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The Rhinegold: Page 126
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proper use of our human mind. It is man’s gift of abstract, symbolic thought, the gift of language, which allows man to represent nature’s inexhaustible wealth of experience in a comparatively few symbols which abbreviate and generalize experience, thereby granting man unusual power over his environment. It is his advantage over all the other animals, who lack this gift, and therefore continue to live alongside of man instinctively.

Alberich, in other words, is the first truly conscious being, because he is the first - through his experience of bitter “Noth” - in whom the conscious mind’s split between object (“is”) and subject (“ought”) becomes actual, an object of conscious thought. As Feuerbach put it:

“Conscious Spirit has arisen, this universal, self-beholding light has broken forth out of the break and division in nature’s simple unity with itself.” [14F-TDI: p. 112]

And here we have Wagner’s more elaborate paraphrase of Feuerbach:

“To the Feeling the at-one-with-itself alone is understandable; whatsoever is at variance with itself, what has not reached an actual and definite manifestment, confounds the Feeling and drives it into thinking, -- drives it into an act of combination which does away with it as Feeling.” [511W-{50-1/51} Opera and Drama: PW Vol. II, p. 198]

Alberich has been driven to thinking because he cannot satisfy his most fundamental instinct or feeling, the bliss of sexual reproduction, and so is compelled to contemplate his formerly preconscious animal drives as a philosophic problem, to make it an object of bitter reflection. Presumably the evolution of species gave birth to human consciousness when, for some reason, formerly preconscious instinct was no longer adequate, in man’s lineage, to satisfy all of man’s life needs and desires, and/or when the gift of generalization gave this particular lineage of animals an advantage in survival over others.

Wagner, following his mentor Feuerbach, believed as early as the 1840’s that human consciousness arose among man’s animal ancestors through a natural process of evolution, though it wasn’t until he read Darwin much later that he grasped a possible mechanism for this evolution of lower species into man, natural selection. The Rhinedaughters’ rejection of Alberich’s need for love, and their offer of a substitute, power, is Wagner’s metaphor for that epoch in the evolution of life when Mother Nature no longer satisfied man’s need through the gift of natural instinct, so he was forced instead to satisfy his need by compelling nature to provide it, through conscious learning and hard labor.

Here, in a passage first drawn to my attention by Cooke, is how Wagner described this evolutionary process which culminated in human consciousness:

 

“ … where Climatic Nature draws Man beneath the all-sheltering influence of her rankest prodigality, and rocks him in her bosom as a mother rocks her child [think here of Woglinde’s lullaby #4], -- where we must therefore place the cradle of newborn mankind: -- there has Man remained a child forever – as in the Tropics … . (…) Only through the force of such a Need as surrounding Nature did not, like an over-careful mother, both listen for and still at once ere it had

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