Seiglinde Metaphor?

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Seiglinde Metaphor?

Postby WOLRAM » Fri Sep 27, 2013 2:15 pm

Having read most of the analysis of the Walkure, it makes a lot more sense than previously, particularly Act 2. One thing that surprised me was the lack of metaphorical significance given to Seiglinde, or the relationship between Seigmund and Seiglinde.
Am I right in thinking that in your interpretation, Seiglinde has no metaphorical role other than as a victim? (who is a normal woman, not a representation of unconcious), and that the incestuous relationship serves as a vehicle for demonstrating the revolutionary nature of Seigmund and provoking inner conflict in Wotan?
I think Walkure Act I feels to be slightly outside of the main Ring plot as it can be self-contained, and therefore might have some meaning that is separate from the Feuerbach inspired meaning.
I've heard various theories that the incestuous relationship is concerned with narcicism or racial purity, which I wouldn't want to be associated with such glorious music. My own interpretation has always been simply that 'brother and sister' means soul mates - I realise that this is probably completely wrong, but comfortable.
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Re: Seiglinde Metaphor?

Postby alberich00 » Sat Sep 28, 2013 10:46 am

Dear Wolram:

Thanks so much for your queries re "Valkyrie."

Needless to say, I don't have a photographic memory of the contents in detail of the chapters I wrote here at wagnerheim.com about it, but it was my intent to suggest two things: (1) That Siegmund and Sieglinde are entirely convincing portrayals of two lovers, a male and a female, but also that they embody for Wagner his own variation on Feuerbach's notion that man's religious longings live on, in modern, secular times, in two arenas of human endeavor. They represent the first, which is ethical action, conscience, compassion, etc. The second area is secular art, which is what Siegfried's love for Bruennhilde embodies. Both Siegmund and Sieglinde, in their compassion for each other, their mutual sympathy, and Siegmund's revolutionary commitment to altruistic action in the face of social disapproval, clearly stand for ethical independence. However, Wotan, who represents not only the totality of human experience, i.e., collective man throughout history, but also Godhead (since, according to Feuerbach, the actual source of our inspiration for the concept of God is collective humanity, combined with the power of Nature), sees through Siegmund's compassion and love and heroism, recognizing it as an ideal which has been handed down through the generations (by no less than Wotan, i.e., collective humanity), and therefore sees also what Siegmund could never acknowledge, that Siegmund's alleged independence of spirit is actually the product of a tradition which ultimately finds its basis in Wotan's (i.e., mankind's) egoism. Wotan sees himself as responsible for all.

You are definitely right to question this. At no point does Siegmund himself, or Sieglinde, ever betray their ethical autonomy, ever betray each other, so it is left to Wotan, for Wotan the world-spirit, so to speak, to see that what they do almost instinctively has its hidden basis in mankind's own egoistic longing to transcend his very nature, to transcend his egoism. It seems a paradox that man's egoism would seek to annul itself (this was the huge conundrum which Michael Tanner pointed out in Schopenhauer's philosophy) but, once instinctive animal egoism becomes conscious of itself in man, man is driven to invent religious faith, the gods, i.e., humans who actually transcend their own egoistic, earthbound nature, in order to grant mortal man the hope of rising above his limits, including death and selfishness.

In any case, Sieglinde is never merely a victim, nor is Siegmund. They are obviously victimized by the majority of humans with whom they are forced to associate (Hunding representing a typical version of that majority) because the majority instinctively recognize them as representing a higher, or more seemingly spiritual, type, and thus their mere presence among the common run of humans is an ever present subliminal insult to the commonplace. They are instinctively regarded as a threat to an unreflective and complaisant social order. I see Siegmund and Sieglinde as in a sense a single person, and the same is true of Siegfried and Bruennhilde, except that they represent that other heir to dying religious faith, unconsciously inspired secular art, i.e. the conscious artist-hero Siegfried, and his unconscious mind and muse of inspiration Bruennhilde. Yet they too are entirely convincing as a loving couple. You could say that a large part of Wagner's genius was to be able to portray, at once, both the particular, and the universal.

Siegmund's and Sieglinde's incest is based initially, of course, on Wagner's idiosyncratic interpretation of Sophocles's drama "Oedipus the King," but it also taps into Wagner's awareness that in mythology primal couples, who mate, are often, at least figuratively, brother and sister (say, Adam and Eve). And of course we find testimonial to this in some of the sacred kingships found around the world, as in Peru and Hawaii (and Egypt?), in which the current royal couple are in a sense the primal pair reconstituted, the parents of their nation, their people. But you're right to say that Wagner offers up the twin pair's incest and adultery as examples of the revolutionary spirit.

There may well be various other influences, and meanings, at work in Wagner's portrayal of Siegmund and Sieglinde, than Feuerbach, but, once you've completed my entire book, and read just how thoroughly Wagner paraphrases Feuerbach in not only his portrayal of the twin-pair but in others' comments about them and their significance (Wotan's argument with Fricka over them is largely Feuerbachian), you will at least see that his thinking is a primary source.

Yes, the sibling incest in "Valkyrie" is also used as a basis for a racial reading, i.e., let's let the Volsung blood flourish by keeping it solely in the family. But of course a real problem with this reading is that Wotan, the alleged God of Gods, figuratively regards his own blood, and thus their blood, as tainted apriori. So there's a lot of problems trying to do a consistent reading of the "Ring" in this light.

One last point of interest: in writing to Mathilde Wesendonck about the nature of Wagner's own unconscious artistic inspiration, Wagner described it as "a marriage of myself to myself." I suspect we can see the two heroic Valsung couples of the "Ring" in this light, though, as you say, only Bruennhilde is presented as the hero-lover's muse and unconscious mind, whereas Sieglinde is simply to be regarded as one in spirit, yet passive, with her more active brother.

I hope this addresses your points, but I agree with you that there always remains a residuum in Siegmund's relationship with Sieglinde which isn't likely to be subsumeable within any particular scheme or frame of reference. I know this much: one of the most sublime, shocking, stunning moments in world drama is Bruennhilde's defense of her action in defying Wotan to aid the Valsungs, in VL.III.

Your friend from Wagnerheim,

Paul alias Alberich00
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Re: Seiglinde Metaphor?

Postby WOLRAM » Tue Oct 01, 2013 1:43 pm

Many thanks for this very detailed clarification, which I find very convincing.
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More thoughts on Walkure Act I etc.

Postby WOLRAM » Sun May 17, 2015 1:12 pm

Apologies for resurrecting an old discussion after such a good and complete response has been provided, but I have had some more thoughts that build on my understanding of Walkurie Act I and related aspects of the Ring, based on your interpretation.
You acknowledge that there might be several layers of meaning for some aspects of the Ring, and it strikes me that there might be another layer of meaning to the situation surrounding Sieglinde and Hunding, and it is certainly my gut feeling that there is more than has so far been explained.
Based on your explanation, I’m assuming that Siegmund and Sieglinde represent human traits that are an offshoot of the religious impulse (Wotan), which are the social revolutionary impulse (mainly represented by Siegmund) and the artistic impulse, particularly music (mainly represented by Sieglinde, as shown by links to the Woodbird in Siegried).
I’m also assuming that Hunding is in a sense Fricka’s proxy, representing the more conservative branch of the religious impulse, which is related to the need for security and stability. It could be said that organised religion (such as the church) often has a tendency to become more closely related to the latter, i.e. the need for security, stability and adherence to social conventions, perhaps forgetting its original purpose. In that sense, Hunding could represent some aspects of the church as well as conventional society. This might be supported by the fact that the Hunding Leitmotif consists of block triads played on Wagner Tubas, so could be said to be a distortion of the Valhalla motif.
It strikes me that the forced marriage of Sieglinde to Hunding, could represent the patronage of art (and particularly music), exercised by the church and the most powerful in society, particularly during the baroque and early classical periods.
It feels instinctively right to me that the liberation of Sieglinde by Siegmund, and the explosion of energy a that accompanies this moment is related to the new found artistic freedom enjoyed by composers such as Beethoven that broke free of patronage, giving birth to the romantic movement of which Wagnerian music drama was an extreme example.
There is an irony in this in that Wagner himself came to rely on a powerful patron. Although I accept your interpretation of the ‘false marriages’ that Brunhilde and Siegried were each forced or tricked into, could it be that on another level this somehow relates to the fact that Wagner in the end relied on a patron in order to realise the Ring’s performance at Bayreuth, and was therefore bot quite the free artist that he wanted to be? (I appreciate that the chronology might not support this idea, as the Ring libretto was mostly completed before Ludwig II became a patron of Wagner, but I still think this is an interesting idea to explore).
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Re: Seiglinde Metaphor?

Postby alberich00 » Tue May 19, 2015 1:02 pm

Hello, Wolram:

Your continuing ruminations on possible interpretations of the Siegmund/Sieglinde scenario remind me that I still try to think afresh about the ultimate meaning of this loving couple's brief sojourn on earth, because I'm never absolutely certain I've got it right. I'm more certain re other aspects of the "Ring," but I still re-think this couple from time to time.

One question which comes up is just how meaning accrues to a dramatic text with music, such as we find in the "Ring." In spite of my interpretation, which posits a coherent dramatic and conceptual framework for the whole, it is always possible that there is no over-arching meaning to the whole (though I doubt it), or it is possible that there are only local and specific meanings which can't be applied to the entirety of the text and music, but only to portions, or possibly we can have an over-arching frame of conceptual and dramatic reference which nonetheless leaves room for local and specific meanings which don't necessarily fit in with the whole, but also don't contradict it. Of course, there are many for whom none of this is an issue, in that they only "feel" this artwork but don't worry over whether it can be conceptually parsed.

Well, until further notice, I'm still strongly convinced that there is one overall conceptual frame of reference which doesn't preclude other meanings which run, without contradiction, in tandem, so to speak.

I'm not sure whether it's right to say that Sieglinde's and Siegmund's compassionate impulse is an offshoot of mankind's (Wotan's) religious impulse. It may not be causal, a chicken before the eggs matter, but simply that both impulses are related. In any case Feuerbach noted that this compassionate impulse was the one aspect of mankind's religious orientation worth saving, and perhaps Wagner attempted to dramatize this in Wotan's trying to make Siegmund his heir. Wagner himself pointed out that man's religious impulse lives on in the conscience of individuals. Anyway, between Feuerbach and Wagner I think we have at least one source of inspiration for Wagner's creation of this twin-pair and their love. I think that Siegmund and Sieglinde together represent the social revolutionary impulse, but I don't find the artistic impulse in them, which I believe Wagner saved for his Siegfried and Bruennhilde. In other words, I'm suggesting that the two generations of Waelsungs are distinguished as Wagner's notion of the social revolutionary, inspired by personal ethical conscience, is distinguished from Wagner's notion of the artist-hero, who offers mankind his own special form of redemption or salvation.

One question I've asked myself over and over again is, why is Siegmund considered by Wotan to be a hero who ultimately is unfree (because Wotan secretly intervened and interfered with fate, so to speak, to insure that Siegmund would grow up to represent Wotan's interests, as Wotan himself confesses), and why should we regard Siegfried as any freer than his father Siegmund, especially since, in various ways, Siegmund is more sympathetic than his impulsive son. The best answer I've been able to come up with (and it does fit perfectly into my overall interpretation) is that Siegmund seeks to intervene in the real world (which according to Wotan he must leave to Alberich, after Wotan has concluded, inwardly, that Alberich's egoism is either the basis for all human impulse, including Siegmund's seemingly humane impulses, or at any rate Alberich's egoism is predestined to have victory over mankind's more humane impulses), whereas the artist-hero Siegfried is freed from contradiction by the prosaic factuality of the real world because he is the lord of the realm of art, which stakes no claim to the real world (and yet makes us feel as if we've transcended it).

What I'm arguing is that if Siegfried is the artist-hero, in some sense he is freer than the ethical hero Siegmund, at least according to Wotan's lights. What I'm driving at is that Siegfried represents Wotan's retreat into a radical refuge of subjectivity, in order to escape being reduceable to Alberich's curse of consciousness (scientific reduction). But even Siegfried, in the end, becomes reduceable to science, once Hagen influences Siegfried to make the secrets of his unconscious mind (Bruennhilde) available to any man who wishes to plumb these depths.

I have my reasons for not thinking that Sieglinde in particular is a Wagnerian metaphor for music, but that she represents feeling (and music is perhaps the apotheosis of feeling?) is certain. However, as you suggest, and Wagner noted, he sometimes considered the Woodbird to be Sieglinde's ghost, so to speak (I've given my reasons elsewhere for why this can't be entirely true). A situation like this suggests to us, perhaps, that the penumbra of meaning attaching to any given person or thing or idea or emotion in the "Ring" may overlap with others, and yet each will have its own center of gravity. For instance, though I don't regard Sieglinde as specifically a metaphor for music, nonetheless Siegfried confuses Bruennhilde with his mother, and Bruennhilde we know from Wagner's own writings he regarded as (among other things) a metaphor for music.

I concur fully with your remarks about Hunding representing the stability of society (and to that degree the sort of coercion necessary to make outliers like Siegmund fall into line), which of course unites him with Fricka, the goddess of marriage and the hearth. I haven't read it in awhile but Wagner wrote a trial-version of the dialogue between Wotan and his wife Fricka in which they argued the merits of marriage for the sake of stability, in spite of the question whether that marriage is contracted out of love, which he didn't use in the version of the "Ring" we know today.

Of course, Hunding's forced marriage to Sieglinde would only work as a metaphor for Church patronage of music if we can clearly see Sieglinde as a Wagnerian metaphor for music, but I don't think of church when I think of Hunding, but rather, I think of the insistence by society in general in sticking with convention, and society's instinctive suspicion of those who, like Siegmund, think for themselves and who have a highly independent conscience. My general impression is that Wagner construed Sieglinde's marriage by force to Hunding as representing society's crushing, annihilating impact on the quest of individuals for self-expression. In this case it's an effort to quell natural love with artificial love (i.e., Hunding's insistence on Sieglinde's fidelity to him, in spite of the fact he never consulted her own feelings in the matter).

If you wanted to pursue this line of interpretation, it would be interesting to see just how far it can carry, i.e., how much of the rest of the tale can be shown to cohere with it. Of course, it's not at all impossible that it could be true and yet apply only to a portion of Wagner's text and music. I suspect the reason it took me so long (nearly 40 years) to develop my interpretation to the point that I felt that I could publish it without too much embarrassment was my insistence on only including details which could be shown to cohere with (my reading of) the entire "Ring" libretto and music.

However, your thesis relating Siegmund's and Sieglinde's self-liberation from the despotic power of Hunding, to Beethoven's revolution in music, and ultimately to the romantic movement (of which Wagner was the great exemplar), is very interesting. Have you read Jean-Jacques Nattiez's 1993 book "Wagner Androgyne"? Nattiez, in a book which in some ways is more like my interpretation than any others out there (so far as I know both Nattiez and myself came up with our respective interpretations entirely independently; I had the good fortune to have breakfast with him at the November 1983 conference sponsored by the Univ. of Illinois, Chicago Circle, entitled "Wagner in Retrospect," after which we spent an entire day at the conference together. I can only assume this occurred because at that time Nattiez detected some sort of sympathy of spirit in me), presents the thesis that the entire "Ring" is Wagner's metaphorical history of music. If you haven't read it, definitely do so; you'll find much there of great interest, especially in relation to your current ruminations.

I'm not sure how much the question of Wagner's patronage (which, practically speaking, forced Wagner to contemplate the dilemma that he often had to seek support from people for whom his art remained in many ways impenetrable, or who at any rate never seemed to grasp his most authentic intent) was built into the plot of the "Ring," but certainly Mime represents for Wagner the problem that the great man or woman of genius, who so rarely appears in time and space, must generally self-develop in the context of a huge environment of average human beings, the masses, who not only rarely if ever grasp his/her nature, but who are often instinctively averse to the person of genius, and either try to exploit the genius for personal gain and aggrandizement, or to thwart their nobler goals. Note how dependent Siegfried initially is upon Mime, and how Siegfried's sole purpose in life, once he comes of age, is to make himself entirely independent of Mime.

It is also interesting in this regard that it is Hagen (Mime's nephew), specifically, who spurs Siegfried on to sing the narrative of how he came to grasp the meaning of the Woodbird's song. Nattiez's thesis is that Hagen represents a sort of Jewish entrepreneur who is (according to Wagner's racist tendencies) corrupting the music-dramatist Siegfried's art and tainting Siegfried himself with corruption. I don't agree with Nattiez because the song Siegfried sings at Hagen's behest is actually the most authentic song he could sing about his heroic life, his interpretation of the Woodbirdsong. As you know, my interpretation paints Hagen in rather different colors.

Well, my digits are played out. But this is a very interesting topic.
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Re: Seiglinde Metaphor?

Postby WOLRAM » Wed May 27, 2015 1:32 pm

Alberich, thanks for your reply to my latest post, which as usual is very thorough and complete.
For what it's worth, I am in complete agreement that "there is one overall conceptual frame of reference which doesn't preclude other meanings which run, without contradiction, in tandem."
I'm also convinced that your explanation of the overall conceptual frame of reference for Wagner's work is correct (and that other interpretations are mostly wrong).
All of my own ideas that I have shared are concerned with the possibility of "other meanings which run, without contradiction, in tandem".
My own ideas have not been well researched like yours and are only based on instinct, so I thank you for being open minded enough to consider those ideas without completely dismissing them.
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Re: Seiglinde Metaphor?

Postby alberich00 » Wed May 27, 2015 4:01 pm

Dear Wolram:

Most of my hypotheses were also based on instinct until, many years after I first developed them, I found reasonable confirmation in the documentary evidence. Apropos of instinct, my instincts tell me that I still haven't said the last word on Siegmund's relationship with Sieglinde. I suspect you're right that there may be something else missing.

Yours from Wagnerheim,

Paul alias alberich00
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