Part 5: Millington on "Lohengrin"

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Part 5: Millington on "Lohengrin"

Post by alberich00 » Fri Feb 08, 2013 2:29 pm

Dear members/observers of the discussion forum:

[PH] Here is part 5 of my discussion of the chapter on "Lohengrin" from Millington's "The Sorcerer of Bayreuth," and of his essay "Asking the Right Question" published online by the Seattle Opera in 2005 (and now, in my new revision of this review, also taking account of Millington's paper "Elsa, Lohengrin and the Tell-Tale Halo, which was published by the Houston Grand Opera for its production of "Lohengrin" in October and November of 1992).

(8) [BM]
“In the same essay ["A Communication to my Friends"], Wagner suggested that Lohengrin wishes to be loved for his own sake, as a pure human being – not worshiped for his divine qualities. ‘That is why he had to conceal his higher nature,’ continues Wagner, just as, in classical myth, Zeus concealed his identity from Semele. (…) Lohengrin, too, wanted to be human, not a god. (…) In ‘A Communication to My Friends,’ Wagner is at pains to make clear that the Lohengrin myth inspired him not because of its ‘leanings towards Christian supernaturalism,’ but because it penetrated to the core of human longings. The 1840s was the decade in which Young Hegelians … issued challenges to the tenets of conventional religion, and in which the humanist ethics of Ludwig Feuerbach had enormous influence on German intellectuals of the day. Even though Wagner appears not to have read Feuerbach for himself until the end of the decade, there seems little doubt that he was influenced by some of the ideas prevalent in the radical circles of cities such as Dresden. The figure of Lohengrin evidently appealed to Wagner not primarily as some kind of divine protector or savior, but as a ‘metaphysical phenomenon’ whose contact with human nature could end only in tragedy; the Christian trappings of the legend, as in “Parsifal,” were of essentially symbolic value to him. If Lohengrin’s desire to relinquish divinity in favor of humanity seems, at first, a curious one, the explanation is to be found in the humanism of the Young Hegelians, most convincingly expressed by Feuerbach in his epoch-making ‘The Essence of Christianity’ of 1841. For Feuerbach, Man – or as we would now say ‘men and women’ – represents the crowning achievement of God’s creation. No longer was humanity to bend to the submissive yoke of religion and the established Church. Rather, Feuerbach identified religion as the projection of human wishes and fears: we invent God or gods as a comfort in time of need.”[/b] [from Millington’s “Asking the Right Question,” Seattle Opera 2005]

“… Ortrud and Elsa are both ‘nature’ as grasped distinctly by Frederick and Lohengrin and …. Lohengrin hoped to find something in nature that the divine lacks.” [from Heise’s “How Elsa showed Wagner the way to Siegfried,” page 82]

“Lohengrin, compelled by Elsa’s seeming treachery, now reveals what she wanted to conceal in silence – his true identity as Parzival’s son. (…) If Elsa’s suspicion that Lohengrin needs redemption through her is true, then a knight of the pure Grail realm – where, as Lohengrin says, ‘no mortal footsteps tread’ (Act III, Scene 3; GS II, 109) – does not come from paradise. Elsa may instinctively feel the weight of this terrible truth. It poses the question whether the ‘divine’ lacks something that only mortal woman can provide, whether God or the redeemer needs redemption. Lohengrin has hinted as much [I was referring here to Lohengrin’s prior remarks that Elsa’s love must compensate him for what he left in coming to her, and that her love brought him new happiness]. Wagner offers an interpretation of Lohengrin’s need for redemption which may also explain why Lohengrin placed a prohibition on knowledge of his identity:

‘The Grail’s chaste service did my heart disown. But having turned from God in love’s excess, atonement and remorse must I endure. For ah! the shameful sin must I confess of deeming woman’s love divinely pure!’

Having quoted from a part of the ‘Lohengrin’ text that he did not set to music, Wagner goes on to say: ‘I think it would be sufficient for the audience to deduce from what Lohengrin says that the bonds of earthly love are, strictly speaking, unbecoming for a knight of the Grail’ (Letter to Hermann Franck of 30 May 1846; SB II, 513-514)” [from Heise’s “How Elsa showed Wagner the way to Siegfried”]

“In Wagner’s discussion of ‘Lohengrin’ in ‘A Communication to my Friends’ he argues that Lohengrin needed redemption from the sterility of the Grail realm through the earthly love that only Elsa could provide. A single extract will suffice: ‘With his entire conscious being he [Lohengrin] wanted nothing more than to become and be a full and complete human being, able to give and inspire love, -- that is, authentically ‘human’ and not divine […]. Thus he yearned for womankind – the human heart. And so he descended from his blissful but empty loneliness when he heard this woman’s cry for help. […] But around him remained the tell-tale aura of exalted spiritual rank.’ (GS IV, 296; PW I, 341)

Wagner here suggests that those who have access to the chaste, sterile Grail realm, who seek there to be redeemed from the world, in turn seek relief from this abstract utopia in the carnal and the earthly, the realm of sin. This implies that paradise is merely a projection of the earthly, as Ortrud suggested … . In this case, the hypocrites who disowned nature exploit it in secret.” [from Heise’s “How Elsa showed Wagner the way to Siegfried,” page 83]

[PH] A brief review of Millington's remarks above about Feuerbach's influence on "Lohengrin" (direct or indirect), and Lohengrin's wish to escape the trappings of divinity in order to enjoy the benefits of love which only Elsa can provide, an earthly love, and comparison with my remarks below, shows unmistakably not only that these issues were central to my paper, but also that I long ago carried the ball much further than Millington has even now in 2012, by suggesting, for instance, that Ortrud's accusations against Lohengrin, and conspiracy with Frederick and Elsa to compel Lohengrin to reveal the truth hidden behind his spiritual trappings, were actually giving voice to a Feuerbachian critique of religious faith, in which Lohengrin is shown to be a hypocrite, and with which Elsa was in a strange kind of sympathy (which of course explains Ortrud's influence with her).

(9) [BM]
“Lohengrin, Wagner tells us, is ‘the embodied wish of the yearner who dreams of happiness in that land far across the sea he cannot sense’. His desire to relinquish divinity in favour of humanity seems, at first, a curious one. But the explanation is to be found in the humanism of the Young Hegelians, and in particular Feuerbach’s ‘Essence of Christianity.’ For Feuerbach, ‘Man’ – or, as we would now say, ‘men and women’ – represent the crowning achievement of God’s creation. No longer was humanity to bend to the submissive yoke of religion and the established Church. So Lohengrin’s desire to be human can be seen as a bid for the free, emancipated humanity aspired to later in the ‘Ring.’
Wagner makes clear, moreover, that the Lohengrin myth inspired him not because of its ‘leanings towards Christian supernaturalism’, but because it penetrated to the core of human longings.
‘Anyone to whom ‘Lohengrin’ is intelligible as nothing more than the category “Christian Romantic”,’ he said, ‘understands only an incidental, superficial characteristic, not the essence of the phenomenon.’ “ [Chapter 7 “Swansong to Traditional Opera: ‘Lohengrin’,” in Millington’s “The Sorcerer of Bayreuth,” page 65-66]

“Now day breaks into their night of love. Because Elsa insists on knowing his identity, he must now reveal it publicly, and must leave. If he must leave because humanity has too little faith to sustain the redemption that he offers, how strange that the folk remained faithful, while Elsa, the chosen innocent, did not! But Elsa was motivated by some instinctive sense that Lohengrin sought his own salvation through her, that accepting him as her spouse was to be his needful reward for defending her. In Elsa’s view, this entailed an obligation to entrust her with knowledge of his identity, which Lohengrin would not meet. Instead, Lohengrin rejected Elsa’s offer to redeem him either because he does not need redemption or because he is unable to admit that he does. If he is divine, it is not credible that he needs redemption, so that Elsa’s offer must be predicated on the assumption that he is not.” [from Heise’s “How Elsa showed Wagner the way to Siegfried,” page 79]

“Wagner recognized the unity of God and nature and saw what a danger this could pose to mainstream religious belief.” [from Heise’s “How Elsa showed Wagner the way to Siegfried”]

[PH] One of my central arguments in my 5/95 paper was that "Lohengrin" is, in effect, a Feuerbachian critique of religion, and my paper spelled out in detail quite a number of consequences this has not only for our reading of "Lohengrin," but for our understanding of Wagner's "Ring." This concept also is central to Millington's 1992 paper on "Lohengrin," but readers of the passage from my 11/91 proposal to Spencer which I've posted in this review can easily see that it was also central to my understanding of the conceptual relationship of "Lohengrin" to Wagner's "Ring" prior to the publication of Millington's 1992 paper. Needless to say Millington may have published (and hence copyrighted) this and other insights which my 5/95 paper shares with him even earlier than 1992, and if such a paper can be produced, unless I can prove I copyrighted this insight, or that, previous to his earliest publication of the same, I will concede priority to him. As I have said I have no wish to claim priority for any insights where another author can prove a prior claim. It would be most amusing (and perhaps not all that improbable) if some prior commentator could be shown to have anticipated Millington and myself across the board; if this were to happen, I would vicariously enjoy the wonder of it all, but so far I have discovered no such study, and none have been brought to my attention. Nonetheless at least some of these insights should, it seems to me, have been self-evident long ago; it's miraculous if they're only coming to our attention for the first time now, 129 years after Wagner's death.

(10) [BM]
“Lohengrin may have been answering the call of a damsel in distress, but he had his own needs. This is how Wagner put it:

‘Lohengrin sought the woman who would ‘trust’ in him; who would not ask who he was or whence he came, but love him as he was, and because he was as he seemed to her. He sought the woman to whom he would not have to explain himself, or to justify himself, but who would ‘love’ him unconditionally. He therefore has to conceal his higher nature, for it is precisely in the non-revelation of this higher – or more correctly heightened – essence that the true security subsisted that he was not admired and marvelled at for it alone, nor humbly worshipped as one beyond all understanding. On the contrary, he longed not for admiration and worship, but for the one thing that could redeem him from his loneliness and quench his yearning: he longed for ‘love, to be loved, to be understood through love.’

Longing for the love of such a woman (Wagner goes on), Lohengrin descended from his ‘blissful, empty solitude’ on hearing Elsa’s cry for help. But ‘there clings to him the telltale halo of his heightened nature. Recognized as something superhuman, he is now plagued by the thought that he is being worshipped rather than understood. Compelled to admit his special nature, he returns to the lonely sphere from which he came.” [from Chapter 7 – “Swansong to Traditional Opera: ‘Lohengrin’,” in Millington’s “The Sorcerer of Bayreuth,” page 64]

“She [Elsa] demands that they share ‘conceptual’ knowledge of Lohengrin’s identity in their night of love:

Elsa: Would that some merit could unite me with you, that I could see myself in pain for you! As you found me gravely accused, oh that I knew you also in distress (‘Noth’). That bravely I might bear troubles, I wish I knew of dangers threatening you! Would the secret which you conceal from all the world be of this kind? Perhaps disaster would await you if it became known to all the world? Oh were it thus and I allowed to know it, if I had it in my power, no threats could tear it from me, I would be ready to die for you! […] Let me share your secret that I may clearly see who you are! Lohengrin: Ah, be silent, Elsa! Elsa: Trusting in me, reveal your noble origin! Say without regret whence you came, that the power of silence be proved in me!’
(Act III, Scene 2; GS II, 103)

Elsa has again compared her ‘Noth’ with Lohengrin’s ‘Noth.’ Offering to share, and keep secret, the anguish (‘Noth’) she fears that Lohengrin suffers from, Elsa suggests that through the protection of her love Lohengrin may gain his own redemption."

[PH] It is implicit in Millington's three essays on "Lohengrin" that Lohengrin may satisfy his own needs, or obtain a sort of redemption, through sexual union with Elsa, and that therefore this is something which the Grail realm, from which he allegedly came, lacks, but Millington doesn't go into much detail about, or provide much detail about what Wagner considered to be, the nature of Lohengrin's need. For Millington it is an earthly love, and a love specifically which will be unquestioning, in this respect like religious faith, but unlike religious faith will not be predicated on worship or incomprehensibility, but on a sort of understanding through feeling, and it also implicit in Millington's account that the spiritual paradise from which Lohengrin claims he has come is, following Feuerbach, an illusion. But Millington has missed (even now, so many years after Spencer published my paper in 5/95, and so long after I sent an earlier version of it to Millington for review in 8/93) entirely what else Elsa offers to provide: redemption from the threat that Lohengrin might suffer anguish ("Noth") if the secret of his name (identity/fate) and origin is revealed. My paper spelled this out in considerable detail: it is precisely the fact that what religious folk call heaven, the quest for the Grail (i.e., man's longing to renounce his mortal and natural coils to experience redemption, the abstract freedom and allegedly uncompromized bliss of a transcendent, spiritual existence, wholly autonomous from Mother Nature and her laws and death and pain), is an illusion, that Lohengrin fears will be revealed and exposed if Elsa and others examine their faith in him closely. The only way that Wagner's secular art can replace religious faith's promise of redemption is if religious faith is discredited, and Wagner saw in his own time how science-based secularism was eroding what was left of traditional Christian faith, and that his art might be able to salvage at least the old religious longing for transcendent value as feeling, if it couldn't be salvaged as a conceptual belief system.

[PH] And I also spelled out how Elsa, as Lohengrin's unconscious mind (which is precisely what she offers to be in offering to protect him from the threat that his secret will be revealed, if he will share it with her), offers to become the repository for Lohengrin's dangerous self-knowledge, so that (as becomes clear only later when Wagner takes his inspiration for the relationship of Bruennhilde with her father Wotan from that of Elsa with Lohengrin) she can keep his secret even from him, by holding it for him so he need not be troubled by the fear that it might be revealed. We see in Wagner's "Ring" how Wotan literally desired to forget himself (the truth about himself), to renounce himself and seek redemption in another "self" (the free hero for whom he longs), because he couldn't bear to think, aloud, the bitter, divine "Noth," the existential dilemma which he can't bear to confront at the beginning of "The Valkyrie" Act Two Scene Two. This terrible thing he confesses to Bruennhilde is the truth that he's not really a god, and that all the ideals predicated on belief in transcendent value are illusory, and are predestined by Mother Nature's (Erda's) relationship with her objective ally, objective thought and the bitter truth about man which it exposes (objective thought being represented primally by Alberich and ultimately by his son Hagen, Wagner's metaphor for the scientific, skeptical spirit of the secular age) to destruction. I also showed how Bruennhilde, in offering to hear his confession, was literally fulfilling the promise that Elsa made to Lohengrin, to share secret knowledge of Wotan's divine "Noth" that he dare not speak aloud, in words, in order to protect him from the threat that it might be revealed and exposed.

[PH] Wotan, unlike Lohengrin (with regard to Elsa), accepted Bruennhilde's offer to in effect redeem him from self-knowledge. Thus Wotan's confession to Bruennhilde becomes the figurative "seed" which figuratively gives birth to Siegfried, the hero who is fearless precisely because he doesn't know who he is. He doesn't know who he is because Bruennhilde, as she tells him in S.3.3, knows this for him. He is Wotan reborn minus consciousness of his true identity, just as, in the allegorical scheme of Wagner's mature music-dramas, the hero Siegfried (as well as Tristan, Walther, and Parsifal) represents the artist-hero, heir to man's dying religious faith (the gods), whose true identity as an artist-hero is that he is the covert and perhaps unwitting perpetuator of the old religious faith's longing for transcendent value and meaning, a philosophy predicated on world-renunciation. This distinction of Lohengrin from Wotan is also the key to Wagner's transformation from a traditional composer of romantic opera ("Lohengrin") to a revolutionary music-dramatist, because Wotan (drama/poetry/language) trusts Bruennhilde (music, his unconscious mind, and Siegfried's muse of unconscious artistic inspiration) to maintain his secret, thus bringing about a loving union between poetic drama and music which produces the revolutionary music-drama, in which music, drama, and the word are organically rather than mechanically joined. Millington should have guessed this from his study of Jean-Jacques Nattiez's "Wagner Androgyne," a book he cites in "The Sorcerer of Bayreuth," for Nattiez noted Wagner's own identification of manhood with poetic-drama, and womanhood with music, in his theoretical essays written during the period between his completion of "Lohengrin" and initiation of work on the "Ring," and delineated how we might read Wagner's mature music-dramas employing this metaphor.

[PH] What I am saying in so many words is that Millington had, in a 8/93 version of my paper "How Elsa showed Wagner the way to Siegfried" (copyrighted on 14/94 at the Library of Congress) which I forwarded to him and to Stewart Spencer for review in 8/93 (a paper published in a much-improved version by Spencer in the 5/95 issue of the scholarly journal WAGNER), not only all of the insights which correspond with those few from his 1992 essay on "Lohengrin," and the larger number of insights in his newer essays on "Lohengrin," but also what I regard as the key to unlock the most powerful evidence for the conceptual unity not only of the "Ring," but of Wagner's other mature music-dramas. It would have served his chapter on "Lohengrin" in "The Sorcerer of Bayreuth" well had he incorporated at least some of my older insights, which delineate the conceptual significance of Elsa's breach of Lohengrin's demand for faith for Wagner's subsequent art-production, into his chapter. He provides some cryptic hints of its relevance to Wagner's "Ring," but that is all. I will be providing much more evidence of this in the remaining sections of my review of his "Lohengrin" chapter to follow.

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