Part 12: Review: Berthold Hoeckner on "Lohengrin" 8/94

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Part 12: Review: Berthold Hoeckner on "Lohengrin" 8/94

Postby alberich00 » Mon Apr 22, 2013 1:12 pm

[PH] Here in my 8/93 paper was my own discussion of that passage Hoeckner quoted above in which Lohengrin tries, futilely, to persuade Elsa to have unquestioning faith in him just as she never questions the magic of the nighttime scents of flowers:

[PHq]
[PH: WHILE ELSA INSISTS THAT LOHENGRIN SHARE WITH HER CONCEPTUAL KNOWLEDGE OF HIS SECRET NAME AND ORIGIN, LOHENGRIN ASKS HER INSTEAD TO HAVE UNQUESTIONING FAITH IN HIM, JUST AS SHE WOULD NEVER THINK TO QUESTION THE MAGIC OF A SUMMER NIGHT’S SCENT OF FLOWERS]

[P. 16] “Now we come to Lohengrin’s night of love with Elsa, who brings to their intimate union Ortrud’s gift of doubt:

LOHENGRIN Act 3 Scene 2

'ELSA: Is this but love? What can 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! ….. If only in the seclusion of love’s peace you’d permit me to pronounce it …. Alone, when no one is awake, never will the world hear it! LOHENGRIN: Do you not breathe with me these sweet scents? Oh, how delightfully they intoxicate the senses! Mysteriously they are brought with the breezes, and unquestioning I surrender to their spell. Thus is the magic which bound me to you when I first saw you, my sweetest; I didn’t need to question your lineage … . As this delightful fragrance charms my senses, though it comes from mysterious night, so your purity enchanted me, though I found you accused of heavy guilt.'

Has Elsa requested that Lohengrin allow her to help him maintain his prohibition on knowledge, by sharing that knowledge with her, figuratively speaking, in sexual union? For Wagner sexual union isn’t copulation but a metaphysical power. Do we find here a new meaning?

Lohengrin wants Elsa to remain content to ‘feel’ his [P. 17] noble identity, without having to ‘think’ it. Yet’s he’s involved here in a bit of logical jugglery: he’s saying that the effect of a subjective feeling upon him is equivalent to an objective assertion of fact. Doesn’t he imply this by saying the bliss given by the scent of flowers is of a kind which Elsa also gave him, and which made him believe her innocent of guilt?”

[PH] But, as I noted below, Elsa is filled with doubt, and can’t trust Lohengrin as she trusts the magic of a nighttime scent, because she, as his unconscious mind, knows his secret is of a different kind from what the Folk suppose, and that her love for Lohengrin must offer him redemption from the anguish he would face if his secret was exposed (the secret that religious faith is a fraud of unconscious self-deception):


[PHp]
[PH: ELSA DOUBTS BECAUSE LOHENGRIN’S PROHIBITION ON KNOWLEDGE SEEMS TO EXPRESS FEAR, NOT LOVE]

[P. 15] “But she’s filled with doubt. Why, she must wonder, should her love for Lohengrin depend upon the fearful maintenance of a breakable taboo? Could Ortrud’s warning that Lohengrin might leave her be true? Also, if Elsa did, figuratively speaking, kill Godfrey by giving him God’s forbidden knowledge, [P. 16] mustn’t she know Lohengrin perjures himself for her sake, and that his magic depends upon deceit, as Ortrud said? Since falsehood must ultimately fail when confronted with truth, maybe Ortrud was right to suggest the salvation Lohengrin offers is only temporary. If Lohengrin depends on deceit, we can understand Frederick’s complaint that while he is free to proclaim his true identity, Lohengrin is not (LOH Act 2 Sc 5) Lohengrin’s vulnerability, his dependence on a breakable taboo sanctioned by fear, seems to imply he’s not divine.


38. BH: ELSA: LOHENGRIN, SHARE WITH ME YOUR SECRET SO I CAN PROVE YOUR TRUST IN ME

[#] [BH] [P. 290] “However, Lohengrin, by appealing to Elsa’s belief in him, can but expose the asymmetry of their love: this gives her a chance to turn the tables by demanding his name as her token for his belief in her. As Lohengrin had made clear to Friedrich, who had publicly challenged him about his origin at the end of the second act, his worldly existence hinges on Elsa alone. The orchestral quotation of the ‘Frageverbotsmotiv’ when Elsa invokes this threat to Lohengrin’s existence … underscores her desire to change their contract into one with mutual obligations [P. 291] under equal terms, trading trust for trust, and not her belief for his love:

‘O make me proud through your trust
so that I do not feel unworthy!
Let me understand your secret
that I may clearly see who you are.’ “

[PH] Readers of this review will have found several extracts from my 8/93 paper in which I examine Elsa’s offer to share Lohengrin’s secret in much greater detail, and with more far-reaching results, than Hoeckner, who entirely neglected to quote or discuss Elsa’s additional remark that by sharing with Lohengrin his secret, she could help protect him from potential harm, i.e., that religious faith will eventually be overthrown by intellectual inquiry, and can only be redeemed from destruction by making its claims on truth unconscious, not conscious, i.e., felt, not thought. That is, dying religious faith can only be redeemed from utter destruction (i.e., the Gods of Valhalla can live on figuratively) by retreating to pure play and feeling, in secular art (the loving union of Siegfried, the artist-hero, and his muse of unconscious artistic inspiration, Bruennhilde), and especially the art of music.

[PH] Hoeckner, like I in my 8/93 paper, noted that there is a logical flaw in Lohengrin’s insistence that Elsa owes Lohengrin thanks for believing her, though we each gave this question a different spin:


39. BH: LOHENGRIN’S ARGUMENT TO ELSA THAT ‘YOU OWE ME THANKS SINCE I BELIEVED YOUR VOW,’ IS WEAK

[#] [BH] [P. 291] “Driven into a corner, Lohengrin’s reaction is twofold, addressing both the issue of belief and that of love. First, he claims that his belief in Elsa is that she will keep her vow, but his argument is weak because it was he who laid out the conditions of that very vow:

(…)

‘You owe me thanks for my highest trust in you
since I did gladly believe in your vow;
if you do never waver before my command
I shall hold you worthy far above all women.’ “

[PH] What follows is my more elaborate argument, in my 8/93 paper, that Lohengrin’s insistence that Elsa owes him thanks for believing she will keep her vow (i.e., not to inquire after his name or origin, but implicitly also thanks for believing in her innocence of the charge of matricide, which is why, allegedly, the Grail sent Lohengrin on the mission to protect her innocence from false accusation of fratricide in the first place), is very weak indeed:


[PHs]
[PH: LOHENGRIN: YOU OWE ME THANKS FOR MY TRUST THAT YOU’LL KEEP YOU VOW]

[PH] [P. 18] “With respect to Elsa’s own innocence, what can we make of the fact that Lohengrin affirmed in Act 1 Scene 3 that he had victory through her innocence, but now tells her 'You owe me thanks for my great confidence, since I willingly believed your vow'? Why should affirming or trusting in Elsa’s innocence deserve thanks, if Lohengrin gained victory through it?”

[PH] I also noted, at least in my 5/95 published version of my paper, that Lohengrin’s claim at the finale of the opera that the Grail sent him to protect the innocent puts the lie, presumably, to Lohengrin’s claim that he deserves credit for taking the risk, for the sake of love, of believing her innocent of the charge of fratricide (besides, he evidently knew all along that her brother Godfrey, supposedly murdered by Elsa, had been transformed into the swan who transports Lohengrin in a boat), and of trusting that she will keep her vow not to inquire after his name or origin. [I’ll have to check if this argument also appeared in my 8/93 paper, but haven’t the energy to go scouting for it just now!]

[PH] Something else entirely missing from Hoeckner’s 8/94 chapter was any detailed consideration of the implications of Frederick's claim, which he shared with Elsa, that only by asking Lohengrin the forbidden question might she gain the power to insure he maintain his fidelity to her and not leave her, and the implicit influence Frederick's remark has on Elsa's ultimate desperate decision to ask Lohengrin the fateful question. This is a centerpiece of my interpretation, with far-reaching implications, but is given only cryptic treatment by Hoeckner in the passage below:


40. BH: ELSA: HOW WILL I HAVE THE POWER TO BIND YOU, TO ASSURE YOUR FIDELITY TO ME, WHEN YOU ARE MAGICAL AND HAVE WONDROUS POWERS, AND WON’T BE CONTENT WITH ME, WISHING TO RETURN TO YOUR BLISSFUL REALM OF LIGHT?

[#] [BH] [P. 292] “Lohengrin must fail: since only her love is worth his sacrifice of leaving the land of light, Elsa must stand empty-handed and dependent on his grace in the darkness of her human origin:

‘Ah, how could I have the power
to bind you to me?
Your essence is full of magic,
You came here through a wonder;
How could I then recover
Where find your guarantee? (…)’

Why does Elsa realize so late that Lohengrin came by magic? Didn’t she hear the people of Brabant scream: ‘A wonder’?”

[PH] Hoeckner’s assessment of the passage above seems confused. It is self-evident that Ortrud’s ability to influence Elsa and plant doubt in her, that Lohengrin may be employing some magic other than divine power, suggests Elsa suspected from the beginning that there is something else at stake in Lohengrin’s insistence that their love can only survive if she never inquires after his name and origin, since this makes their love contingent and vulnerable for no apparent reason. Of course she heard the Folk proclaim Lohengrin a “Wonder.” Even Hoeckner himself tells us in his chapter that how crucial Elsa's narrative of her dream, which includes the account of her cry to God for sympathy, and her final sung prayer, had in influencing the people of Brabant (the Folk) to accept Lohengrin's "Wonder" unquestioningly.

[PH] In any case, in my 8/93 paper I suggested that if Lohengrin is indeed a fraud, as Frederick and Ortrud insist, and also, since Frederick suggested to Elsa (following Ortrud’s advice) that if Frederick wounds Lohengrin Lohengrin’s secret will be exposed and Elsa can then insure Lohengrin’s fidelity to her, that Elsa knows deep inside that she can only insure Lohengrin’s fidelity by first wounding him figuratively by asking him the forbidden question, and then redeem him, and atone for her sin, by healing that wound that she herself inflicted. I noted in my 5/95 published version of this paper that there is a parallel to this concept in all of Wagner’s subsequent mature music-dramas, that Bruennhilde, Isolde, Eva, and Kundry in some sense inflict a wound, in order then to heal this wound (this concept originating in Wagner's original take on Feuerbach's construing of Eve's sin in eating and sharing the fruit of the tree of forbidden knowledge as a metaphor for man's eventual liberation from unquestioning faith in the divine, which was that Wagner construed his own revolutionary music-dramas' heroes as artist-heroes whose muse is Eve, who liberated man from religious faith in order to pave the way for Wagner's substitute for dying faith, the secular music-drama. In other words, only with the death of traditional religious faith (represented by Lohengrin’s demand for unquestioning faith) can Elsa, the woman of the future, the muse of the artwork of the future, the Wagnerian music-drama, offer man the new faith, the new redemption, through love/art, which will be freed from religious faith's vulnerable and indefensible (because false) claim to represent the truth (See below):


[PHf]
[PH: ORTRUD: (TO FREDERICK) IF YOU WOUND LOHENGRIN, HE’LL REVEAL HIS TRUE NATURE AND IDENTITY TO YOU. FREDERICK (TO ELSA): IF I WOUND LOHENGRIN, HE’LL REVEAL HIS TRUE IDENTITY TO YOU AND WILL MAINTAIN HIS FIDELITY TO YOU AND NEVER LEAVE YOU]

[P. 4] “Ortrud also suggests that if Frederick wounds Lohengrin he’ll show his true identity:

‘ORTRUD: Anyone made strong by magic, if deprived of even the smallest limb, will revert to what he is (… to his natural frailty)! …. Oh, had you but cut off one finger or even a part in the fight, you’d have had the hero in your power!'

Ortrud seems to identify this wound with that doubt which can penetrate to the natural origin of Lohengrin’s allegedly spiritual inspiration. A pregnant ‘wound’ indeed!”

[PH] Throughout my life’s work on Wagner, which effectively began in 1971 with my first queries about the true meaning of Lohengrin’s prohibition on knowledge, I have explored the meaning behind man’s unhealing wound, which is Wagner’s metaphor for man’s irredeemable existential dilemma, that man is inherently incapable of accepting the world as it is, and has a hyperbolic tendency to overcompensate for the world’s perceived deficiencies by imagining impossible worlds in which he futilely hopes to compensate himself for what the world lacks, which is a tragic flaw, because there is no 'other world' besides this one, and therefore man's quest for redemption from this world is futile. This is the unhealing wound which Elsa both aggravates by asking Lohengrin the forbidden question about religion’s true origin (in the artistic magic of self-deception), and offers to heal temporarily by becoming Lohengrin’s muse of unconscious artistic inspiration, by knowing for him the unbearable secret which he can’t afford to consciously contemplate:


[PHu]
[PH: ELSA: (TO LOHENGRIN), HOW CAN I HOPE TO WIN YOUR FIDELITY TO ME, SINCE YOU COME FROM A MAGICAL REALM OF BLISS AND WISH TO RETURN TO IT?

[P. 18] “Learning from Lohengrin that 'not from night and suffering, but from light and joy I came here', Elsa says to him:

'The lot you left behind gave you greatest happiness; you came to me from joy and yearn to return! How will I … believe my fidelity will suffice you? Some day I’ll lose you, as you’ll rue your love! ….. How could I have the power to bind you to me? You’re of magic nature, through a miracle you came here; how could I recover, where find protection?'

Elsa surely seems to have uppermost in her mind Ortrud’s warning that Lohengrin would leave some day, and Frederick’s promise that by wounding him and thus revealing his true (mortal, or natural) identity to her, she could insure his fidelity.”

[PH] The thesis of my 8/93 paper was that Elsa could insure Lohengrin’s fidelity if, as Ortrud had said, Lohengrin is a fraud, if Elsa kept this secret for Lohengrin, even from him, so that he could remain unconscious of it:


[PHv]
[PH: ELSA IMAGINES LOHENGRIN’S SWAN RETURNING TO TAKE HIM AWAY, AND ASKS HIM THE FORBIDDEN QUESTION]

[P. 18] “Elsa then imagines the swan (Godfrey) coming at Lohengrin’s command to take him away, and says Nothing can give me peace … but – even though it cost my life! – to learn who you are! It seems Elsa’s very fear lest Lohengrin leave her is [P. 19] precisely what compels him to.”


[PHpp]
[PH: ELSA, I.E., MUSIC, CAN INSURE THE HERO LOHENGRIN’S FIDELITY BY HIDING HIS SIN, HIS FRAUD, EVEN FROM HIM. LOHENGRIN, IN OTHER WORDS, CAN FIND TEMPORARY HEALING OF HIS UNHEALING WOUND, HIS FEAR OF TRUTH, ONLY BY SEEKING IT IN HIS MUSE OF INSPIRATION, ELSA: THUS, SHE CAN INSURE HIS FIDELITY, FOR HE MUST CONTINUALLY RETURN TO HER TO OBTAIN UNCONSCIOUS ARTISTIC INSPIRATION, EACH TIME THE FORBIDDEN TRUTH THREATENS TO CREEP UP TO THE SURFACE OF CONSCIOUSNESS FROM THE SILENT DEPTHS OF LOHENGRIN’S NIGHT]

[P. 32] “But the hero [PH: i.e., once Elsa holds for him, as his unconscious mind, his secret knowledge of his sin of self-deceit, so that he can be freed from consciousness of it and figuratively regain his lost innocence] won’t be entirely sinless. His other half, the heroine-lover who holds for him knowledge of his true, sinful, hypocritical identity, will take the burden of his sin (knowledge) from him in the redemption by love. Should he again start to become too conscious of who he is, he can always return to his love-womb, his ‘muse’, for healing and inspiration. Thus the heroine can insure his fidelity. For Elsa had exposed Lohengrin’s identity, and this is her atonement of that irredeemable sin. Through her atonement Lohengrin can safely acknowledge, in secret, loving union with her, the NOTH which if conscious would bring irredeemable woe. Through her he can free his conscious mind from the contradictions of thought, and thus also from fear, so it can gain salvation in feeling (music).”


41. BH: ELSA SCREAMS THE FORBIDDEN QUESTION, IN ORDER TO WAKE FROM THE NIGHTMARE OF LOHENGRIN’S DOGMATIC INSISTENCE ON UNQUESTIONING FAITH, WHICH IS THE ANTITHESIS OF LOVE

[#] [BH] [P. 292] “Throughout the opera Elsa holds to, and represents, the view that Lohengrin’s creation was the work of the poetic miracle of love, whose mundane magic is the organic becoming through her artistic power. Facing the demand of full physical recognition, Lohengrin shields his divine [P. 293] nature as he desperately holds on to the old belief in the dogmatic wonder, which 'consists in despotically subjugating the search of understanding for such an explanation, while seeking its effect precisely in this subjugation’ … . In the intimacy of the nuptial night, love cannot be subjugated because it is based on freedom, not force. Thus Elsa’s dream came true, but it was turned into a nightmare. Like her first fantasy, this terrible dream culminates in a final prophetic aural vision: she hears the swan returning to take Lohengrin away … . To awake from this nightmare, Elsa screams. In utmost agitation, rising above the high A of Act I, she reaches the climax of the scene with a high B on ‘Wie deine Art?’ … . Calling for Lohengrin’s name, she breaks the spell of his magic. Elsa demands the impossible from the absolute artist: uniting his name with music.

(…)

[#] [BH] [P. 297] Lohengrin, the lost ‘shaft’ – is already gone. So is opera – as failure. But because Wagner made Elsa scream, music drama will be born.”
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