Dear Discussion Forum members and visitors:
This is Part 12 of my review of Barry Millington's "The Sorcerer of Bayreuth."
[BM] Chapter 20 - "Creative Spark: Sources of Inspiration in Wagner's Work"
"In Wagner's case the gestation period [PH: of his artworks] - particularly of the later works - was often long: years, even decades. What did it take, then, to get the creative juices finally flowing? By looking at three of the late, great works - the 'Ring,' 'Tristan,' and 'Parsifal' - we can see that the initial creative spark was often not so much a single musical idea as a conceptual nucleus of some kind. That nucleus might well have included a musical idea, but it was likely also to have embraced a creative cell that might be mythological, philosophical or existential in nature." ("The Sorcerer of Bayreuth," Page 192)
[PH] It is precisely after reading a good thought like this that I am astounded that Barry Millington has not yet (according to his own recent confession) explored my comprehensive study of the "Ring," "The Wound That Will Never Heal," in spite of my having informed him by email about it, and all that it brings to the table of Wagner scholarship and to the potential solution to the question Millington poses above, right after it was posted online in 5/2011. Nor, if we survey his two fairly recent essays on "Lohengrin," i.e., both his chapter on "Lohengrin" in his 2012 book "The Sorcerer of Bayreuth," or his essay "Asking the Right Question," also about "Lohengrin," which the Seattle Opera posted online in 2005, can we find a single citation of my obviously prescient paper "How Elsa showed Wagner the way to Siegfried" (Published by Millington's colleague Stewart Spencer in the 5/95 issue of WAGNER), a 1993 copyrighted version of which Millington himself read and reviewed in 11/1993. For I have presented online here at http://www.wagnerheim.com the most thorough assessment yet undertaken of the conceptual underpinnings of Wagner's music-dramas, and the "Ring" in particular, an assessment which incorporates not only the most extensive use of Wagner's own writings and recorded remarks as supplementary evidence ever employed by a commentator on Wagner in an attempt to grasp the meaning of his artworks, but also by far the most extensive treatment of Feuerbach's influence on Wagner in the literature. So why the reticence with respect to my extensive contributions to this debate! Only Millington can tell us.
[PH] The time for the scholarly world to confront my own original contributions is long past due. I call upon those attending the various symposia being held during this bicentenary year, symposia which I can't attend due to responsibilities which for the time being will pin me down to my hometown, to ask the various presenters at those symposia whether they have read any of my "The Wound That Will Never Heal" posted online here at http://www.wagnerheim.com, and if they have not, to persuade them to do so. I also ask the students of the various academics teaching courses on Wagner to similarly inquire of their professors whether they are aware of http://www.wagnerheim.com, and if not, to suggest that they make themselves aware. It is simply a matter of principle and common sense that the most extensive conceptual study of Wagner's "Ring" ever written should be introduced into this bicentenary year's debates! The mere fact that one can't find in any of the numerous symposia being organized in celebration of Wagner's bicentenary year the slightest scrap of evidence that any of the numerous presenters is even remotely aware of my research on Wagner, research which I have been disseminating among the Wagner punditocracy since 1981, and very extensively in 1983 and 1996 (not to mention my www.wagnerheim.com website, posted online in 5/2011), compels me to ask: what exactly are they afraid of?
[BM] Chapter 21 - "Wagner's Last Card: 'Parsifal' "
"... Wagner spells out the central theme of the opera ['Parsifal']: compassion or fellow suffering as the route to understanding the errors of human existence - a process of enlightenment to which Wagner gives the term 'redemption' or, in more religious mode, 'salvation'. It is this enlightened knowledge to which Wagner refers in a letter to Ludwig, addressing a question that goes to the heart of the work:
'What is the significance of Kundry's kiss?' - That, my beloved, is a terrible secret! ... Adam and Eve became 'knowing'. They became 'conscious of sin. The human race had to atone for that consciousness by suffering shame and misery until redeemed by Christ who took upon himself the sin of mankind ... . Adam - Eve: Christ. - How would it be if I were now to add to them: - 'Anfortas - Kundry: Parzival?' But with considerable caution! - The kiss which causes Anfortas to fall into sin awakens in Parzival a full awareness of that sin, not as his own sin but as that of the grievously afflicted Anfortas whose lamentations he had previously heard only dully, but the cause of which now dawns upon him in all its brightness, through his sharing the feeling of sin: with the speed of lightning he said to himself, as it were: 'ah! that is the poison which causes him to sicken whose grief I did not understand until now!' - Thus he knows more than all the others.
That 'mother's kiss', in other words, that Kundry plants upon the mouth of the innocent boy in Act II - an osculation that throbs with Freudian tensions - is patently a pivotal moment in the drama. And it is so not least because of the sexual charge it carries. But the function is to awaken Parsifal to the reality of suffering and to its potential as the path to a painful but necessary process of self-enlightenment. Only through fellow suffering can Parsifal achieve wisdom - the wisdom to put aside egoistic desires and impulses in favour of self-denial or the acceptance of moral responsibility." ("The Sorcerer of Bayreuth," Pages 237-238)
[PH] Readers of both my "The Wound That Will Never Heal," which is concerned primarily about Wagner's "Ring" but details some of its conceptual links with Wagner's other operas and music-dramas, and also those familiar with my essay about Feuerbach's influence on the libretto of "Parsifal" (it can be found at http://www.wagnersocietyflorida.org, by clicking on "Resources," and then clicking on "Papers on Wagner"), based on a talk I presented to the Boston Wagner Society, know that I offer an entirely original spin on the significance of Kundry's kiss, Parsifal's ignorance of himself, Amfortas's unhealing wound, the fact that Parsifal holds himself responsible for having killed his mother, and Parsifal's ultimate healing of Amfortas's formerly unhealing wound, which restores to nature its innocence. Readers of my article "How Elsa showed Wagner the way to Siegfried" know that I drew attention to the allegorical logic underlying Wagner's employment of Elsa as a sort of metaphor for Eve (in paradise), his openly calling the heroine of "Mastersingers" Eve, and the passage which Millington cited above in which Wagner compares Amfortas with Adam, Kundry with Eve, and Parsifal with Christ (with caution, as he says). I have noted that Wagner bases virtually all of his heroines from at least Elsa onward on Feuerbach's praise of Eve for having forced man to renounce the ignorance of faith, in order to fend as a mortal for himself, and that Eve thus became Wagner's metaphor for the muse of unconsciously inspired art. In other words, religious faith (the gods) has to die in order to give birth to Wagner's secular art, which is modern man's substitute for religious redemption. Let me add that Venus, in "Tannhaeuser," can also, in a sense, be construed as a reference to Eve. This archetypal Wagnerian muse inspires the artist-hero to create redemptive art by allowing him to unconsciously, and therefore safely, confront mankind's irresolvable existential dilemma, the unbearable truth about man, so that he can obtain from this forbidden knowledge the inspiration to hide it under a mask of Wahn, or deception, called art, or in music submerge it in pure feeling (which Wagner called love).
[PH] In my interpretation Parsifal literally wakes up to the terrible truth that he and all of his spiritual ancestors, former heroes of religious faith and secular art (represented in the "Ring" by the dead heroes, the martyrs, of Valhalla, upon whom Wotan can call to defend the belief in divinity from Alberich's long-term threat to destroy faith in the gods, and represented in "Parsifal" by the Grail knights who preceded Parsifal in coming to Klingsor's Magic Garden - symbolic of Wagner's critique of his own prior art as a means to redemption - and who have been seduced by their muses of art, the Flower Maidens), have perpetuated religious man's sin of world-denial (Alberich says Wotan will sin against all that was, is, or will be if he forcibly takes Alberich's Ring away from him and employs it for the gods' sake), or truth-denial, in religion and art, long after it could no longer provide a salve of redemption. In other words, mankind is growing too conscious, with his historical advancement in self-knowledge and knowledge of Nature, to seek consolation in the illusion of religion (illusions believed to be truth), or the self-conscious illusion and mere feeling of art (illusions held to be self-deception but which nonetheless make the audience feel as if paradise has been regained, or mere feeling itself, as in music) anymore. Kundry, as the reincarnation of all prior muses of religious revelation and unconscious artistic inspiration, can no longer provide mankind, Amfortas, an effective balm for his unhealing wound. Amfortas's wound is unhealing because mankind's historical quest to restore lost paradise through religious faith and art is futile: the bitter truth contradicts this hope. The only resolution is for mankind to no longer posit transcendence as a value, to give up seeking redemption from the real world. Parsifal holds himself retrospectively responsible for the fact that through the very means we have formerly employed to make us feel as if our unhealing wound could heal, we have actually made it worse. Thus Amfortas can no longer bear to serve the Grail, which has been the symbol for man's quest for transcendent value and spirituality, nor can he find any ultimate relief or redemption in Kundry's salves for his wound. Neither religious faith nor art can heal any longer: the only alternative, as Wagner's former acolyte Nietzsche put it, was either nihilistic self-destruction (Wotan's final viewpoint in the "Ring," and Amfortas's viewpoint until Parsifal cures him of his longing for transcendence), or open embrace of the real, bitter world (Mother Nature), and man's mortality and natural limitations.
[PH] It is Kundry's kiss which awakens Parsifal simultaneously to the secret which explains five facts: (1) Why Parsifal up until now has not known who he is; (2) Why Amfortas suffers from an unhealing wound, and how Parsifal can heal it; (3) Why Kundry's offer of redemption through love will from now on merely rip Amfortas's wound wider; (4) Why Parsifal associates the mother who died giving him birth with his potential lover and muse of inspiration/redemption Kundry; and (5) why Parsifal holds himself responsible for his mother's death. It is because man, when he collectively, unconsciously - as in a collective dream - invented the gods and religion, renounced Mother Nature and her truths in favor of an illusory realm of the spirit, mankind, under the inspiration of an artistic imagination, figuratively killed his mother, Nature, in denying her. Thus Parsifal is responsible for his mother's death through neglect, by unwittingly and unconsciously perpetuating religious man's (primal man's) unwitting sin of nature denial, the sin of pessimism. Kundry's offer of redemption from his anguish through sexual love is Wagner's metaphor for the artist-hero's perpetuation of religious faith's renunciation of the real in favor of an illusory ideal, because Kundry is Wagner's metaphor for Parsifal's own unconscious mind and the source of his artistic inspiration in his former lives. Kundry is Parsifal's mother-surrogate because our artistic imagination offers us a consoling substitute for Mother Nature and her bitter truths, and our artistic imagination is actually a coping mechanism which our natural heritage has provided us, perhaps an evolutionary adaptation, if you will. It was secular art which no longer could offer an effective salve for Amfortas's unhealing wound, but actually makes it worse. Thus Kundry's balm is no help and actually makes things worse. Parsifal can now see that in his former ignorance of self, he perpetuated, if you will, Wotan's (religious man's) sin against all that was, is, and will be, Mother Nature, through self-deception which denied the truth, and this now makes Amfortas's unhealing wound (unhealing because of man's growing consciousness of the futility of striving to transcend his own nature, and Nature's laws) even more painful and unbearable. Parsifal can only restore Amfortas to health by giving back to Mother Nature her innocence, in order to atone the sin of having renounced her truth in favor of illusion, and no longer striving to transcend or renounce her, and he can only do this by giving up all desire for redemption from the real world. This in my book is a part of the explanation for the Good Friday Spell, in which god and nature are recognized as one.
[PH] One can see from my brief summary of my "Parsifal" interpretation above [please see my essay on Feuerbach's influence on the libretto of "Parsifal" at wagnersocietyflorida.org, by clicking on "Resources," then clicking on "Papers on Wagner"] that Parsifal's compassion for Amfortas is not quite the same as the Schopenhauerian/Buddhist compassion for all the living which is more or less how most contemporary Wagner scholars interpret it, though my interpretation really doesn't contradict that less controversial viewpoint. Parsifal's (the artist-hero's) compassion for Amfortas, his audience, stems in my interpretation primarily from Amfortas's (mankind's) having become ensnared in the religious myths and redemptive works of art invented (i.e., unconsciously created) by Parsifal's spiritual ancestors, for in Parsifal they have been reincarnated (just as Wagner said that Wotan is reincarnate in Siegfried), and Klingsor's sterility, his inability to woo the muse of art, is Parsifal's horrific vision of the degradation into which formerly redemptive art has fallen. Klingsor's self-castration is simply the extreme case of the loss of unconscious artistic inspiration to which the former artist-heroes Siegfried and Tristan had succumbed, in unwittingly and involuntarily, as if under a spell, giving away their muse of art (the secrets formerly kept by their unconscious mind) to their audience (Gunther and Marke), after denying themselves sexual union with them. Amfortas's emotional attachment to this mythic-artistic view of the world, for which Parsifal holds himself and all of his spiritual ancestors culpable, is destined to a tragic end by the inevitable advancement of man's knowledge (represented in the "Ring" by Wotan's world-wanderings - figuratively, visits to Erda, or Mother Earth - in quest of a hoard of knowledge, which is Wagner's metaphor for mankind's historical advancement in knowledge of himself and of Nature. So, better to give up this historical quest to restore lost paradise before one falls into the trap of nihilism like the Wotan of the second half of the "Ring." Valhalla in the final days bears a very close resemblance to the Grail Castle in Act III of "Parsifal."
[PH] Millington then considers the possible significance of Wagner's ideas about racial blood for our understanding of "Parsifal," and references Wagner's late essays in which one can see an undeniable relationship between passages from these essays concerning the degeneration of the human race due to tainted blood, and certain passages from "Parsifal":
[BM] "Such ideas [PH: which are, according to Millington, central to an understanding of "Parsifal"] - renunciation, learning through fellow suffering, the desirability of seeking release from the wheel of life in extinction or nirvana - of course chime in with those of Schopenhauer ... , but they are also part of a more insidious conceptual nexus that needs to be confronted if we are to penetrate to the essence of 'Parsifal.' These are the concepts of racial purity and regeneration formulated by Wagner in the series of late essays (1878-1881) dating from the time of 'Parsifal' - notably 'Religion and Art', 'Know Thyself' and 'Heroism and Christianity'. The central idea contained in these essays can be summarized as follows. Humanity has become debased and corrupted primarily through its departure from its natural vegetable diet. The consumption of slaughtered animals has led to a degeneration of the human species because of the assimilation of their blood. A process of regeneration is essential: it must be based on a return to a vegetable diet and rooted in the soil of a true religion. By partaking of the Eucharist and consuming the untainted blood of Christ, even the most degenerate races may be purified.
The concept of racial purity is of course an elaboration of Wagner's lifelong anti-Semitism. Finding it difficult to reconcile the idea of a redeeming saviour with the Jewish God of the Old Testament, in one essay Wagner even floated the concept of an Aryan Jesus. Moreover, the interbreeding of the Jews with the pure Aryan race is partly responsible, he argues, for the degeneration of the species.
The relevance of all this to the heady concoction of ideas in 'Parsifal' can scarcely be denied (despite the best attempts of some who ought to know better). Only by expunging Jewishness, Wagner is saying, can humanity regenerate itself and achieve its full spiritual potential. For most of his adult life Wagner had harboured a fantasy: the liberation of the world from impure racial elements, and in particular from Jews. That is part of the message he intended to convey in 'Parsifal,' though it by no means defines the whole. Where are the Jewish characters in the opera, Wagner's more naive apologists ask? It would be easy to point to Kundry, the Middle Eastern, heathen social outcast, condemned like the Wandering Jew to peregrinate through eternity for taunting Christ on the way to his crucifixion, and whose baptism in Act III is of such symbolic significance. But in fact 'real' Jews never inhabit Wagner's operas, which deal in universalized expressions of idealism rather than specific ideologies. The characterization of Kundry is, in any case, far richer and more positive than that: she is certainly not merely a focus for anti-Semitic sentiment.
How, then, are we to make sense of this witches' brew of Christian compassion, Buddhist/Schopenhauerian renunciation, and racial prejudice? The key is in the apprehension that the brew's ingredients are not as heterogeneous as they might appear: each infuses the others. Just as the notions of compassion and fellow suffering are common to both Christianity and Buddhism, so hatred - in this case of other races - may be seen as the obverse of love. Two sides of the same coin, love and hate add up to a world view formulated on the concepts of racial purity and regeneration of the species. Wagner's own compassionate conduct in his daily life receives far less attention than his egregious outbursts against particular individuals, especially Jews. it is well documented none the less. More important than whether Wagner was a charitable man is the plethora of compassionate utterances in both the so-called 'regeneration writings' mentioned earlier and in the text of 'Parsifal' itself. In the opera, for example, Gurnemanz chides the Esquires for their uncompassionate treatment of Kundry, and then Parsifal for the thoughtless act of shooting down the swan. The final act begins with the welcome accorded the weary traveller and the washing of his feet, moving to the healing of Amfortas.
And then of course there is the music. Was there ever a more poignant expression of compassionate suffering than the Good Friday Music in Act III? If this passage, like the shimmering harmonies of the prelude (returning at the end of the opera) and the evocation, in Gurnamanz's Narration, of the 'sacred solemn night' when the Grail was brought down from heaven, touches the sublime, it does so as a sonic instantiation of a moral virtue. For all the pernicious aspects of Wagner's race-inspired ideology - and this has its place in the work too - there is no denying that the light of compassion burns brightly throughout this work. Compassion and an obsession with racial purity are its twin poles.
It is all too easy to be diverted from the work's ideological orientation, or to wish to suppress it, on account of the transcendentally rapturous quality of the music. Certainly it has an aura unique even to Wagner's oeuvre. Debussy famously described the score as 'lit from behind', while Wagner himself said that his instrumentation would be 'like cloud layers that disperse and reform'. Nietzsche, too, for all his ambivalent relationship with the work ... , had to admit that the music was 'incomparable and bewildering': just a few bars were enough to transport him to realms otherwise inaccessible. But what makes 'Parsifal' truly remarkable is the fusion of the transcendental and the morally virtuous with an insidious ideology that was questionable even in Wagner's day, and that in the light of history most civilized people would come to regard with contempt.
That is the Faustian bargain on offer, however, if we are to understand 'Parsifal' as its creator intended. Of course there are ways of recalibrating, even subverting, the message - and these have been fully and rightly explored by stage directors seeking to interpret the opera for modern-day audiences - but 'Parsifal' remains a work whose glory will always be shrouded in its dark ambiguities." ("The Sorcerer of Bayreuth," Pages 238-240)
[PH] I have quoted this rather more extensive passage from Millington's chapter on 'Parsifal' both because it is one of the finer passages from his book, and expresses his obviously very deep love for Wagner's art. At the same time, it strongly suggests that Wagner's racist idealogy is somehow central to an understanding of 'Parsifal.' I concur with Millington's remark that there are quite a number of striking passages in Wagner's 'regeneration essays' devoted to his racist ideology and peculiarly Aryan theology which find a powerful echo in 'Parsifal.' Millington is not wrong that this somehow enters into 'Parsifal,' but my interpretation can cast an entirely new light on this seeming anti-Semitism or racism in this artwork.
[PH] It goes without saying that if one of my fundamental hypotheses, that Wagner's heroines from Venus onward (perhaps even Senta, who possesses knowledge of the irredeemable hero which no one else possesses, the hero like Wotan wandering the world in quest of redemption, but instead gathering a hoard of treasure, which is Wagner's metaphor for mankind's advancement in that knowledge of himself and Nature which destroys any hope he might have that there is any sort of supernatural redemption available to him - Wagner even has the chorus suggest that the Dutchman's hoard of treasure is protected by a dragon) are Wagner's metaphor for the artist-hero's muse of unconscious artistic inspiration, is accurate, then Kundry, the alleged Jewess, is identified with Wagner's concept of the muse for his own authentically inspired music-dramas, music-dramas which, according to the reading of those dedicated to seeking evidence of anti-Semitism in Wagner's music-dramas, are designed precisely to redeem the Aryan race from the threat of Judaism). Wagner made this identity clear in any case by basing Elsa partly on Feuerbach's personal interpretation of Eve, and comparing both Eva in "Mastersingers" and Kundry in "Parsifal" with Eve. All of these muses know something about the artist-hero he either doesn't know or doesn't wish to know. If, as Wagner feared, all men are ultimately motivated, even in their most exalted moments, by an underlying egoism (a point his successor Nietzsche made his life's work), perhaps this is the forbidden knowledge the heroine-lover-muse holds for the artist-hero, knowledge she both protects him from, and offers to him subliminally to inspire his quest to neutralize it through art, or Wahn (a sort of collective self-deception in both religion and art).
[PH] It goes without saying that if my reading of Amfortas's unhealing wound as Wagner's metaphor for man's irresolvable existential dilemma (that man by nature seeks a transcendent realm of meaning which doesn't exist and can never be attained) is accurate, then this has nothing directly to do with Wagner's anti-Semitism or racism. However, if Wagner projected this fear on to the Jews, as I believe he did, then, in effect, the forbidden knowledge the heroine holds for the artist-hero (and forces directly upon the vulnerable consciousness of Amfortas, Parsifal the artist-hero's audience) is his unconscious knowledge that he, the allegedly Aryan hero, is in fact, figuratively speaking at least, a Jew. Paul Lawrence Rose wrote to me years ago to praise this insight, which he regarded as central to my original take on Wagner's artworks. But Amfortas's unhealing wound is not due to mixing his blood with Kundry's blood, per se, though it's self-evident that Wagner might have enriched our understanding of Kundry by adding this element. Amfortas's unhealing wound is, I strongly believe, based on Wagner's original take on the Prometheus Myth (which, of course, influenced the roles which Loge, the Fire God, and Bruennhilde, play in the "Ring"). For Prometheus means foresight, and it was mankind's foresight of his inevitable death, his original sin, which separates him from all the other, innocent, animals. Our foresight of our death inspired in us an existential fear of the end (such as the fear inspired in Wotan by Erda's prophecy of the gods' demise, which is part of Wotan's divine "Noth" which he confesses to Bruennhilde), for which religious faith in an afterlife is an illusory salve or balm, an expression of Wahn. But Wotan, after "Siegfried," no longer has faith in Freia's apples of eternal youth (we learn from Waltraute in T.1.2). Aeschylus, or whoever actually wrote "Prometheus Bound" and the now lost remaining two parts of the trilogy of which this presumably was a part, captured the anguish of Prometheus's foreknowledge of his own, and of the gods', end, by having Zeus punish him for having given this formerly exclusively divine knowledge to mortal man, with an unhealing wound. But Prometheus evidently could also offer man redemption (at least figurative) from this terrible knowledge, so that mankind might cease to foresee it. And this balm is the Wahn of religious belief and art. So the very hero who gives us (Like Eve in Paradise) the unhealing wound of self-knowledge, also grants us, by way of compensation, the means to forget our fear, in religious faith and art. Wagner wrote about this and spoke about it to Cosima, and was clearly paraphrasing Feuerbach's observations about Brahma, who only had the courage to create the world once Wahn, self-deception, blinding him as to what would come of it. This is probably where Wagner got the idea for Wotan's confession of the knowledge of what he can't bear to think aloud (i.e., consciously) or foresee, to Bruennhilde, who, by virtue of protecting Siegfried at the front from wounds through her magic, spares him Wotan's fear (of the end), by removing Siegfried's foresight. And one can also clearly see here Wagner's conflation of Eve from 'Genesis' with the Greek origin myths of Prometheus, and even his sister Pandora (who, like Eve, couldn't constrain her desire to know).
[PH] 'Parsifal' is by far the most conceptually complex of all of Wagner's operas and music-dramas (by which I simply mean that it is more dense with what appears to be ambiguous and multi-layered meaning), its only rival in this regard being "The Rhinegold" from the "Ring," where Wagner attempted to summarize the historical background for all of his operas and music-dramas. Of course, 'Parsifal' is so complex because all of his prior art culminates here, where the question of meaning becomes a crisis. So I can only really address the extent to which we might construe it as conceptually dependent on Wagner's anti-Semitism and racism and beliefs about racial blood in a full-length book (a book I already wrote years ago, but which must be entirely revised, quite frankly re-written, in order to make it readable and therefore publishable). The best idea I can give of its contents is my essay on Feuerbach's influence on the libretto of 'Parsifal,' and also my thumb-nail sketch of my interpretation of 'Parsifal' in my "Introduction to 'The Wound That Will Never Heal'," both of which can be read at http://www.wagnersocietyflorida.org, by clicking on "Resources," and then on "Papers on Wagner." But I will note here that the conventional reading of those who subscribe to the view that Wagner's anti-Semitism is a very important part of the meaning of "Parsifal" is that Amfortas is, if you will, an Aryan King and Protector of the Holy Grail, the last refuge of Aryan Christianity and the pure Aryan race represented by the Grail Knights, who are now succumbing to temptation with Jewesses, the Flower Maidens, under the prompting of their Jewish pimp Klingsor, and that Amfortas and even the realm of the Grail itself have been sickened by being tainted with Jewish blood. According to this thesis the pure fool Parsifal can redeem Aryan Christianity by resisting the archetypal Jewish temptress Kundry, and taking out of the hands of the Jewish Klingsor a key relic of Christianity so that Christianity can be purified of its Jewish roots, and Amfortas's blood can be cleansed miraculously by Christ's blood which flows from the Grail and which can even purify the tainted blood of inferior races. So Kundry is baptised into the faith in the end, and dies (at last, the Wandering Jew, having accepted Christ as his/her savior, can rest, and die). This is just a thumbnail sketch but this is the general idea found in a number of studies of this kind. My main problem with this thesis is that it only explains a comparatively small proportion of the plot and the characters' actions and words, whereas my interpretation of 'Parsifal,' predicated as it is on a grasp of the conceptual unity underlying all of Wagner's operas and music dramas, can explain much more. But, as I say, I would need to address this issue which Millington is right to bring up at much greater length to illustrate the inadequacy of this view to explain more than a fairly small proportion of "Parsifal."
[PH] I was very glad to read Millington's remark that: [BM] "... 'real' Jews never inhabit Wagner's operas, which deal in universalized expressions of idealism rather than explicit ideologies. The characterization of Kundry is, in any case, far richer and more positive than that: she is certainly not merely a focus for anti-Semitic sentiment." [PH] I have been saying something like this for quite some time.
[PH] I will sum up my response to Millington's chapter on "Parsifal," and with this summation close my review of his "The Sorcerer of Bayreuth," by simply stating my disagreement with this remark: [BM] "... what makes 'Parsifal' truly remarkable is the fusion of the transcendental and the morally virtuous with an insidious ideology that was questionable even in Wagner's day, and that in the light of history most civilized people would come to regard with contempt."
[PH] It's just that, though there is considerable evidence, as Millington says, in Wagner's regeneration writings from the time he was completing "Parsifal," to argue for an interpretation of "Parsifal" which incorporates Wagner's anti-Semitic views, there is, in my view, far more evidence for an almost entirely different interpretation which need not reference his anti-Semitism, though I would also like to suggest that since Wagner evidently conflated his anti-Semitism with his fear that modern science would destroy the very values which according to Wagner make life worth living (values we imparted to ourselves in our ancient religious, and more modern secular-artistic, heritage), there is something to Millington's remark, rightly understood. In my own studies of Wagner's mature music-dramas I have tried to show how Wagner universalized what in his private life was parochial, so that what in his private life might be construed as a hidden motive for his anti-Semitism, in his artworks is treated in its more universal and general meaning, minus the racist perspective. So, in sum, I will say that I don't believe that anti-Semitism is central, or even necessary, to an understanding of any of Wagner's artworks, not even 'Parsifal.' When I finally re-write my book on 'Parsifal' for publication I will get down to cases on this matter, and invite the whole planet to join the debate!
THIS ENDS MY REVIEW OF BARRY MILLINGTON'S "THE SORCERER OF BAYREUTH."
General Discussion about Wagner and The Ring of the Nibelung
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