3. BH: LOHENGRIN’S FAILURE REPRESENTS TRADITIONAL OPERA, WHILE ELSA’S BREACH OF LOHENGRIN’S DEMAND FOR UNQUESTIONING FAITH INSPIRES WAGNER’S REVOLUTION WHICH GAVE BIRTH TO HIS FIRST TRUE MUSIC-DRAMA, THE “RING.”
[#] [BH] [P. 207] “Second, Wagner read and re-read ‘Lohengrin’ as an allegory of opera symbolized by its principle characters. Elsa represents the perfect drama. Lohengrin embodies [P. 208] opera as failure. In ‘A Communication to my Friends’ Wagner wrote about Elsa:
‘This woman, who with clear foreknowledge rushes onto her doom for the sake of love’s necessary nature … this glorious woman, before whom Lohengrin had to vanish because he … could not understand her, - I had found her now” and the lost arrow that I had shot towards this precious discovery … was precisely my Lohengrin, whom I had to abandon, in order to come securely on the track of the truly feminine … Elsa, the woman … made me a total revolutionary.’
[#] [BH] Wagner, of course, had to abandon ‘Lohengrin’ to present himself as the creator of the artwork of the future: the ‘Ring.’ The portrayal of his early operas as preliminary stages on the path towards the music drama smack of special pleading. But he also reinterpreted ‘Lohengrin’ as being on the verge of music drama. In this chapter this view will be taken seriously as an instance of Wagner’s ‘self-reception’. The focus will be his reading of Elsa as the woman who helped him to find the perfect drama, and [P. 209] Lohengrin, as the opera and character he had to leave behind.”
[PH: ELSA SHOWED WAGNER THE WAY TO SIEGFRIED]
[PH] Hoeckner’s thesis, stated above, that Elsa’s breach of Lohengrin’s insistence on unquestioning faith was in some sense Wagner’s inspiration in making his transition from traditional opera to revolutionary music-drama, was the centerpiece of my 8/93 paper, except that I gave it an entirely different twist, thanks to my emphasis on a specific quotation from Wagner’s 1851 essay “A Communication to My Friends” which Hoeckner ignored:
[#] [P. 1] “When Wagner summed up his artistic life prior to embarking on the completion of THE RING OF THE NIBELUNG, he spoke of Siegfried in the following terms:
‘Elsa showed me the way to this man: to me he was the masculine embodiment of the eternally and uniquely creative instinct … , of the human being in the fullness of the highest inborn power, and worthy of the most unequivocal love.’ (6-8/51 ‘Eine Mitteilung an meine Freunde’; Gesammelte Schriften und Dichtungen; p. 328)
What did Wagner mean? It’s well known he felt he’d achieved a revolution in accommodating words, action, and music in LOHENGRIN, which first bore fruit in his attempts to design a text for music in SIEGFRIED’S DEATH. Did he mean something more? In this paper we’ll examine evidence that Wagner also achieved a decisive ‘conceptual’ revolution in his subsequent operas through a new understanding of Elsa’s words and actions.”
[PH] Having omitted from consideration the crucial passage from “A Communication to My Friends” which I quoted above, Hoeckner lost a major opportunity to demonstrate just how far-reaching the insight that Elsa’s breach of Lohengrin’s injunction not to ask him to reveal his name and origin to her can be for grasping the allegorical logic of Wagner’s subsequent music-dramas. One can see this in how much more I make of the passage which Hoeckner also quoted above, in which Wagner says that Elsa made him a revolutionary, in the full context of my understanding of “Lohengrin”:
[PH: ELSA’S REVOLUTION: THE DECLINE OF RELIGIOUS FAITH MAKES WAY FOR WAGNER’S NOTION OF REDEMPTION BY LOVE, THAT THE MUSE-LOVER INSPIRES THE SECULAR ARTIST-HERO TO CREATE REDEMPTIVE - THOUUGH SECULAR -T ART AS A SUBSTITUTE FOR LOST RELIGIOUS FAITH]
[PH] [P. 34] “Elsa, as Eve in paradise, had called upon her knight to help her compensate us and thus atone for giving us fatal knowledge, by inspiring in her knight a deed. This deed is the redemption of the world from knowledge, through love (feeling). Thus will Bruennhilde inspire Siegfried. For Elsa had shown Wagner that Wotan, ‘religion’, must vanish, in order to make way for – let’s acknowledge it – the artist, Siegfried:
… this woman … , who goes from worship to love precisely by the outbreak of her jealousy, and reveals this nature to a hitherto uncomprehending man by her downfall; this glorious woman from whom Lohengrin must vanish because of his inability to understand her from his own specific nature – I had now discovered her: and that random arrow I had shot at the target I had sensed but not known was there was in fact my Lohengrin, whom I had to give up as lost if I were to find the certain path to the truly feminine that would one day bring redemption to me and everybody else, after the masculine egotism, even in its most exalted form, had broken in self-immolation in the face of it. Elsa, the woman, … made me a revolutionary in one stroke. She was the spirit of the Folk to which I, too, as man and artist turned for my redemption. (6-8/51 ‘Eine Mitteilung an meine Freunde’; Gesammelte Schriften und Dichtungen; p. 301-302)”
4. BH: TAKING A PAGE FROM NATTIEZ, HOECKNER NOTES THAT LOHENGRIN IS WAGNER’S METAPHOR FOR THE DRAMA, THE SEED WHICH OUGHT TO INSEMINATE THE ARTIST’S WOMB, MUSIC, I.E., ELSA
[#] [BH] [P. 209] “The third aspect relates to Wagner’s large claims about the discovery of the ‘truly feminine’ in Elsa. This ties in with the central metaphor of ‘Opera and Drama,’ in which the ‘procreative seed’ of the man, poetry, is born out of the woman, music, as music drama. Poetry precedes music. However, after encountering the philosophy of Schopenhauer, Wagner reversed this relationship, defining drama as ‘ersichtlich gewordene Taten der Musik’ (deeds of music become visible). Music precedes drama.”
[PH] Unlike Hoeckner, my 8/93 paper did not assess Wagner’s changing views of the relative significance of music and drama in giving birth to, or inspiring, the music-drama. However, in “The Wound That Will Never Heal,” my book on Wagner’s “Ring” posted on this website, I give this problem, and Siegfried’s and Bruennhilde’s statuses as metaphors for drama and music, respectively, considerable attention.
5. BH: ELSA’S DREAM IS WAGNER’S METAPHOR FOR MUSIC GIVING BIRTH TO THE DRAMA, LOHENGRIN
[#] [BH] [P. 210] “… he could reinterpret Elsa’s dream in Schopenhauer’s and Nietzsche’s terms as ‘deeds of music become visible,’ and claim that he [P. 211] realized in ‘Lohengrin’ what he did not dare to say in ‘Opera and Drama’ [PH: i.e., that music gives birth to drama]. … Elsa’s dream becomes an instance of the ‘aural’ vision that lies at the heart of music drama.”
[PH] I will not deal with the subject here because I treat it in much greater detail at appropriate places in this review later, but it is noteworthy that one of Hoeckner’s original insights, which finds no direct parallel in my 8/93 paper, is that Wagner may have represented in Elsa’s dream, which in a sense musically and dramatically brings Lohengrin (and, according to Hoeckner, also “Lohengrin”) into the world, a metaphor for Elsa’s status as the womb of music in which music-drama, the perfect drama, is born. I did state, however, that both Elsa’s and the Folk’s longing for the redemption Lohengrin could offer, expressed in Elsa’s dream and prayer, seemed to have brought him into being.
6. BH: LOHENGRIN FAILS: LOHENGRIN’S INSISTENCE THAT ELSA HAVE UNQUESTIONING FAITH IN HIM STEMS FROM WAGNER’S NOTION THAT RELIGIOUS FAITH IS WHAT HE CALLS DOGMATIC WONDER, WHICH NEUTRALISES REASON IN FAVOR OF UNQUESTIONING FAITH, WHILE ELSA’S INSISTENCE ON ASKING THE FORBIDDEN QUESTION IS IDENTIFIED WITH WAGNER’S NOTION OF POETIC WONDER, I.E., SECULAR ART, WHICH CREATES A SPELL WITHOUT INSISTING ON BELIEF
[#] [BH] [P. 211] “The second part of this chapter will be an attempt to answer the question: why must Lohengrin fail? It will show how the poetic wonder of his triumphant appearance turns into what Wagner called a ‘dogmatic’ wonder, which despotically subjugates the search for its understanding: how Lohengrin, trying to shield his absoluteness with the command of absolute belief, forbids Elsa to ask about his divine origin.”
[PH] In his 8/94 dissertation, Hoeckner listed Feuerbach’s “The Essence of Christianity” as a reference, and noted that Wagner’s distinction between dogmatic wonder (i.e., religious faith) and poetic wonder was based on Feuerbach’s distinction between faith and love, for faith separates and love unites. Though Hoeckner doesn’t place a great deal of emphasis on this, it’s implicit that he is saying Wagner identifies secular art with love, as opposed to religious faith. As I had not read Feuerbach systematically by 8/93 I was not aware of his distinction, and though I was aware of Wagner’s distinction I didn’t directly reference it in my 8/93 paper. However, in my 8/93 paper I made several crucial distinctions between religious faith and art, among which is the notion suggested above by Hoeckner. But I noted in considerable detail that Lohengrin’s insistence on sticking by the rule of traditional religious faith, that it is not to be questioned, is the reason why Lohengrin can’t accept the redemption offered by Elsa, which is that when religious faith no longer suffices it is possible for secular art, particularly Wagner’s revolutionary music-dramas, to redeem religious feeling from doubt, where religion’s demand for unquestioning faith subjects it to doubt. I only later discovered that this is a crucial distinction made by Feuerbach in his “The Essence of Religion.” Below you will find some passages from my 8/93 paper which examine this problem:
[PH: WAGNER IDENTIFIED THE CHRISTIAN NOTION THAT MAN CAN BE REDEEMED AND ENTER A SUPERNATURAL PARADISE AS HYPOCRISY AND ILLUSION]
[PH] [P. 8] “Wagner often insisted that Lohengrin was a pre-Christian figure co-opted by Christianity, and on this subject of redemption from our only world in ‘other worlds’, he said:
‘The really perplexing problem … is always how, in this terrible world of ours, beyond which there is only nothingness, it might be possible to infer the existence of a God who would make life’s immense sufferings merely something apparent, [P. 9] while the redemption we long for is seen as something entirely real that may be consciously enjoyed. This may not be a problem for philistines – especially for the English variety: the reason they get on so splendidly with their God is because they enter into a contract with Him, according to whose terms they have to fulfill a certain number of contractual points, so that, finally, as a reward for various shortcomings in this world, they may enjoy eternal bliss in the world to come. But what do we have in common with such vulgar ideas?’ [6/7/55 Letter to Franz Liszt; ‘Selected Letters of Richard Wagner’; P. 344)”
[PH] One can see in the extract from Wagner’s correspondence I chose above that my 8/93 paper emphasized Wagner’s critique of religious faith in ‘other worlds’ and in redemption, i.e., that Wagner in effect was critiquing Lohengrin as a representative of this religious worldview. In the passage from Wagner’s ‘Art and Revolution’ which I assessed below, I noted that as a representative of this religious longing for world-renunciation, i.e., for a supernatural alternative to the real world, Lohengrin was in fact figuratively guilty of denying his mother, Nature, and that Wagner instead favored Feuerbachian world-affirmation. When I wrote my 8/93 paper I had not yet read any books by Feuerbach but was familiar with him solely through a few brief quotations and paraphrases found in books about Wagner.
[PH: LOHENGRIN’S GREATEST SIN IS THAT BY POSITING A TRANSCENDENT REALM OF REDEMPTION HE HAS DENIED HIS MOTHER, NATURE. FEUERBACH IDENTIFIED THIS AS THE SIGNATURE SIN OF RELIGIOUS FAITH.
[PH] [P. 24] “Lohengrin’s first and greatest sin was to deny mother nature’s truths by affirming an unnatural, chaste world presumed to be free from its true roots in mother nature.
Indeed, in the years following his completion of LOHENGRIN, Wagner often denounced valuation of [PH: i.e., attributing value to] religious world-renunciation. Wagner instead affirmed the Feuerbachian notion that God was made in man’s image:
'Let us glance, then, for a moment at this future state of Man, when he shall have freed himself from his last heresy, the denial of Nature, - that heresy which has taught him hitherto to look upon himself as a mere instrument to an end which lay outside himself.' (6-8/49 ‘Art and Revolution’; Richard Wagner’s Prose Works; Vol. I, p. 57)”
7. BH: FEUERBACH SAID THAT WHERE FAITH SEPARATES, LOVE UNITES. SO IT IS ELSA, NOT LOHENGRIN, WHO GIVES BIRTH TO THE MUSIC-DRAMA
[#] [BH] [P. 211] “Finally, the third part will demonstrate how Elsa’s human love is incompatible with this command [PH: i.e., Lohengrin's prohibition against asking him his name or origin] because, for Wagner, love unites and belief separates; and why, finally, Elsa must cry out to ask Lohengrin the fatal question ‘Whence do you come?’ and demand his name as the sign of spiritual and physical recognition that is the essence of love. In the ‘Beethoven’ Festschrift, Wagner compared such a scream to the origin of the art work of the future. While Lohengrin must leave, Elsa will emerge as the allegorical agent in the creation of music drama.”
[PH] Unlike Hoeckner, I had not included in my 8/93 paper Wagner’s concept (with some Schopenhauerian roots) in his essay ‘Beethoven,’ that the scream with which one wakes oneself up, and effectively redeems oneself, from an agonizing nightmare, is one of Wagner’s metaphors for the creative impulse which gives birth to the music-drama, and that Elsa’s two screams (the first when she sees Lohengrin materialize in answer to her cry to God for sympathy, and her dream, and her prayer, and the second when she desperately asks Lohengrin the forbidden question) are likewise examples of such an artistically creative primal scream. Though I used this concept in my analysis of Wagner’s “Ring,” particularly in explanation of Wotan’s and the gods’ waking to find Valhalla has been built to completion by the Giants, while identifying Wotan’s unremembered creative dream with Alberich’s activity in Nibelheim after forging his Ring of power, its employment here in the context of “Lohengrin” by Hoeckner is original to him, and I think it has merit.
[PH] However, in my 8/93 paper I went to considerable lengths to link Elsa’s insistence on asking Lohengrin the forbidden question, and her critique of Lohengrin’s insistence on forbidding her to ask this question, with Wagner’s Feuerbachian critique of religious belief, as per my remarks below:
[PH: ELSA’S DOUBT: LOHENGRIN’S DEPENDENCE ON FEAR OF INQUIRY, HIS PROHIBITION ON THE ACQUISITION OF KNOWLEDGE, IS NOT LOVE, AND IT IS THIS WHICH INSPIRES ELSA’S DOUBT
[PH] [P. 15] “But she’s filled with doubt. Why, she must wonder, should her love for Lohengrin depend upon the fearful maintenance of a breakable taboo? Could Ortrud’s warning that Lohengrin might leave her be true? Also, if Elsa did, figuratively speaking, kill Godfrey by giving him God’s forbidden knowledge, [P. 16] mustn’t she know Lohengrin perjures himself for her sake, and that his magic depends upon deceit, as Ortrud said? Since falsehood must ultimately fail when confronted with truth, maybe Ortrud was right to suggest the salvation Lohengrin offers is only temporary. If Lohengrin depends on deceit, we can understand Frederick’s complaint that while he is free to proclaim his true identity, Lohengrin is not (LOH Act 2 Sc 5) Lohengrin’s vulnerability, his dependence on a breakable taboo sanctioned by fear, seems to imply he’s not divine.”
[PH: SO HOLY IS THE GRAIL THAT ITS KNIGHT MUST DEPART ONCE HIS IDENTITY HAS BEEN EXPOSED, LEST THIS CAUSE DOUBT]
[PH] [P. 19] “LOHENGRIN Act 3 Scene 3
'LOHENGRIN: … a vessel of wondrous power is guarded as the holiest of treasures: so it might be tended by the purest (chastest) of men, a host of angels brought it to this earth …. He who is chosen to serve the Grail is armed with supernatural power … . When he is sent by it to distant lands, named as champion for defence of virtue, his sacred power is not taken from him, if as its knight he there remains unknown: but so holy is the Grail’s blessing, that once revealed, he [P. 20] must flee the layman’s eye; when he is known to you he must depart lest you harbor doubts about the knight.'
What! Is the Grail holier than God or heaven? Surely we can’t still contend it’s identical with God and heaven. If it’s neither holier nor identical, musn’t it be more profane?
Lohengrin, compelled by Elsa’s seeming treachery, now reveals what she wanted to conceal in silence, his true identity as Parsifal’s son. (…)”
General Discussion about Wagner and The Ring of the Nibelung
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