Critique of Kitcher & Schacht: "Finding an Ending"

General Discussion about Wagner and The Ring of the Nibelung

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Critique of Kitcher & Schacht: "Finding an Ending"

Postby alberich00 » Sat Jul 23, 2016 2:21 pm

Dear members of, and visitors to, the discussion forum:

I am now engaged in a debate with Dr. Roger Scruton, Dr. Philip Kitcher (John Dewey Prof. of Philosophy, Columbia Univ.), and Dr. Richard Schacht (emeritus Prof. of Philosophy, Illinois Univ.), about proper strategies for interpreting Wagner's "Ring" and his artistic legacy in general. I have posted a very detailed critical review of Kitcher's and Schacht's "Finding an Ending," their interpretation of the "Ring" published by Oxford University Press in 2004, in 20 numbered parts, in this discussion forum. The following 15 page letter can be regarded as a prelude or introduction to that much more extensive and detailed critique. I have also posted in the discussion forum a general response to Dr. Scruton's newly published book, "The Ring of Truth: The Wisdom of Wagner's 'Ring of the Nibelung'," in which I take issue with his critique of my own online book, posted here as "The Wound That Will Never Heal." at some point I will post here a more highly detailed, extensive discussion of his book in multiple parts. I look forward to this debate. All are welcome to join in. The abbreviation of my name, PH, will appear before passages I've authored, and K&S will designate passages from Dr. Kitcher's and Dr. Schacht's "Finding an Ending."

Dear Dr. Philip Kitcher and Dr. Richard Schacht:

PH: I have already emailed to you a pfd attachment of my 280 page, highly detailed critical response to your book on Wagner’s “Ring,” “Finding an Ending,” in which I take issue with dozens of propositions you make in your interpretation of Wagner’s “Ring,” and attempt to demonstrate how, in each instance, my interpretation can make better sense of the matter at hand. I have now posted this critique in 19 separate parts in my discussion forum at http://www.wagnerheim.com.

PH: My primary difference with you is over your depreciation of the dramatic and philosophic importance of Siegfried, a character whose extraordinary dramatic and philosophic significance I never lose sight of in my online interpretation of the “Ring” posted at http://www.wagnerheim.com, and in fact establish there.

PH: Here are three key extracts from your book in which you make the claim that Wagner outgrew Siegfried and that the “Ring” drama primarily rests on Wotan and Bruennhilde, starting with a passage from page 190 of your book:

K&S: “The Siegfried we see on the stage is, in a sense, a fossil, remaining from an earlier version of Wagner’s project in a final version to which he and his life and death are no longer central.

(…)

K&S: Siegfried … pales … because he is so clearly a far less interesting human possibility than others whom Wagner brings before us. To view him as the centerpiece of the drama in its final form is to distort it … .

(…)

K&S: Partly for such reasons, we have given dramatic precedence to the earlier parts of the tetralogy, spending considerable time on "Rheingold" and "Walkuere." (…) We recognize that our approach might seem to give insufficient attention and weight to what transpires in much of its last two parts. But here too, we have had our reasons.”

PH: Siegfried is entirely on a par with Wotan and Bruennhilde in my interpretation: in fact, thanks to Wotan making Bruennhilde (allegorically, Wotan’s unconscious mind) the repository of Wotan’s secret confession of all that he loathes about himself, Wotan can be reborn, purged of all that he loathes about himself, as the purified and innocent hero Siegfried, who is fearless and can act (where Wotan is paralysed) because Siegfried doesn’t know who he is, since Bruennhilde knows this for him. This means that Siegfried is just as rich a character as Wotan and Bruennhilde, because he is Wotan reborn minus consciousness of who he is, and Bruennhilde is Siegfried’s unconscious mind (and his source of redemptive music), which (who) only becomes conscious and fully wakes once Siegfried betrays his muse of unconscious artistic inspiration in “Twilight of the Gods.”

PH: Wotan has virtually dipped man’s tragic history (Wotan’s history is our world-history) in redemptive music by confessing this history, which, as Wotan says, will remain forever unspoken (because it is now music, musical motifs), to his daughter, his “Will” Bruennhilde. It is for this reason that Bruennhilde tells Siegfried in S.3.3 that what Wotan thought, she felt, and then describes what Wotan thought, and she felt, as her love for Siegfried, accompanied by motif #134, the so-called world’s-inheritance motif, which accompanied Wotan in S.3.1 as he exultantly told Erda that he leaves the world to Siegfried who is free from Alberich’s curse, and that Bruennhilde, waking for Siegfried, will perform that deed which will redeem the world (Wagner here is speaking of Bruennhilde’s inspiration of Siegfried’s redemptive art, not the restoration of the Ring to the Rhinedaughters).

PH: Wagner once stated that his musical motifs were like the Buddhist concept of reincarnation, in which, according to Wagner, the Buddha knows all peoples’ past lives, whereas they have forgotten them, because Wagner’s musical motifs can make present, to the audience, what the characters on the stage don’t know about their own past lives, or just their past life. Wotan tells Erda in S.3.1 that her knowledge (i.e., the fateful, fearful knowledge Wotan learned from her, which he then imparted to Bruennhilde during his confession, and which she in turn imparts to Siegfried in S.3.3) wanes before his will. Bruennhilde called herself Wotan's "will" in V.2.2, so Wotan is speaking here to Erda of Bruennhilde: Erda’s fearful, fateful knowledge waned before Bruennhilde when Wotan confessed it to her. It is for this reason, that Wotan repressed unbearable knowledge of who he is and of his corrupt history in his unconscious mind Bruennhilde by confessing it to her, the womb of his wishes, that Siegfried doesn’t feel fear (of the tragic end Erda foresaw) and doesn’t know who he is. This is because, thanks to Bruennhilde, Wotan is reborn in Siegfried minus consciousness of his true identity and guilt-ridden history. This fact links Siegfried with Wagner’s entire oeuvre from “Dutchman” through “Parsifal.” Parsifal doesn’t know who he is, but Kundry, his potential lover, does. Isolde keeps the secret of Tristan’s true identity. Eva imparts the secrets in Sachs’s confession to her in Act II, to Walther subliminally. Elsa offers to help Lohengrin keep the secret of his identity. Venus keeps the secret of Tannhaeuser’s unconscious artistic inspiration by her, his muse, until Tannhaeuser involuntarily reveals the truth in the song contest at the Wartburg castle.

PH: Your inability to truly make sense of Siegfried and to integrate Siegfried into your interpretation has led you not only to dismiss a character whom Wagner was actually in the process of constructing in his creation of earlier heroes in the "The Flying Dutchman," "Tannhaeuser," and "Lohengrin," and who has direct parallels in Tristan (Wagner said in “Epilogue to ‘The Nibelung’s Ring’ “ that the plots of “Tristan” and “Twilight of the Gods” are virtually identical), Walther (the unconsciously inspired artist-hero), and Parsifal (the pure fool who, like Siegfried, doesn’t know who he is), as I have demonstrated in considerable detail in my online book “The Wound that Will Never Heal,” published online at http://www.wagnerheim.com. This has also led you to dismiss a large proportion of the dramatic and philosophic content of the last two parts of the four-part “Ring of the Nibelung” as being not on a par with the first two parts. It would be strange indeed if Wagner, having, as you suggest, outgrown Siegfried, replicated the basic plot of “Siegfried’s Death” (which was Wagner’s initial impetus in writing and composing what became the four-part “Ring”) in “Tristan and Isolde,” and then chose also to replicate the hero who doesn’t know who he is in Parsifal in his last music-drama! Since I interpret Siegfried as the artist-hero who falls heir to mankind’s religious impulse, religious feeling (Bruennhilde), when religion itself (Wotan and the Valhallan gods) is in eclipse, this links him also to the artist-heroes Tannhaeuser and Walther.

PH: In my book on Wagner's "Ring" posted at http://www.wagnerheim.com, I have shown how the heroine, the hero’s lover or (as in Parsifal’s case) potential lover, is Wagner’s metaphor for the artist-hero’s unconscious source of inspiration and thus his muse, who knows for the hero what he doesn’t know (as Bruennhilde says of herself to Siegfried in S.3.3). We find this echoed in Tannhaeuser’s muse Venus’s holding the secret of Tannhaeuser’s unconscious artistic inspiration, which he (like Siegfried in his Woodbird narrative in T.3.2) involuntarily exposes to the public, his audience. We find it in Elsa’s offer to share the secret of Lohengrin’s identity in order to protect Lohengrin from the “Noth” he would suffer if his secret became public (i.e., conscious), a concept which Wagner elaborated in Bruennhilde’s offer to hear Wotan’s confession, Wagner’s metaphor for repression of terrible thoughts into Wotan’s unconscious mind, through which Wotan can figuratively be reborn as Siegfried, the hero who does not know who he is, since Bruennhilde holds this knowledge for him. We see it in Sachs’s confession of the secret of unconscious artistic inspiration to the artist-hero Walther’s muse Eva, who then imparts this secret knowledge to Walther in a dream, thus giving birth to Walther’s redemptive mastersong (Sach’s confession to Eva is modeled on Wotan’s confession to Bruennhilde, which Bruennhilde similarly imparts to the artist-hero Siegfried, subliminally).

PH: A second key point of contention is your total omission of musical and motival considerations which, had you taken the trouble to reference them, would have radically altered your interpretation of several events in the “Ring.” I offer the following example in some detail to illustrate my point. It illustrates the danger (to you) of offering interpretations of the motives and feelings of characters in the “Ring” without taking into consideration the specific motival references Wagner is making. I have copied and pasted relevant portions of my more detailed 280 page critique here to illustrate what is wrong with your analysis of what is at stake in Siegfried’s fear of waking Bruennhilde, and Bruennhilde’s fear of consummating a sexual union with Siegfried:

P. 158-159: PH: Considering its motival context, K&S seem in the following passage to make light of Bruennhilde’s fear of consummating sexual union with Siegfried, as if it represents merely the confusion of a woman whose past experience of love was maternal, sisterly, and empathic (for Siegmund and Sieglinde, and their unborn child Siegfried), but who now faces her erotic nature for the first time:

K&S: “Sexuality floods her [Bruennhilde] with a kind of desire that is new to her; and it mingles with her still-vivid recollections of her previous, virginal, loves. This has an impact for which she is completely unprepared, the meaning of which for her new encounter is beyond her powers of comprehension. In the beginning, she only knows that she is profoundly moved and shaken. The uncertainties of her judgment are indicated by the shifting mood throughout the scene: first elation, then fear and confusion, and finally joyful acceptance as she comes to view herself as having been saved for this new and wonderful event … .”

PH: Though I read K&S’s book 12 years ago just after it was published, and hand printed commentary into the margins, I haven’t reread it since then (until now: I am rereading it as I comment on it, passage by passage) and certainly forgot much of it, but reading it again now my instincts tell me that K&S are nowhere going to take note of the crucial fact that the culminating moment of Bruennhilde’s fear of the potential consequences of consummating a union with Siegfried (and with all due consideration for Bruennhilde’s natural fear, as a formerly chaste, virginal, divine Valkyrie, of having sexual union with a mortal hero) is accompanied by that same combination of motifs which we heard during Wotan’s explosion of despair just prior to making his confession to Bruennhilde in "Valkyrie" Act Two Scene Two, namely, #51 (Alberich’s Curse), #82 (A Motif sometimes known as Wotan’s Revolt, a sort of inversion of his Spear Motif #21), #79 (The Motif, derived from #58b, - heard as Wotan sings that Valhalla will be a refuge ‘safe from dread and dismay’ in R.4) first heard in V.2.1 as Wotan describes Fricka as bringing the same old storm and strife, and which represents her critique of Wotan’s support of the Waelsungs, and #84, one of two motifs which represent Wotan’s anger at Bruennhilde for rebelling against him, but first heard when Wotan confessed to Bruennhilde that he couldn’t create a free hero but only serfs, in V.2.2.

PH: The reason this key motif combination appears here is that Bruennhilde is having a premonition of disaster to come, and the cause of that disaster will be that during Siegfried’s sexual union with her she will impart the very knowledge to Siegfried which Erda imparted to Wotan, and which Wotan confessed to Bruennhilde, Wotan’s unspoken secret, and therefore Bruennhilde fears that in making Siegfried the unwitting, unconscious trustee of this subliminal knowledge, Siegfried might betray it to the light of day. This in fact he does in "Twilight of the Gods" by unwittingly giving his true love and muse of unconscious artistic inspiration Bruennhilde away to another man (Gunther, Wagner’s metaphor for his own audience for his art), and by forcing Alberich’s Ring out of her protective hands so that its curse may operate again, and finally, by singing the song of his heroic life in T.3.2 in which he exposes to his audience the full meaning of the Woodbird’s song (Wagnerian music) and the secret of Siegfried’s relationship with Bruennhilde. In other words, Siegfried will have exposed to the light of day Wotan’s formerly unspoken secret, and also the means whereby Siegfried and Bruennhilde had formerly kept that secret safe. Thus Siegfried will fulfill Alberich’s threat that Wotan’s own heroes would serve him someday, that Alberich would force himself on their women, and that his hoard (now the Ring) will rise from the silent night to the light of day and destroy the gods. K&S show no sign in their entire book of having registered this crucial motival reference during Bruennhilde’s description of her fear of consummating a romantic union with Siegfried, and their omission, among many others of like import, is fatal to their enterprise.

P. 159-160: PH: In their following remarks K&S dig a deeper hole for themselves by dismissing as ill-conceived Wagner’s dramatization of Siegfried’s own fear of waking Bruennhilde and consummating a loving union with her, which actually stems from the same cause which I described above:

K&S: “But for all the musical richness and brilliance with which the scene ["Siegfried" Act Three Scene Three] begins and continues, Wagner faced at this point a formidable dramatic problem. Naivete is part of Siegfried’s nature; and this entails an ignorance that must somehow be dealt with. Wagner’s solution was to have him express it in lines that at least appear to be among the worst pieces of libretto he ever wrote, from blurting ‘Das ist kein Mann! [Better left untranslated!]’ [PH: “That is no man!”] to crying out to his mother’s memory for help. Such lines are at odds with the exceptional tenderness and emotional depth of the orchestration and would seem to represent a tremendous lapse on Wagner’s part at a crucial moment. But upon reflection, we suspect that this scripting is quite deliberate and has a point. For as we see him, Siegfried is meant to be a hero whom it will be difficult to respect, however admirable and appealing he may be in some ways, and to some eyes.

K&S: The ludicrous character of this moment infects the scene that follows. For all its psychological fascination, it has to fail as a depiction of true - and therefore necessarily mutual - love. We simply cannot believe in that between Bruennhilde and Siegfried as we can believe in that between Siegmund and Sieglinde, or that between Tristan and Isolde. (In some ways, the psychological atmosphere induced is closer to that of the Parsifal-Kundry encounter in Act II of Parsifal.)”

PH: It hasn’t yet (and I feel sure it will never have) dawned on K&S that Wagner has not set out here, in the first place, to depict a typical, mutual, romantic love. Wagner is presenting an allegorical love which represents Wagner’s poetic conception of his own unconscious artistic inspiration, understood in the light of an astonishingly sophisticated allegory which places Wagner’s art in the widest imaginable historical context (i.e., the entire history of the human species). I have already explained in detail why Siegfried is ignorant of his own true identity and history, and how Bruennhilde holds this knowledge for him in order to protect him from Wotan’s paralyzing fear, but also so that Siegfried can instinctively, naively, seemingly spontaneously act on Wotan’s subliminal influence, which Wotan thought, but Bruennhilde and Siegfried only feel. Yes, Siegfried is astonished to see his first woman, and to feel for the first time erotic impulse rather than just a wish for a sympathetic companion, but Siegfried’s fear of waking and winning Bruennhilde is accompanied by a motival variant, #137, of Wotan’s Motif #81, the motif sometimes called Wotan’s Frustration, which was first heard as Fricka, in V.2.1, made Wotan more and more aware that Siegmund was not the free hero Wotan had wished for, but merely the product of Wotan’s own wishes and needs (wishes and needs which he tried to explain to her but that she, as religious faith’s conscience, if you will, could not even afford to admit could concern the gods, because to do so would be to admit that faith in their rule could be subject to doubt). Siegfried is also having a premonition of the danger to come from falling heir to Wotan’s hoard of forbidden knowledge, because Wotan made Bruennhilde its repository and in winning her Siegfried will be taking possession of the knowledge which Wotan found so unbearable that he couldn’t bear even to speak it aloud, i.e., to become conscious of it, which is why he repressed it into his unconscious mind, Bruennhilde, in his confession to her.

PH: Siegfried calls upon his mother for aid, and in so doing not only invokes the mother who died giving him birth, Sieglinde, but figuratively the mother of us all, Erda, Mother Nature, whom Wotan figuratively killed in positing godhead, i.e, renouncing the real world, which belongs to Alberich, in favor of belief in transcendent spirit, thus committing figuratively the crime of matricide, which Alberich describes as Wotan’s crime against all that was, is, and will be (Erda’s, Mother Nature’s, knowledge, is of all that was, is, and will be). Bruennhilde, the womb of Wotan’s wishes, who figuratively gave birth to Siegfried (and therefore knew Sieglinde was pregnant when Sieglinde did not, and gave Siegfried his name without even seeking Sieglinde’s input on naming her own child), Siegfried will confuse with his mother after he wakes her.

PH: K&S suggest this love-duet is a bit like that of Parsifal with Kundry, but they don’t really say why. However, given the scope of my interpretation, which embraces all of Wagner’s canonical operas and music-dramas, I can. Parsifal (like Siegfried) doesn’t know who he is, but Kundry (like Bruennhilde) knows for Parsifal what he doesn’t know, his name and identity. She also knows that Parsifal killed his mother through neglect, and it can’t be an accident that Siegfried meditates on the fact that his mother died giving him birth. Both Parsifal and Siegfried confuse their lover (or potential lover) with their mother for whose death they feel responsible. It can’t be an accident that Tristan’s mother died giving him birth also. All of these unique characteristics are emblematic of the fact that the Wagnerian artist-hero unwittingly falls heir to Wotan’s original sin of religious belief, the sin of world-denial, of all that was, is, and will be, the positing of transcendent being (in art’s case its sublimation into artistic expression of man’s longing for transcendent value), which denied Mother Nature, and therefore figuratively murders her, as Feuerbach put it. Wagner got this notion from a synthesis of Orestes’ matricide with Feuerbach’s notion that religious man, in denying the world, figuratively kills our mother, nature.

P. 160: PH: Here is K&S’s attempt to justify their critique:

K&S: “The difficulty stems from the inequality of the participants. It is not simply that Bruennhilde is Siegfried’s aunt … . She is a figure whose emotional depth has already been sounded - and the echoes of Wotan’s farewell to her periodically remind us of the kinds of love she has known and expressed. Siegfried, by contrast, is at best a naive and insensitive youth, with an astounding (if readily understandable) ignorance of women. (It is an ignorance, moreover, that is not much alleviated subsequently.). The scene is best heard not as a duet but as a pair of monologues, which interrupt one another before culminating in a rather contrived union. In the course of these monologues both characters undergo important transformations. Siegfried’s strikes us as incredible … ; but Bruennhilde’s is a different matter and is of great importance.”

PH: K&S don’t grasp that the main basis for this difference between Siegfried and Bruennhilde is that, as she will tell Siegfried a bit later, she is his self if he loves her in her bliss, and what he doesn’t know she knows for him, for Siegfried had admitted to Fafner that “I still don’t know who I am.” This is crucial not only to understanding the "Ring" but all of Wagner’s canonic operas and music-dramas. The reason Siegfried doesn’t know who he is is that Wotan repressed knowledge of all that he loathed about his own identity and character and history and his fear of his fated end into his unconscious mind Bruennhilde through his confession to her, and thus gave birth to his own reincarnation as the hero who is heroic and fearless precisely because he doesn’t know who he is. Siegfried’s naiveté is a product of Bruennhilde’s holding for him this knowledge. Mime, Siegfried’s polar opposite (the prose to Siegfried’s poetry), was Wagner’s metaphor for all that Wotan loathed in his own nature (which is why Siegfried, Wotan reborn, loathes Mime), and which he repressed into Bruennhilde. But it is Wotan’s fear of the end which ultimately motivates Siegfried’s and Bruennhilde’s love, and, as I have proven above, we hear this in the highly resonant motival music Wagner chose to embody Siegfried’s and Bruennhilde’s fear of the consequences which may follow from their loving union. We begin to see here the fatal price that K&S pay for not grasping the importance of Siegfried in Wagner’s allegory, because of their insistence on seeing the Ring's characters as if they are merely realistic dramatic personae, a price which compels them to confess they can’t really grasp the significance of the entire last two parts of the four part "Ring."

P. 160-161: PH: Continuing to attempt to explain Bruennhilde’s love for Siegfried while lacking most of the information they would need in order to do this question justice, K&S say:

K&S: “She [Bruennhilde] takes him [Siegfried] to be supremely noble and therefore to be loved and cherished - as are all noble things, but beyond all others. So she articulates what she takes to be ‘Wotan’s thought’ - a thought she was previously unable to express but is now seen as asserting the priority of the heroic and worthy, whose epitome she takes to be the youth before her. Something - perhaps her mention of her father, perhaps Siegfried’s (understandably) uncomprehending reaction to her declarations - drives her thoughts back to her past. She considers the relics of her life as a Valkyrie that are around her on the rock - her armor, her horse Grane; and then, just as nostalgic regret overcomes her, Siegfried’s sheer desire surges, and he ‘embraces her violently’ (stage direction).’ “

PH: To an extent we can construe Bruennhilde’s nostalgic look back at all that she is losing in giving way to Siegfried’s desire (her Valkyrie chastity and divinity, which according to Feuerbach and Wagner both represent mankind’s illusory bid for transcendent value in religious belief) as motivated by the same cause as Wotan’s sudden resistance to Siegfried in "Siegfried" Act Three Scene Two, for in both instances we have the very natural reluctance of man to give up age-old traditions and modes of belief, even in the face of their imminent collapse. However, both Wotan and Bruennhilde ultimately act on the need to move on to the next, post-religious phase, inspired secular art, the redemptive art which Siegfried’s muse Bruennhilde will inspire him to create, in which godhead will live on as feeling rather than as a thought.

PH: Note that K&S’s reference to Bruennhilde articulating what she “takes to be ‘Wotan’s thought’," "... the priority of the heroic and the worthy ...," is so general and mundane that it terribly impoverishes all that is taking place here. She doesn’t take anything to be Wotan’s thought except her love for Siegfried, embodied by #134, the so-called world-inheritance motif, which I have noted is Wagner’s metaphor for unconscious artistic inspiration, the heir to dying religious faith. We heard #134 in "Siegfried" Act Three Scene Two when Wotan told Erda that he no longer feared his end because what is important to him will live on in the love of Siegfried and Bruennhilde. Bruennhilde’s remark to Siegfried that what Wotan thought, she felt, and that was simply her love for Siegfried (#134), has nothing to do with some vague and generalized admiration for heroism per se. Siegfried reacts uncomprehendingly to her declarations because she is the repository for Wotan’s unspoken secret, which she must keep even from Siegfried, so that, as Siegfried himself will tell Bruennhilde in the Prelude to "Twilight of the Gods," her teaching leaves him untaught.

P. 161: PH: K&S continue to pursue their argument that Bruennhilde’s conflicted feelings for Siegfried stem from her wish to maintain the purity of her empathic love, the only love she knew previously, with him, and the new, frightening erotic love which Siegfried pleads for her to embrace:

K&S: “The overt advance prompts a startled and unreceptive Bruennhilde to reflect on love present and love past and to confront the choice between open-ended empathic love and exclusive erotic love, whose nature and power she is now beginning to learn. Her initial fear and shame give way to confusion. We take her to be torn between an ideal of empathic love which has permeated her life up to this moment and the sexual impulses that urge her to an erotic love. To a phrase of melting tenderness [PH: #134?], Siegfried reminds her that the wisdom she seems to have lost was supposed to derive from her love for him; but this misses the point, for what is at issue is the form that love is to take, and Bruennhilde has tacitly assumed that wisdom reveals empathic love to be its highest form.”

PH: K&S seem to forget that Bruennhilde had originally protested Wotan’s threat to punish her by leaving her, formerly a Valkyrie virgin, prey to any man who might find her asleep to win as his wife, i.e., prey to his sexual desires. But she was reassured when Wotan agreed to allow only a fearless hero to win her, not by the thought that that fearless hero wouldn’t take her to wife with all that that means, but by the thought that at least Bruennhilde would be giving up her virginity to an authentic hero, worthy of her Valkyrie inspiration. K&S are right that she fears the loss of her virginity in spite of this (just as Wotan in the end was reluctant to give up his power to Siegfried, even knowing that he must, since Wotan had stated in the finale of "Valkyrie" that only the hero who did not fear his Spear could penetrate Loge’s fire and win Bruennhilde), but Bruennhilde fears more than the loss of her virginity. She fears that once she imparts Wotan’s unspoken secret to the hero her knowledge might be lost, and Wotan’s unspoken secret might be subject to betrayal to the light of day. It is precisely this fateful prospect which is the essence of the entire plot of "Twilight of the Gods," and was in fact the foundation of the “Ring” as a whole. But K&S have not read Wagner’s libretto text closely enough, nor paid sufficient attention to Wagner’s highly detailed and specific and dramatically apt use of particular motifs and motif combinations, to truly make sense of what is at stake here. Siegfried hasn’t missed any point. Here are some relevant passages from Siegfried Act Three Scene Three:

“Bruennhilde: (#141) Your own self am I, if you but love me in my bliss. (#87) what you don’t know I know for you: (#134) and yet I am knowing only because I love you. (…) (#141) I loved you always: to me alone was Wotan’s thought revealed. The thought which I could never name; (#83 end fragment based on #54, the Twilight of the Gods Motif - but Motif #83 is the Need of the Gods Motif, the Motif which represents Wotan’s need for a free hero who can do what Wotan can’t, take the Ring from Fafner so that Alberich can’t regain its power and bring about the twilight of the gods) the thought I did not think but only felt … . Because that (#134) thought, could you only guess it! - was but my love for you.

(…)

Siegfried: (#140 Variations - one of the Love Motifs based on #64, and originally on #25, part two of Freia’s Motif) Wondrous it sounds what you blissfully sing; yet its meaning seems obscure to me. … what you say to me singing, stunned, (#87) I cannot understand. (#137) With my senses I cannot grasp far-away [‘Ferne’] things, since all my senses can see and feel only you. (#137) You bind me in fetters of anxious fear; (#137) you alone have taught me to dread it. No longer hide that courage of mine (#37 - the Loveless Motif, deriving from the so-called Renunciation of Love Motif #18) which you bound with powerful bonds.”

PH: We can see here that Wotan’s thought, which Bruennhilde feels, and which she describes as her love for Siegfried (#134), she imparts to Siegfried only as feeling, so he doesn’t understand it as thought. But Wagner’s musical motifs tell us what that thought is, which Bruennhilde feels, and whose essence is her loving union with Siegfried, and which Siegfried doesn’t conceptually understand, includes the Need of the Gods Motif #83, i.e., the motif associated first with Wotan’s longing for a free hero who can do what the gods can’t, kill Fafner and take possession of Alberich’s Ring so that Alberich can’t regain its power to destroy the gods. Note that when Bruennhilde tells Siegfried that she knows, for him, what he doesn’t know (and previously that she is his self, his identity, if he loves her), we hear #87, the Fate Motif. The knowledge Wotan had imparted to Bruennhilde in his confession was the knowledge of the gods’ fearful fate, the twilight of the gods, which was the source of that fear which paralyzed Wotan but which Bruennhilde, because she holds this knowledge for Siegfried, protects him from, thereby making Siegfried fearless, except when he is about to wake her and thus inherit Wotan’s hoard of knowledge. We also hear #137, derived from #81, the motif which represents Wotan’s acknowledgment that his allegedly free hero is not free, as Siegfried begs Bruennhilde to consummate their union so he can cease to feel the fear she’s taught him. Lastly we hear #37, a variant on the so-called Renunciation of Love Motif, first heard in definitive form when Alberich cursed love in order to win the Ring and its power. Therefore, what Bruennhilde calls Wotan’s thought, if conscious, would be the fearful hoard of knowledge Wotan confessed to Bruennhilde, but, if unconscious, is the subliminal foundation of Siegfried’s love for Bruennhilde embodied in #134. It was therefore Wotan’s repressing this fearful knowledge of the gods’ fate into his unconscious mind Bruennhilde, the womb of Wotan's wishes, that gave birth to Siegfried (and which figuratively gives birth to redemptive musical motifs), and which Siegfried falls heir to, unwittingly, in winning Bruennhilde, Wotan’s repository for this knowledge. The only way for Siegfried and Bruennhilde to free themselves from their fear of sexual union is to consummate it, and this gives birth to a redemptive work of art in which the fear which was its original but subliminal source of inspiration can be forgotten, as Siegfried himself says near the end of their love-duet, accompanied by the Woodbird’s tune #129.

PH: So now, we can get a fuller grasp of the brief passage which K&S referenced above:


“Bruennhilde: My senses grow clouded; my knowledge falls silent: is my wisdom to forsake me now? Siegfried: (#134) Did you not sing that your knowledge stemmed from the shining light of your love for me? [#134 fades away] Bruennhilde: “(#82 - Wotan’s Revolt, emblematic of his confession of his unspoken secret to Bruennhilde) Grieving darkness clouds my gaze; (#51 Variation - Alberich’s Curse Motif) my eye grows dim, its light fades out: (#82) night enfolds me; (#51) from mist and dread a confusion of fear now writhes in its rage! (#79/#84) Terror stalks and rears its head!”

PH: Keep in mind that Motif #82 actually is the symbol for Wotan’s confession of thoughts he couldn’t bear to speak aloud, to Bruennhilde, his will, that #51 is Alberich’s Curse Motif, that #79 was not only the motif which embodied Fricka’s critique that if Wotan encouraged the Waelsungs he’d be bringing about the end of the gods’ rule, but that #79 is itself a variant of Motif #58b, to which Wotan sang that Valhalla is a refuge from care and fear (fear of Alberich’s curse), and that #84 was first heard during Wotan’s confession when he said he can’t make a free hero but only serfs. These four motifs which embody Bruennhilde’s fear (#82, #51, #79, and #84) are actually the motifs which sounded Wotan’s desperation when Fricka had demonstrated to him the futility of seeking his free hero, who could redeem the gods from Alberich’s Ring Curse, in Siegmund. In response, Bruennhilde pleaded with Wotan to confide in her, and he confessed the fateful knowledge Erda had taught him, and also confessed the futility of his longing for a free hero, to Bruennhilde. Wotan’s fear, then, is the ultimate basis for their loving union, but with Siegfried’s encouragement they are now going to sublimate this into the ecstatic, yet tragic, art, which Siegfried will create, thereby seeming to cast Wotan’s fearful knowledge into oblivion, just as Wotan told Erda, the source of that bitter knowledge, that her knowledge wanes before his will (and Bruennhilde, Wotan’s unconscious mind into whom he repressed this knowledge, is Wotan’s will, before whom Erda’s knowledge wanes).

PH: It will be no surprise to anyone who reads these passages as closely as I have in my interpretation that K&S are ill-informed and naive in their attempt at a response to them, and that they clearly have not done their homework, per the following:

K&S: “Her [Bruennhilde’s] first intimations of sexuality seem to her to bespeak a frightening and dark world, to be contrasted with the lucid image that emerges with the introduction of the ‘Idyll’ theme. (It seems to us that Wagner’s introduction of this theme is a piece of technical brilliance, for he was committed to using music that fits poorly with the superficial mood of the scene, the celebration and expression of erotic love. He solves the problem by using the theme to elicit Bruennhilde’s continuing commitment to a very different type of love - the empathic love that was so vividly displayed in Walkuere.”

So ends my sampling from my much more extensive critical response to your book “Finding an Ending.” You may regard it as fairly typical of the whole. I’ve emailed you this much briefer critique to insure that at least you read it, and perhaps respond to it, even if you don’t have the time and/or inclination to read all or part of my 280 page critique, and respond to all or part of it.

I have gone to so much trouble to critique your book in detail because Dr. Roger Scruton, who has expressed appreciation for my complex argument at http://www.wagnerheim.com in his introduction to my website, in his article “The Ring of Truth” in The American Spectator from 5/27/2011, and in his recently published book “The Ring of Truth: The Wisdom of Wagner’s ‘Ring of the Nibelung’,” has questioned my allegorical approach (which is a moot point if Wagner did, in fact, create an allegory, as I have argued) in his new book, and described your own approach as more closely adhering to the “Ring” as drama. Thus, you may regard this letter as my first shot across the bow in defense of my approach.

Thank you for your thoughtful approach to the “Ring,” and for any response which may be forthcoming from you to my critique.

I remain,

your friend from wagnerheim.com,

Paul Brian Heise
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Re: Critique of Kitcher & Schacht: "Finding an Ending"

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Re: Critique of Kitcher & Schacht: "Finding an Ending"

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