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The Rhinegold: Page 127
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scarcely risen, but for whose appeasement he must himself provide, did he gain consciousness not only of that need but also of his power. This consciousness he reached through learning the distinction between himself and Nature; and thus it was that she, who no more offered him the stilling of his need, but from whom he now must wrest it, became the object of his observation, inquiry, and dominion.

The progress of the human race in the development of its innate capabilities of winning from Nature the contentment of those needs that waxed with its ever-waxing powers, is the history of Culture.” [447W-{2/50} Art and Climate: PW Vol. I, p. 252]

 

This extract is undoubtedly the conceptual basis for the metaphor of the Rhinedaughters’ rejection of Alberich’s love, and his desperate decision to renounce love for the sake of the power over the world which forging a Ring from the Rhinegold alone can offer. And note that Wagner states the history of the entire world is the record of man’s quest to satisfy his need by observing Mother Nature (obtaining objective knowledge through experience) and thus dominating her. Alberich’s insistence on trying to force the Rhinedaughters to grant him love (an oxymoron) is Wagner’s metaphor for man’s laborious acquisition of that knowledge necessary to force nature to give up its secrets, to render up its treasures, and satisfy our needs.

Wagner’s theory of genius is predicated on this same notion, that thwarted impulse (natural, or even social) forces the higher man to compensate creatively, and that what distinguishes the genius from the common man, is akin to what distinguishes man as such from all other animals. Here - in a prose scenario which seems indebted in this particular instance to Shakespeare’s King Lear - he describes the wisdom of the Norns (Erda’s daughters to whom she alludes in R.4, and who appear in person only in T.P.1), who grant the genius the gift of the never-contented mind:

“The fair sea-wife Wachilde had born a son to good King Viking: the three Norns came to greet the child, and dower it with gifts. The first Norn gave it strength of body, the second wisdom; and the grateful father bade them take their seat beside his throne. But the third bestowed upon the child ‘the ne’er contented mind that ever broods the New.’ Viking, aghast at such a gift, refused the youngest Norn his thanks; indignant, she recalled her gift, to punish his ingratitude. (…)

That one rejected gift: ‘the ne’er contented mind, that ever broods the New,’ the youngest Norn holds out to all of us when we are born, and through it alone might we each one day, become a ‘Genius:’ “ [560W-{6-8/51} A Communication To My Friends: PW Vol. I, p. 290-291]

That this understanding of genius was central to Wagner’s thinking we find in Cosima’s record of a remark he made twenty years later which precisely echoes the former:

“R. talks about … the genius’s predestination – that a certain longing must be present and in the genius himself a dissatisfaction with things as he finds them.” [795W-{3/5/71} CD Vol. I, p. 345]

Why would Alberich reject love for power’s sake? Reason, Feuerbach says, requires that we constrain our heart’s feeling for the sake of clear sightedness, objectivity, and the power it brings:

“That which I have in life, I do not need to posit beyond life, in spirit, in metaphysical existence, in God; love, friendship, perception, the world in general, give me what thought does not, cannot give me, nor ought to give me. Therefore I dismiss the needs of the heart from the sphere of thought,

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