Critique: 'Finding an Ending' Part 3

General Discussion about Wagner and The Ring of the Nibelung

Moderators: Justin Jeffrey, alberich00

Critique: 'Finding an Ending' Part 3

Postby alberich00 » Thu Jul 21, 2016 11:29 am

(…) After describing Bruennhilde’s rebellious actions and Wotan’s punishment of them, Wotan asks Erda in turn: “What use (#87 Fate) would it be to question her?” This echoes Wotan’s question he asked himself during his confession to Bruennhilde, what use could his will be to him, since he can’t create a free hero. But of course, in my interpretation, Bruennhilde’s use to him is precisely that by confessing his fears and his need for a free hero to redeem him from them, to Bruennhilde, Wotan and Bruennhilde figuratively gave birth to the hero Siegfried, who is free from Wotan’s laws and fear because Bruennhilde holds this knowledge for Siegfried, so that he can remain unconscious of it.

PH: To confirm my proposal moments ago that Wotan’s concerns he expresses to Erda now essentially recapitulate the concerns he expressed with respect to Erda in "Rhinegold" Scene Four, Wotan, having just asked Erda for objective knowledge, and then rejected it because he wants to escape the fate Erda foresaw, which is woven into the rope of fate by her daughters the Norns, Wotan now asks Erda how he can forget his care and fear: “Primevally wise, you thrust ere now the thorn of care into Wotan’s venturesome heart: (#2) with fear of a (#54) shamefully adverse end your knowledge filled him till dread enmeshed his mind. (#47, a motif known as Alberich’s rebellion, first heard in "Rhinegold" Scene Two when Alberich was describing how, eventually, the gods would succumb to his lust for gold, and Alberich would turn Wotan’s own heroes against him and force himself on the gods’ women: this motif is a basis for #82, the motif heard in conjunction with Alberich’s curse on the Ring Motif #51 just prior to Wotan’s confession to Bruennhilde) (#112: A Wanderer Motif) If you are the world’s wisest woman, then tell me now, how can the god (#21) overcome care?”

PH: So Wotan has repeated the two desires Erda can satisfy in "Rhinegold" Scene Four, namely, his wish to obtain objective knowledge of the bitter truth he fears, and (presumably since he can’t alter his fate), his wish to learn from Erda how to end his care and fear. It is through Bruennhilde’s and Siegfried’s redemptive love that Wotan will not alter his fate, but forget his fear by becoming (in Siegfried) unconscious of it, for Wotan tells Erda now: “… your knowledge wanes before my will.” And as we know, Bruennhilde is Wotan’s will. Erda’s knowledge waned before Bruennhilde when Wotan confessed this knowledge to Bruennhilde in "Valkyrie" Act Two Scene Two, thereby repressing it into her, his own unconscious mind. In parallel with Wotan’s experience in union with Erda (in which Wotan’s quest both to obtain knowledge of the bitter truth, and to forget his fear of it, gave birth to Bruennhilde), Siegfried will both learn fear (and presumably its source) from Bruennhilde, and also forget the fear she taught him, through loving, redemptive union with her. This in my interpretation is a metaphor for the artist-hero’s unconscious artistic inspiration, which produces the music-drama, the heir to dying religious faith (this is the true meaning of the twilight of the gods). Siegfried the artist-hero must, in order to obtain the inspiration necessary to produce an authentically redemptive work of art, have subliminal, unconscious, and therefore safe confrontation with Wotan’s hoard of forbidden knowledge, his unspoken secret, through union with its repository Bruennhilde, in order to draw from this knowledge the inspiration to create a work of art, or Wahn, the veil of Maya (like Loge’s protective ring of fire), which represses the truth and sublimates it into tragic art.

PH: I have gone into so much detail to clarify the distinctions in the two kinds of knowledge Wotan is seeking from Erda in order to show that K&S have missed it. To this degree their subsequent analysis of the philosophic content and import of the "Ring" may be presumed to suffer, for the same reason that their incorrect assumption that Wotan himself wants to regain possession of Alberich’s Ring in order to secure his dominion is also certain to adversely affect every argument which according to them follows from it.

P. 47: PH: K&S are more on target with their following remarks about Loge’s insight into the illusory power of the very gods he helps, through his cunning and deceit, to sustain. Referring to the ostensibly triumphant entry of the gods into Valhalla, K&S say:

K&S: “Loge has seen through the sham that this is a triumphant entry, has seen that it is not the consolidation of Wotan’s power but the beginning of the end of him and all that he has stood for - and the choices he sees for himself concern what role he will play in the process of ending.”

PH: In my interpretation Loge is the archetypal gift of artistic self-deceit which, according to Feuerbach, gave birth to religion, and later, once religious faith is dying, secular art. This explains why Loge both collaborates with Wotan to secure the dominion of the gods, and also protects the muse Bruennhilde’s sleep from all but an authentically unconsciously inspired artist-hero, Siegfried. Thus as the very inventor of the illusions which sustain mankind’s belief in the gods, Loge has a dangerous insight into them which could undermine their rule. For this reason Loge’s fire, the fire of artistic self-delusion, which gave birth to the gods, burns them up in the end.


PH: In this chapter K&S outline the different ways in which humans strive to live meaningful lives, including, first, religious faith in a higher power which is independent of humanity, in order to ascertain what for Wagner, in his "Ring," holds value. Interestingly, they chose an extract from one of Wagner’s letters to Franz Liszt (1855) to illustrate Wagner’s skepticism about the promises of religious faith, such as immortal life, which is a key extract in my interpretation also. Here, Wagner is critiquing the third part of Dante’s "Divine Comedy," the "Paradiso":

P. 50-51: K&S: “ ‘In the "Paradiso," the poem seems to me to amount to no more than a “divine comedy” which is ruined for me both as a participant and spectator. The really perplexing problem … is always how, in this terrible world of ours, beyond which there is only nothingness, it might be possible to infer the existence of a God who would make life’s immense sufferings merely something apparent, while the redemption we long for is seen as something entirely real that may be consciously enjoyed.’

K&S: Wagner has seen why religious answers to the question of the point of human lives are so unsatisfactory, their evident appeal notwithstanding. It is not simply that the existence of a divine creator and lord of the universe is of such dubious plausibility, but moreover that the received ways of elaborating the creator’s purposes simply fail to make sense of life.”

PH: This, and like extracts from Wagner’s writings and recorded remarks, are a central part of my case for seeking the aid of Feuerbach’s writings, and of Wagner’s numerous writings and recorded remarks which emulate Feuerbach, in interpreting Wagner’s "Ring." I construe the historical necessity for the twilight of the gods not only by virtue of the words and music of the "Ring," but also from these documentary sources. Having grasped Feuerbach’s extensive influence on Wagner myself, I find K&S’s following effort to replicate the logic behind Wagner’s critique of Dante’s notion of paradise has missed the point of Wagner’s concurrence with Feuerbach in his critique of religion:

P. 52-53: K&S: “If our deeds and mundane sufferings make a difference to our fate in the hereafter, then it is appropriate to ask for the details of how the route to bliss is blocked or delayed, how the ultimate bliss compensates for the tribulations along the way, how denying that bliss to some (if indeed some are denied) accords with the demands of justice (and love). If what we do makes no difference, then our earthly life becomes pointless, an irrelevant prelude to something more glorious which is, inexplicably, postponed for us. In reading Dante, Wagner saw the logical structure of the problem, and we think it far from unreasonable of him to have written it off as insoluble.”

PH: The reason this is a pointless debate so far as the Wagner who authored and composed the "Ring" is concerned is that Wagner followed Feuerbach in tracing religious belief in a hereafter to basic animal fear, which is assuaged by the promise of immortal life, and man’s gift of imagination which posits the possibility of sorrowless youth eternal (Freia). Wagner doesn’t need to ask the questions K&S ask here because he takes if for granted that god, and redemption in paradise, are illusions in the first place. There’s no need to interrogate man’s notion of heaven in any further detail to demonstrate that the very notion, as such, is founded on collective self-delusion. On this point, K&S failed to provide the complete extract. In the passage immediately following the one K&S quoted Wagner states that those saints who conceived of such a heaven had succumbed to the logical contradiction that they sought to remove themselves entirely from life and nature, and yet to go on living eternally.

P. 56-57: K&S: “Wagner’s professed embrace of Schopenhauer notwithstanding, … we do not think that the Wagner of the "Ring" even comes close to subscribing to the view that the only significance life can have is the negative significance attaching to pointless suffering, and that oblivion would be preferable to its existence and continuation on any actually possible terms. He may at times have thought that he did; but his music and operatic art - in the "Ring" anyway - say otherwise, far more decisively and convincingly.”

PH: On this note, Wagner on more than one occasion said that his artistic bent fenced him off from such nihilistic pessimism, and Wagner commented wryly and also tragically that his artistic bent deluded him with its veil of Wahn, or Maya, allowing him to forget his occasional vision of the tragic essence of the world and its horrors. This of course, in my interpretation, we see dramatized in the alleged god Wotan finding an escape from his nihilistic bent to self-destruction (because he foresees the inevitable end to that religious faith which sustains the gods) in the alternative value-creator, the secular art which Siegfried’s muse of unconscious artistic inspiration, Bruennhilde, will inspire him to create. Wagner, by the way, also said that his artistic bent precluded him from becoming a Schopenhauerian saint (on one view, this may be what Parsifal represents, for Parsifal can be construed as the pure fool, the artist-hero Siegfried having evolved into Parsifal, the former artist-hero who has now become so conscious of who he is that he can no longer seeks unconscious artistic inspiration from his muse in his past lives, Kundry).

P. 58-59: K&S offer the following worthwhile meditation on the kinds of questions about the sources of human value which they believe exercised Wagner and found a place in his "Ring," particularly in the case of Wotan:

K&S: “Many people are moved to despair or desperation by these considerations [PH: K&S had spoken of the concern that all human action may in the end have no lasting value, if mankind is destined to extinction in the end, and other similar pessimistic considerations.]. We are not - and neither, we believe, was Wagner. Viewing human lives from the bleakly cosmic perspective can easily induce a pessimistic resolve to abnegate all willing (Schopenhauer’s recommendation) or a bitter nihilism (perhaps like that expressed by Wotan when he proposes abdicating in favor of Alberich?). Or, alternatively, it may prompt an embrace of the Joyce-Falstaff view, with its dismissal of all lofty aspirations as folly, its commendation of the simpler and more readily attainable delights of human existence to be savored while we can, and its injunction to acquiesce in disappointment and defeat, even in our own passing. (…) Why should we suppose that the appropriate perspective from which to render judgment is that of the timeless observer of the whole universe? Why should the standard of significance require that an accomplishment make a difference that endures for all time? (…) Cannot there be value in a love’s transient reality, that transience notwithstanding? And in its having been, even if it is no more?”

PH: Wagner’s understanding of inspired secular art, particularly his art, was that it was an alternative to religious world-denial, pessimism, and nihilism of the type which Wotan confesses to Bruennhilde in "Valkyrie" Act Two Scene Two. In such art, Wagner said, religious man’s quest to find value in renouncing the world is abjured in favor of an art in which man doesn’t escape the world, but within the world rises above it to grasp it aesthetically. On the other hand, Feuerbach’s (and presumably Wagner’s) understanding of the objective, lonely scientist’s quest for truth (a truth which regards all things, even humanity, as objects for knowledge, instead of subjects, as Roger Scruton would put it) corresponds with K&S’s description above of something having value only as seen from the standpoint of the timeless observer of the whole cosmos, for natural laws are presumed to be universal in all time and space, matter and energy, throughout the cosmos. Lastly, Feuerbach’s notion of the eternity of each musical moment somewhat corresponds with K&S’s description of the value of transient love. As Roger Scruton puts it, human love’s special value is that it connects mortal human beings with each other, “I” to “I.”

K&S: “… we take … the idea of inevitable incompleteness and imperfection - to be a more serious … [challenge]. Human attempts at knowledge … are inevitably limited, partial, and distorted. Justice is ever only imperfect. Comfort and aid can only be given in inadequate measures. And human love is flawed and vulnerable to corruption and erosion. Thus, one might suppose, genuine values though these may be, human efforts to realize them are doomed to fail, falling so far short as to be exercises in futility.”

PH: Feuerbach (and Wagner in his characterization of Wotan as The Wanderer, and Alberich) somewhat resolves this problem by telling us how what religious folk have described as God, who can do all things, know all things, perfect all things, etc. is really just a metaphor for collective, historical man (In my interpretation I have taken Wotan to be a symbol for godhead in this Feuerbachian sense), who can accomplish gradually, in the course of history, most of those things which individual humans can achieve only partially and imperfectly. But Wotan becomes a nihilist, willing the end, because he ultimately becomes conscious of himself as human nature itself, and human nature is fallen in a deeper sense than merely its lack of an impossible perfection. It is fallen in the sense that its primary, and perhaps only motive, is egoism (at least that is what most of the historical and scientific evidence seems to indicate). Wotan ultimately can’t bear self-knowledge, which is why he longs to cease to be who he is, and with Bruennhilde’s help is transformed into Siegfried, the hero whose heroism and fearlessness stems from the fact that he doesn’t know who he is. This is thanks to Bruennhilde who, as she tells him, knows for him what he doesn’t know.

PH: In this Bruennhilde resembles Venus, who knows something about the artist-hero Tannhaeuser’s true identity as a hero who seeks inspiration from her in the Venusberg, a secret hidden from Tannhaeuser’s audience until he involuntarily reveals it in the song he sings to compete for Elizabeth’s hand. Bruennhilde also resembles Elsa, who in my interpretation offers to share with Lohengrin the secret of his true identity and origin, a concept which evolved in Bruennhilde to the point in which the heroine knows for the hero what he doesn’t know about himself. Isolde likewise knows Tristan’s true identity but preserves his secret. Sachs imparts to Eva, the muse of the artist-hero Walther’s unconscious artistic inspiration (he conceives his mastersong in a dream inspired by Eva in Paradise), the secret to Walther’s inspiration, that since Eva gave man the fatal knowledge which expelled him from paradise, it is her duty to inspire Walther’s secular substitute for the old religious redemption, in his confession to her in Act II during his cobbling song, a confession only she and Sachs (not Walther) understand (Sachs’s confession to Eva in this sense modeled on Wotan’s confession to Bruennhilde). And lastly, Kundry, the potential muse of Parsifal’s unconscious artistic inspiration, knows for him what he doesn’t know, his true identity.

P. 60: K&S: “There is a different way of responding to the form of Faustian discontent that emphasizes the imperfections of our efforts to realize genuine values. Instead of (or in addition to) finding meaning in approximation (in imperfect realization), one can discern significance in the striving itself (as Faust learned to do).”

PH: I will grant that this is one plausible response to our entire experience of Wagner’s "Ring," and it certainly corresponds with Wagner’s understanding of artistic endeavor, that the act of creation (i.e., unconscious artistic inspiration) is more important that the final product. According to Wagner the inspired artist can’t help but do what he does: it is an inevitable consequence of his nature. Therefore profit motive, or popularity, or other ulterior, conscious motives, have nothing to do with it. It was for this reason that he despised the commercialization and commodification of art. It is for this reason that Mime says he is too wise to re-forge the sword of Siegfried’s father Siegmund, Nothung.

P. 61-62: PH: After listing a series of queries about a philosophy of valuation of human life, K&S conclude with the following approximation of what they feel is at stake in Wagner’s "Ring," which seems to convey the essence of what they’ve set out to demonstrate in their book:

K&S: “What matters most … is contributing to and participating in the transfiguration of merely natural and commonplace existence, in ways revealing and expressing its capacity to be endowed with and enriched by such values .


K&S: This also - and ultimately more importantly - can be done even in failure and defeat, if a transient and imperfect realization of important values finds an ending that preserves and even enhances its significance, and so is vindicating despite all.

K&S: This philosophical position, we think, is that of the "Ring." And the final proposition, we suggest, conveys what Wotan gropes toward but never fully grasps - and what Bruennhilde finally understands, and enables them both to realize. If we are right, Wagner belongs with the philosophers, poets, dramatists, and novelists who have responded to one of the deepest questions we can ask.”

PH: I concur that K&S have isolated something which ought to be part of our experience of, our take-away from, the "Ring," but I suspect I’ll be taking exception to some of the ways in which they illustrate it (I certainly did when I read their book 12 years ago; I annotated it in the margins of nearly every page, sometimes registering very strong objections, some of which are likely to find their place in my current critique). But I fully concur with their assessment that Wagner takes his place as a unique voice within the history of thought concerning the sources of human value.

P. 62: PH: K&S add that:

K&S: “… Wagner both drew on his two main philosophical sources and went beyond them to a distinctive position of his own. The problem of the possible meaningfulness of human life is obviously central to the thought of both Feuerbach and Schopenhauer, the one contending that the problem can be solved relatively directly through the cultivation of a kind of community fostering the transformation of our animal nature into higher forms of humanity, the other dismissing any direct solution as a fantasy. While Wagner takes very seriously the reasons that move Schopenhauer to his pessimistic judgment, he also draws upon some of the possibilities that inspired Feuerbach.”

PH: I can endorse this statement. It is no accident that Wagner, having read Schopenhauer for the first time (Fall of 1854) after having already completed the Ring’s libretto, and therefore having already completely realized the character of Wotan, stated that upon first reading Schopenhauer he could now understand his Wotan. Of course, my interpretation makes much, much more of Feuerbach’s influence on Wagner and upon his "Ring" than do K&S, particularly of Wagner’s frequent paraphrasing of passages from Feuerbach, in Wagner’s writings and recorded remarks, which seem to me to have most bearing on grasping the meaning of the "Ring."

P. 62-63: K&S: “While we see how one might diverge in various ways and for various reasons from Wagner’s philosophical position in the "Ring," our interpretation takes it to be an intriguing and powerful view that warrants our respect and deserves serious attention by anyone who considers the questions at issue to be meaningful and important. In any event, it is an animating view that makes the "Ring" much more than a musical drama, fit only for adults of a late-Romantic persuasion and post-Christian sensibility for whom what the Enlightenment offers is not enough. (We suspect that it was because the early Nietzsche saw the Wagner of the "Ring" in something like this way that he responded so strongly and positively to him - and that it was also because Nietzsche subsequently came to see the Wagner of "Parsifal" as having relapsed into a pathological version of the religious approach to the significance of human life, tending toward pessimism and nihilism, that he reacted so strongly and negatively to the late Wagner, and then to the whole ‘Case of Wagner.’).”

PH: Nietzsche got this entirely wrong (for what reason I don’t know, since he was usually so astute that he ought to have recognized Wagner’s "Parsifal" for what it is, an essentially Feuerbachian critique of the whole enterprise of religion, the pessimistic renunciation of the world). I long ago assembled enough original material to write an entire book on "Parsifal", most of which, however, still remains in the form of glorified notes. However, one can obtain a fairly comprehensive glimpse at my approach by consulting my essay on Feuerbach’s influence on the libretto of Parsifal in the discussion forum of (it's not on the first page). It is, however, not nearly complete, and leaves many problems unanswered. I hope to write a much more complete version as one of the sections of the second volume of my "The Wound That Will Never Heal," which will contain extensive chapters on Wagner’s other canonic operas and music-dramas, from "Dutchman" through "Parsifal." The first volume is, of course, my study of the "Ring" which is posted at, but which I’m now rewriting as a much briefer and more accessible text for possible publication in hardcopy.

PH: Though, as you will find, in the end I disagree with much that K&S say, they render us all a service by drawing attention here to the fact that Wagner’s "Ring" is not only a great opera/music-drama (I regard it as the most exalted, sophisticated, and profound work of musical theater in its entire history, on multiple levels of analysis), but that it also addresses many of the deepest and most important questions in philosophy, as well as history, the arts, theology, physical science, social science, anthropology, psychology, etc.


P. 64: K&S initiate this chapter with a discussion about Wotan’s regrets about his past, including his breaking off the most sacred branch of the World Ash Tree in order to make his Spear of divine authority and law (the social contract), an act which blighted and eventually killed the tree. Wotan, in order to obtain wisdom from the well of wisdom which springs out from under the roots of the World Ash, also lost one of his two eyes (it is presumed that this is part of the price he had to pay to break that branch off of the World Ash to make his spear):

PH: Every time I think of Wotan’s original sin I recall Feuerbach’s remark about mankind’s breaking off the highest or most sacred branch from the tree of life granting us the bitter fruits of consciousness (the tree of knowledge?). But of course I construe Alberich’s forging of his Ring of power as equally a metaphor for the birth of human consciousness.

P. 64-65: K&S go on to describe the deceit at the bottom of Wotan’s employment of his newfound power to bring the world under his law and order:

K&S: “Wotan’s system of law and order thus was established by means that were very much at odds with its spirit and general character. The fateful bargain with Fasolt and Fafner comes relatively late in this history."

PH: I disagree that Wotan's bargain came late in this history. Though Wagner for purposes of dramatic credibility disburses, in his allegory, the components of the evolution of one lineage of animals into man among several characters and distinct incidents, nonetheless I believe that Wotan’s bargain with the giants is the archetype for all such contracts, the social contract per se, which includes the promises of religious faith. I suspect also that K&S are being too literal when they take it for granted that Alberich’s theft of the Rhinegold and forging of the Ring of power came later than Wotan’s breaking of the branch from the World Ash to make his Spear of divine authority and law. The essential, and first, such law is Wotan’s agreement with the Giants, without which the gods’ very domain Valhalla is not secured. All of these separate events I take to be representative of a single stage in the evolution of mankind from animal ancestors. Here is how they describe these events, realistically as if they occurred separately in some discrete fragments of chronological time:

P. 65: K&S “Did Wotan’s acts of ‘heedless deceit’ begin with the wrenching of that branch from the World-Ash? There is no reason to think so. The First Norn conjures an image of a being already driven by a longing for power. That longing, Wotan tells Bruennhilde, came when he tired of the delights of ‘youthful love’ (to which, however, he did not exactly become indifferent, and from which he subsequently was far from abstinent). Like Alberich, much later, Wotan turned from love to power; and he manifested that turn in an action that wrested something from its natural surround - the branch that became his spear corresponding interestingly to the gold that subsequently was fashioned into the Ring.”

PH: In my interpretation Wotan’s original sin of breaking a branch from the World-Ash to make his spear, an action which dried up the spring at the roots of the Ash, and Alberich’s original sin in renouncing love in order to forge a Ring of power from the Rhinegold, are two descriptions of the same event. And that event was foundational: there is unlikely to be any history prior to Wotan’s breaking off of the branch from the World-Ash and making his spear from it: it’s just one of Wagner’s two metaphors for the true Fall of man, man’s acquisition of consciousness. K&S take some note of this parallel between Wotan and Alberich without analyzing it further (at least at this point):

K&S: “There are obvious parallels between Wotan and Alberich, parallels confirmed by the names introduced for each at various stages of the "Ring." (…) Much later, in the riddle duel of Act I of Siegfried, the Wanderer (Wotan, in his hands-off, ironist mode) describes himself as ‘… [Light-Alberich]’; and, one act later, he calls the dwarf ‘… [Black-Alberich].’ “

PH: Wotan definitely contrasts yet compares himself with Alberich. I have explained in my interpretation that Alberich represents an objective view of man, and Wotan man’s own subjective view and idealization of himself in godhead. I have also explained that Wagner also expresses this parallel musically in deriving the first segment of Wotan’s Valhalla Motif #20a from Alberich’s Ring Motif #19. In my “Ring” book at I have explained in considerable detail, with much more documentary evidence, my grounds for taking Alberich and Wotan to be two sides of the same coin, thus explaining why it would be incorrect to construe Wotan’s original sin as occurring chronologically prior to Alberich’s sin. In fact, Alberich's sin, which gives birth to consciousness, is logically prior to Wotan's invention of religious belief.

P. 66: K&S: “Wotan is different [from Alberich]. We have no sense of his wanting to use his power to glorify himself, to coerce sexual favors from unwilling women, or to amass a horde of treasures. Nor does he seem to find the exercise of power intrinsically gratifying.”

PH: I partially differ with this assessment. Granted that, unlike Alberich, Wotan doesn’t threaten to force himself on unwilling women, or to amass a hoard of treasure (though he is sorely tempted when learning of Alberich’s Ring; and, I note, it is odd that a god would be tempted by any power besides his own, so what is it precisely that Wotan the god lacks that Alberich the presumably mortal dwarf possesses?). However, when Wotan first sees the newly completed Valhalla upon waking up at the beginning of Rhinegold Scene Two he proclaims: “The happy hall of delight is guarded by door and gate: manhood’s honor, boundless might redound to endless renown!” Since, in my interpretation, Wotan is both godhood (mankind’s projection of its own ideal self onto an imaginary being) and collective, historical man (which is the only way of making sense of Wotan in his role as the Wanderer who seeks knowledge), Wotan is proclaiming the glory both of God and of man in his first remarks here. Also, in my interpretation Wotan’s wandering over the earth, and also visiting Mother Earth (Erda) herself, in order to amass a hoard of knowledge (Bruennhilde calls it the gods’ hoard of runes), is equivalent to Alberich’s amassing of a hoard of treasure. Wotan tells Fricka in "Rhinegold" Scene Two that in spite of her desire that the domestic bliss of Valhalla will keep Wotan at home and also away from the temptation to commit adultery, that he wishes to conquer the outside world, and this he can only do by going outside of the confines (and presumably the values and ideals) of Valhalla. The transformation of Alberich’s Ring Motif #19 into the first segment of the Valhalla Motif #20a makes the equivalence of Wotan’s power and Alberich’s power quite clear, even if Wotan’s intentions in employing his power are clearly oriented to glorifying man (and god) as subject more than as object (as Alberich does).

P. 66-67: K&S here try to put their finger on what distinguishes Wotan’s motive in using his power, from Alberich’s motive:

K&S: “After she [Fricka] asks him [Wotan] what its name [Valhalla] means, he replies that its meaning will become clear to her if his dreams come true - or, more precisely: ‘What my courage, overpowering fear, discovered to me, if it lives triumphant, will be revealed to you … .’ This is never spelled out, and of course is never revealed, either to Fricka or to anyone else, since Wotan’s designs most certainly do not triumph … . (…) Wotan aspired not merely to rule the world as it was, but to change it - and to change it in a way that would improve it greatly by establishing a new sort of order in it.”

PH: In my interpretation Wotan’s vague but hopeful definition of Valhalla as representing his aspiration to free himself and the gods from the care and fear which Erda taught him relates his hopes for Valhalla to Wotan’s great idea, which Wotan thinks but does not enunciate publicly as we hear for the first time the Sword Motif or Great Idea Motif #57, and also Motif #58ab as Wotan apostrophizes Valhalla just prior to defining its meaning for Fricka:

PH: “(#57) Wotan: (very resolutely, as though seized by a grandiose idea) (#58a) Thus I salute the fortress, (#58b) safe from dread and dismay. (#57) (#20d) Follow me, wife: in Valhalla dwell with me! Fricka: What meaning lies in the name? Never, I think, have I heard it before. Wotan: What, mastering fear, my mind conceived shall reveal its sense if it lives on victorious.”

PH: Clearly Wotan’s great idea consists, or will eventually consist, in all the machinations he undertakes to preserve Valhalla and its ideals, and the beliefs which sustain it (the rule of the gods over men’s hearts), including, first, his giving birth (through union with Erda) to the Valkyries who are to inspire men on the battlefield to martyrdom so that, after death, and presumably immortal in Valhalla, they can defend Valhalla against Alberich’s threat to storm it with his host of night; second, his giving birth to the Waelsung twin-pair Siegmund and Sieglinde, his expectation being that Siegmund will retrieve Alberich’s Ring from Fafner so that Alberich can never regain it and use it to destroy the gods; and thirdly Siegfried, to whom Wotan will look (as a presumably freer hero, hopefully independent of Wotan and the gods’ laws) to accomplish the same end, winning Alberich’s Ring and keeping it out of Alberich’s hands. It is no accident that all three Waelsungs who embody Wotan’s Great Idea have names with the root “Sieg,” for victory. Wagner provides us a musical clue to Wotan’s ambition for the perpetuation of Valhalla, for the Sword Motif (which will in "Valkyrie" Act One Scene Three will be heard as the musical embodiment of the sword Siegmund christens Nothung, the Needful) contains within it the arpeggiated musical figure with which the "Ring" began, which we can construe as representing the time before the Fall, the natural state of the world prior to the birth of consciousness in Alberich and Wotan. Thus Wotan’s hope for Valhalla is that through his martyred heroes he can sustain Valhalla (religious faith), and in Siegmund, and Siegfried, he can restore lost innocence. This figurative restoration of lost innocence is also represented in Loge’s seemingly mocking remark to the Rhinedaughters: “Hear what Wotan wishes of you: if the gold no longer gleams on you maidens, blissfully bask henceforth in the gods’ new-found splendour!” In other words, the establishment by man, through his imagination, of the gods and their domain, is already an effort by man to restore the innocence lost to him by his Fall through the acquisition of consciousness, since religion appeals to man’s subjective feeling rather than to objective knowledge.

PH: My interpretation shares K&S’s conviction that Wotan aspired not only to rule the world but to change and improve it, because Wotan’s aspiration represents Feuerbach’s notion that in religious belief and generally in humanist philosophy man aspires to glorify subjective man, the man of feeling, whereas in science (for which Alberich stands), man is conceived of only in his status as a natural object, subject to the laws of nature and to the animal impulses of egoism, self-preservation and reproduction (Fafner and Fasolt represent these distinct instincts, respectively). Therefore Wotan stands for the ideal (as found in religion, morality, and art), and Alberich for the real (as in science, technology, and power politics).

P. 67-69: PH: K&S offer conventional and not especially insightful assessments of the Rhinedaughters, the Norns, Erda, and the giants. The Rhinedaughters for them are at once primordial creatures and immature children at play. Erda and the Norns are described as in tune with the rhythms of nature but not articulate about it. About Fafner, one of the two giants, they say the following:

K&S: “Even when Fafner gains the Ring, he can think of nothing better to do than use it to turn himself into a dragon, the better to guard the hoard.”

PH: My interpretation makes much more of these characters. For example, where K&S dismiss Fafner as just a stupid giant who doesn’t know what to do with the Ring (note, Fafner employed the Tarnhelm, not the Ring, to transform himself into a dragon) except to use it to transform himself into a dragon to guard Alberich’s hoard, I construe Fafner as, first, the primal fear of death, or the self-preservation instinct, and secondly, as representative of Wotan’s (religious man’s) fear of freedom of inquiry, which guards mankind’s hoard of knowledge (knowledge which, if conscious, and disseminated among men, might overthrow men’s consoling illusions) so that no one can access it and its power, even himself.

P. 68-70: PH: K&S’s notions about Hunding and the Gibichungs Gunther and Gutrune are also conventional and offer nothing noteworthy except their correct assessment that both Gunther and Gutrune have no honor since they are willing to cheat in order to unfairly win spouses for themselves, yet Gunther hypocritically wishes to stand upon and increase his honor as a high-ranking Gibichung. I fully concur with their assessment on this point.

P. 70: PH: K&S’s take on Hagen is, again, conventional. Their view is a far cry from my reading of Hagen as Wagner’s metaphor for the skeptical, secular, scientific spirit of modernity, which has a tendency to pop the bubble of our consoling illusions.

P. 71: K&S distinguish Wotan from the primordial and mortal human characters of the "Ring" in this fashion:

K&S: “Whichever of these kinds of beings may have existed in the world’s primordial state … , our main proposal in this chapter is that Wotan was not content to accept the world - primordial or primitive - as he found it.
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