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Part 2: Scruton's critique of my book, & my response

PostPosted: Fri Jul 29, 2016 8:48 am
by alberich00
PH: Note Dr. Scruton’s comment that “The time of heroes was a mythical time - and mythical time is now. Myths do not speak of what was but of what is eternally. They are magical-realist summaries of the actual world, in which the moral possibilities are personified and made flesh.” This is precisely how I understand Wagner’s "Ring" in grasping it as an allegory. In my interpretation (as I’m sure for Wagner), his characters and the events in their lives aren’t simply realistic depictions of real characters in conventional time and space, but epitomes, summaries, of a vast array of human experience. That Wagner was able to make of them urgent and true-to-life characters whose actions can also be construed on a realistic basis was a tribute to his realization that our lives in real-time are specific examples of what the larger-than-life characters of the religious myths, and of his music-dramas, express in general and universally. My interpretation constantly keeps in mind, and displays for view, Wagner’s characters in both these senses. I’ll go further and add that in my interpretation we grasp them simultaneously as objects in time and space, and subjects with subjective thoughts and feelings, and products of the imagination. Wagner’s musical motifs aid us in grasping Wagner’s characters at all times in all of these senses, since at any given moment they make us feel not only the present situation in all of its graphic dramatic potency, but also their universal, cosmic significance. Wagner once said, echoing Schopenhauer, that what for the average man or woman is a mundane incident in their attempt to satisfy their will, is grasped by the higher, ultra-conscious individual in its universal, tragic significance. This is in a sense the basis of Wotan’s tragic character, that he knows things that neither he nor anyone else can bear to know.

RS: “Everybody with ears knows that the "Ring" is full of meaning, that plot, character, music, and motives are to be understood as multi-dimensional symbols, and that there unfolds on the stage, in the words, and through the music a complex argument about the nature of human life, about the hopes and fears of our species, and about the cosmos itself. Yet what exactly does it mean? I have wrestled with this question for many years, have been helped by this or that critical discussion or this or that striking performance. But much became clear to me when I discovered what is probably the only complete commentary on the "Ring," which goes step by step through the text and the music, and explores some of its many allegorical meanings with relentless devotion and ardor. This is the commentary composed over many years by Paul Heise, which he has now made available to the public on his remarkable website, The site contains a forum for discussion, and will surely be the place where the many interpretations can contend with each other, and so do what I, in this short article, have no hope of doing, which is to establish the claim of the "Ring" to be the truth of our condition.”

PH: I wish to draw attention to Dr. Scruton’s dramatic statement: “Yet what exactly does it [Wagner’s "Ring"] mean? I have wrestled with this question for many years, have been helped by this or that critical discussion or this or that striking performance. But much became clear to me when I discovered what is probably the only complete commentary on the 'Ring,' which goes step by step through the text and the music, and explores some of its many allegorical meanings with relentless devotion and ardor. This is the commentary composed over many years by Paul Heise, which he has now made available to the public on his remarkable website,” Any scholar has not only a right, but a duty, to revise prior views as they grow more familiar with an object or subject of study and penetrate beyond first impressions to gather, hopefully, a more objective and complete understanding, and evidently Dr. Scruton’s more recently expressed reservations about the validity of my allegorical approach represent just such a reconsideration. However, I will be providing strong evidence in defense of my position, both here and subsequently in my far lengthier and comprehensive critical review of his entire book, which I will be posting at a later date.

RS: (…)

RS: “While the sacred has in the past been interpreted as man’s avenue to God, for Wagner it is God’s avenue to man. It is the gods, not mankind, that need redemption, and redemption comes through love. (…)”

PH: In my interpretation, Wotan needs redemption from the sin which Alberich has accused him of committing if Wotan steals Alberich’s Ring from him (for which, as Dr. Scruton says in his new book, Alberich sacrificed everything, and thereby sinned against himself). Wotan’s sin, as Alberich says, would be against all that was, is, and will be. Wotan, as the embodiment of godhead, of mankind’s invention of the concept “God,” makes a bid for transcendence (the gods are reputed to be all-powerful and immortal, and can offer the immortality available in Valhalla to selected humans, thanks to Freia’s golden apples of sorrowless youth eternal) in defiance of Nature’s (Mother Earth’s, or Erda’s) law that all that is will end. Since Erda’s knowledge, spun by the Norns of past, present, and future, is the knowledge of all that was, is, and will be, Alberich is actually telling the alleged God Wotan that if Wotan steals Alberich’s Ring in order to sustain the gods’ (religion’s) rule in Valhalla, Wotan will be committing the sin of world-denial, or pessimism, the denial of the actual world of time/space/causation in favor of the consoling fantasy world of the Valhallan gods, religious belief, in which (in our imagination) the gods are freed from natural limits supernaturally, miraculously.

PH: It is precisely this sin which Alberich sets out to punish by cursing the Ring of earthly power which Wotan has co-opted, which, by the way, gave birth musically to the heavenly realm of the gods in the first place, since, during the transition from "Rhinegold" Scene One to Scene Two, Alberich’s Ring Motif #19ab transformed into the first two segments of the five-segment Valhalla Motif, #20ab. Alberich, in other words, has cursed anybody who attempts to co-opt his objective, earthly, power-seeking consciousness for the sake of self-deception (the liar god Loge’s service to the gods). This concept Wagner borrowed from Feuerbach, who stated that the power of the human mind to generalize and abstract from reality through symbolic thought automatically gave birth to man’s illusion that there are gods, because man’s uniquely powerful symbolic mind reified its capacity for symbolic abstraction and generalization and projected it onto beings of man’s imagination, who are understood to be freed from man’s natural limitations. In other words, man came to regard his symbols for things as autonomous from and prior to, and even sometimes the cause of, the very things which were man’s source for these symbols. Alberich’s curse punishes Wotan and his proxies for this crime of Nature-denial, and Wotan needs redemption from this punishment. Dying religious faith finds this redemption, at least temporarily, first in a moral sense (altruistic, self-sacrificial love) freed from religious dogma and the false promise of immortality (the love of Siegmund and Sieglinde), and later in the figurative love of Siegfried the artist-hero and his muse of unconscious artistic inspiration, Bruennhilde, whom Siegfried inherits from Wotan (thus making the Wagnerian transition from dying religious faith to redemptive secular art, the Wagnerian music-drama, in which “Wonder” replaces Faith, which Feuerbach noted is founded on fear, and specifically fear of truth - which is represented in the "Ring" by Fafner guarding Alberich’s Ring, Tarnhelm, and Hoard of treasure).

RS: “But what, on this view, are the gods? Mere figments, as Wagner’s philosophical mentor, Ludwig Feuerbach, had argued? Or something more deeply implanted in the scheme of things, something that precedes and survives us? Wagner’s answer is not easily explained in words, although it is transparently obvious in music, and Heise’s commentary does the best that mere words can do to make it plain. And it is an answer that makes Wagner supremely relevant to us. For, despite our attempts to live without formal religion, we are no more free than people ever have been or ever will be from the religious need. Wagner accepted Feuerbach’s view of the gods as human creations.”

PH: As I noted previously, Feuerbach did see religion, the gods, not as mere figments of the imagination, but as necessary products of the nature of the symbolic, reflective human mind, which, before the age of science and modern secular self-reflection, was construed by man as proof of his divine origin, since the mind which can symbolically represent reality in language construed this ability to be prior to the reality that it represents, to in a sense create the reality that it represents, and in reifying it, called it God. Where Wagner differed from Feuerbach was in Feuerbach’s optimistic prediction that in time, thanks to scientific inquiry and growing skepticism toward the claims of religion, man would free himself from useless illusions in order to create a happier, earth-bound existence sans belief in spiritual transcendence, which had previously been the basis of man's assumption of his dignity and value. Wagner knew that science, so understood, could never replace the sheer poetry of the religious consciousness and striving for transcendent value, even if it did destroy religious faith, which is why Wagner created heroes in his mature period who are metaphors for the post-religious artist-hero in whom man’s dying religious faith and bid for transcendent value lives on in feeling (love), in secular art, when the belief in god(s) can no longer be sustained. As Wagner put it, when God had to leave us, he left us, in remembrance of him, music (i.e., Bruennhilde, who is Wagner’s metaphor both for music and for the unconscious mind, the muse of the artist-hero’s unconscious artistic inspiration, in the "Ring").

RS: “(…) And whatever else we say about the "Ring" cycle, it is not an abstract argument, but a vivid drama, containing unforgettable characters in astonishing situations, presented through music of immediate emotional power. It is precisely this that establishes the cycle’s claim to greatness: it does not moralize about our modern predicament, but immerses us in it, and brings us face-to-face with what we are.”

PH: You will find as you read the following excerpts from Dr. Scruton’s new book "The Ring of Truth," specifically selected by me because they contain all that he has to say about my interpretation of Wagner’s "Ring," both pro and con, that to a certain extent (often mitigated by honest appreciation of what I’ve accomplished) Dr. Scruton tries to pin to me the crime of presenting the "Ring" as an “abstract argument” rather than as a “vivid drama.” I resist this argument strongly because, first, I reject Dr. Scruton’s notion that my interpretation is abstract and not dramatic. The fact that most members of Wagner’s audience are unlikely to construe the Ring’s characters and dramatic situations consciously in the allegorical light which I cast on them, during an actual performance, is a separate question. I can’t conceive of any human drama more vividly dramatic than the allegory which I claim to have discovered in Wagner’s "Ring" in particular, and in his entire artistic oeuvre from "The Flying Dutchman" onward, in general, in which the greatest philosophic and ethical and aesthetic issues mankind has yet faced are placed in the balance.

PH: Second, the real issue he has with my interpretation is that it is for the most part not self-evident (which he expresses in his notion that it is irrelevant to the audience’s emotional response to Wagner’s drama because it is allegedly too abstract, so that the drama is somehow lost in my interpretation), but is a reading, rather, which required years of personal reflection and study of the "Ring," Wagner’s other artworks, his voluminous writings and recorded remarks, the books of Ludwig Feuerbach, and many other relevant sources, to construe and elucidate, before I could unveil the complete canvass of Wagner’s allegorical intent (which, I must add, must to a significant degree have been subliminal even for him, a fact which he dramatized when he said that for the authentic artist, the meaning of his work can be as much a mystery as it is for his audience).

PH: My point is that much of my interpretation represents what I take to be a subliminal level of meaning in Wagner’s "Ring" and his other canonical artworks, subliminal much in the way that Wagner’s music, and musical motifs, often communicate to us subliminally. As Wagner stated, in composing the music for the "Ring" he grew more knowledgeable about what was at stake in the "Ring," as if he himself didn’t know beforehand and had to discover it for himself, as I do. Since I argue that Wagner's great operas and music-dramas were to an extent unconsciously inspired, this links Wagner's creative process with dreaming, through which individuals unwittingly and involuntarily create something which, as Feuerbach said, is both their own creation, and not their creation. And Feuerbach described the religious myths as the product of man's collective dreaming. My subliminal allegorical reading, the special allegorical logic and language I believe I have discovered, is in this sense on a par with Wagner’s music (which Wagner described as creating a dreamlike magic), and is often disclosed solely by his musical motifs, as I have demonstrated repeatedly throughout my lengthy study here at I have no doubt whatsoever that a large portion of the aesthetic power and meaning of the "Ring" is a direct product of this allegorical level of meaning (it certainly influences Wagner’s choices in linking specific musical motifs with elements of the drama), even if Wagner’s audience never becomes consciously aware of this influence unless it is unearthed and made conscious for them through a determined exploratory effort. But that, in my interpretation, is what the "Ring" is about, a fact dramatized in Hagen’s asking Siegfried to sing the tale of how he came to grasp the meaning of the Woodbird’s song (i.e., to make conscious the hidden programme, the mystery, the true source of inspiration for Wagner’s music), and giving Siegfried the potion of remembrance in order to bring his narrative back to its true, hidden source, the womb of Wotan's wishes, Siegfried's lover and muse of unconscious artistic inspiration Bruennhilde.

PH: Similarly, Siegfried falls heir to Wotan’s entire hoard of runes, or knowledge, thanks to Bruennhilde having heard Wotan’s confession of it, and having imparted it to Siegfried who, nonetheless, remains unconscious of it, telling Bruennhilde in T.P (after she tells him "(#150) What gods [i.e., Wotan] have taught me I gave to you: a bountiful hoard of hallowed runes") that "(#150) ... your teaching has left me untaught." Yet we, the audience, are told of this subliminally in the motifs Wagner chose to accompany the relevant incidents in the drama. For the authentically inspired artist his art can remain as much a mystery to him as to his audience: Well, I have attempted to unearth that mystery, with Wagner’s help (his libretto text, music, writings, and recorded remarks).

PH: Third, it is easy to read just about any meaning into Wagner’s "Ring" if one cherry-picks only those things in the "Ring," dramatic, musical, philosophical, which support views which one brings to the "Ring," and omits all that doesn’t fit so easily into one’s preferred scheme of interpretation. There are as many sects of Christianity as there are subjective readings of selected passages from the Bible. It is for this reason, i.e., my insistence on grasping the "Ring" as a whole, that it took me so long to present my "Ring" interpretation in its definitive form to the public, since a research project which I began when I was 18 years old in 1971, I did not consider ready for comprehensive public exposure until 2009, 38 years later. This is because from my earliest exposure to the "Ring" at age 18 I felt it as a musical and dramatic unity, but I could only explain its dramatic and philosophic unity once I had taken account of virtually the entire "Ring," music and words, with no cherry-picking and no omissions. I did not want to present my case until I had all the evidence in hand to make it properly. In this I was a bit like Darwin, who held off publishing his "Origin of Species" for about 20 years until he had amassed enough evidence to make a very strong case, precisely because the case he was trying to make was so controversial, as mine is, and was even then only prompted to publish because of the letter he got from Wallace about his similar findings on natural selection in Indonesia. After having completed my study of the "Ring" in 2009 I was prepared to propose that my allegorical interpretation has disclosed the primary conceptual frame of reference for the "Ring," its main thread of meaning, if you will, but not its only thread of meaning. Most of what the other leading, insightful interpreters of the "Ring" have said is embraced within my interpretation.

PH: So, in the following, I present all those passages from Dr. Scruton’s new book, "The Ring of Truth," in which Dr. Scruton references my own study directly or indirectly, including enough of the context to make sense of what he says.

"The Ring of Truth: The Wisdom of Wagner’s ‘Ring of the Nibelung’ " - Dr. Roger Scruton; Allen Lane (an imprint of Penguin Books), 2016

RS: P. vii (Preface): “I owe a debt of thanks to Paul Heise, whose extraordinary dedication to Wagner’s masterpiece has been an inspiration to my work, and whose comments on an earlier version have greatly clarified the argument.”

PH: I owe a debt to Dr. Roger Scruton which I can never repay, as he was almost the first person among the published Wagner commentators to recognize that my own research on Wagner’s art had merit (the other scholar being Andrew Gray, translator of Wagner’s autobiography "Mein Leben" into English for Cambridge University Press, published in 1983), and who sponsored, and wrote the introduction to, my website, without which I would have been unable to disseminate my hypotheses about the "Ring" and Wagner’s other artworks so widely, and for so long, and in such a persuasive way.

RS: (…)

RS: P. 9-11: “As he [Deryck Cooke] points out, there is no one-to-one correspondence between a leitmotif and the concept, idea or emotion that is first attached to it. The leitmotif has a potential to develop - but to develop musically. And it is by planting the principal of musical development in the heart of the drama that Wagner is able to lift the action out of the events portrayed on the stage, and to endow it with a universal, cosmic and religious significance. (…)”

PH: Dr. Scruton raises a very important point, in saying that Wagner’s musical motifs don’t have a one-to-one correspondence with the concepts, ideas, or emotions in the drama with which they are heard in association. Jim Holman offered a very useful example of this in his "Wagner’s ‘Ring’ - A Listener’s Companion and Concordance," in which he listed virtually all the instances in the score/libretto in which the so-called “Woman’s Worth Motif” (called in Allen Dunning’s list at, the “Loveless Motif,” #37) is heard, clearly displaying the large range of things, sometimes quite distinct, with which it is associated in the course of the music-drama. In my interpretation great weight is given to the chronologically first occurrence of a motif in the score, especially when it is heard in its definitive form and associated with something in particular, but also to the entire range of things with which any given motif is associated in the course of the whole drama, which is what I call the motif’s “dramatic profile.” I have striven to take account not only of motifs’ first occurrences in the "Ring," but also of their entire dramatic profiles as well, in my analysis of their dramatic import in any given occurrence.

RS: “Wagner’s treatment of the story is therefore replete with musical symbolism, and raises the question of how symbolism works. This question will occupy me in much of what follows, but it is perhaps worth pointing out at this stage that symbolism is not the same as allegory, even if allegory is a form of it. In allegory a story is told in which each character, each object and each action stands for something else - usually a universal concept - so that a narrative of concrete episodes forges a connection between abstract ideas. Much medieval literature is allegorical in that sense, and in an early and highly influential commentary Bernard Shaw gave an allegorical reading of the "Ring" cycle. More recently, in one of the most thorough accounts of "The Ring" to date, Paul Heise has defended a comparable allegorical interpretation, aligning the characters and actions of the drama with the forces at work in forging civilization from the raw material of nature. Heise derives his allegory from a close reading of the philosophy of Wagner’s early mentor Ludwig Feuerbach, as well as from the text and music of "The Ring" and Wagner’s own voluminous writings. The allegory is spelled out carefully, with the leitmotifs identified at every occurrence, so that the reader can click on the score and hear the music. This invaluable aid to understanding the tetralogy has made it far easier for me to embark on my own account, by providing a step-by-step guide to the leitmotifs as they appear.”

PH: In creating his "Ring," Wagner kept in view his own perspective on religion and myth-making, based at least partly on Feuerbach’s meditations on this subject. Wagner concluded, first, that the great religions are myths in which gods, who are actually figments of our imagination, are invented by entire societies collectively, but also unconsciously and involuntarily (like a collective dream), because those who believe in their gods (even though they involuntarily and collectively invented them during the transitional period when man was emerging from his animal forebears - in evolution - to become conscious of himself as unique) can’t afford to be conscious of the fact that their imagination invented them. They must believe in their objective existence, that they would exist even without a human consciousness to contemplate them. Wagner illustrates this concept in the transition between "Rhinegold" Scenes One and Two, when the gods are first seen sleeping but wake to find Valhalla (in my interpretation, not only the gods’ heavenly home, but a symbol for human civilization and its ideals grounded in religious belief) already built. Wotan is described as having not only willed it into existence, but also as having dreamed it into existence. Feuerbach stated that dreaming is the key to religion. Since mankind as a whole involuntarily dreamed the gods into existence, Wotan can be construed not only as a symbol for godhead, but also as (following Feuerbach’s influence) a symbol for the collective humanity that invented the gods unconsciously and involuntarily.

PH: It is noteworthy, in this regard, that the motif of Alberich’s Ring #19ab, which in my interpretation represents man's unique reflective consciousness and its power to transform the real world, first heard in Scene One of "Rhinegold," is transformed musically into the first two segments of the Valhalla Motif #20ab, during the transition from Scene One to Scene Two, which begins with Wotan waking to find that Valhalla has been built while the gods slept. Implicit in this motival genealogy is the fact that the gods’ heavenly home actually has a concrete, physical foundation in the real, material world which is not only man's true mother (Mother Nature, Erda), but the proper object of man's conscious mind, though this fact never rises to consciousness for the religiously faithful, the meaning of whose life depends entirely on the assumption that they have a divine origin and are under divine sovereignty. In my interpretation the prospect that the bitter truth might rise to consciousness and overthrow our consoling illusions we invent to mask the truth and provide a meaningful substitute for it, is a key component in the suspense inherent in the "Ring" drama and music, a notion dramatized in Alberich’s threat to Wotan in R.3 that eventually Alberich’s hoard (of knowledge) will rise from the silent depths to the light of day, and the gods will be overthrown. I recall (I can't remember the actual source) reading a study years ago in which certain verbal symbols or motifs in Sophocles's Greek tragedy "Oedipus the King," which reminded Greek audiences that Oedipus the King, who doesn't know who he is, is a clubfoot, are embedded in the text in a manner similar to Wagner's musical motifs of remembrance and foreboding, such that the audience experiences a perhaps subliminal suspense that Oedipus will inevitably become conscious of who he really is, which will culminate in tragedy. We can see here, of course, a key influence on Wagner's conception of Siegfried as the naive hero who doesn't know who he is (in my interpretation, Siegfried the artist-hero is Wotan, minus conscious knowledge of his true identity as Wotan reborn, knowledge which Bruennhilde, Siegfried's unconscious mind and a metaphor for music, holds for Siegfried).

PH: The importance of these observations to Scruton’s commentary on allegories, and to his subsequent critique of my allegorical approach, is that Wagner, following Feuerbach, already construed the world of gods as a sort of allegory for the world of man. The gods, though portrayed in the religious myths as palpably human-like personalities, though larger than life and having transcendent powers which mortal humans lack, represent various aspects of nature and of the human mind and human experience. As I noted earlier, Feuerbach stated that the involuntary and unconscious invention of the gods by the collective imagination of historical man was an inevitable, natural consequence of the nature of man’s symbolic mind, which generalizes and abstracts from experience, and creates symbols to represent various facets of experience. In the gods mankind unconsciously projects the power of nature (Erda) and of man’s mind (represented in my interpretation by Alberich’s Ring, which gives motival birth to Valhalla) onto figments of man’s imagination (man’s religio-artistic imagination represented in my interpretation by Loge), the gods (of Valhalla). This is why Alberich’s Ring Motif #19ab transforms into the first two segments of Wotan's Valhalla Motif #20ab, and Valhalla is built by the giants (in my interpretation metaphors for man's fundamental animal instincts of sexual desire, i.e. Fasolt, and self-preservation, or fear, i.e., Fafner), while the gods sleep.

RS: “Heise’s allegory does, I believe, contain a core of truth: but it is a truth about "The Ring" as Wagner originally conceived it. "The Ring" as it finally emerged tells a rather different story, and tells it not through allegory but through a kind of concentrated symbolism that admits of no simple stepwise decipherment. Several recent writers have explored the deeper meaning of this symbolism. Light has been cast by the Jungian account offered by Robert Donington, by the patient but incomplete work of Deryck Cooke, by the listener’s companion and concordance of J.K. Holman, by the engaging radio talks of Father Owen Lee, and by the fascinating study of Wotan’s search for an ending by Philip Kitcher and Richard Schacht. Thanks to such works of criticism and analysis, some of which I consider in more detail in Chapter 5, Wagner’s artistic aims and musical language are beginning to be accorded their true artistic significance. The commentators just mentioned all agree that the music of "The Ring" is the wellspring from which the motives and emotions of the characters are drawn and their work encourages me to direct the reader to salient musical details whenever this casts light on the drama.”

PH: I will save my detailed rebuttal of Dr. Scruton’s claim, above, that my allegorical interpretation has disclosed merely an earlier phase in Wagner’s creation of his "Ring" (which he suggests Wagner outgrew as he moved onward to completing the final, definitive version of the "Ring" which we experience today in the theater), to my more detailed, multi-part critique of his new book, which I will likewise post here in this discussion forum. But I can say that Dr. Scruton asks us, at this point, to take it on faith that the "Ring" as we know it in performance today is not an allegory, but rather, “… a kind of concentrated symbolism that admits of no simple stepwise decipherment.” First, Dr. Scruton, in my view, offers here a false choice between allegory and concentrated symbolism, when in fact a case could be made that the "Ring" is an example of both. Second, since, to a certain extent, Dr. Scruton is referencing here the Ring’s musical symbolism, Wagner’s use of musical motifs, of which his book offers quite a number of enlightening examples, any reader of my interpretation of the "Ring" here at knows that I have more extensively employed Wagner’s motifs as evidence to support my allegorical interpretation than any rival interpretation of the "Ring." For instance, consult my initial posting of my critical response to Kitcher’s and Schacht’s book “Finding an Ending” (the unnumbered one at the top of the column of 20 numbered postings) and you will see that I have virtually demolished their reading of the underlying causes of Siegfried’s fear that he learns from Bruennhilde, and of Bruennhilde’s fear of consummating a sexual union with Siegfried, by referencing Wagner’s employment of specific musical motifs during the passages in S.3.3 in which Siegfried’s and Bruennhilde’s fear is at stake.

Third, there is nothing simple about what Dr. Scruton describes as my “simple stepwise decipherment.”

Re: Part 2: Scruton's critique of my book, & my response

PostPosted: Fri Oct 28, 2016 12:10 pm
by alberich00

Re: Part 2: Scruton's critique of my book, & my response

PostPosted: Sat Jan 28, 2017 11:58 am
by alberich00