Critique: 'Finding an Ending' Part 17

General Discussion about Wagner and The Ring of the Nibelung

Moderators: Justin Jeffrey, alberich00

Critique: 'Finding an Ending' Part 17

Postby alberich00 » Thu Jul 21, 2016 10:50 am

Anyone who has read my own interpretation of Wagner’s Ring posted at knows that the evidence for reading Siegfried as Wagner’s concept of the prelapsarian artist-hero is overwhelming, that, as even K&S here admit, Wagner’s first impulse in creating the "Ring" was to explain why Siegfried had to die. Furthermore, as I have also explained elsewhere in this critique, Wagner in his "Epilogue to ‘The Nibelung’s Ring’" stated that the plots of "Twilight of the Gods" and "Tristan and Isolde" are essentially the same, in that in both instances a hero, as if under a spell, gives his own true love away to another man, with tragic consequences, and I have also explained that the basis for this plot is Wagner’s representation of the unconscious artistic inspiration of the artist-hero Tannhaeuser by his muse Venus, in the Venusberg, and how he involuntarily, as if under a spell, reveals to his audience the abhorrent secret of his unconscious artistic inspiration by admitting in the song he sings to win the hand of Elizabeth that Venus was his muse. Wagner said that "Twilight of the Gods" and "Tristan" are variants of the same myth, and that the primary difference between them is that what occurs for Siegfried in a very short period of time (his awareness of his self-betrayal and betrayal of his love, when he remembers, thanks to Hagen’s antidote to the potion of forgetting and love Hagen originally gave Siegfried to drink, his original love for Bruennhilde), is drawn out over the full length of a music-drama in "Tristan." I have also demonstrated in detail how the overall plot of the "Ring" is also systematically related to the plots of Wagner’s other canonical operas and music dramas, to some extent even "The Flying Dutchman," but particularly and dramatically "Lohengrin," "The Mastersingers of Nuremberg," and "Parsifal." I will not repeat here my highly detailed discussion of how Siegfried came to be the hero who is fearless because he does not know who he is, thanks to Wotan’s confession to Bruennhilde, how this is precisely what Wotan wished for in his confession, and how Siegfried, in representing Wagner’s idea of the archetypal artist-hero, is the natural successor to Wotan, the heir to Wotan’s legacy of religious longing for transcendent meaning. But K&S in this chapter demonstrate beyond doubt that their attempt to grasp the "Ring," even in part, on the basis of a common-sense and realistic concept of a narrative, which is actually mythological and allegorical, in the end fails utterly, since they dismiss the whole raison d’etre of the "Ring" as a sideshow, or even as something in which Wagner lost faith. This is wholly disproven by the fact that Wagner moved on to "Tristan," a music-drama with a radically different musical style but essentially the same plot as the portion of the "Ring" which was the first that Wagner fully dramatized. Since Siegfried effectively reappears in a new guise in Tristan, according to Wagner's own words, Wagner can scarcely be said to have outgrown Siegfried. As for the naive hero, Wagner repeats this concept again in the case of Parsifal who, like Siegfried, does not know who he is, but who, also like Siegfried, has a potential muse of unconscious artistic inspiration who reminds him of the mother who died in some sense because of him, and who knows for him what he doesn’t know, his true identity. K&S have not read the libretto closely enough, or taken into account Wagner's employment of specific motifs in sufficient detail, to ascertain what is truly at stake, and they have not sufficiently taken into account the other relevant documentary information, which can be found in Wagner’s other canonic operas and music-dramas, in Wagner’s writings and recorded remarks, and in the writings of the one philosopher known beyond a shadow of doubt to have had a very significant influence upon Wagner as he was creating the "Ring," Ludwig Feuerbach.

PH: Their fatal error brings to mind George Bernard Shaw’s dismissal of large parts of the plot of "Siegfried" and "Twilight of the Gods" because he couldn’t make it fit into his own fatally limiting concept of the "Ring" as an allegory of a revolution of the anarchist (Siegfried) against the spirit-stifling dominion of capitalism and the industrial revolution, with its enslavement of labor, an interpretation which was based largely on a very specific reading of one scene among the many scenes in the "Ring," namely "Rhinegold" Scene Two (with Alberich’s dominion over the Nibelungs seen as a heartless captain of industry exploiting and abusing his wage-slaves), and based also on a highly selective reading of some of Wagner’s prose works (at the expense of much else in Wagner’s writings and recorded remarks which greatly transcend this limiting perspective). Furthermore, they have paid woefully too little attention to the music to make much sense out of its employment by Wagner to add another level of conceptual meaning to the "Ring" (in the sense of the motifs’ associative, referential power, not so much the purely expressive power which is native to music as such). Lastly, they are now summing up their understanding of one of the key characters of the "Ring," without having done what needs to be done to make sense of even any part or aspect of the "Ring," and that is to see it as a whole, taking its entire libretto and music, not just selected portions, into account.

P. 186: K&S: “Consider Fricka and Wotan. We do not think we are unsympathetic in consigning Fricka to the second category. In essence, she is a device that turns Wotan’s thoughts and aspirations in new directions. Heretical as it may seem, we believe that the same holds for Siegfried. He is immensely important to the action in the second half of the "Ring," and he has a massive amount of air time. Yet it is a strain to analyze him psychologically, or even semiotically, at anything like the same level as Wotan or Bruennhilde (or Loge, or Erda, or Alberich, or Hagen, or even Siegmund and Sieglinde) - except in terms of the inadequacies and shortcomings of what he paradigmatically represents, and of what he fatally and devastatingly lacks. He is one striking version - approaching caricature - of The Hero; but we take it to be a major part of the burden of his portrayal to convince us that he is as lamentable as he is admirable, and that his heroic virtues are bound up with the serious limitations and liabilities he displays as a human being. These traits render his version of a higher sort of humanity not only hopeless for Wotan’s purposes in solving the problem of order, but also self-destructive, and more harmful than helpful even to those he would assist - even if he is awe-inspiring in his own way, and admirable in relation to some of the other human possibilities on display in 'Goetterdaemmerung.' ”

PH: Because K&S have not seen the allegory at work in the "Ring," they do not grasp the sense in which Wagner has construed Siegfried not only as Wotan’s heir, but as Wotan reincarnate, minus Wotan’s conscious knowledge of who he is and his history and his fate, which Wotan, in confessing it to Bruennhilde, repressed into his unconscious mind. What K&S describe as Siegfried’s lack, his ignorance and naivete, is the direct consequence of Bruennhilde knowing for Siegfried what he doesn’t know, his true identity, past history, and fate. I have already demonstrated in detail how important this concept is in interpreting all of Wagner’s canonical operas and music-dramas, from at least "Tannhaeuser" onward. Similarly, Parsifal is a fool, a prelapsarian child, and Kundry his potential (but never actual) muse knows for him what he does not know. Isolde keeps the secret of Tristan’s true identity, but Tristan, having betrayed his muse of unconscious artistic inspiration Isolde by giving her away to another man (Marke, construed like Gunther as Wagner’s own audience), becomes too conscious of who he really is and suffers from this knowledge unbearably in Act Three of "Tristan." Elsa offered to share Lohengrin’s forbidden knowledge of his true identity and history, to help protect him from the “Noth” (anguish) which she assumed he would suffer if his unspoken secret were made public (which is to say, conscious for him). Wagner himself called Elsa Lohengrin’s unconscious mind in which his conscious ego seeks redemption. This gave Wagner the impetus to go further in Bruennhilde, who would not only share Wotan’s knowledge of his true, loathsome identity and corrupt history, but would know it for him so he would not have to suffer from it, and in this way Wotan’s confession to her, the womb of his wishes, gave birth to the hero Siegfried, who is a hero who because he does not know who he is or his historical background, is, unlike Wotan, fearless, but also lacking Wotan’s depth, Wotan’s knowledge of the contradictions which undermine Wotan’s hopes and ideals. But Bruennhilde, Siegfried’s unconscious mind, knows this for him, and only when together are they a complete person, the artist-hero and his muse of unconscious artistic inspiration. Thus, when Bruennhilde renders her judgment in the finale of the "Ring," we are also hearing Wotan and Siegfried. In Wagner’s cosmic, metaphysical vision they are all three ultimately one character.

PH: K&S have entirely missed this, and therefore missed one of the primary, essential threads of meaning in the "Ring." They construe Siegfried merely as Wagner’s shallow metaphor for an archetypal hero whose naivete and ignorance and thoughtless brashness fatally undermines him. This reading has scarcely any relationship with what is at stake in the "Ring," and totally misconstrues Siegfried’s import in Wagner’s oeuvre. On this note, it is totally absurd that having gutted Siegfried’s significance, K&S are still left having to explain how Siegfried still seems to be the one person with whom Bruennhilde, having been betrayed by him, still wishes to share her love after death, and they can only do this (as we will see shortly) by suggesting that Siegfried redeems himself in the end when he remembers (thanks to Hagen’s antidote to his own potion of forgetting and love) his original relationship with Bruennhilde. K&S got this right: “… his [Siegfried’s] heroic virtues are bound up with the serious limitations and liabilities he displays as a human being,” but for all the wrong reasons. They don’t understand, at all, that it is because of Bruennhilde’s protective love that Siegfried came to birth, in the first place, as a hero who is a hero because he is lacking those liabilities which had paralyzed Wotan into inaction, knowledge and the fear it engenders, knowledge held for Siegfried by Bruennhilde. K&S say Siegfried’s liabilities make him useless in aiding Wotan in solving the problem of order, but Siegfried was conceived in the first place to breach that order in order to transcend and redeem it.

P. 186-187: K&S: “Siegfried’s ultimate significance, we would suggest, is to make it palpable that his type of heroism is no panacea. Indeed, it carries within it the seeds of a good deal of destruction - its own included. The combination of the naive and the heedless is an explosive mixture, that generally produces considerable damage. If there is an answer, either to Wotan’s problem of order, or to some suitably revised version of that problem, or to the fundamental problem of the entire "Ring" - the problem of how life and death can be rendered meaningful in an indifferent and treacherous world - Siegfried is not it. He is far more a part of the problem than of any solution to it - and it is no small part of the problem precisely that there is such great appeal to the idea that such a hero would be the key to its solution. If this is merely hinted at in the opera that bears his name, it becomes painfully clear in the sequel. Only when he is felled and disabled with a mortal wound does his heroic persona give way to a more truly human countenance. The transformation is accompanied not merely by his return to his love of Bruennhilde but rather by the dawning of a higher and more valuable type of love than he had been capable of previously. At that point, and at last, he is no longer the center of his own universe, unable to see beyond his own whims, desires and needs - his desire and need to prove himself in particular.”

PH: K&S so impoverish Siegfried through the deficit in their own imagination that of course they misconstrue his virtues as his vices. They are right that Siegfried ultimately does not offer the panacea Wotan had hoped for, and that it holds the seeds of its own destruction, but for the wrong reasons. They construe Siegfried as simply too self-involved and impetuous and ill-informed, a caricature of a heroic personality, to be capable of offering Wotan the redemption he sought. But in my interpretation Siegfried fails precisely because he is not free and independent of Wotan’s influence, but is the perfect realization of what Wotan had hoped for, the artist-hero who would be freed from religious man’s liability, the dependence on unreasoning faith and its fear of knowledge. Siegfried the secular artist-hero is free of these concerns not because he is an impetuous, unthinking, self-involved brat who does what he wants when he wants heedless of the consequences, but because in Wagner’s Feuerbach-inspired formulation, secular art is freed from making religious faith’s claim to the truth and its power (the Ring), because the artist confesses himself the creator of a fiction, a game, a form of play, which stakes no claim to the truth and its power (Alberich’s Ring), and in music the composer even escapes all concern about the distinction between truth and illusion/deception, because music is feeling rather than thought. This is the entire meaning of Bruennhilde’s crucial remark to Siegfried in "Siegfried" Act Three Scene Three that what Wotan thought (in his confession to her of his need for a hero, freed from the gods' laws and protection and influence, who would nonetheless, of his own need, win Alberich's Ring from Fafner and keep Alberich from regaining possession of it and bringing about the twilight of the gods), she felt, and that what Wotan thought, and she felt, was just her love for Siegfried, embodied by #134. And this, in my interpretation, is the musical symbol for Wagner’s highest metaphysical category, the primary source of all value, of transcendent value, in a secular world, i.e., unconscious artistic inspiration. This is what Wotan meant by a free, fearless hero, who would do, spontaneously, what Wotan needed for him to do, take aesthetic possession of the sources of Alberich’s power, his Hoard of knowledge of the real world, his Tarnhelm of imagination, and his Ring of conscious thought, so that mankind would have a redemptive alternative to Alberich’s/Hagen’s scientific acknowledgment of the bitter truths about man’s nature and the natural world which gave birth to man, and whose laws man obeys even in his rebellion against her. It is obvious from my formulation that K&S also don’t grasp the true nature of the rivalry between Wotan (religion, i.e., subjective consciousness) and Alberich (objective consciousness), or between Wotan’s heir Siegfried (Wagnerian music-drama, the perpetuator of religion’s subjective consciousness in secular art) and Hagen (the spirit of the modern, skeptical, scientific, secular age, one of whose byproducts is the elimination of illusory sources of compensation for the bitter truth). For these reasons they demote Siegfried to a bratty kid, and construe Hagen as merely a cartoon villain (though they give him some credit as a persona, since they weigh his dramatic profile as more profound even than that of Siegfried).

PH: The reason Siegfried restores some gravitas at the end, once he has remembered his true relations with Bruennhilde, is that in Wagner’s allegory he has finally become conscious of who he is, and it is this memory of who he is, long repressed while it was stored in his unconscious mind, Bruennhilde, which kills him. Siegfried cannot survive as the unconsciously inspired artist-hero if he has betrayed the secrets of his womb of night, his unconscious mind Bruennhilde, to the light of day, which he has, in giving her away to his audience, Gunther, and in ripping Alberich’s Ring, the curse of consciousness, out of her protective hands, so that its curse can be fulfilled.

PH: Wagner portrayed Siegfried as the center of his own universe, and as the center of Bruennhilde’s universe (it’s funny that Bruennhilde, whose character K&S so extol, is Siegfried’s main advocate, even at the end, when they demote Siegfried to a hero just barely worthy of our attention: note that Bruennhilde describes her sole purpose, in the "Twilight of the Gods" Prelude, as being to inspire Siegfried to undertake new adventures, which in my interpretation are a metaphor for adventures in artistic creation), because Wagner understood the authentically inspired artist to be a uniquely gifted human being for whom everything must serve the end of his artistic creation, that he “must” do what he does, of necessity. Wagner portrayed that vital force of the inspired artist in Siegfried’s brash and impetuous nature, and especially in Siegfried’s re-forging of his father Siegmund’s sword Nothung, which is Wagner’s metaphor for Siegfried’s establishing his link with the past legacy of men (and women) of genius in religion, ethics, and art. And note that Siegfried’s archetypal heroic adventure is his killing of Fafner (overcoming religious man’s fear of the new, fear of intellectual inquiry) and taking aesthetic possession of the sources of Alberich’s power, his Hoard of objective knowledge, his Tarnhelm of imagination (originally conceived by Alberich in the service of objective knowledge), and his Ring of objective consciousness, which grants man power. Wagner described Siegfried’s consciousness as a unique kind of consciousness.

PH: That Siegfried only creates and produces for a public one work of art in the "Ring," his sung narrative of the story of his heroic life and of how he came to grasp the meaning of the Woodbird's song (i.e., to grasp the philosophical significance of music as the sole redeemer left to us when God had to leave us, thanks to our own gradual loss of faith in the face of our inevitable advance in knowledge, as dramatized in Wagner’s "Ring"), is due to the fact that Wagner saved one single work of art (the so-called Satyr Play for "Tannhaeuser") to depict the artist-hero creating and producing a truly redemptive work of art which doesn’t expose its unconscious secrets to the public, and that is "The Mastersingers of Nuremberg." Walther von Stolzing is the artist-hero inspired unconsciously, in a dream, by his artistic muse Eva, a figure for that Eve who caused our exile from paradise (i.e., exile from the realm of the gods, as in Lohengrin’s banishment of Elsa from his presence, and Wotan’s banishment of Bruennhilde from the realm of the gods) by giving us fatal knowledge. And Hans Sachs (in this emulating Wotan's relationship with Bruennhilde) makes a secret confession to Eva of her responsibility to inspire the redemptive work of art which can compensate man for her original sin of giving man that knowledge which exiled him from paradise, by inspiring the artist-hero to offer mankind a new, secular form of redemption, in art. Note also that the well-made shoe, Sachs’s metaphor for the inspired work of art, protects its wearer from feeling the gravel on the ground, i.e., gives man the feeling as if he had been restored to paradise and doesn’t feel his mortality, the gravel. Since Walther successfully creates and produces, for a public, this redemptive work of art which is a substitute for religious faith, he neither betrays the secret of his unconscious artistic inspiration to his public (unlike Tannhaeuser, Tristan, and Siegfried, and even Klingsor), nor ever becomes conscious of himself as the heir to Wotan’s original sin against all that was, is, and will be, religious man’s sin of world-renunciation, i.e., Walther never sees himself as the cause of his mother’s (Mother Nature’s figurative) death, neither by being born through her death (Siegfried and Tristan), nor by neglecting her (Parsifal). This stems from Feuerbach’s notion that in positing transcendent being, the gods, as man’s primary source of authority and value, man figuratively murdered his mother, Nature, his true source of authority and value, and denied his true origin and identity.

PH: It’s worth mentioning with respect to Walther’s lover Eva, his muse of unconscious artistic inspiration, that in naming her Eve and equating her with the Eve in paradise whose original sin was to give man knowledge god had forbidden to us (think here of Wotan’s unspoken secret which he confessed to Bruennhilde), that Feuerbach described Eve as a metaphor for the muse of modern science, because her intellectual inquiry caused man to forsake his original faith in god, the paradise of faith, in favor of having to struggle for life in the real world. Since for Wagner his music-drama falls heir to religious man’s longing for transcendent value when the old religious faith can no longer be sustained in the face of man’s scientific advancement in objective knowledge, Eve becomes figuratively Wagner’s muse for his own art, as the cause of the Second Fall, the end of that religious faith which lives on only as feeling in art, especially the art of music. Thus all of Wagner’s heroines are also figures for Eve. It is no accident, for instance, that Wagner compared Kundry with Eve, and that Baudelaire described Elsa (in "Lohengrin") as Eve.

PH: Though, again, K&S say what is true but for the wrong reasons, it’s true that Siegfried is part of the problem rather than Wotan’s solution, but that is because Siegfried the artist-hero, like Wotan (the embodiment of man’s religious need, the need to posit man’s transcendent value), is subject to Alberich’s curse of consciousness, and even unwittingly fulfills the conditions of Alberich’s curse. The purpose of Alberich’s curse was to punish those men who co-opted the objective power of his Ring, the gift of human consciousness and its power, to create and sustain illusions, belief in the gods, until such time that Alberich (in the person of his son and proxy Hagen) regains possession of the Ring, which is Wagner’s metaphor for the ultimate victory of scientific, objective consciousness, over religious, subjective consciousness, an eventuality which is inevitable, fated to come true, because of mankind’s gradual accumulation of a hoard of knowledge of himself and his world, through long historical experience. This eventuality would automatically overthrow belief in the gods and in the consoling illusions to which such belief gave birth, or which are related to the same impulses which gave birth to religious belief. Thus Wotan can’t help collecting a hoard of objective knowledge from Erda in his wanderings over the earth in search of not only objective knowledge, but of knowledge of how he might redeem himself from consciousness of objective knowledge. We are reminded of the Dutchman's unending quest for redemption, which instead always ends in failure, but which amasses over time an increasing hoard of treasure (which in my interpretation is a hoard of knowledge, of historical experience of mankind and of the world). This latter quest culminates in the transformation of the old religious faith into secular art in which, as Feuerbach and Wagner put it, religious feeling, the longing for transcendent value, can live on after religious belief itself pales in the face of man’s advancement in knowledge.

PH: But Siegfried the secular artist-hero, as the heir to Wotan’s (religious faith’s) sin of world-renunciation, i.e., preferring to find meaning and value outside of the objective world, in the world of the artistic imagination, also inherits Alberich’s curse of consciousness. In the artist-hero’s (Wagner’s) most exalted effort to redeem the world and man through art, from the bitter fruits of objective consciousness, i.e., in Wagner’s own Ring, Wagner instead, perhaps unwittingly and involuntarily, exposed to view the very secret it was the original purpose of religion and art to keep safe, i.e., the history of how mankind over the millennia repressed consciousness of the truth and substituted illusory consolations for this truth, through a process of unconscious, involuntary sublimation, akin to that means whereby the first religions were invented (this is why Wotan and the gods are initially depicted asleep, and Wotan dreaming, while the giants, the gods’ animal instincts, under the influence of Alberich's Ring of consciousness, #19, build the heavenly abode Valhalla #20a, from which the gods are to rule mankind). Thus Wagner produced a genealogy of morals before Nietzsche ever conceived of it. Just as Siegfried did in the sung narrative of his life in "Twilight of the Gods" Act Two Scene Two, Wagner unwittingly and involuntarily betrayed the secret of music, the Woodbird’s Song, to the light of day, thereby precipitating not only the end of the very concept of heroism (both Siegmund’s and Sieglinde’s moral heroism and Siegfried’s and Bruennhillde’s artistic heroism in particular), but of religion itself, in the twilight of the gods, retrospectively.

P. 187: K&S: “When we first encounter Siegfried after the immensely moving climax with which "Walkuere" ends (and his advent is announced), we are brought abruptly back down to earth. Our eagerly awaited hero-to-be turns out to be an impulsive, shallow adolescent. The whining Mime may be insufferable (although we think that this standard characterization is both exaggerated and misleading, since Mime’s evil is genuine and insidious, and therefore no mere laughing matter); but so is Siegfried, even if in rather different ways. From their surface behavior in Act I, the wheedling, evasive dwarf and the crude bully seem a mismatched pair, who thoroughly deserve one another.”

PH: Yes, again, K&S are right for the wrong reasons. Mime and Siegfried thoroughly deserve each other because after Wotan’s confession to Bruennhilde of all that he loathed in his own nature and corrupt history, Wotan in effect split into two characters, Mime and Siegfried, Mime carrying the burden of all that Wotan loathes in his own character, his prosaic self, and Siegfried representing that artificial creation of Wotan’s artistic imagination (Wotan’s poetic self) who would be purged of all that Wotan loathed and feared in his own character, history, and fate. Mime represents Wotan’s real self, and Siegfried his ideal self. Yes, of course Mime existed prior to Wotan’s alleged split which I describe above, but we must remember that Wotan is Light-Alberich, and Alberich is Dark-Alberich, and that Alberich’s Ring Motif #19 gave birth to Wotan’s Valhalla Motif #20a, and that, lastly, Mime forges the Tarnhelm of imagination, but to Alberich’s design, which is the means through which Wotan and Loge are ultimately able to take Alberich (the objective human mind who alone can possess and use the Ring and its full power) prisoner, just as man’s artistic imagination co-opts man’s objective imagination to create and sustain man’s consoling illusions, and mask the objective truth. Siegfried’s apparent brutality towards Mime, Siegfried’s instinctive loathing of Mime, is (because Siegfried is Wotan reborn, minus his consciousness of who he is) Wotan’s own abhorrence of his Mime-nature, those aspects of his character which Wotan loathed and which Mime embodies. Wotan has concluded, in his confession to Bruennhilde, his unconscious mind, something he wasn’t able to face consciously, that his motives in seeking redemption from Alberich’s curse through the allegedly free hero Siegmund, were cravenness and fear, and therefore, thanks to Bruennhilde having received Wotan’s confession (she being the womb of his wishes), Wotan is reborn as Siegfried minus all those aspects of his character which Mime incarnates.

P. 187-188: K&S: “Acts II and III provide little evidence of emotional or intellectual development on Siegfried’s part. Indeed, it is hard to conceive of a youth more ridiculously obtuse than the one who goes charging off on a quest for a beautiful woman - at the merest suggestion by a Woodbird, seconded by a Wanderer who is a complete stranger to him - and who then reacts with such laughably silly surprise when he cuts away the armor of the slumbering figure [Bruennhilde] he discovers on the mountaintop. His shallow simplicity is rendered all the more evident in that momentous scene by the contrasting evident emotional complexity of Bruennhilde. Her contributions to the scene express the conflicts of her love; his are about hormones.”

PH: K&S here are so far off base here, so totally out of touch with what Wagner has gone to such trouble, over two decades and a half, to create, missing such a large percentage of all that Wagner has left us to read in the music and libretto text, that at this point it becomes embarrassing to carry on, but I must, because I have been issued a challenge to show wherein my interpretation does the better job of making sense of what dedicated audiences experience in the theater (and also perhaps what they experience after the fact, when meditating upon their experience in the theater), than K&S’s approach. K&S speak of things as “ridiculously obtuse” which were fated, in the very nature of the case, to occur, totally missing the mythological and allegorical weight of these stunning events in the "Ring." K&S haven’t even grasped that the Woodbird’s song is Siegfried’s own subliminal impulse to seek self-knowledge, and redemption from self-knowledge, in loving union with Bruennhilde. It is the music in Siegfried, produced by his own unconscious mind Bruennhilde, which leads him inward, to confront the very hoard of knowledge which failed to make an impact on him when Fafner protected it, because already Bruennhilde, who had figuratively given birth to the identity-less and history-less and fearless hero, lures him to her with her own language of feeling, music. It is not Siegfried who is shallow but K&S’s understanding of him which is shallow, shallow to the point that they dismiss a large part of what the "Ring" is all about in order to make a case for a few favorite themes which, I must say upon reflection, now that I am re-reading their text so closely after ten years, don’t even remotely resonate with my own experience of the "Ring," and I certainly think can’t begin to account for any of its real power and its numinous qualities. I hate to have to say it, given their obviously detailed attention to aspects of the "Ring," that in failing to justify or understand Siegfried they fail utterly to grasp the "Ring" itself.

P. 188: K&S: “Although there are glimmerings in the second scene of the Prelude to "Goetterdaemmerung" that there might be or become something more than this to Siegfried, it is only in his final moments that he starts to become humanly interesting as a character. After the hunt, after he has drunk from the cup prepared by Hagen, after he sings of his youth, and at last is able to recall his discovery of Bruennhilde and the beginning of their love, he seems to be on the verge of a self-awareness hitherto entirely lacking. Hagen seizes the moment he has been waiting for, having been given some semblance of justification, and thrusts his spear into Siegfried’s back. Siegfried falls - and then, dying, he begins to grow up, and, for the first time, to understand what life and love are all about. As a hero, he has consistently outdone his father, but in emotional terms he never approaches Siegmund’s depth - until now, perhaps, when his dying words and music convey echoes of Siegmund’s mature and noble understanding of the possibilities of human love. His death is entirely fitting; it marks the end of the heroism he has represented as a viable solution to Wotan’s problem of order (or to ours, as we try to find our way into a future beyond the Daemmerung of all gods). When he ceases to be the embodiment of heroism and is transformed into a human being capable of the kind of love worth living and dying for, he has already ceased to exist as the Siegfried he was born to be.”

PH: One can’t help noticing that K&S seem to be oblivious to the irony that Siegfried only remembers his original love for Bruennhilde because Hagen administers the antidote to the potion he had Gutrune give Siegfried in his drink, so that Siegfried would forget Bruennhilde and fall in love with Gutrune. In other words, it is Siegfried’s nemesis, the embodiment of Alberich’s curse on his Ring, Hagen, who wakes Siegfried up to who he really is, and the truth of his relationship with his formerly secret muse of unconscious artistic inspiration. Both potions, in fact, taken together, are Wagner’s metaphor for the need of the artist-hero to make public, in a work of art, the sublimated dream of inspiration which he drew from his artistic muse in his unconscious mind, in the modern age in which, as Dostoevsky said, consciousness has become a disease. Gutrune is the muse modern artists respond to for public display of that which remains for them, privately, sacrosanct and secret, the muse of unconscious artistic inspiration, Bruennhilde, when modern artists are becoming too conscious and can no longer experience unconscious artistic inspiration. However, as art reaches its apogee of sophistication in, say, a work like Wagner’s "Ring," when in other words it has most fulfilled its formerly hidden mission to sublimate the bitter truth into a consoling musical feeling, in which it might be possible to trace in associative musical motifs the surface story or allegory back to its original source of inspiration, knowledge which may remain hidden even from the artist himself, this age-old muse who has always inspired the need for artists to share their private dreaming with their audience, becomes fatal, because in this ultimate work of art the original source of its inspiration, which up until now all prior religious belief and art had concealed, may be revealed. The formerly unconscious muse of artistic inspiration, Bruennhilde, now wakes forever, as Siegfried tells us in his last words. Why then does Siegfried become self-aware only at the last, and especially after Hagen stabs him in the back, figuratively, with the memory of who he is? It is because in a flash of insight (which Wagner, with his wonted subtlety, permits us to intuit rather than banging us over the head with it) Siegfried becomes aware of who he is, of the knowledge of himself, what he did not know, that Bruennhilde knew, up until now, for him. Siegfried's final, fatal moment of self-recognition Wagner equated with Tristan's tortuous reflection on his own true identity (guided by his ultimate understanding of the 'alte Weise,' akin in this sense to Siegfried's revelation of the hidden meaning of the Woodbird's song) that we experience in "Tristan" Act Three.

PH: This happens here to Siegfried in a flash, but Wagner treated the artist-hero’s ultimate recognition that he himself is responsible for the curse of his art, the love-death potion of unconscious artistic inspiration, and that this self-recognition is a torture, an unhealing wound, like that of which Wotan despaired to Bruennhilde in his confession, in Tristan’s confession to Kurvenal in "Tristan" Act Three. There Tristan acknowledges that love itself, in the sense of the redemption of the artist-hero and his audience through art, is itself the curse of consciousness, that is, once the hero has become too conscious of who he is to be able, any longer, to seek redemption through loving union with his muse of unconscious artistic inspiration. This is why Tristan lets himself expire before Isolde can temporarily heal him again. And this tragic recognition that the redemption through love, or art, was merely a perpetuation of religious man’s sin of world-renunciation, which would be punished by rising consciousness of the objective truth, is what leads Wagner to create and produce his final music-drama, "Parsifal," in which the formerly unconsciously inspired music-dramatist, formerly ignorant of his true identity, becomes wholly conscious of his true identity, and refuses any longer to seek unconscious artistic redemption through his former muse (in past lives) Kundry, seeing now that in perpetuating religious man’s (the Grail realm’s) original sin, in modern times of ultra-consciousness, what formerly had temporarily healed man’s unhealing wound, now merely rips it open more. Kundry’s salves no longer work. Her attempt (like Eva in "Mastersingers") to compensate for the exile from paradise which Eva caused, by inspiring the work of art which offers man secular redemption, is now futile, and so Parsifal rejects her in favor of a rehabilitation of Mother Nature (in the Good Friday Spell), in which Mother Nature, even in her objective, terrible truth, regains her day of innocence and is no longer repudiated by religio-artistic pessimism and world-denial. For this reason Kundry (who inherited Bruennhilde’s ironic laugh) had to die. In this way also the pure fool gains knowledge through compassion, not only for all the living, but more particularly for the audience (represented in this final music-drama by Amfortas, the reincarnation of Marke and Gunther, to whom Tristan and Siegfried had given away their muses of artistic inspiration, and her fatal secrets) for his art, who no longer obtains the feeling of redemption from it, because it has now exposed to view the terrible secret which heretofore religious faith and art had kept safe. Thus Amfortas’s unhealing wound (Wagner’s metaphor for mankind’s existential dilemma, mankind’s inherent need to posit transcendent value - represented by service to the Grail -, to posit a metaphysical meaning to existence, which is inherently unable to offer man satisfaction, in the face of man's inevitable acquisition of a hoard of knowledge of the bitter truth) heals, because Amfortas is relieved by the fully conscious former artist-hero Parsifal of positing transcendent value any longer, but can now accept his place in Nature as a fully transient being.

P. 188-189: K&S: “The dream of The Hero as The Answer is a dream that dies hard; and its death is hard to take. Yet die it must, along with the gods. Siegfried’s death is not only the death of a hero; it is also the death of that dream. The Funeral Music pays tribute to the passing, doing justice to the loss it represents, even as it leaves no doubt about the finality of that loss. The fourth opera is more than "Goetterdaemmerung"; it is Heldendaemmerung. Indeed, there seems to us to be an interesting connection between the two; for it may be no accident that Siegfried echoes the words of Christ on the Cross (‘Mich duerstet [I thirst]’), or that his drinking-horn spills over, to ‘bring refreshment’ to ‘Mother Earth.’ Moreover, Siegfried does not merely die. He is a sacrificial victim, whose own ending makes possible the many-sided act in which Bruennhilde expresses her ultimate love. His death is not only the demise of the dream of The Hero, but also an offering to love, in the service of love, gaining its meaning from the coming transfiguration and epiphany of love. Bruennhilde makes good on the promise she and Siegfried shared at the close of "Siegfried," of joyful death. But at the end it is Siegfried her heroic true love, not Siegfried the beloved hero, whom she joyfully joins in death.”

PH: K&S, as so often before, are right about something, but for the wrong reason. They suggest that the death of the gods and the death of the hero are one, and that heroism itself is impugned. This is true, but they have never fully grasped the full scope of Wagner’s idea of heroism, since it embraces the traditional moral heroism of Siegmund and Sieglinde, who will sacrifice their lives for the sake of their love for each other, with no hope of a redemption in a transcendent paradise, but it also embraces the artist-hero, represented by the artist-hero Siegfried and his muse of unconscious artistic inspiration, Bruennhilde. Both of these kinds of heroism are impugned and go down the tubes along with the gods because, following the logic of Wagner’s allegory, they are all ultimately predicated on the illusion of mankind’s transcendent value, i.e., a value which originates in some other place than reality, than the objective world, which is the object of conscious thought. K&S are entirely incorrect in their constant attempt to distinguish Siegfried’s heroism per se, from his status as Bruennhilde’s true love. Even in her apostrophe to Siegfried in the finale of "Twilight of the Gods" she addresses him as hero several times, even calling him the greatest of heroes, when she complains that the Gibichungs have not offered a lament worthy of him. There has at no time been an objective basis for K&S’s artificial distinction, and there is not now: the whole meaning of Bruennhilde’s love for Siegfried was to inspire his heroic adventures, but these heroic adventures, in my interpretation, are a metaphor for Siegfried’s heroic deeds of art, only one of which we see created or performed, but which implicitly were what Siegfried has been about whenever he has left Bruennhilde (after having obtained inspiration from her) to go on adventures in the outer world. This can include all that happened during the indeterminate time (during which, it is obvious from Siegfried’s worldly remarks at the Gibichung Court, Siegfried must have gathered much experience in the world) represented by his journey down the Rhine. Siegfried is a hero in the first place only because of Bruennhilde acting as repository for Wotan’s confession, and because of her love for the Waelsungs and hope to be wed to the greatest Waelsung hero Siegfried. It is true, as K&S say, that Siegfried’s Funeral Music pays tribute to the entire history of heroism, and to its passing, but heroism as broadly redefined in my interpretation, not the narrow concept offered by K&S.

PH: Here also K&S make an interesting admission that Siegfried’s death may have greater significance than they allow for in their intepretation of him as almost a mere caricature of a hero, as a heedless man of action. They note that it may be no accident that Siegfried says, not long before Hagen kills him, “I thirst,” like Christ on the cross, and that Siegfried tells Gunther and Hagen as his drink spills on the ground (which Gunther notes has blood in it, figuratively, and also especially as they are blood-brothers, and Gunther is taking part in the conspiracy to kill Siegfried, allegedly for betraying Gunther’s honor with respect to Bruennhilde) that it brings refreshment to mother earth. K&S have spent little time on it, but had they considered the "Ring" more closely they would have seen that it is divided into two halves, the first being devoted mainly to Wotan as God-the-Father, and the second half being devoted to Siegfried as the savior, so Wagner clearly makes a parallel between this division of the Ring into two halves, and the division of the Bible into Old and New Testament (important only for Christians, not for the Jews who authored the original Bible). The parallel obviously goes further, since, in a conventional reading of Christian theology, the Old Testament concerns God’s divine law for the Jews, and breaches of that law and punishment for these breaches, while the New Testament offers a new dispensation for all of mankind. Instead of merely God’s justice (speaking now in terms of Christian theology), we are offered god’s love in Christ, in whom god becomes incarnate as a mortal man, a man whom, moreover, agrees to let himself be sacrificed for the sins of all men, much as Bruennhilde described her wish that Siegfried atone for the sins of all.
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