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The Rhinegold: Page 138
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recognizes the essence of Nature as his very own, and perceives the same Necessity in all the elements and lives around him … [P. 71]; thus not only recognizing the mutual bond of union between all natural phenomena, but also his own community with Nature.” [414W-{9-12/49} The Artwork of the Future: PW Vol. I, p. 70-71]

We can easily grasp this passage’s relevance to the plot of R.1 and R.2, for it is through Alberich’s renunciation by the Rhinedaughters, voices of nature, that he recognizes the difference between himself and his object of knowledge, nature, i.e., the difference between subject and object, or “ought” and “is.” Alberich’s renunciation of love is but a metaphor for man’s rise above dependence on animal instinct, drawing greater power from conscious learning and thoughtful deliberation than from spontaneous instinct. But the first form of thought, arising as it did long before man had acquired sufficient knowledge of nature to grasp it objectively, was religious mythology, which was in most instances in error about the world and man’s true place in it. Wagner here describes history as the process of correcting the false view that the cause of nature (the creator) is outside of nature, i.e., that nature was created by a supernatural god, or that any real being can exist or originate independently of nature. Wagner says that through man’s historical advancement in knowledge he gradually corrects this error. Of course, in the Ring, not only is the creation depicted as an impersonal natural process devoid of the supernatural, but the gods of Valhalla are always depicted as subject to Erda: Wotan is clearly not a creator god, but merely a beneficiary of Erda’s world, which predated the gods. And Wagner describes above the goal of the acquisition of knowledge as making Mother Nature grow conscious of herself in man.

This extraordinarily important extract includes a potential source of confusion for the further development of our allegorical interpretation which it is best to clear up right away, before we proceed. For Wagner employs the term “knowledge” above in two distinct ways, each of which is the others’ antithesis. The first kind of knowledge is objective knowledge of the natural world, which also includes man’s objective knowledge of his own origin and nature. Nature can become conscious of herself in one sense when man, a product of Nature, inquires after his own origin and nature, and becomes a student of the laws of Nature itself, as he does in science. This is what Wagner means in our extract above when he speaks of man making nature his object, his object of knowledge. The second kind of knowledge is what we might describe as intuitive or aesthetic knowledge, knowledge through feeling. Wagner describes this sort of knowledge when he says above that the distinction between the self (the subject), and Nature (the object) is merged, when man recognizes the essence of Nature as his very own. Though he does not say so in this passage, Wagner is speaking here specifically of music, which he describes elsewhere as disclosing to us the inner necessity of all things outside of us, and our unity with them. Grasping this distinction is central to our endeavor to discern the allegorical logic behind the events of Wagner’s Ring, and I will have frequent occasion to draw attention to this distinction as we proceed.

Another potential cause of confusion to consider is one of the most controversial points in the Ring, the relative chronology of Alberich’s implication in the Fall, through his renunciation of love in order to obtain the Ring of world-power, and Wotan’s implication in the Fall (which we will learn about later), through breaking off a branch of the World-Ash Tree - the Ring’s synthesis into one symbol of the Biblical Trees of Life and Knowledge - to make his Spear, Wagner’s symbol for the Social Contract. This seminal act blighted the World-Ash and dried up the spring of wisdom which

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