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The Valkyrie: Page 342
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But Wotan’s problem lies deeper even than this. The value mankind, in the context of the Ring drama, grants the gods (of Valhalla), is that all value and all truth stem from them. Since it is the case that man invented the gods, that the gods did not create man since they are man’s invention, that means that man has predicated his life’s meaning on self-delusion. Recall Loge’s remark that the gods staked everything on Freia’s apples. This, ultimately, is the trap that Wotan has set for himself, i.e., that man has set for himself, by inventing illusory gods as the primary source of all value and knowledge. Wotan apparently has begun to grasp that his dilemma is not only self-made, but irresolvable. This thought is so unbearable that Wotan is effectively telling his daughter Bruennhilde that he dare not think this thought aloud, i.e., consciously, lest he lose his mind.

Schopenhauer, whose works Wagner apparently had not yet read at the time he penned this portion of the Ring libretto (in fact, it was completed prior to Wagner’s first known acquaintance with Schopenhauer’s works in the fall of 1854, with the exception of a few changes Wagner made in the text later which don’t affect my current argument), said that the cause of madness is the inability of the mind to consciously confront thoughts which are so destructive of all those assumptions by which we sustain our happiness and self-image, that they must be repressed and replaced by fantastical thoughts no longer in touch with reality. This extraordinary passage, which I reproduce entire below, could in fact describe religious belief as Feuerbach conceived it, a sort of collective dream or madness (Wahn), in which the objective truth which man can’t bear is repressed and a consoling illusion, which sustains man’s preferred assumption of his transcendent value, considered now to be the truth, is substituted for the objective truth:

“[Schopenhauer states that:] … the origin of madness … will become easier to understand, if we remember how reluctantly we think of things that powerfully prejudice our interests, wound our pride, or interfere with our wishes; with what difficulty we decide to lay such things before our own intellect for accurate and serious investigation; how easily, on the other hand, we unconsciously break away or sneak off from them again; how, on the contrary, pleasant affairs come into our minds entirely of their own accord, and, if driven away, always creep on us once more, so that we dwell on them for hours. In this resistance on the part of the will to allow what is contrary to it to come under the examination of the intellect, is to be found the place where madness can break in on the mind. Every new adverse event must be assimilated by the intellect, in other words, must receive a place in the system of truths connected with our will and its interests, whatever it may have to displace that is more satisfactory. As soon as this is done, it pains us much less; but this operation itself is often very painful, and in most cases takes place only slowly and with reluctance. But soundness of mind can continue only in so far as this operation has been correctly carried out each time. On the other hand, if, in a particular case, the resistance and opposition of the will to the assimilation of some knowledge reaches such a degree that the operation is not clearly carried through; accordingly, if certain events or circumstances are wholly suppressed for the intellect, because the will cannot bear the sight of them; and then, if the resultant gaps are arbitrarily filled up for the sake of the necessary connexion; we then have madness. For the intellect has given up its nature to please the will; the person then imagines what does not exist. But the resultant madness then becomes the Lethe [a stream of forgetting in Hades, an element of Greek mythology] of unbearable sufferings; it was the last resource of worried and tormented nature, i.e., of the will.” [Schopenhauer: p. 400-401]

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