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The Valkyrie: Page 443
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the end because, as abhorrent as it is to man’s metaphysical impulse and idealism, Alberich’s vulgar materialism and selfishness more closely reflect the truth, the world (Erda), than all of Wotan’s fantasies of transcendent meaning.

The single most characteristic motival expression in Bruennhilde’s profound defense of her disobedience to divine injunction is what is virtually a new motif, the compound motif #81/#89: it partakes at once of Wotan’s conviction, represented by #81, that Siegmund’s heroism, love, and compassion are merely the product of Wotan’s fear of the truth (since Wotan brought Siegmund up to be a free hero) and loathsome egoism, and by #89, the motif expressing Siegmund’s instinctive resistance to subjection to fate, his instinctive assertion of freedom of will in favor of love. It tears at us because it expresses the irresolvable contradiction at the heart of Wotan’s impotence and paralysis, his nihilistic resignation to Alberich’s inevitable victory over man’s transcendent ideals, confronted nonetheless by his love, voiced by Bruennhilde, for his ideal, Siegmund. Wotan can’t bear the truth so he seeks a way out, and the way out is a drastic retreat into the subjective depths of human feeling shorn of all concern about the contradictions and doubts of conscious thought.

Bruennhilde notes that in battle she guards Wotan’s back. We can recognize here a reference to the fact that Wotan, fearful of Erda’s knowledge, the truth, in a sense runs away from it, trying to leave it behind him, as he did in his confession to Bruennhilde, by storing Erda’s fateful knowledge out of sight and out of mind, putting it behind him in the realm of forgetting, as it were. But Bruennhilde sees what Wotan can’t see. By acquiescing in Bruennhilde’s plea to share with her his unspoken secret, his foreknowledge of the end Erda foretold, so that this foreknowledge can be stored in Wotan’s unconscious mind, Bruennhilde, Wotan has insured that his hoped-for hero Siegfried will be protected from foreknowledge by Bruennhilde, and therefore protected from Wotan’s fear of the end, which had paralyzed Wotan into inaction. We will learn only late in the Ring, in T.2.5, that Bruennhilde’s magic, unbeknownst to Siegfried, protected Siegfried from wounds (i.e., the wounds of Alberich’s curse, of consciousness), only at the front. So Bruennhilde’s remark, that she protects Wotan’s exposed back in battle, implicitly protecting him from what he fears and runs away from, makes him the antithesis of the fearless Siegfried, whom Bruennhilde will protect solely at his front from wounds, since, as a fearless hero (i.e., ignorant of the truth and therefore unafraid), and in this unlike Wotan, he never turns his back to the enemy.

Bruennhilde confesses to Wotan that her overwhelming compassion for Siegmund’s Noth (the Noth Wotan imposed upon Siegmund) compelled her to offer herself in his service and to suffer the fate of the Waelsungs, if need be. It is in this sense that, as Wotan says, she has already chosen her own punishment for disobedience. Accompanied by an astoundingly beautiful variant form of #96, #96b, which can be regarded as the Definitive version of #96, Bruennhilde declares that in her apparent defiance of Wotan’s outwardly expressed wishes she had remained true to Wotan’s innermost (and thus authentic) love for his Waelsung hero Siegmund, in standing up for him against the fate Wotan had chosen for Siegmund against his will.

[V.3.3: C]

Given Wotan’s knowledge of the overall historical context in which the Waelsungs and Bruennhilde are fighting to preserve a hope of redemption from the ways of this world, which

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