Part 11: Review: Berthold Hoeckner on "Lohengrin" 8/94

General Discussion about Wagner and The Ring of the Nibelung

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Part 11: Review: Berthold Hoeckner on "Lohengrin" 8/94

Postby alberich00 » Mon Apr 22, 2013 1:08 pm

[PH] I confess I’m not sure what Hoeckner means when he says above that Ortrud and Lohengrin have a common bond of magic. My own analysis of Ortrud’s role in “Lohengrin” is too complex to repeat here. I would suggest that those interested simply read my 5/95 published version of my paper “How Elsa showed Wagner the way to Siegfried” which I posted to this discussion forum in three parts. However, I can say that I treated Ortrud as Wagner’s metaphor for the real world, for Mother Nature, with whom Frederick, Wagner’s incipient metaphor for the rational, objective man of science, has an objective, unloving relationship, one based on the “power” of thought, and not on subjective feeling, or dreams, as in religious faith and art. It is this that distinguishes Frederick from Lohengrin, and makes Frederick an inappropriate suitor for Elsa, the dream-muse of religion and art. I also pointed out that Frederick’s and Ortrud’s banishment from the kingdom and power which, according to Ortrud, was rightfully hers, was Wagner’s incipient metaphor for religious man’s censorship of freedom of inquiry, of scientific thought, throughout the entirety of the history of religious belief, and that their longing to restore the power they feel they’ve unjustly lost to Lohengrin and Elsa is Wagner’s metaphor for incipient scientific thought, which will restore man’s respect for the natural world and natural impulses which religious belief has renounced when religious faith weakens sufficiently that scientific inquiry can find its opportunity, and which therefore waits in the wings for its chance to assert its authentic power by overthrowing religious belief through the acquisition of knowledge which heretofore was considered blasphemous:


[PHe]
[PH: ORTRUD AND FREDERICK (IN MY INTERPRETATION METAPHORS FOR THE OBJECTIVE WORLD, AND FOR THE MAN OF SCIENCE WHO KNOWS THE WORLD OBJECTIVELY, RESPECTIVELY) CONSPIRE TO EXPOSE LOHENGRIN AS A FRAUD (I.E., TO EXPOSE CHRISTIAN BELIEF AND ITS DEMAND FOR FAITH AND PROMISE OF REDEMPTION TO THE FAITHFUL, AS A FRAUD)]

“LOHENGRIN Act 2 Scene 1

[P. 4] Frederick and his loveless wife Ortrud, who imputed guilt to Elsa’s alleged innocence, also hold Lohengrin’s innocence under suspicion. They plan to conspire with Elsa to expose his hidden guilt, or perjury. This they do because Elsa alone can expose his hidden identity:

‘ORTRUD: Do you know who this hero is whom a swan brought to this land? FREDERICK: No! ORTRUD: But what would you give to learn if I tell you that, should he be forced to reveal his name and lineage, all his power would be ended which is only lent by magic spell? FREDERICK: Ha! Then I would understand his command! ORTRUD: Now hear! No one here has the power to tear the secret from him save her whom he so strictly forbade ever to ask him this question. FREDERICK: This means that Elsa should be induced to press him with this question.’ "


33. BH: ELSA ANTICIPATES THE WAGNERIAN MUSIC-DRAMA BUT ORTRUD’S DOUBT DESTROYS IT

[#] [BH] [P. 279] “In the story of his artistic trajectory, Wagner turns Elsa into a precursor of the artwork of the future, potentially able – as in the creation of Lohengrin – to fashion outer form from the inmost center of her soul’s workings, but ultimately driven by Ortrud to question and undo the magic of her own art by crying out for Lohengrin’s name.”

[PH] In my 8/93 paper I construed Frederick’s conspiracy with Ortrud to expose Lohengrin as a fraud, by compelling Elsa to ask him the forbidden question about his true identity and origin, as Wagner’s metaphor for the inevitable maturation and advancement of human knowledge to the point that once formerly religious man came to know himself as the originator of the gods, and as therefore guilty of unconscious and involuntary self-deception, over many millennia, he himself (his own human nature) would expose what had heretofore been understood as God’s revelation, as merely man’s own self-deception. To expose this fact one needed to expose the history of how the religious illusion came to be, to expose its magic as a fraud originated and perpetuated by man himself:


[PHz]
[PH: WAGNER: THE ULTIMATE THEME OF ‘LOHENGRIN’ IS THAT NATURE, I.E., HUMAN NATURE, ULTIMATELY DESTROYS GOD’S REVELATION]

[P. 21] “Of course, the world of appearances, mother nature, might expose the hypocrisy implicit in this breaking of oaths [PH: i.e., Lohengrin’s breaking the Grail oath of celibacy, in order to restore fertility and substance to the arid Grail realm by marrying Elsa]. Speaking of LOHENGRIN, Wagner said:

[P. 22] 'The symbolic meaning of the tale I can best sum up as follows: contact between a metaphysical phenomenon and human nature, and the impossibility that such contact will last. The moral would be: the good Lord would do better to spare us his revelations since he is not permitted to annul the laws of nature: nature – in this case human nature – is bound to take her revenge and destroy the revelation. This seems to me to be the meaning of most of those wonderful legends which are not the work of priests. (5/30/46 Letter to Hermann Franck; ‘Selected Letters of Richard Wagner’; p. 129-130)”

[PH] Unlike Hoeckner (in his following remarks), I did not, in my 8/93 paper, specifically apply Wagner’s notion that our scream when we waken from a nightmare is kin to the process of unconscious and inspired artistic creation, or that both of these are in any way linked to what Hoeckner describes as Elsa’s two screams. The first scream is her cry of shock when she first sees the Lohengrin of her dreams in the flesh, and the second is Elsa’s final blurting out of the forbidden question. I did, however, treat in considerably greater detail than Hoeckner the implications of Wagner’s remark that Elsa is Lohengrin’s unconscious, involuntary mind, and construed both divine revelation (such as that alleged to have founded the great religions) and artistic creation as products of the unconscious mind, through a process in which an abhorred and intolerable truth (the nightmare, let us say) is repressed and forgotten, and the unconscious mind produces in reaction to it a consoling substitute, a set of religious beliefs, or works of art, which serve to redeem us from the truth:


34. BH: ELSA’S SCREAM CLOSES THE GAP BETWEEN THE SOUND-WORLD OF THE DREAM AND THE LIGHT-WORLD OF WAKING

[#] [BH] [P. 279] “To recall: Elsa’s high A, the climax that brings about Lohengrin’s arrival at her moment of greatest distress, is carried over to the beginning of the third scene when she turns around and, seeing him for the first [P. 280] time in reality, cries out: it is the primal scream that gathers and releases all the energy of the preceding scene in a fusion of sight and sound. In terms of Wagner’s 1870 essay ‘Beethoven,’ his most direct appropriation of Schopenhauer’s philosophy, her scream closes the gap between the ‘sound-world’ of the dream and the ‘light-world’ of waking, a transition which Wagner compared to the creation of music:

‘From the most terrifying of such dreams we wake with a scream, the immediate expression of the anguished will, which thus at first makes definite entrance into the sound world, in order to manifest itself towards the outside. Now, if we take the scream in all the diminishings of its vehemence … and if we cannot but find in it the most immediate utterance of the will … then we have less cause to wonder at its immediate intelligibility than at an art arising from this element.’

[PH] Though I, unlike Hoeckner [see #34 above], did not reference Wagner’s metaphor, that the scream of wakening from a nightmare is akin to the process of creating the inspired work of art, in my 8/93 paper, it will be clear to readers of excerpts from my paper that my reading of “Lohengrin” incorporates the concept that religious faith is an artistically imaginative but involuntary and unconscious response to religious man’s inability to face the truth, and expresses his insistence on creating a consoling illusion as a substitute for the unbearable truth. The key to religious faith is that man presents his illusory religious beliefs to himself as if they are the truth, while the bitter truth this illusion masks is consigned to the oblivion of unconsciousness. However, I did employ Wagner’s concept, which he presented in his late essay “Beethoven,” as the foundation for my reading of Wotan’s dreaming Valhalla into existence during the transition from “The Rhinegold” Scene One, to “The Rhinegold” Scene Two. In my interpretation, Valhalla is the unconscious product of Alberich’s (and his proxies’) labors in Nibelheim. Nibelheim is Wotan’s (i.e., Light-Alberich’s) unremembered nightmare, the nightmare he represses into his unconscious mind, which is actually the true source of inspiration for Wotan’s dreaming, which gave birth to Valhalla, man’s dream of a spiritual heaven in which he can find redemption from the horrors, the nightmare, of the real world. Alberich’s (Dark-Alberich’s) labors in the bowels of the earth (Erda’s Navel-Home Nibelheim) are the hidden foundation of Wotan’s Valhalla. They represent the unconscious process through which illusory religious beliefs were unwittingly and involuntarily invented by collective man (Wotan), as in a dream, in unconscious reaction against the truth. This, by the way, is why Lohengrin prohibits inquiry into his (i.e., man’s religious longing’s) true identity and origin. This also explains why the motif of Alberich’s Ring, #19, transforms into the first segment of the Valhalla Motif, #20a, and also why Wotan calls himself “Light-Alberich.”


35. BH: WAGNER: OUR SCREAM UPON WAKING FROM A NIGHTMARE IS THE FOUNDATION FOR THE CREATION OF MUSIC-DRAMA

[#] [BH] [P. 281] “For Wagner, however, the primal scream as the immediate utterance of the will, is not only the origin of music but, more important, of music drama. In his construction of music history music drama originates with Beethoven’s Ninth, which he describes with the same image of the need to awaken from a nightmare, i.e., the undeterminedness of wordless, absolute, music or infinite harmony:

‘This awakening out of deepest want [PH: “Noth”] we witness in that redoubtable leap from instrumental into vocal music – offensive to ordinary aesthetic criticism … . What we experience here is a certain overcharge, a vast compulsion to unload towards the outside, only to be compared with the stress to waken from an agonizing dream; and the important issue for the Art genius of mankind, is that this special stress called forth an artistic deed whereby that genius gained a novel power, the qualification for begetting the highest artwork.’ [‘Beethoven,’ IX, 69f (V, 69; translation modified]

[BH] [P. 282] In Wagner’s words, then, Beethoven, breaking the spell of his own music by exclaiming “Freude” in the last movement of the Ninth, is Elsa, breaking Lohengrin’s spell by asking Whence? ‘Like a scream from the inmost want of woman’s heart, this question struggles loose – and the spell has vanished’ (see above). Like Beethoven, however, Elsa fails, and this failure is necessary. Created out of Elsa’s Not, Lohengrin enters into the world of light. But since their bond is based on the impossible union of belief and love, it must break when Lohengrin and Elsa, the newly-wed couple, are alone for the first time to consummate their marriage.”

[PH] In the following Hoeckner gets to the nub of the issue, Elsa’s desire for Lohengrin to share with her, in the seclusion of her love, the secret of his true name and origin. It is precisely here that my 8/93 paper was almost entirely distinguished from Hoeckner’s 8/94 chapter, since I followed up the implications of Elsa’s offer, in relation to Wagner’s description of Elsa as Lohengrin’s unconscious mind, in a manner which places an entirely different spin on this material, and which has momentous implications for our understanding of Wagner’s subsequent music-dramas, and even his prior operas “Dutchman” and “Tannhaeuser”:


36. BH: ELSA DESIRES TO SHARE LOHENGRIN’S SECRET (THE KNOWLEDGE OF HIS TRUE IDENTITY AND ORIGIN) IN LOVE’S SECLUSION

[BH] [P. 283] “As the lovers reflect on love’s essence, they differ about its true beginning, as if they were competing for their agency in the musical or poetic origin of drama. Initially, Lohengrin maintains he was guided to Elsa by love that originates in (purely musical) presentiment [P. 284] preceding actual sight, whereas Elsa claims that she had seen him in her dream. Then, referring to the moment of their meeting, they implicitly argue about the divine or human element in their love. Whereas Lohengrin emphasizes that her eyes commanded him, Elsa admits his coming (signaled by Lohengrin’s motif) by God’s command … .

(…)

[#] [BH] [P. 286] Dissolving herself to serve obediently was Elsa’s intention. But Elsa, returning to an E dominant seventh that aims at A major, questions Lohengrin’s claim to have ‘recognized’ the essence of their love, and, of course, her question has an answer: his name.

(…)

‘Elsa: ‘Is this but love? – What shall I call it,
this word, so ineffably delightful,
as, alas! Your name, which I must never know,
by which I can never call my greatest treasure!

[P. 287] Lohengrin: Elsa!

Elsa: How sweet my name escapes from your mouth!
may I not hear the noble sound of yours?
Only in the seclusion of love’s peace
you may permit me to pronounce it.

Lohengrin: My sweet wife!

Elsa: Alone, when no one is awake:
Never shall the world hear it.’

[BH] Of the many times in the opera when Lohengrin calls Elsa by name, none so acutely exposes the imbalance and inequality created by this taboo. Since Wagner – following Feuerbach – claimed that belief separates and love unites, Elsa, distant from Lohengrin in the public space of acts one and two, was able to resist the temptation of asking: but in private she cannot consummate her love, because love demands both spiritual and physical recognition.”

[PH] Readers can see from my remarks below, from my 8/93 paper, that I drew more far-reaching conclusions about the implications of Elsa’s insistence on asking Lohengrin the forbidden question, for our understanding of Wagner’s “Ring” and his other mature music-dramas, than are suggested by Hoeckner in his 8/94 chapter. Hoeckner, for instance, failed to see any significance in the fact that Elsa states, as her reason for wishing to share with Lohengrin the secret of his true identity and origin, that she wishes, by helping him to keep his secret, to redeem him from the harm (“Noth”) she fears he will suffer if his secret is exposed. This is true in spite of the fact that Hoeckner seems to have been fully aware of the essential implications of Feuerbach’s critique of religious faith for our understanding of “Lohengrin.” Therefore Hoeckner also failed to see that Lohengrin himself must remain unconscious of his true identity and origin, and that this is precisely the redemption Elsa, as his unconscious mind, offers him:


[PHo]
[PH: ELSA DESIRES THAT LOHENGRIN SHARE WITH HER THE SECRET OF HIS TRUE IDENTITY AND ORIGIN, SO SHE CAN HELP HIM KEEP HIS SECRET]

[P. 15] “Elsa, of course, is in full harmony with the Folk: or is she?:

'ELSA: It might well bring him danger, were he to tell his secret here to all the world; woe to him, ungrateful! If I, whom he saved, should betray him and cause it to be known! If I knew his secret, I would guard it truly! Yet my heart trembles, filled with doubt!'

What Elsa has here said has the most immense consequences, not only for LOHENGRIN but for all of Wagner’s future operas. For Elsa plans to share with her lover Lohengrin prohibited knowledge of his secret identity. But more than that, she offers to maintain his secret only if he’ll share his knowledge of it with her. She wants, in other words, to break the vow Lohengrin swore her to, in order to preserve it.”


37. BH: LOHENGRIN: (TO ELSA) JUST AS YOU WOULD NOT QUESTION THE SUBLIME INFLUENCE UPON YOU OF THE SWEET SCENT OF FLOWERS IN MYSTERIOUS NIGHT, SO YOU SHOULD NOT QUESTION ME. NONETHELESS, ELSA INSISTS ON QUESTIONING HIM.

[#] [BH] [P. 288] “He [Lohengrin] clings to the aura of absolute music that has shed the word to protect its metaphysical magic. This is evident when Lohengrin continues by taking Elsa’s image of the fragrant flower, an image Wagner will employ in ‘Opera and Drama,’ in order to criticize the hedonism of modern audiences for consuming ‘absolute’ melody as the pure perfume, which had been distilled from a fragrant flower without taking a look at its body, the poetic verse. (…)

[P. 289] ‘Lohengrin: (…) Don’t you breathe with me these sweet fragrances?
Oh, how delightfully they intoxicate the senses:
Mysteriously they approach through the breezes,
unquestioning I surrender to their spell.

(…)

Thus is the magic which bound me to you
When I first saw you, my sweetest;
I needed not to question your essence
As my eyes saw you, my heart knew you
As the fragrances sweetly enchant my senses
They approach me as if out of the mysterious night –
(…)
so your purity had to charm me,
although I found you accused of heavy guilt.’

[PH] Hoeckner has hinted at something here which is one of the key insights of my research into Wagner going back many years prior to my 8/93 paper, namely, that Lohengrin has shed the word, i.e., conceptual thought, in order to preserve the metaphysical mystery in pure music alone. Long before, in studying Claude Levi-Strauss, I’d noted his remark that over time myth sheds or jettisons the word, and enters the structure of music. This led me to propose, as early as my 11/83 essay “The Doctrine of the Ring,” that religious communities, gradually accumulating objective knowledge of themselves and the natural world in which they live, must also gradually jettison all those things in religious belief which can be readily contradicted by man’s ever-increasing knowledge, and that this process culminates in, first secular art, and then music alone (the distillation of man’s religious longing for transcendent value), when belief in gods and all the other dogmatic assertions of fact in religion can no longer be sustained in the face of science. It was only later, upon reading Feuerbach’s books in detail for the first time, that I discovered that Feuerbach had proposed this very thesis, and that Wagner had frequently paraphrased it in his own writings, even those from the period of his life when he was under Schopenhauer’s influence. Feuerbach noted that in secular times God retreats to pure feeling, and elsewhere Feuerbach described this as music. Wagner echoed this formulation in his own writings.
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