Meaning of Rheingold/Ring.

General Discussion about Wagner and The Ring of the Nibelung

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Meaning of Rheingold/Ring.

Postby WOLRAM » Sat Aug 31, 2013 3:44 am

Having read the section on Rheingold, I am convinced that the majority of the ideas presented are either an accurate representation of what was intended by Wagner, or very close. Some of the ideas are very surprising when first presented, but once explained seem almost obvious.
The one area I am struggling with is the precise meaning of the Rheingold, the Niebelung Hoard and the Ring itself, and the distinctions between them. The Ring is described as representing 'consciousness', but I feel that the meaning has to be more specific, for example 'objective reason', because Alberich had to 'forsake love' (or suppress 'subjective feelings') in order to make the Ring (or 'complete the circle'). It is 'objective reason' (which could include science and philosophy) that is a threat to 'the Gods' (religion). If that is the case, could the Rheingold represent 'consciousness' or 'reason', which when submerged in the Rhine is 'subconscious' (instinctive), but when removed from the Rhine by Algerich becomes conscious, then when developed objectively (without subjective feeling) becomes cold, calculating and objective resulting in industrialisation (which seems to be represented in Niebelheim), plus science and philosophy which threaten religion.
I was very impressed by the metaphor of Alberich's curse showing that consciousness makes us aware of mortality, but it might go a stage further - if the ring is 'objective reason' then that possibly leads us to the conclusion that we are not only mortal, but also with no prospect of an afterlife, which is the part that is hard to accept.
If the Rheingold is 'consciousness' or 'reason', and the ring is 'objective reason', that slightly changes the meaning of the interlude between scenes 1 and 2, because religion could not be born out of 'objective reason' alone, so the similarity between the Ring motive and the Valhalla might be showing that 'objective reason' (science) and religion are two alternative world views, two sides of the same coin like Algerich and Wotan.
I realise that this slightly different view might cause problems later on with interpreting the Ring story, but that is my gut feeling at this stage.
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Re: Meaning of Rheingold/Ring.

Postby alberich00 » Sat Aug 31, 2013 3:12 pm

Welcome to the discussion forum, Wolram, and thanks for you vote of confidence.

Of course, it's difficult for me to sum up one of the most arcane arguments I make in the entire course of my online book (not only in the part on "Rhinegold" but in all the rest of it), but I can say that I believe for a thousand interlocking reasons that the Rhinegold, as the Rhinedaughters experience it, represents the stuff of experience understood initially through feeling and instinct, but which takes on conceptual meaning with the birth of consciousness. Yes, you're right that Alberich's manufacture of the Ring and acquisition of its power represents several things. The Ring represents, at first, the acquisition by one lineage of animals, of reflective, symbolic consciousness, in the natural course of evolution (but which Alberich interprets, as man himself interprets, as having some element of choice about it), but the power it confers stems from two gifts which consciousness brings us: most primally, the ability to know and learn (Alberich's accumulation of his hoard of power, or knowledge), and secondarily the subjective benefits of the imagination, which permits man to feel as if he can transcend his immediate circumstances and nature. In other words, Alberich's power gives birth to both science and religion (and hence to art, which for Wagner is religion minus dogmatic belief in transcendence).

And you are also right to suggest that Alberich's objective consciousness, and its historical quest for both self-knowledge and knowledge of the world, leads eventually to the conclusion of modern scientific man that man invented religion, and that the promised gift of redemption and immortality represents mere wishful thinking, a self-deception in response to man's longings and fears.

Again, you are right: religion (Valhalla, subjective thought) and science (objective reason) are two sides of the same coin like Wotan (Light-Alberich) and Alberich (Dark-Alberich). But objective reason is primary because it logically precedes religious belief, in the sense that religious belief is, according at least to my Feuerbach-influenced take on the "Ring," an unconscious reaction against what the real world presents to us, and its replacement by an imagined world.

You'll find as you work your way through the chapters on the subsequent "Ring" dramas that these distinctions are worked out, and refined, in considerable detail. My book took me so long to complete (I was at work on it from 1971 until its second and final revision (the version you see at in the summer of 2009, i.e., more or less continuously for 38 years, because every single little detail had to harmonize with every other little detail, for me to be able to claim that I could grasp Wagner's "Ring" as conceptually unified. I knew instinctively that this was true from the beginning, but working it out in print took a long, long time. And of course I never stop re-thinking this or that detail. Another thing that convinced me I was on the right track was how well my "Ring' interpretation harmonized with my developing interpretations of Wagner's six other repertory operas and music-dramas, and also with a rather large body of his writings and recorded remarks. The clincher, finally, was how much I could show Wagner owed to Feuerbach.

Thank you again for posting this. I'm delighted that some of what I hope are new ideas in my interpretation are registering with the outer world.
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Re: Meaning of Rheingold/Ring.

Postby WOLRAM » Sun Sep 01, 2013 5:59 am

Thanks for this clarification - I look forward to gaining more understanding as I read the remainder of your material.
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