Bruennhilde: Wotan's/Siegfried's unconscious Part A-1

General Discussion about Wagner and The Ring of the Nibelung

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Bruennhilde: Wotan's/Siegfried's unconscious Part A-1

Postby alberich00 » Tue Oct 11, 2016 11:21 am

In response to the introduction to my 20-part critical review (posted in this discussion forum at of "Finding and Ending" (Oxford University Press, 2004), an interpretation of Wagner’s Ring authored by Dr. Philip Kitcher (John Dewey Professor of Philosophy, Columbia Univ.) and Dr. Richard Schacht (Emeritus Professor of Philosophy, Univ. of Illinois), Dr. Philip Kitcher stated the following in an email he sent to me with permission to post it in the discussion forum (which I posted there on 7/27/2016):

Please note: The following remarks express the views of Philip Kitcher; they do not necessarily accord with those of Richard Schacht.

I have some sympathy with Paul Heise’s complaints about the treatment of Siegfried in "Finding an Ending" (FE). To suppose that Siegfried is a shallow figure, not suited for the rich musical and dramatic world Wagner had created is hardly an ideal interpretation. Yet that judgment is not simply a product of our interpretation of the Ring. It accords with the experiences of thousands of Ring-goers, as well as the directors and dramaturges who wrestle with the problem of how to make Siegfried alive and sympathetic to a contemporary audience. Siegfried simply strikes almost everyone as a brainless cad (to borrow a quaint but lovely term from Wendy Doniger).
Heise strives to solve the problem by offering an allegorical reading. His “solution” quickly descends into obscurity. I am simply baffled by claims that Siegfried is Wotan reborn without knowledge of his identity or that Brünnhilde is his unconscious mind – and I have no clue as to how any rigorous interpreter would find evidence for these assertions. To my mind, Heise reacts to the problem by making things up ad hoc, in much the way Freud’s fiercest critics suppose that he “interpreted” the dreams and remarks of his patients. Better, to my mind, a clear – if suboptimal – response to the problem of Siegfried than the dark pseudo-profundities to which Heise is driven.
In e-mail correspondence, Heise has suggested that all would become clear if I read his book. Perhaps. But I doubt it. In the time I’ve been able to devote to his work on Wagner, the murk only gets denser the more I read. I’m not encouraged to plod on in hopes of enlightenment. Possibly other readers have had better luck.
But the problem of Siegfried is a serious one. It has bothered me since we finished FE, and I’ve tried to work my way to a better dramatic interpretation of the character. Interested readers can find a short account of my solution-in-progress in an essay I wrote for the Opera Book of Opera North’s rightly acclaimed production of the Ring. It’s under the title “Making Sense of Siegfried.” Anyone who would like to read it, and who doesn’t have access to the Opera Book, can obtain a word doc copy, by writing to me at e e . (Some people have found the approach promising. Others, like Doniger, still think of Siegfried as a brainless cad.)

Dr. Kitcher states in his response to my interpretation of Wagner’s "Ring" above that though he concurs with me that his original interpretation of Siegfried in "Finding and Ending" is inadequate, that my allegorical justification of the character Siegfried “quickly descends into obscurity.” He offers the following specific examples: “I am simply baffled by claims that Siegfried is Wotan reborn without knowledge of his identity or that Bruennhilde is his unconscious mind - and I have no clue as to how any rigorous interpreter would find any evidence for these assertions.” Dr. Kitcher suggests that I react to the problem of how to make sense of Siegfried “by making things up ad hoc,” and disparages what he calls “the dark pseudo-profundities to which Heise is driven.” He added, in response to my suggestion (actually first made to him by email in 2011) that he can find the answers to his questions by reading my online book on Wagner’s Ring posted here at, that he doubts his problem grasping my interpretation would be cleared up by actually reading it, saying: “In the time I’ve been able to devote to his work on Wagner, the murk only gets denser the more I read. I’m not encouraged to plod on in hopes of enlightenment. Possibly other readers have had better luck.”

Other readers have, indeed, had better luck. Over the years I have received dozens of testimonials to the originality and persuasiveness of my evolving interpretation of Wagner’s "Ring" and his other canonical operas and music-dramas, from "The Flying Dutchman" through "Parsifal," several of which have been written by Dr. Roger Scruton (I posted his three distinct critical responses to my online book on Wagner’s "Ring" here in this discussion forum). Several visitors to, and members of, the discussion forum at have read either all or large portions of my online book on Wagner’s "Ring" with understanding and appreciation. A good example is Wolram’s response, which you can read in the discussion forum at by clicking on page 2 of the forum in the archive.

However, it dawned on me that Dr. Kitcher in his brief critical response above has isolated for criticism two of my primary propositions which are central to my overall interpretation of Wagner’s "Ring," which are not only two of the first discoveries I made after embarking on my interpretation of the "Ring" in the early 70’s, but two propositions for which I have provided the most cogent and comprehensive evidence in my book. Since Dr. Kitcher and other skeptics are unlikely ever to read my entire 900-plus page online book in search of my carefully delineated answers to his questions, I thought it would be very helpful if I isolated those specific passages from Wagner’s "Ring" (music and words) which most persuasively make my case for these two controversial propositions, in a much briefer essay (which you are reading now, Part A), and then expand my argument to include those incidents and passages from Wagner’s other canonical operas and music-dramas, relevant passages from Wagner’s writings and recorded remarks, and relevant passages from Ludwig Feuerbach’s four books known to have influenced Wagner in creating his "Ring," which provide corroboration for my answers to these two questions. Let me add that there is little or nothing in my interpretation which is self-evident: it is all the product of a very close reading and attentive analysis of the evidence. Had what I have to say been self-evident to most members of Wagner’s audience I wouldn’t be proposing it as a new interpretation. There is no one smoking gun, but rather, dozens of smoking guns which need to be grasped in their totality.

There is something else I must clear up before proceeding. I am going to be providing, below, the documentary evidence to support my assertions that Siegfried is Wotan reborn minus consciousness of his true identity, and that Bruennhilde is Siegfried’s unconscious mind (who knows for Siegfried what he doesn’t know, as she says herself in S.3.3). However, these two questions are ultimately one question, because I also state that Bruennhilde is Wotan’s unconscious mind. So both of these questions can actually be contracted, in a sense, into one: is Bruennhilde Wotan’s unconscious mind and Siegfried’s unconscious mind? The point I am making is that evidence in support of either proposition is also evidence in support of both, so, though I will be detailing below my evidence in support of either my proposition that Siegfried is Wotan reborn minus consciousness of his true identity, or my proposition that Bruennhilde is Siegfried’s unconscious mind, I will ultimately show how evidence in support of either proposition is also evidence in support of both. For it is by virtue of Wotan’s planting the seed of his unbearable knowledge of who he is and of his corrupt history in Bruennhilde, the womb of his wishes, in his V.2.2 confession to her, that he can be reborn as Siegfried, the hero who does not know who he is and who doesn’t experience Wotan’s fear of the end, because Bruennhilde knows this forbidden knowledge for Siegfried, thus protecting him from suffering the wounds of consciousness and foresight.

Though I have drawn the evidence for my two propositions for my discussion in Part A of my response (see below) almost entirely just from the "Ring" libretto and music, in order to demonstrate that I need not reference outside sources to make my case, and though in Part B of my response I will then reach out beyond the "Ring" libretto and music to reference other relevant documentary evidence to make my case, I will state here, as a sort of preamble, that in that outside documentary evidence there are some particularly dramatic examples which prove that Wagner did indeed construe his characters according to my two propositions. Though there is not, so far as I know, any definitive evidence that Wagner read any of Schopenhauer’s writings prior to late summer and early fall of 1854, prior, in other words, to his completing the "Ring" libretto, nonetheless Schopenhauer in his essay on “Madness” from "The World as Will and Representation" described madness as caused by a desperate need to repress self-knowledge, which the conscious mind so abhors that it can’t tolerate it, into the unconscious mind, and its replacement with a more tolerable but illusory substitute, which is precisely how I describe Wotan’s confession of this hoard of knowledge - which he told Bruennhilde he couldn’t bear to speak to himself aloud, without losing the grip sustaining his will - to Bruennhilde, but which Bruennhilde persuaded him to confess to her on the basis that she is his will. Wotan’s response to her was that in speaking to her he would only be speaking to himself, words which he said would thus remain forever unspoken.

Feuerbach, Wagner’s other primary philosophic mentor (who we know did have a huge impact on Wagner’s libretto, especially in view of the fact that Wagner described the influence of four of Feuerbach’s books on him prior to his completion of the "Ring" libretto), construed religious belief as the product of man’s collective dreaming, man’s unconscious process of imagination, involuntary myth-making during the childhood of man, noting that this process must have been unconscious because, had man been conscious of inventing the gods, man could not have believed in their true existence. Wagner echoed Feuerbach’s notion in a number of passages from his writings.

Furthermore, as a model for Bruennhilde as Wotan’s and Siegfried’s unconscious mind, Wagner in his "A Communication to my Friends" from 1851 (right when he was completing the "Ring" libretto) described Elsa as Lohengrin’s unconscious mind, the involuntary part of Lohengrin, and stated that Lohengrin’s conscious mind finds its redemption in his unconscious mind Elsa, echoing precisely my reading of Wotan’s confession to Bruennhilde of his divine “Noth,” with the following exception. Wagner praised Elsa’s breach of faith in Lohengrin, her insistence that he share with her the secret knowledge of his true identity, and stated that her breach made Wagner a true revolutionary.

In other words, Wagner stated that Elsa’s insistence on learning from Lohengrin the secret of his identity so that she could help him protect this secret in order to save him from suffering some unknown anguish, or “Noth,” which Elsa supposed the revelation of this secret would bring down upon him, somehow inspired Wagner to make the historic transition from romantic German operas, of which "Lohengrin" was the last, to his revolutionary music-dramas, in which, as Wagner stated, the relationship of his music to his libretto text would be organic rather than mechanical. The point here is that what Lohengrin refused, to share with Elsa the forbidden knowledge of his private “Noth,” his true identity and origin, Wotan accepted. Wotan concurred with Bruennhilde’s plea to hear his confession of his divine “Noth,” which we might describe as the religious mysteries. Feuerbach noted that since mankind involuntarily and collectively dreamed the gods into existence, it is man’s duty to explode this mystery, to become conscious of the fact that man himself invented the gods. And Wagner makes that the centerpiece of Wotan’s confession to Bruennhilde, which Wagner described as the most important scene in the "Ring." Allegorically speaking, the reason that Lohengrin is the last of Wagner’s traditional German Romantic operas, in which, as he says, the music relates to the words, the drama, only mechanically, is because Lohengrin refuses to grant Elsa the privilege of love, refuses to share with her the secret of his identity and origin. The reason the "Ring" is the first of Wagner’s four revolutionary music-dramas, in which music and words become one in a perfect loving union, is that Wotan acquiesces to Bruennhilde’s plea for him to confide his divine “Noth” to her. So Bruennhilde is Wotan’s unconscious mind, and his music, whereas his confession of his corrupt history and his true, loathsome identity is the drama which can only be redeemed by dipping itself in redemptive music, in which it can become timeless and mythic and regain its innocence, in Wotan reborn as the artist-hero Siegfried.

And here is the crucial distinction between Elsa and Bruennhilde, the revolutionary distinction. Elsa only offered to share with Lohengrin the knowledge of his true identity and origin, in order to share with him the burden of protecting his secret, so she could save him from some indefinite harm she imagined would come of its being made public. But since Wagner in 1851, just as he was completing the "Ring" libretto, described Elsa as Lohengrin’s unconscious mind, in which his conscious ego can find redemption, in Bruennhilde Wagner took the revolutionary step, because, by virtue of confessing all that he loathes about himself and fears about the gods’ predestined end to Bruennhilde, Wotan can repress his knowledge of his true, loathsome (as he describes it) identity and corrupt history in her, his unconscious mind and the womb of his wishes, in order to be reborn minus conscious knowledge of his true identity and history, which Bruennhilde now knows for him. Thus Siegfried tells Fafner that “I still don’t know who I am,” but Bruennhilde tells Siegfried “Your own self I am if you love me in my bliss, (Motif #87, the Fate Motif), what you don’t know I know for you.”

As for the burden of my argument for my case that Bruennhilde is both Wotan’s and Siegfried’s unconscious mind, you will find it in the remainder of Part A. As for my other proposition that Siegfried is Wotan reborn minus consciousness of his true identity, again, you will find the burden of my answer in the document which follows, but I can anticipate here by noting that Wagner wrote to King Ludwig II that Wotan lives on in Siegfried as the artist lives on in his work of art, in which the original artist remains hidden from view, something which Wagner stated Erda (Mother Nature, who knows all that was, is, and will be, which Wotan sinned against in stealing Alberich’s Ring) did not know.

Here, then, is my answer to Dr. Kitcher's two questions, an essay approximately 200 pages in length:

(#18: Gradually the waves turn into clouds, which resolve into a fine mist as an increasingly bright light emerges behind them. [[ #19 definitive: ]]>[[ #20a: ]] When the mist has completely disappeared from the top of the stage in the form of delicate little clouds, an open space on a mountain summit becomes visible in the dawning light. At one side, on a flowery bank, lies Wotan with Fricka at his side. Both are asleep)

(In the growing light of the dawning day a castle with glittering battlements can be seen standing on a rocky summit in the background; between it and the front of the stage a deep valley must be imagined, with the river rhine flowing through it. Wotan and Fricka asleep. The castle is now fully visible. Fricka wakes up: her eye falls on the castle.)

Fricka: (alarmed) Wotan, husband! Awake!

Wotan: (still dreaming) (#19:) The happy hall of delight is guarded by door and gate (:#19). (#20b?:) Manhood’s honor (:#20b?), (#20c?:) boundless might redound to endless renown (:#20c?)!

Fricka: (shaking him) Awake from the blissful deception of dreams! [[ #21 embryo: ]] Husband, wake up and reflect (:#21 embryo)!

Wotan: (Waking and raising himself a little: his gaze is at once arrested by the sight of the castle) [[ #20a: ]] The everlasting work is ended (:#20a)! (…) On mountain peak the gods’ abode; resplendent shines the proud-standing hall! As in my dream I conceived it, just as my will decreed it, [[ #20b: ]] sturdy and fair (:#20b) [[ #20c: ]] it stands on show (:#20c), [[ #20d: ]] august and glorious building (:#20d)!

Fasolt: (#21:) Gentle slumber sealed your eyes (:#21): we both, unsleeping, built the stronghold. [[ #26b: ]] Never tiring of mighty toil, we stowed the heavy stones away … (:#26b). (pointing to the castle: #20a modulation?) There it stands, what we hewed (#20a modulation?); shimmering brightly the day shines upon it (#20a modulation?): move in now, to pay us our due.

The first evidence in Wagner’s "Ring" for what will become a very sophisticated allegorical representation of the unconscious mind is found here in the transition from Scene One to Scene Two of "Rhinegold," in both the motival music and the words. We see here that Alberich’s Ring Motif #19 transforms musically into the first segment of the Valhalla Motif #20a, as if Alberich’s Ring of power musically gives birth to Valhalla. In my interpretation I construe Alberich’s forging of his Ring of power as Wagner’s metaphor for man’s acquisition of his uniquely human consciousness, man’s reflective, symbolic mind. But, sticking with what is self-evident from the libretto of the "Ring," Alberich’s Ring is a Ring of earthly power, and Valhalla is the "Ring"’s version of the gods’ heavenly home, their divine realm. We find here a musical, or subliminal, transformation from earthly power to heavenly power. The religiously faithful, particularly in Christianity, construe what is earthly as a creation of divinity, of that which supernaturally transcends nature, but Wagner here musically depicts, more accurately, an evolution from the earthly to the spiritual.
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