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The Rhinegold: Page 234
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It might be said that my reading of Alberich’s wielding of his Ring power as a metaphor for the exercise of the power of objective human reason is off the mark, because Alberich is too passionate, too self-interested to be capable of objective thought about anything. But Wagner, differing somewhat with Feuerbach, actually felt that objective scientific inquiry is not emotionless or without motive. He felt scientific endeavor was an aspect of man’s will to power, the power to control his world, and that its consequences for any kind of higher, humane culture, founded on the ideals of the good and the beautiful, would be catastrophic. In other words, it is not that Alberich is motivated by pure reason without ulterior motive, but rather, that his greed for power can ultimately only be fully assuaged by objective contemplation of the natural and human worlds, unimpaired by the religiously inspired illusion that man has transcendent value. Wagner would find a basis for this in Feuerbach’s notion that for the practitioners of physical science nature is, as for all men, an object which elicits imaginative and emotional responses. However, Feuerbach noted that in the scientist’s case this emotional response is consonant with the object’s actual character. In other words, the scientific inquirer, in order to grasp the true nature of his object of contemplation, does not let imagination or feeling impose a subjective bias:

“Even to a believer in natural process, to be sure, nature is an object of the striving for happiness … . Even to a scientific thinker it is an object of imagination and of feeling, even of the feeling of dependency, but only on the basis of its real, objective character; he is not so hoodwinked by his feeling or so overwhelmed by his imagination as to take a subjective view of nature … .” [286F-LER: p. 229]

[R.4: C]

And now Alberich makes an accusation against Wotan, an imputation of almost metaphysical guilt, which seems to have been misunderstood by all the commentators known to me who have noticed it at all, but which is actually a key to grasping the Ring allegory as a coherent whole. Alberich suggests to Wotan that if Alberich sinned in renouncing love for the sake of the Ring’s power, Alberich sinned only against himself, but that if Wotan co-opts Alberich’s Ring power for the sake of the gods, he will be sinning against all that was, is, or shall be:

Alberich: (#19 vari:) Be on your guard, you haughty god! If ever I sinned, I sinned freely against myself (:#19 vari): but you, you immortal, will sin against all that was, is and shall be – if you brazenly wrest the ring from me now!

 

Wotan: Give the ring here! No right to it will you claim with your chatter. (He seizes Alberich and tears the ring from his finger with terrible force: #21; #48; #12 minor)

 

Alberich: (with a hideous scream) Ha! Ruined! Crushed! (#37:) The saddest of all sad slaves (:#37)!

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