-1/51} Opera and Drama: PW Vol. II, p. 256; p. 263]

And finally, Wagner’s highly suggestive remarks below inform us that his musical motifs (i.e., Bruennhilde, or Kundry) keep the profoundest secret of the poet’s (i.e. Wotan’s) aim, which Wagner himself shares with his audience:

“[P. 346] These Melodic Moments ... will be made by the orchestra into a kind of guides-to-Feeling (Gefuehlsweigweisern) through the whole labyrinthine (vielgewundenen) building of the drama. At their hand we become the constant fellow-knowers of the profoundest secret of the poet’s Aim, the immediate partners in its realisement.” [#547W-{50-1/51} "Opera and Drama": PW Vol. II, p. 346]

Ultimately Wagner himself comes to our support and says below, quite openly, that one can draw a parallel between Siegfried’s relationship with Wotan, and Parsifal’s relationship with Amfortas, again illustrating our thesis that the protagonists of Wagner’s prior operas and music-dramas are reborn in "Parsifal":

(3G) [WAGNER] “[P. 299] Over coffee he says to me that in fact Siegfried ought to have turned into Parsifal and redeemed Wotan, he should have come upon Wotan (instead of Amfortas) in the course of his wanderings ... .” [#964W-{4/29/79} CD Vol. II, p. 299]


I mentioned earlier Wagner’s borrowing of the Buddhist concept of reincarnation for his music-drama "Parsifal," and noted that it is implicit that Parsifal has been reborn many times. Gurnemanz quite explicitly describes Kundry as a reincarnate spirit who is effectively working through her karma, her guilt for some past sin, in her present life: “... under a curse she may be. Today she lives here, perhaps anew, to atone for guilt in her earlier life, still unforgiven.” Following is Wagner’s remarkable description of Kundry’s idiosyncratic brand of reincarnation, alternating rebirths of two personas:

(4A) [WAGNER] “Kundry is living a never-ending life of constantly alternating re-births as the result of an ancient curse which ... condemns her, in new shapes, to bring to men the suffering of seduction; redemption, death, complete extinction is vouchsafed her only if her most powerful blandishments are withstood by the most chaste and virile of [Page 25] men. (...) From one state to the next, she carries no real consciousness of what has passed: to her it is like a dream experienced in very deep sleep which, on waking, one has no recollection of ... .” [#715W-{8/30/65} BB, p. 54-55]

The constantly alternating personas are (1) her role as seductress of Grail Knights while in Klingsor’s service, and (2) her role as penitent pariah providing unquestioning service to the Grail knights as the messenger of the Grail and inspirer of the knights in battle (shades of the Valkyrie Bruennhilde! In fact, one can hear echoes of Bruennhilde’s Valkyrie music in the orchestra when Gurnemanz describes how Kundry rides her horse).

This passage contains two rather striking points: (1) if Kundry is, in effect, Bruennhilde and Isolde reborn, and we can accept my thesis that both Bruennhilde and Isolde (and self-evidently Eva from The Mastersingers of Nuremberg, who is Walther’s muse of inspiration for his Mastersong) are the artist-heroes’ muses, then Wagner is saying here that Kundry’s curse, the suffering of seduction, is identical with her role as muse of inspiration for the artist-hero’s art, which is produced through their figurative act of sexual union. In other words, Kundry can only escape from the curse of eternal rebirth, i.e., eternal inspiration of the artist’s art through figurative sexual union, if the artist-hero rejects her love. What this means is that the artist-hero must waken from what has now become the nightmare of his formerly unconscious artistic inspiration by his muse, prior to embracing her in complete union, so he can gain enlightenment and renounce her love (and the illusory redemption it offers). On this view Wagner is, effectively, suggesting that his inspired artistic creativity is a burden, a curse, a private hell, which Wagner himself wishes to escape.

(2) This passage suggests that this act of unconscious artistic inspiration of the artist, experienced as a dream in deep sleep, which is not remembered upon waking, is Kundry’s alternate life, or incarnation, the sin for which Kundry seeks atonement in her present life, as a penitent and servant of the holy Grail. Klingsor himself reminds Kundry of this: “Kundry: Yearning ... yearning ...! Klingsor: Haha! For those saintly knights? Kundry: There ... there ... I served. Klingsor: Yes – to repair the harm you maliciously brought on them?”

Wagner’s following remarks strongly suggest that he did indeed link Kundry with his theory of unconscious artistic inspiration:

(4B) [WAGNER] “[P. 111] ... the prodigious force here [in artistic inspiration] framing appearances from within outwards, against the ordinary laws of Nature [i.e. subjectively, rather than objectively], must be engendered by the deepest Want (Noth). And that Want presumably would be the same as finds vent ... in the scream of the suddenly awakened from an obsessing vision of profoundest sleep [* Translator’s Footnote: “Cf. Kundry’s awakening in Parsifal, acts ii. and iii.] ... . (...) [P. 112] “ ... the important issue for the Art-genius of mankind, is that this special stress called forth an artistic deed whereby that genius gained a novel power, the qualification for begetting the highest Artwork.” [#786W-{9-12/70} Beethoven: PW Vol. V, p. 111-112]

[Page 26]

It is a bizarre characteristic of Kundry that upon waking from her unconscious service to Klingsor as muse-seductress, and returning to the Grail realm to offer her service in atonement, she unleashes a primal scream. And most importantly, she forgets the time spent in Klingsor’s service. Interestingly, Tannhaeuser likewise forgets his loving embrace of Venus in the Venusberg each time he wakes within the environs of the Wartburg, armed now with new inspiration to compose songs for the court. Though his true source of inspiration is what the Minnesingers, Courtiers, and Ladies of the Wartburg would describe as hellish, they, and he, are glad to attribute his inspiration to a divine, heavenly source. This remains true until the song contest in Act Two, when Tannhaeuser, as if under a spell, unwittingly reveals the true source of his artistic inspiration for the first time, his loving sojourn with Venus in the Venusberg, both to himself and to his audience. It is therefore noteworthy that Wagner himself acknowledged the kinship of Klingsor’s Magic Garden with the Venusburg on more than one occasion.

I have explained in my paper “The ‘Ring’ as a Whole” (a brief version of which can be found under ‘articles’ on the Boston Wagner Society website) that, since both Siegfried and Tristan are metaphors for Wagner the music-dramatist, and Bruennhilde and Isolde metaphors for the artist-hero’s muse of unconscious artistic inspiration, when Siegfried and Tristan, under a spell, give their true muse of inspiration away to another man (Gunther and King Marke, respectively), this is Wagner’s allegorical representation of his own suspicion that in his mature music-dramas he was unwittingly revealing the secret of his own unconscious artistic inspiration, i.e., the profoundest secret of his poetic intent, to both himself and his audience. Clearly this is also what happens when Tannhaeuser reveals the heretofore unconscious source of his inspiration to the Wartburg Court. This is also effectively what Klingsor does in luring the Grail Knights, and ultimately their King Amfortas, into the arms of his Flowermaidens and Kundry, muses all, except that, unlike Siegfried and Tristan, and even Tannhaeuser, Klingsor is fully conscious of the tragic implications of his actions. The hidden agenda behind this plot archetype is, ultimately, that the Grail, i.e., man’s longing to transcend the real world in a supernatural realm, in actuality has an earthly, physical, and mortal origin. This is what is at stake, and it is the cause of that horror which ensues when this secret is exposed to the light of day.

It seems then that Kundry, like Bruennhilde (and presumably Isolde, and most certainly Eva), is Wagner’s metaphor for the muse, or potential muse, for Parsifal’s unconscious artistic inspiration. Kundry not only selflessly serves the Grail knights as the Grail’s messenger and inspirer of Grail knights in battle, but she is also the most dependable in procuring balsam to salve Amfortas's unhealing wound (a wound she caused in the first place). This is also, by the way, what lies behind Sachs’s cobbling song in "The Mastersingers of Nuremberg" Act Two: in essence he is confessing secretly to Eva (since Walther doesn’t grasp the meaning of his song) that, since she, as Eve in Paradise, is guilty of the original sin of eating the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge and sharing it with Adam, that sin which expelled mankind from paradise, Eva must compensate for [Page 27] this sin by inspiring the music-dramatist Walther to produce his redemptive Mastersong, in which paradise (Eve proffering the fruit of the Tree of Life) seems to be regained. This Mastersong is the shoe with a perfect fit, through which man, now expelled from paradise, can walk upon the gravel of mortal life, yet not feel it. But the balsam Kundry provides is, however, now always ineffective.

In effect, then, Kundry’s alternating identities are (1) the seductress-muse who unconsciously inspires the artist’s art, now considered sinful, and which no longer provides a healing salve, and (2) the penitent who atones for this sin, by serving the Grail knights as their messenger, source of inspiration, and provider of ever less effective salves. Evidently her two formerly distinct identities, sleeping and waking, respectively, are becoming ever more indistinguishable. It appears she is no longer able to keep the poet-dramatist’s unspoken secret. The veil of Maya no longer serves to preserve the artist from paralyzing self-knowledge. The unconscious is becoming conscious. Or, as Alberich put it, his Hoard (of forbidden knowledge) is rising from silent depths to the daylight.

In light of Kundry’s status as the messenger who delivers the Grail’s inspiration to the Grail Knights, it is extraordinarily interesting to recall here that Wagner described his musical motifs of reminiscence and foreboding as the “messengers” of the poet’s hidden aim or intent:

“[P. 324] This faculty [“of uttering the unspeakable”] the ear acquires through the language of the Orchestra, which is able to attach itself just as intimately to the verse-melody as earlier to the gesture, and thus to develop into a messenger of the very Thought itself, transmitting it to Feeling ... .” [#540W-{50-1/51} Opera and Drama: PW Vol. II, p. 324]

It would appear that his motifs do indeed hold the key to unlock the secret of Wagner’s unconscious poetic intent, the programme behind his veil of Maya, the completed work of art.

Feuerbach again provides an extraordinarily helpful clue: it would appear that Wagner assimilated Feuerbach’s praise of Eve – who provided mankind with the fatal knowledge (i.e., consciousness) which drove man out of paradise – to his characterization of his heroines. This is not the place to introduce evidence which will carry us too far afield from our primary argument, but it is worth mentioning that I have considerable reason to believe that all of Wagner’s heroines from at least Venus (in "Tannhaeuser") onward through Elsa (in "Lohengrin") and the four heroines of the mature music-dramas (namely Bruennhilde, Isolde, Eva, and Kundry) are modeled on the Biblical Eve who brought about the Fall through knowledge. Of course, Eva in "The Mastersingers of Nuremberg" is obviously modeled on Eve. I also propose that Wagner construed Eve somewhat according to Feuerbach’s reading, as described below:

(4C) [FEUERBACH] “In the beginning faith was alone and in a condition of innocence ... . Adam developed a strong yearning for a
[Page 28] female companion. God pitied his plight, took a rib out of the body of faith, and created for him Eve, that is, reason. (...) But alas, Eve! She seduced upright faith into plucking the fruit from the tree of knowledge, and an angry god drove the pathetic pair out of paradise, the land of simple innocence.” [#35F-TDI: p. 246-247]

(4D) [FEUERBACH] “We should celebrate gratefully the day when Eve misled Adam, for she did it out of her love for us.” [#37F-TDI: p. 250]

Feuerbach construes Eve as a symbol for freedom of intellectual inquiry, and specifically for natural science, through which man can replace the illusion that man can participate in a transcendent, supernatural realm of being in which he can find redemption from the anguish of life, with acknowledgment of his true identity as an animal, and restore nature’s status as his true mother. The Biblical Eve stands for what we might call the first, or traditional, Fall, or exile from paradise. The Feuerbachian Eve in contrast represents a sort of second Fall, in which man himself renounces the innocence of a consoling religious faith in the hereafter, with an acceptance of mortal life here on earth. Metaphorically speaking, historical man gradually accumulates a hoard of knowledge of nature and of his true place in nature, which inevitably leads to the death of belief in supernatural gods, a sort of twilight of the gods.

In the following passage Wagner himself describes Kundry as a figure for Eve:

(4E) [WAGNER] “[P. 664] ‘What is the significance of Kundry’s kiss?’ – That ... is a terrible secret! (...) Adam and Eve became ‘knowing’. They became ‘conscious of sin’. The human race had to atone for that consciousness by suffering shame and misery until redeemed by Christ who took upon himself the sin of mankind. (...) Adam – Eve: Christ. – How would it be if we were now to add to them: -- ‘Anfortas – Kundry: Parzival?’ But with considerable caution!” [#718W-{9/7/65} Letter to King Ludwig II of Bavaria: SLRW, p. 664]

To grasp Wagner’s allegorical logic in modeling his heroines on Eve, consider the following: we noted previously Wagner’s assertion that Feuerbach showed him how the only true immortality is found in heroic deeds and inspired works of art. In other words, secular art falls heir to religious faith’s feeling, when faith as a set of conceptual beliefs, or assertions of fact, can no longer be sustained in the face of modern, secular, scientific thought. Note also that Feuerbach in the passage above describes the Eve who gave Adam the fatal knowledge which drove man out of paradise (i.e., out of the ignorance and innocence of unquestioning religious faith in the supernatural) as reason, i.e., as the basis for scientific, secular thought, which brings religious faith to an end. It is this passing away of religious faith which, according to my reading of Wagner’s allegorical logic, is the muse of inspiration for the development of secular art, and particularly Wagner’s music-drama, as a substitute for lost religious faith. It is in this indirect sense that the [Page 29] Biblical Eve, via Feuerbach’s reinterpretation, can be understood as a metaphor for the loss of faith in transcendent being, and therefore as the muse for man’s longing to restore the innocence that has been lost, which produces inspired art. This is virtually Wagner’s definition of music.


There are a number of instances where Wagner, though indirectly influenced by Feuerbach, added something unique and original to his music-dramas which Feuerbach never explored. We noted earlier Feuerbach’s observation that religious feeling can live on when religion as a set of beliefs, articles of faith, and assertions of fact, must fail in the face of contradictory facts or logic brought to light by scientific inquiry, and that he identified this feeling in which God finds refuge, with music. But, in contradistinction to this viewpoint, Feuerbach celebrated modern secular art, divorced from religion, as the complement to natural science, because such art disclaims any appeal to the supernatural, and embraces the real world. Of course Wagner, echoing Feuerbach, suggested that art could live on in the face of science because, unlike religious faith, secular art stakes no claim to represent truth, and therefore makes no claims to factuality which could be contradicted by science.

What Wagner brought to Feuerbach’s musings on art in the modern world was a compromise with Feuerbach’s two distinct conceptions, which evidently contradict one another. That is to say, on the one hand Feuerbach suggests that modern secular art is a natural complement to science because it doesn’t posit the supernatural, while on the other hand man’s religious longings for mystery and for the transcendent can live on in the art of music, pure feeling. Siegfried, as the friendly foe for whose redemption Wotan longs, exemplifies this contradiction. Wagner likewise felt that religious man’s longing for transcendence is satisfied by secular art, particularly the art of music, in which a feeling of infinitude very like religious man’s longing for transcendence does indeed live on unencumbered by claims to truth which might involve the artist and his audience in contradictions. But Wagner felt that this art, at its inspired best, as in Wagner’s own music-dramas, was nonetheless antithetical to the scientific world-view, and would eventually come into conflict with it because Wagner wished to reserve for inspired art, and for the geniuses who produce it, an element of mystery which he felt is irreducible to logic. In other words, like Schopenhauer, Wagner was smuggling a religious sensibility into his ostensible atheism.

In this sense, then, we can legitimately draw the conclusion that Wagner’s understanding of his own art was that it perpetuates religion’s sin against the truth, through feeling rather than through staking a claim to factual knowledge. On more than one occasion Wagner actually conflated deep feeling with truth, though he was careful to distinguish factuality in the scientific sense from this truthfulness of deep feeling. In the "Ring" this conflict seems to end with the victory of science and the death of both religion [Page 30] (the gods of Valhalla) and art (whose metaphor is the loving union of Siegfried the artist-hero and his muse Bruennhilde), since all go down to destruction. Of course, Hagen, Alberich’s instrument of annihilation, and presumably Wagner’s metaphor for the secular, scientific worldview which according to Wagner is inimical to both religious faith and art, goes down to destruction also, for Wagner felt it bore the seeds of its own destruction.

On this view the music-drama was nothing more than covert religion, just as the Valhallan gods’ only hope of redemption from Alberich’s threat was Siegfried the artist-hero, who fails in the end just like his prior incarnation Wotan. Because, in Wagner’s view, his art would inevitably succumb to the same fate religious belief does (just as Bruennhilde tells Wotan that Siegfried succumbed to the same curse to which Wotan succumbed), Wagner, I believe, in his final years sought redemption even from his own art.

There is considerable evidence that Wagner construed Klingsor’s Magic Garden as a metaphor for his own art, and for its ultimate failure to redeem man from the bleak outlook of a purely objective, scientific worldview, in which there is no room for divinity or transcendent love. Our initial clue is the fact that Kundry’s narrative of Parsifal’s early childhood, which takes up a large portion of Act Two (entirely set in Klingsor’s magic garden), describes how Parsifal neglected his mother (a metaphor for Mother Nature), and brought about her death through a broken heart. This corresponds perfectly with Feuerbach’s notion that in positing the existence of a supernatural creator god, religious man had to deny his true origins in nature. Metaphorically speaking, religious man denies his true mother, Nature, and this was not only a sin against Mother Nature, but was actually symbolic matricide.

I believe this may be what is behind the otherwise inexplicable fact that not only Parsifal, but two of Wagner’s other mature music-drama heroes, Siegfried and Tristan, are in a sense responsible for their mother’s death. While Parsifal brought about his mother’s death through neglect (and specifically through seeking the Grail Realm, the supernatural realm which is an affront to Mother Nature), both Siegfried and Tristan are described as having been born through their mother’s death. Siegfried himself expresses what can best be described as remorse for this. After Mime describes how Siegfried’s mother Sieglinde died giving him birth, Siegfried asks himself “So my mother died through me?” And later, musing alone, he exclaims: “when, in her dismay, she gave me birth, why did she have to die then? Do all mortal mothers perish because of their sons? Sad that would be, in truth!” When Siegfried longs to see his mother, we hear forest murmurs reminding us of his metaphysical mother, nature, as well as a motif identified earlier with both his mother Sieglinde, and the sufferings of both his parents. The fact that Sieglinde, Siegfried’s literal mother, died giving Siegfried birth, is itself a metaphor for his relationship to his metaphysical mother, Nature.

A likely mythological source for Wagner’s notion that the artist-hero is a matricide is Orestes’ murder of his mother Clytemnestra, and Bruennhilde’s intervention in Siegmund’s and Siegfried’s behalf is probably modeled, to some extent, on Athena’s
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