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Epilogue to Badiou by Slavoj Zizek

PostPosted: Sat Sep 17, 2011 11:09 am
by alberich00

Dear participants in the discussion forum and survivors of my reviews of Badiou's "Five Lessons on Wagner":

I've only become familiar with Alain Badiou and his writings on Wagner, and with Slavoj Zizek, in the past few months (having been out of the loop since around 1998 when I made my final push in my former headquarters in Gulfport, Florida, to complete my life's work on Wagner's "Ring"). As Zizek's Afterword to Badiou's book constitutes a significant part of the whole, and since these two scholars are both colleagues and avowed Wagnerians, I thought it would be worthwhile to review Zizek's contribution separately, both for its own sake and to establish a dialogue with these two gentlemen. So here goes:

Zizek P. 161-162: "In 1995, at a conference on Wagner at Columbia University in New York [PH: I was there: it was entitled "Wagner and the Consequences"], after the majority of participants outdid each other in the art of unmasking the anti-Semitic and proto-fascist dimension of his art, a member of the public asked a wonderfully naive question ... ." PH: I'll paraphrase Zizek: the questioner asked how participants in the conference who locate Wagner's anti-Semitism at the core of his art actually enjoy and listen to Wagner. Doesn't this make us complicit with the Holocaust?

"The embarrassed participants - with the honorable exception of one honest, fanatical anti-Wagnerite who really meant it when suggesting that we stop performing Wagner [PH: I suspect Zizek refers to Leon Botstein of Bard College, who since that 1995 conference has amended his views re the banning of performances of Wagner, and in fact recently sponsored a major music festival at Bard whose purpose was to reconsider the Wagner legacy] - replied with confused versions of 'No, of course we didn't mean that, Wagner wrote wonderful music ... ' - a totally unconvincing compromise ... ."

I can't recall whether Marc Weiner was present on that occasion or whether, if he was, he expressed the views attributed to "the embarrassed participants", but he has expressed the view that we need not take Wagner at his alleged word but can experience Wagner's artworks for ourselves without buying into their allegedly anti-Semitic message.

PH: I reproduce Zizek's opening remarks here simply to recommend that for a largely original analysis of Wagner's anti-Semitism, which includes a consideration of how and in what manner, if any, he may have inscribed it in his "Ring," look no further than my "The Wound That Will Never Heal," which is the centerpiece of

Zizek P. 164: Zizek discusses Syberberg's film version of "Parsifal," which I saw several times at theaters in the Washington, DC, area.

Before I get into Zizek's assessment of it, I can't resist mentioning a typical experience I had trying to watch this film in an appropriate atmosphere. A friend and I chose to watch it at a late-night showing, on a miserable night, at an obscure art-house movie theater near the Potomac River in the Washington, DC, area, precisely in order to avoid running into Yahoos who might disturb the proceedings with chatter and comings and goings. The theater was nearly empty (I was so happy!). And who in their right mind would go out on such a night, to such an obscure place, to watch a film version of an opera almost universally regarded as the most mind-numbing work of art in the Western world, I thought. I was sure I was safe! Well, right in the middle of the Prelude to Act I, a young couple came in chatting and chose to sit a couple of rows in front of us in an otherwise near-empty theater. The chatter ran along the following lines: Girlfriend: "Honey, are you sure we're at the right film? This seems awful deadly to me!" Boyfriend: "I think this is the film my friend recommended. Let's give it a try and see if it gets better." Some variation of this theme went on for nearly a half hour before they decided to leave. I didn't dare ask them to shut up because, once I've been reduced to that, my anger against what I've always regarded as a worldwide conspiracy against my prospects of actually enjoying a production of a Wagner opera all the way through without interruption goes ballistic. But it was too late: I couldn't cool down my nerves enough to enjoy it naively until around the third act. And so it goes, and so it has always gone, even at Bayreuth, of all places!

I'm on a roll, so I can't resist offering another example as proof that this cosmic conspiracy against my enjoyment of Wagner's artworks really exists. I once rescheduled 3 times in the course of a year with a friend with whom I wished to share listening to the Solti recording of "The Valkyrie," libretto in hand, in the basement of my parents' home in Annapolis, MD. I locked the front door, put the phones out of commission, and proceeded, assured of the impossibility that there could be any interruption short of an earthquake [we finally got that earthquake recently] or WWIII. Behold: about midway through Act II, right smack in the middle of Wotan's confession, we hear a loud knock on the back door, the basement door, where no one had ever knocked since the beginning of time. It was an old friend from high school who had spontaneously attempted to visit my friend at her home, without fore-warning, and, learning from her mother that we were attempting to make our way through "The Valkyrie" at my home, he'd knocked first at the front door without result and then, in his wisdom, concluded we must have gone to the basement PRECISELY IN ORDER TO AVOID THE SLIGHTEST POSSIBILITY OF INTERRUPTION!!!!!!!, and found us there. All prospect of returning to "The Valkyrie" in a receptive mood was obliterated.

Now back to Zizek (please forgive my intemperance, ho ho)

Zizek: Zizek says the following about the Syberberg "Parsifal": "Syberberg ... is thoroughly opposed to Leftist ideologico-critical readings: he wants to resuscitate the mythic impact of Wagner's work, not by abstracting it from history, but by incorporating history itself into a mythic texture. (...) Syberberg's 'Parsifal' ... is overfilled with inconsistent symbols which lack a firm interpretive grid. Too much meaning destroys coherence, so all that remains is the general impression that there is some deep, unfathomable, mythic meaning. (...)
Syberberg is right to reject historicist readings that yearn to elucidate the true meaning of Wagnerian tropes (Hagen as a masturbating Jew [Weiner again], Amfortas's wound as syphilis, and so on). Wagner, so the argument goes, was mobilizing historical codes known to everyone in his own time: when a person stumbles, sings in cracking high notes, or makes nervous gestures, 'everyone knew' this was a Jew. However, do we really learn anything salient in this way? What if such historicist contextualizations were not only superfluous, but an active obstacle? What if, in order to properly grasp a work like "Parsifal," one needs to forget all this historical paraphernalia? Historicist reductionism and abstract aestheticism are two sides of the same coin. A work is eternal not against its historical context, but through the way it answers the challenge of its historical moment."

PH: I reproduced that at length because it is well said, and has been said in other ways by astute Wagnerians such as Michael Tanner and Roger Scruton. Adding all this artificial baggage to artworks which are wholly self-contained and organically constructed to the degree that Wagner's artworks are is like taking your own flies to a picnic. WHY???

Zizek P. 165: Here Zizek gives his testimonial to Badiou, saying that Badiou's "ground-breaking study of Wagner ... reasserts the artistic-political unity of the event called Wagner. Beyond all historical paraphernalia, Wagner's opus embodies a certain vision of and answer to the deadlock of European modernity, a vision and an answer which can in no way be dismissed as proto-fascist. (...)
The battle for Wagner is not over: today, after the exhaustion of the critical-historicist and aestheticist paradigms, it is entering its decisive phase."

PH: Well, I agree entirely with Zizek here, but it remains to be seen what approach to Wagner he suggests would most bring out Wagner's inherent virtues in performance.

Zizek P. 167: Zizek addresses the archetypal importance of the Orpheus/Eurydice myth for early opera, and the question of why "... Orpheus looked back and screwed things up. What we encounter here is simply the link between the death drive and creative sublimation: Orpheus' backward glance is a perverse act stricto sensu; he loses Eurydice intentionally in order to regain her as the object of sublime poetic inspiration. (...) What if Eurydice herself, aware of the impasse of her beloved Orpheus, intentionally provoked his turning around? What if her reasoning was something like: 'I know he loves me; but he is potentially a great poet, this is his fate, and he cannot fulfil that promise by being happily married to me."

PH: A wonderful parallel of a sort is Tannhaeuser's informing Venus that he can better serve her by praising her beauty and love in song than in possessing her, which in this case means: possessing the bliss of paradise. Sachs makes a roughly identical statement in his confession to Eva, in which he states, in effect, that since Eve in Paradise is responsible for the fact that man has become conscious he is mortal and is therefore exiled from any true paradise (i.e., he now has to wear shoes because he can feel the rubble of finitude and mortality when he walks), she, as the guilty party, the giver of fatal knowledge, is also responsible for inspiring Walther's mastersong in which the Folk will find the only possible substitute for a transcendent paradise, in art (a shoe that fits so well one loses one's consciousness of one's mortality, and feels oneself back in paradise, though it took the artificiality of a shoe to accomplish this). Tannhaeuser offers Feuerbach's critique of the Christian promise of immortality to Venus: since there is only the physical life, since all meaning stems from physical existence, its pains and pleasures, and man, being mortal by definition, can't enjoy absolute pleasure, since pleasure and pain are inextricably mixed in the real world, only in art can Tannhaeuser imagine a paradise of love and get away with praising it. But meaning can alone be found within the real world and man's artificial, symbolic quest to redeem himself from it.

Zizek P. 167-168: Then Zizek makes the following comparison with Elsa: "Like Eurydice who, by sacrificing herself (that is, intentionally provoking Orpheus to turn his gaze towards her and thus send her back to Hades) delivers his creativity and sets him free to pursue his poetic mission, Elsa in Wagner's "Lohengrin" also intentionally asks the forbidden question and thereby delivers Lohengrin, whose true desire, of course, is to remain the lone artist sublimating his suffering into his creativity."

PH: I forget which pundit or pundits (besides Wagner himself) first presented a coherent argument that Lohengrin is a figure for the lonely, absolute artist, but Zizek echoes that here. In my interpretation of "Lohengrin," first proposed coherently in my article "How Elsa Showed Wagner the Way to Siegfried" in the 5/95 issue of WAGNER, the scholarly journal of The Wagner Society (UK) [and now posted here in this discussion forum for your amusement and edification], but improved in subsequent versions I've placed online or presented in lectures, Lohengrin stands not for the lonely artist seeking salvation in Elsa's love, but stands rather in the position of Wotan as the representative of man's bid for transcendence in religious belief, in this instance the Grail Realm. It is rather Godfrey who stands for the artist-redeemer who will offer man a substitute for God when he (in this case Lohengrin, i.e. the beliefs he represents) is forced to leave us due to modern man's loss of faith. In my interpretation Elsa must ask the forbidden question because she is herself Lohengrin's unconscious mind (as Wagner himself said in "A Communication To My Friends"), in whom Lohengrin necessarily represses his own self-knowledge. It is due to the fact that modern man is losing faith that what was formerly our hoard of unconscious knowledge rises from the silent depths of night to the light of day and is exposed for all to see. Elsa's asking of the forbidden question which will overthrow man's faith in the gods, in transcendence, is the prerequisite for Wagner's music-dramas to offer their secular substitute for the god who had to leave us. It's for this reason that in virtually all of Wagner's music-dramas from "Tannhaeuser" onward the heroine-muse is modeled on Eve in Paradise (I refer here to Venus: it's also noteworthy that the shepherd boy who wakes Tannhaeuser from his sojourn in Venus's dream-realm of night sings of Holda, that is, Freia), who asked the forbidden question. Feuerbach extolled Eve as the archetype for modern man's liberator from religious faith, for which, according to Feuerbach, modern art and science can offer a substitute. In Wagner's "Ring," as I understand it, Siegfried represents this Feuerbachian artist hero who falls heir to religion's former role of offering man the feeling of having transcendent value, and Hagen is Wagner's figure for the skeptical and cynical man of modern science who overthrows the old faith in favor of an objective understanding of man and his world. In this broad sense Siegfried and Hagen are equally heirs to Wotan, i.e. heirs to dying religious faith.

PH: Lohengrin had to leave because what had really been exposed was religion's basis in self-deceit and fear of truth: Lohengrin sought redemption from the sterility of religious man's notion of paradise, the Grail Realm, a sort of wasteland of the imagination, as Feuerbach had more or less put it, by seeking a real, physical love with the earthly Elsa. Lohengrin illustrated Feuerbach's notion that what man seeks in paradise is, after all, nothing more than what he enjoyed in this physical life, but stripped of its limiting conditions, its anguish, as if we could artificially segregate pleasure from pain in reality, rather than only in the imagination. In other words, Tannhaeuser's objection to Venus's offer of paradise is predicated on his unconscious knowledge (while sojourning with his muse Venus he is in fact inhabiting his own unconscious mind during artistic inspiration, and when he wakes he's won his inspiration but forgotten its true source, until, like Siegfried, he unwittingly reveals his true source in song) that what we call a transcendent paradise of the spirit is really nothing more than the flesh magnified by the imagination to infinity and purified by the imagination of its limiting factors. Tannhaeuser sees through this and realizes it is only in art that we can enjoy this paradise, not in reality. This explains, by the way, why Tannhaeuser's artistic inspiration was once thought to be divine, but ultimately is exposed, by Tannhaeuser himself, as man's private hell, i.e., the unhealing wound of man's futile quest to deny nature yet go on living, the promise of religious faith.

PH: I've posted my original article [with a couple of corrections: somehow or other in transmission over a long period of time to the editor, Stewart Spencer, a couple of my sentences were altered in such a way that my original meaning was lost, so I've restored them] from 1995 (which was based on a 1991 essay which I mailed to Stewart Spencer), and will later post the best current version I have, to, to provide readers with a coherent context for what I'm saying here. Eventually I'll merge these papers to construct the "Lohengrin" chapter of my prospective hardcopy book, along with more supporting material from Feuerbach. My "Tannhaeuser" interpretation has to be re-written with Feuerbach in mind too, but I've already selected the appropriate Feuerbach extracts for both chapters.

Zizek P. 172-173: Zizek moves on to a defense of reinterpretations of classic works which go so far as to changing facts of the narrative, suggesting that this is a risk which, though often producing absurd results, must be taken if we are to show how such works point to the future. As examples he offers the Ponnelle version of "Tristan" and Syberberg's "Parsifal." In Ponnelle's version Isolde in Act III is a figment of Tristan's delirious imagination and he does indeed die alone.

PH: Though I personally found portions of Ponnelle's reading moving and persuasive, there is always a problem inherent in tweaking the dramatic dynamics of Wagner's works. Wagner has been at infinite pains to calculate every musico-dramatic gesture, over a long period of time, and knew what he was doing. Altering facts on the ground like this, even if one can find a pretext within the libretto text or in Wagner's writings, risks wholesale demolition of Wagner's delicate calculus. Often it just doesn't feel right. In many modern productions of Wagner's works I've seen stage business and nuances of acting that ran entirely against the grain of both the libretto text and the music, and the only purpose this serves is to lessen the potential impact of the whole. Of course it's a matter of degree. Thanks to some excellent directing and the skills of the performers, the Chereau "Ring" had some wonderful moments and even stellar scenes, but often only in spite of Chereau's all-too-specific attempts at topical reinterpretation.

PH: I understand that Zizek is given to buffooneries and jokes to make a larger point, so I don't know whether he's seriously offering his following alleged fantasy of a custom-made "Parsifal" production or just playing with his reader and having some fun, but I reproduce it anyway as a classic example of what I think would not work on any level whatsoever, musical, dramatic, conceptual, were a producer to attempt it:

Zizek: "Along these lines, imagine - my own personal dream - a 'Parsifal' taking place in a modern metropolis, with Klingsor as an impotent pimp running a whorehouse. He uses Kundry to seduce members of the 'Grail' circle, a rival drug gang. 'Grail' is run by the wounded Amfortas, whose father Titurel is in a constant delirium induced by an excess of drugs; Amfortas is under terrible pressure from the members of his gang to 'perform the ritual'; that is, to deliver the daily supply of drugs to them. He was 'wounded' (infected by AIDS) by Kundry, his penis bitten while Kundry was giving him fellatio. Parsifal is the young, inexperienced son of a single, homeless mother who does not get the point of drugs; he 'feels the pain' and rejects Kundry's advances while she is performing fellatio on him. When Parsifal takes over the 'Grail' gang, he establishes a new rule for his community: free distribution of drugs."

PH: Well, what a hoot!!!! Zizek doesn't exaggerate: this is more or less what is being made of Wagner's music-dramas in our time. I suppose if one were to seek a Marxist rationalization for such a reinterpretation of "Parsifal" it would be that Marx interprets everything from a materialist and economic [and class, though that doesn't enter in here much] standpoint, and that religion is a sort of opiate (here's where the drugs come in) of the people. I would simply suggest that we might as well cut up the entire libretto text of "Parsifal" into segments, place them in a box and shake them, and then have a class of school children take out one piece of paper at a time until we've entirely reconstructed "Parsifal" from scratch and then give it a go in the theater. In any case, Zizek's fantasy version of "Parsifal" (again, I suspect he's just having fun) would have about as much to do with "Parsifal" as my fantasy version.

PH: The real question is: what are modern regie-theater producer/directors afraid of?

Zizek P. 180-181: Zizek has something interesting to say about "Tristan": "... crucial for 'Tristan' is the gap between the opera's 'official ideology' and its subversion through the work's texture itself. (...) In "Tristan," the ultimate truth does not reside in the musical message of passionate self-obliterating love-fulfilment, but in the dramatic stage action itself which subverts the passionate immersion into the musical texture. The final shared death of the two lovers abounds in Romantic operas ... . Against this background, one should emphasize how in Wagner's "Tristan," the very opera which elevates this shared death into its explicit ideological goal, this, precisely, is not what effectively happens: in the music, it is as if the two lovers die together, while in reality they die one after the other, each immersed in his/her own solipsistic dream."

PH: There is much truth, I think, in what Zizek says. In my interpretation of "Tristan," the key can be found in Isolde's reservations about the significance of "Und" to their love (which Zizek discusses further along on P. 181). I recall Bryan Magee discussed this problem somewhere. The problem is that the very value of their love, its very meaning, depends upon their status as mortal, physical beings [Roger Scruton has dealt with this issue in some detail], even though the feelings engendered by that love are equated with the religious notion of spiritual transcendence. It is precisely the Wagnerian heroine-muse-lover who holds, for the hero, his fateful self-knowledge, that there is no transcendence, but only the longing for transcendence, and it is inspired secular art which gives voice to this futile longing. Thus Isolde is the one who voices her reservations about the consequences which would follow from eliminating the "Und." So Zizek is right: in the final analysis, Tristan and Isolde can only merge in feeling, in imagination, but not in reality, which is precisely why Tristan insures he'll die before her and not receive another dose of faux healing from her. Parsifal simply carries Tristan's bitter self-knowledge to its final conclusion: the hero's muse of unconscious artistic inspiration, once conscious and wakeful, has lost her purpose, and must cease to exist. Thus Kundry passes on.

Zizek P. 188-189: Zizek asks if Wagner opened up a path to neo-Romantic Kitsch, and recalls that Placido Domingo once intended to collaborate with Hollywood to produce a "Ring" hugely enhanced with movie special effects (along Lucas/Spielberg lines) at the Los Angeles Opera.

PH: I recall that Domingo ultimately withdrew this proposal, and I understand it may have been because demands were being made to popularize the "Ring" in a way that would destroy its gravitas. The irony is that avowedly Wagnerian producer/directors have been doing this for some time.

Zizek: "Cultural critics in the Adornian vein were quick to note that this was not simply a vulgar profanation of Wagner's 'high art'. The cinematic nature of Wagner's 'Ring' itself has often been noted." And Zizek adds that Hollywood composers of film scores owe a great deal to Wagner, and asks: "Did Wagner really accomplish the first step towards the kitschy 'fetishization' of music that reaches its apogee in classical Hollywood?"

PH: Roger Scruton has properly said that if Wagner's "Ring" were ever produced as a film with true conviction, it would be the greatest film ever made, and I concur. However, for all those who draw comparisons between the films of "Lord of the Rings" and the Star Wars series and Wagner's "Ring," I develop an intense allergic reaction. Those films are massively over-produced at the expense of true conviction in acting and story-telling. Particularly in the Star Wars series, which could have been infinitely more impressive had it had the courage of its convictions, the producer-directors totally ruined it as a drama by constantly lowering the temperature with tongue-in-cheek humor and silly appeals to various constituencies among the film-going public in order to widen its appeal and bring in the bucks. The "Ring" is, quite simply, an entirely different order of experience, radically distinct in kind and not only in degree. The kind of film auteur required to bring such an unprecedented project like the "Ring" to life would be someone of the same stripe as David Lean (at his best), John Huston, perhaps a couple of others, but certainly not any of these Hollywood directors whose very instinct is geared towards seeking an audience rather than creating it. As Wagner said, he didn't create his great artworks with a specific, real audience in mind, but rather, with an ideal audience of his imagination.

Zizek P. 193: "It is a well-known fact that, in the last minutes of "Goetterdaemmerung," the orchestra performs an excessively intricate cobweb of motifs, basically nothing less than the recapitulation of the motivic wealth of the entire "Ring." It this not the ultimate proof that Wagner himself was not sure about what the final apotheosis of the "Ring" 'means'?" Zizek attributes this "vicious" thesis primarily to Adorno.

PH: On the contrary, one would naturally expect Wagner to perform his ultimate motival "Wonder" at the conclusion of the "Ring," not because he didn't know how to end it or what its conclusion would mean (though that may well be true), but because it would be precisely at the conclusion that Wagner would want to intuit, and have his audience intuit, the entirety of the "Ring" in a flash of insight, so to speak. Proust famously attempted something similar in "The Past Recaptured."

Zizek P. 193-194: Zizek references the so-called motif of redemption by love, the primary motif heard in the concluding few minutes of the "'Ring" which casts a spell of peace of some sort upon the proceedings, and notes that critics have accused Wagner of merely choosing a sentimental motif for the end which would more or less say: what does it all matter, so long as we love. Of course this motif, Dunning's #93, as Zizek points out, is only heard elsewhere a couple of times as Sieglinde is praising Bruennhilde for her sacrificial love which strove futilely to save Siegmund's life but did in fact save Sieglinde's life so she could bring the hero Siegfried (named, significantly, by Bruennhilde, not the natural mother Sieglinde) to birth. I've pointed out on this website that the motif Wagner would most likely have chosen had he wished to conclude the "Ring" unambiguously with a message of redemption through love would have been Dunning's #134, heard in S.3.1 as Wotan tells Erda that he no longer fears his end because his heirs Siegfried and Bruennhilde have defeated Alberich's curse on the Ring, and Bruennhilde will redeem the world. But it is #93 which is given prominence at the conclusion, and this could be read innumerable ways, not the least of which might be a resigned: 'Look what became of this hope!'

Zizek P. 195: Zizek notes that in "Parsifal" it is the paternal figure Amfortas who suffers from the unhealing wound, rather than the young transgressor as in "Tristan."

PH: Amfortas experiences the unhealing wound because Amfortas, Wagner's figure for modern man, his own audience, was no longer protected, even temporarily, from consciousness of the wound for which inspired secular artworks had previously offered a post-religious salve. Note that both Tristan and Siegfried unwittingly give their muse-lover and her secrets (the secrets heretofore kept by the artist-hero's unconscious mind, his muse) away to the paternal figures Marke and Gunther, both of whom suffer unbearably from this gift since they are also figures for Wagner's audience. In other words, Wagner is saying that in his own music-dramas the heretofore unconscious secret of religio-artistic revelation/inspiration has been revealed and therefore art can no longer provide man even a temporary salve. Parsifal sees himself in Klingsor - the master of the magical garden of art [I have reasons for believing that Dieter Borchmeyer would appreciate this reading] - as having given his muse Kundry away to Amfortas, when the artist-hero should have offered his audience Amfortas a redemptive work of art which would repress its true, fateful source of inspiration safely below consciousness. Wagner's musical motifs help to betray the forbidden truth to the light of day, and this Wagner represented in the comparable roles Tristan's alte Weise and Siegfried's Woodbird song play, in waking the hero's up, and recalling to them their true, but previously repressed, identity.

Zizek P. 203: Zizek references Steffen Huck's answer to the question why Elsa asked Lohengrin the forbidden question.

PH: I would suggest Zizek compare Huck's thesis to my own. It would also be of interest to compare the 1997 article "Elsa Screams or The Birth of the Music Drama" by Berthold Hoeckner (Univ. of Chicago Dept. of Music) to my 1995 article "How Elsa Showed Wagner the Way to Siegfried," since Hoeckner's article (based evidently on a 1994 thesis, as my article is based on a 1991 paper submitted to Stewart Spencer for publication in WAGNER, the scholarly journal of The Wagner Society of London, UK, now defunct) presents an argument which has some points in common with my own. Both Hoeckner and I argue that Elsa's actions in some sense give birth to the music-drama, except that I argue explicitly that it was through her asking the forbidden question that Elsa figuratively gives birth to Siegfried and therefore the music-drama: for in the "Ring" Wotan, unlike Lohengrin, does answer Bruennhilde's query as to the cause of his divine "Noth," thereby inseminating the womb of music with drama/words in an organic rather than mechanical manner, to create the revolutionary music-drama.

PH: By the way, I do not argue that Elsa is innocent. She is a figure for Eve, and in a figurative sense did murder her brother Godfrey (not in the sense that he died through her fault, but rather, that in Genesis man became subject to death, i.e., to consciousness of death, through the knowledge Eve shared with Adam), who in my interpretation is a figure for both Adam and the future artist-hero who will fall heir to Lohengrin's sword, horn, and ring, when Lohengrin must leave the world. As far as I know John Deathridge was the first Wagner pundit to draw attention to the fact that both Siegfried and Godfrey inherit a sword, horn, and ring. This is no accident.

Zizek P. 204: Zizek asks: "Why does the prohibition matter more to him [Lohengrin] than his love for Elsa?"

PH: I note in my interpretation of "Lohengrin" Feuerbach's assertion that faith and love are antagonistic, that faith is in effect fearful and egoistic. The reason Lohengrin insists on possessing Elsa's love only under the prohibition that she may not ask him about his true identity or origin is that religious faith itself expresses the fear of self-knowledge. Since Feuerbach believed that mankind unwittingly and unconsciously invented the gods, or God, the religiously faithful could not afford to acknowledge the truth. The faithful would have to remain unconscious of the truth that they had invented the gods, and all questioning of faith risked the possibility that this forbidden truth would be exposed, not just the truth that man is an animal which originates in a natural evolutionary process, but the truth that religion is a remarkably sophisticated mechanism for sustaining self-deceit (Loge, the god of Wahn or self-deceit, took Wotan at his word, as Satan took the Dutchman at his word). Both the bitter truth, and the fact that we invented our own substitute for it, are prohibited knowledge. It is this which Lohengrin hides, even from himself. This is why Elsa suggests that Lohengrin let her share this secret so she can help protect him from the consequences (the "Noth") which would follow if it rose to consciousness, not only in others, but in himself. In other words, with Elsa, the Wagnerian heroine becomes the sole repository of the hero's secret, keeping the secret even from him so that he will be protected from the possibility that it might become conscious. Similarly, Tannhaeuser suffered amnesia re the events of his regularly recurring sojourns in his womb of night with his muse of unconscious artistic inspiration Venus, until he unwittingly and obliviously revealed this secret in the context of the song he sung at the Wartburg Court to win Elizabeth's (his ideal muse's) hand.

PH: This issue even goes back to the Dutchman who, according to Wagner, in effect committed a crime by letting a heroine make the sacrifice of love for him. The heroine thus becomes complicit in the hero's unconscious self-deceit. The Dutchman had sworn to round the cape, against the forces of nature, at all costs, and therefore, like Wotan, was guilty of the crime of renouncing the real world in favor of an exalted, transcendent ideal. It was this unhealing wound which only a muse of artistic inspiration like Senta, who was willing to share with the hero the forbidden knowledge of his true identity as a Mother-Nature killer, could temporarily heal. Elsa, like Christ, took the entire burden of Lohengrin's sin against Mother Nature, i.e., religion's sin against the truth, upon herself. Similarly, Bruennhilde took the burden of Wotan's, religion's (the gods'), sin upon herself in hearing his confession. During his confession to Bruennhilde Wotan represses the knowledge that the gods are predestined to destruction by Alberich because the gods are the incarnation of man's self-deceit (Loge), whereas Alberich represents the terrible but objective truth and has nothing to lose.

Zizek P. 204: Now Zizek travels a road I have long traveled in my prior work on "Lohengrin" going back to my 1995 article: "One might even wonder: Is Elsa's predicament not even more tragic than it appears? ... isn't it that, whatever answer she gets (Lohengrin is a divine hero who knew about her innocence; Lohengrin is just an ordinary guy using some magic), the outcome is catastrophic? Wouldn't it be much more satisfying for Elsa to learn that Lohengrin is an ordinary knight who didn't know the truth, but just trusted Elsa out of love? (...)
Read in this way, the question Elsa is prohibited from asking is hysteria at its purest: it is not really 'tell me who are you', but 'tell me who I really am' - which gives rise to another disturbing possibility: what if, even if Elsa is not guilty of the crime she was accused of, her desire was involved in the young prince's murder? [PH: of course Godfrey wasn't literally murdered because he later returns alive, and Ortrud admits Godfrey was under her spell the whole time, and Parsifal admits Godfrey was also under the Grail's protection the whole time] This brings us to the unexpected conclusion that, of the opera's main characters, the gullible Telramund is the only atheist and, simultaneously, the only honest man, merely manipulated by Ortrud who, no less than Elsa and Lohengrin, pursues her dark, disavowed gods.
Elsa is, as such, a compromise figure: in contrast to the great 'radical' feminine figures, from Senta through Isolde to Bruennhilde, she lacks the strength to resolve her hysterical tension through the self-sacrificial passage a l'acte."

PH: In my 5/95 interpretation [now posted in this discussion forum as "How Elsa Showed Wagner the Way to Siegfried"] Telramund, in his alliance with Ortrud, is an incipient model for the relationship of Alberich (and his son Hagen) to Erda, since it is Alberich who affirms Erda's knowledge of all that was, is, and will be, while, according to Alberich, it is Wotan, religious man, who sins against this objective truth, by predicating all value on world-denial (immortality, etc.). Wotan, religious man, according to Alberich, sins by co-opting Alberich's proper power, the Ring-power of the human mind, in order to deny the world's truth, all that was, is, and will be (Erda's, Mother-Nature's, knowledge). Note that Elsa ends up allied with Ortrud and Telramund against Lohengrin, just as Bruennhilde ends up as Hagen's ally in his quest to overthrow Siegfried. Furthermore, Bruennhilde is Erda's (as Wotan says, the mother of fear) daughter, just as Elsa is unusually subject to Ortrud's influence. Again, the heroine-lover-muse knows for the hero what he can't afford to know, the fatal knowledge of religion's and art's mundane natural origins.

PH: Zizek proposes above that Elsa is a weaker figure than Senta, Isolde, or Bruennhilde. I believe this is incorrect: Elsa's breach of faith in Lohengrin, her refusal to be bound by his forbidden question, is the conceptual foundation of Wagner's evolution from a creator of romantic operas to the creator of the revolutionary music-drama, as Wagner himself said in his essay "A Communication to my Friends." In this sense Elsa is the founder or archetype of all the heroines of the mature music-dramas.

Zizek P. 209: "... an undeniable hollowness pertains to the triumphant duet which concludes "Siegfried." Siegfried and Bruennhilde's romantic passion is clearly contrived, a pale shadow of the intensity of Siegmund and Sieglinde's passionate embrace at the end of Act I of "Die Walkuere." And, magnificent as it is, the great awakening of the couple in scene 2 of the prelude to "Goetterdaemmerung" is the beginning of the road to gradual disintegration."

PH: According to my interpretation, Zizek is only correct in his assessment that the Siegfried/Bruennhilde love duet in S.3.3 is hollow and artificial if Wagner regarded his own unconscious artistic inspiration as artificial, for that, in my view, is what their love duet represents. But Wagner's artistic inspiration is the most authentic thing he ever knew or experienced. I can concur with Zizek when he suggests how much more sympathetic the characters Siegmund and Sieglinde are than Siegfried, but Siegfried nonetheless was part of Wagner's own self-portrait, and Siegfried's betrayal of love (however unwitting) and failure to redeem the world through love in "Twilight of the Gods" was part of Wagner's own self-critique, a process completed by Parsifal's destruction of Klingsor's Magic Garden.

PH: My interpretation should aid many in grasping Siegfried's and Parsifal's apparent foolishness and innocence. Wagner's view was that inspired artists such as himself were pre-fallen beings, beings whose childlike plasticity and capacity for wonder wasn't diminished by growing up. Siegfried remains capable of seeing the world naively and aesthetically into adulthood. Siegfried's primary motivation comes from his unconscious mind (represented by his muse Bruennhilde) and by his instinctive capacity to tap into the heritage of his inspired hero forbears, represented by his re-forging of his father Siegmund's sword. These are the dead heroes of Valhalla, the deluded heroes of Klinsgor's magic garden, man's legacy left for him by the religious and artist heroes of the past, who were inspired by Valkyrie-Flower-Maiden muses. Siegfried's unconscious Bruennhilde protects him from the paralysis caused by too much consciousness, too much ego, from which Wotan (collective, historical man) suffers from "The Valkyrie" Act II onward. Wotan had, of course, repressed his own self-knowledge, his consciousness of his tainted soul, into Bruennhilde during his confession to her, and thereby gave birth to Siegfried, whose virtue, whose source of fearlessness, is that, unlike Wotan, he does not know who he is (this of course corresponds with Wagner's famous remark that for the great artist his artwork remains as much a mystery as for his audience). In other words, Wagner is saying that the unconsciously inspired artist, very rarely found among the human collective, is a uniquely constituted being different in kind from the masses, though he can reestablish his broken link with them through his art, if not through personal connections. The difference might be understood this way: the great artists link with each other through their art-products, sometimes over great spans of time and space because of their rarity (though in great civilizations, particularly in great cities, the probability that geniuses can link up with each other directly in life is greatly increased): the mass of humans, on the other hand, are not so much movers and shakers of history as involved in one-to-one relationships with each other in society. This I know is woefully incomplete but I think it helps to explain certain features of Siegfried's personality, and particularly things which seem to be missing.

Zizek P. 210: Zizek recommends that we invoke Levi-Strauss's structural approach to the analysis of myth, in which what is most important is the semantic relationship of one symbol to another, rather than Jungian archetypes, to assess Wagner's "Ring."

PH: Readers of the introduction to will see that I have found inspiration in both approaches, particularly in certain insights of the Jungian Robert Donington, though I differ with Donington on far more points than we agree on.

Zizek: A small point: Zizek contrasts the love potions in "Tristan" and "Twilight of the Gods": "The love triggered by the potion in "Tristan" is the authentic deadly attachment which was already 'in the air' before the potion was drunk ... , while the love triggered by the potion in "Goetterdaemmerung" is based on the repression of Siegfried's true authentic attachment (to Bruennhilde) - the first potion sets in full remembrance; the second potion, repression/forgetting."

PH: Zizek hasn't considered that in T.3.2 Hagen offers Siegfried the antidote to the initial love potion of forgetting which Gutrune originally gave Siegfried, and the antidote is embodied by the same potion motif as the original. The point is that both potions are the same potion and represent the same thing: Siegfried's fated betrayal of the secrets formerly kept by his unconscious mind, by his muse Bruennhilde, within his "Ring," which he will present to his audience the Gibichungs in metaphor through the narrative he sings about his youth, and how he learned the meaning of birdsong (i.e., how Wagner came to grasp the formerly hidden programme behind all music, i.e., behind religious faith's retreat from thought into feeling). So both potions ultimately become the symbol for the hero's tragic, fatal remembrance of who he is.

Zizek P. 212-213: Zizek says a curious thing: he describes various paths Wagner might have taken but did not: "... it points towards a what-if scenario of an alternative Wagner, and thus reminds us of the open character of history. The 'Saracen Woman' is, after Wagner found his voice in "The Flying Dutchman," the last counter-attack of the Grand Opera, a repetition of "Rienzi." If Wagner had set it to music and if the opera had turned out to be a triumph like "Rienzi," it is possible that Wagner would have succumbed to this last Meyerbeerian temptation, and would have developed into a thoroughly different composer."

PH: But he did not, and not merely because of a whim of fate or personal history. Yes, it is true that Wagner could only have become the artist he did by virtue of being born when and where he was, and experiencing what he experienced in his lifetime in Europe, but a mind like his was not in my view susceptible to being any less than it was, in any conceivable environment, though obviously the special circumstances of Europe in the 19th Century, and Wagner's special milieu, probably lent itself to encouraging self-development in a personality like Wagner's. It is inconceivable to me that Wagner could ever by mere happenstance have settled to be an imitative opera composer modeling himself on Meyerbeer. I don't think early success would have thrown Wagner off his stride or musico-dramatic trajectory. I think he actually abhorred many of the trappings of fame, and felt most comfortable in seclusion, in spite of his histrionic nature and extroversion. Wagner, I think, remained alone in the midst of it all.

Zizek P. 216-217: Zizek addresses the issue of Amfortas's wound, which will never heal, and notes the Hegelian root of the notion that Amfortas's wound can only be healed by the spear which smote it.

[PH: I recall reading somewhere that this concept was first broached in one of the Greek tragedies: did it concern Ajax?].

Zizek: Zizek paraphrases Hegel [who of course had a huge influence on Wagner's mentor Feuerbach]: "... the Spirit is itself the wound it tries to heal, that is, the wound is self-inflicted. That is to say, what is 'Spirit' at its most elementary? The 'wound' of nature: the subject is the immense - absolute - power of negativity, of introducing a gap/cut into the given-immediate substantial unity, the power of differentiating, of 'abstracting', of tearing apart and treating as self-standing what in reality is part of an organic unity."

PH: The main point here, for our purposes, is that, as I noted in, Wagner located the source of man's fall in his very definition, his reflective consciousness, which makes himself a subject and his world (including his body, which includes his brain) an object of knowledge. This is the initial cause of the wound, but the wound that will never heal, the subject of my book on the "Ring," is actually the artificial means man employs in order to close this gap with nature, through religion and art, in which man tries to eliminate the subject-object distinction. Note that Amfortas eventually suffers from this wound, as I interpret it man's futile quest to transcend his natural self, more than from the original wound of consciousness, which gave birth to our notion of nature as Other. "Parsifal" act three is devoted to Parsifal's restoration of mother nature, whom religious man had figuratively murdered through world-denial, to her rights, by renouncing man's futile bid for transcendence. It is this which heals Amfortas's wound.

Zizek P. 218: Zizek notes that the Pope's staff sprouts leaves in the finale of "Tannhaeuser."

PH: The Pope's refusal to absolve Tannhaeuser of his sin, the Pope's accusation that Tannhaeuser's sin was irredeemable (totally contrary, of course, to the usual Christian message, as Elizabeth herself pointed out to the knights of the Wartburg who had originally condemned Tannhaeuser for his escapades - for exposing his escapades - in the Venusberg), needless to say links the Pope with Wotan and his Spear of divine authority and law. Wagner himself noted that Wotan's spear is dead. Since it is required for the miracle of Tannhaeuser's redemption (through the intercession of his ideal muse Elizabeth) that the Pope's staff sprout leaves, i.e., that it live, again, clearly this is a restoration of earthly fertility to the wasteland created by man's futile bid for transcendence. similar to the Good Friday Spell in "Parsifal." That is to say, only secular art, which affirms rather than denies the world, can offer Tannhaeuser redemption. The reason why believers in transcendence could not offer him absolution was that by exposing the true but formerly hidden and unconscious secret of religio-artistic inspiration during the song he sings to win Elizabeth's hand, namely, exposing the earthly Venusberg as the true source of inspiration for man's invention of the allegedly unworldly heaven, Tannhaeuser had exposed in his artwork (as Siegfried did in the narrative he sang about how he came to understand birdsong, and as Wagner did in the "Ring") the knowledge which exposed man's very longing for transcendence of the real world as a farce. Tannhaeuser had exposed to the light of day Feuerbach's revelation that what we call heaven is merely the earthly purified by the imagination of all contingency. Note that just as the Pope's dead staff is restored to life (as the corrupt Flowermaidens are transformed back into innocent flowers of nature), so, according to Deryck Cooke, the formerly stiff motif of Wotan's spear is made florid with ornate motival variation as Bruennhilde, the womb of Wotan's wishes, softens Wotan's willed intent.

Zizek P. 220: Zizek echoes Feuerbach's formulation in the following: "... is not the 'longing for utmost physical reality' [quoting Wagner here re "Lohengrin"] which forms the essence of true love what propels Christ towards Incarnation? God became man out of love for humanity, where he effectively 'dissolved and disappeared' on the Cross."

PH: Feuerbach observed that the central Christian notion that God became incarnate as human in the Son was merely a covert admission that God, whom we unwittingly and unconsciously invented, is human in the first place, and that it is through our own invention that we alienated this part of ourselves and called it spirit. This of course is the foundation for my argument (not necessarily original with me) that it was actually Lohengrin who was seeking salvation by marrying Elsa. In other words, what Christians call heaven wouldn't have any valuable content unless they smuggled the earthly into it.

Zizek: Zizek imagines an alternative Feuerbachian narrative for "Parsifal" in which Kundry actually seduces Parsifal, and this act actually frees Kundry from Klingsor's domination. "In the finale, Parsifal arrives with Kundry in the last seconds to save Amfortas, proclaiming that the old, sterile, masculine rule of the Grail is over and that, to restore fertility to the land, femininity should be admitted. One should return to the (pagan) balance of the Masculine and the Feminine."

PH: I recommend that forum visitors consult my essay on Feuerbach's influence on the libretto of "Parsifal." There I show how a Feuerbachian interpretation makes sense of "Parsifal" as we know it, and not as Zizek would make it.

So ends my as yet one-sided conversation with Alain Badiou and Slavoj Zizek: I look forward to hearing their voices here. I know Zizek has written some other essays on Wagner and I look forward to reading and discussing them. I have found my interaction with the thinking of these two scholars most stimulating, and I agree with them that this bodes well for the future of Wagner scholarship.

Your friend from Wagnerheim,

Paul alias Alberich00 on 9/20/11 at 10:51am EST

Re: Epilogue to Badiou by Slavoj Zizek

PostPosted: Sun Sep 18, 2011 5:42 pm
by parzival
I enjoy reading these updates, and your "conspiracy" stories made me laugh; I have a few myself, though nothing as funny as that poor couple wandering in on Syberberg! I often try to sneak an act of "Parsifal" in when no one's at home, usually without success...
I've been meaning to watch Syberberg's "Parsifal," it sounds like a very interesting and unusually intelligent production. Unfortunately it (and, of course, the all-important opportunity to watch it) is hard to come by now.
I appreciate Zizek's criticism of the misguided need to "historicize" Wagner. On the other hand, however, I confess that I enjoy abstract productions, ala Wieland Wagner, particularly in the more metaphysical works, "Tristan" and "Parsifal," if only because they avoid the distracting pageantry of more traditional stagings and encourage a more introspective response for these intense psychological dramas.

Re: Epilogue to Badiou by Slavoj Zizek

PostPosted: Sun Sep 18, 2011 9:46 pm
by alberich00
Dear Parzival:

I ought to have said that I really enjoy certain abstract productions a la Wieland Wagner too because of the potentiality for real focus and inwardness which isn't achieved at the cost of tinkering with Wagner's symbology. Such productions really bring out Wagner's underlying spiritual links with what is most impressive in Greek Tragedy, Shakespeare's inward plays like "Lear" and "Hamlet," and Brecht.

Believe it or not your enjoyment of my conspiracy stories has taken a burden off my shoulders. A very good friend wrote to suggest that readers might seriously mistake me for one of these cosmic conspiracy theorists, ho ho. Well, I'm really not above taking minor incidents for evidence of cosmic conspiracies: I recall a few episodes in my past when the mere act of accidentally stubbing my toe would throw me into an hour-long tirade about how the world was out to get me, but somehow or other I've survived all these years without a stroke. As Wagner put it himself, he was at once the fount of his own tendency to feel the pains of the world more deeply than others, and by the same token could, more than anyone else, provide his own salve for these pains.

I enjoyed Syberberg's "Parsifal" in spite of, rather than because of, his use of puppets and Wagner's death mask and references to Marx and Nietzsche and the Nazis and Parsifal's split into a boy/girl. My favorite Syberberg trope was Amfortas's wound detached, if I recall, and placed on a platter. I must confess Kundry's watering a boxed-in flower garden during the Good Friday Spell didn't do much for me. But all in all I found portions of it moving, especially during Gurnamanz's narrative in Act I. I'll have to see it again: I don't possess a dvd.

I'll finish the Zizek review tomorrow, and then I owe John Deathridge's "Wagner Beyond Good and Evil" a review. I've been informed by several Wagnerians that I owe it to myself to read Chafe's fairly recent book on "Tristan," which will provide another opportunity for a review.

Your friend from Wagnerheim,

Paul alias Alberich00

Re: Epilogue to Badiou by Slavoj Zizek

PostPosted: Mon Sep 19, 2011 10:24 am
by parzival
Chafe's "Tristan" book is excellent, one of the best I've read on the subject. The musicology becomes very dense in the latter half though, which was hard for a layman like myself to fully understand.