Dear Discussion forum visitors and members:
Wintersturmer (Robert Pelletier) wrote me the following (scroll down below my response, which follows immediately, to his initial email to me, which can be found below it) email with some very interesting questions about the Sword Motif's (#57) final appearance in the "Ring," and other Wagnerian matters of interest:
Well, you're our newest member of the wagnerheim.com discussion forum.
By the way, I think your following points and questions would make a good posting to the forum, so I'll save you some trouble by copying and pasting it there. Of course, from now on, you're able to do this yourself.
On the final appearance of the Sword Motif when Siegfried's dead hand rises to warn Hagen away from the Ring, this gave me alot of trouble in my life-long attempt to grasp the "Ring" as a whole. Initially it seemed to run against the grain of other parts of my interpretation, and, as always, I couldn't be content with any of it until all of it could be grasped within one frame of reference (I realize of course that it's not absolutely necessary that the whole "Ring" make sense within a single frame of reference; however, I feel I've found enough evidence over a lifetime to present a coherent reading which can account for virtually all of it, though I would be the first to admit that this coherent frame of reference does not exhaust the meaning of the "Ring"). But I've always found it helpful to look at the entire scope of meaning of a symbol and/or its motif.
Note Cooke's observation, quite true, that the second, five-note segment of the 7-note Sword Motif is Motif #1, the primal nature motif, if you will. This represents, among other things, the primal innocence before the Fall which occurred with the birth of human consciousness (represented I believe by Alberich's forging of his Ring), and also, as you suggest below (taking its transformation into the Sword Motif which has some phallic significance), this in turn stands for the creative fertility of nature, or evolution, if you will. Since the Fall is brought about by the birth (in the course of the natural evolution of animal species) of human consciousness, it's implicit that if there is no metaphysical or spiritual conclusion to the "Ring," no redemption in a religious sense, perhaps the only way to restore lost innocence would be to end human consciousness. In any case, Wotan's Grand Idea, if you were to sum it up, is that his race of heroes will restore the innocence he has lost. Of course, that in effect is the motive of all the higher religions, in one way or another. To this extent Wotan's will is fulfilled in the end, but not in the way Wotan had imagined. He had imagined that Siegfried's and Bruennhilde's love (they being his heirs, representing as they do the union of drama and music, conscious mind and unconscious inspiration, in that secular art known as music-drama, which according to Wagner falls heir to religious man's quest for redemption when religious faith is dying), i.e., secular art, would redeem the gods from destruction, but in the end the only redemption seems to have consisted in grasping that no redemption is possible, and that we must accept nature, and human nature, as they are. On the other hand it's possible that the finale of the "Ring" represents a catastrophic end to all things, and this reading of redemption also is echoed in aspects of Wagner's world-view.
I tried to write to Joseph Campbell years ago, after having read his four-part tome on Myth, which concludes with fascinating discussions of recreations of myth in modern literature and philosophy in Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Wagner, Mann, Proust, Joyce, etc., if memory serves. However, his agent wrote back to say he was dying, and of course he was gone not long thereafter, so I never had a chance to communicate with him. I can't imagine a greater joy than to have spent unlimited time shooting the breeze with him about mythology, Wagner, etc.
In 1981 I tried to meet with Claude Levi-Strauss at the College de France, only to learn from his secretary that he was on sabbatical in Australia. You probably noted in the intro to my book posted here at wagnerheim.com my tribute to him.
That business about the hero having to symbolically kill the father certainly has resonance in the Wagnerian context, as you say. You mention Siegfried breaking Wotan's spear with
Siegfried's sword Nothung (the word Nothung, the Needful, by the way, referencing Feuerbach's notion of natural necessity, taking us back again to the primal nature motif #1 conceptually). It's interesting to consider that it is as if Wotan's Spear is in a sense a figurative tree of knowledge, the Fall as represented by the social contract, which Siegfried's sword, representing Wotan's desperation to restore the innocence that he has lost, breaks.
Klingsor's self-castration is damned interesting, isn't it! And it is linked with the wound that will never heal, quite directly. We learn in "Parsifal" that Klingsor was desperate to be worthy to be included among the knights of the Grail, dedicated as they were to renunciation of all things earthly, in favor of spirituality, the supernatural, the miraculous. But he couldn't still, through self-discipline, the natural desire within him, so he castrated himself. This sounds a bit like 20th century music castrating tonality in order to declare its freedom, in a way (no wonder Klingsor introduces some music which really begins to approach atonality). But Klingsor is an exemplar of the wound that will never heal, which in my reading is the fact that man by his very nature can't find contentment in the world as it is, so, where he can't improve his life through science and technology (as in his desire for immortality), he imagines an anti-natural world in which the miraculous will trump natural law and also the natural bodily instincts and impulses like fear of death, and selfish sexual desire. Klingsor is the ultimate expression of the futility of man's quest to deny his natural origin and character. Unable to accomplish this, and becoming wholly conscious of this fatal fact, Klingsor declares war on transcendent meaning itself. Roger Scruton describes this as a sort of war against the sacred, a war against the sublime. But it is waged by those who are desperate for the sacred and the sublime. In man's futile quest to assert his spirituality, his divine origin, he had to jettison everything that reminds him of his true nature and natural origin, until finally nothing was left but meaninglessness. This itself becomes a value, because the artist can, as Dostoevsky put it, assert his freedom from scientific reduction this way, at all costs. The artist can make chance and meaninglessness his very object, if only to assert his freedom from logic and natural law. Dostoevsky has a number of characters who closely resemble Klingsor in this respect. What has been missed I think by all or most commentators is that in Klingsor's magic garden Wagner represented his own newly evolved understanding of his own art, as in some sense a futile exercise in carrying on the religious quest for transcendent meaning in the face of its impossibility. Waking up to this terrible truth, Parsifal grows wise and rejects any further relations with the reincarnating muse of unconscious artistic inspiration, Kundry. Since all has now become conscious, and the Grail's mystery revealed (i.e., what we had called divine was just Mother Nature after all), there's no longer any room for mystery, for the unconscious, so Kundry ceases to be.
I love that remark that Wagner is not for those who are in a hurry. This is one of the big reasons why we need Wagner now more than ever.
By the way, you mention paradoxes and mysteries in the "Ring" and Wagner's other operas whose meaning escapes you. Let fly in this discussion forum, the perfect place to present them for an international debate!
By the way, you are quite right to link Kundry with the Valkyries. In fact, when Kundry first appears in Act I we hear what sounds quite like Valkyrie music. Note that Gutrune heard Bruennhilde laugh in the night. Well, Kundry is the reincarnation of Bruennhilde and of all of Wagner's other heroines (muses of artistic inspiration), and note that Kundry is cursed to laugh and can't cry.
I haven't had a chance to acquire and read Winterbourne's book yet. All efforts on my part to figure out how to contact him have failed, but I would like to read his book. You mention Kundry as Herodias and John the Baptist; it is noteworthy that Wagner himself compared Kundry with Eve (think here of Eva in "Mastersingers"), and of course Hans Sachs is metaphorically John the Baptist.
Re your remarks below concerning the nomadic keepers of flocks, the patriarchal Hebrews, conquering the agricultural Canaanites and demonizing their earth-goddesses, I've often felt that thrusting responsibility on Eve for corrupting Adam had something to do with this. In a number of cultures it seems womankind has historically been identified with nature as representative of death and sexual temptation, and the male with civilization and law. Well, these ideas do to some extent seem to enter into the "Ring" mythology.
Anyway, this is about as clear as my head will ever be. This is worth posting in the discussion forum, so here goes
Your friend from Wagnerheim,
Paul alias Alberich00
On Apr 30, 2013, at 6:30 AM, Wintersturmer wrote:
Another interesting moment in the Ring: as Hagan prepares to grab the ring and the dead Siegfried raises his arm, it is the Sword motif (Wotan's Grand Idea) that rings out, not the Siegfried or the Walsung motif. The final fulfillment of Wotan's Will?
Other observations: I've found that reading Joseph Campbell's "The Power of Myth" (a text version of a PBS series of conversations with Bill Moyers) to understand the psychological significance of certain actions and myths that seem perplexing and just plain fairy tales to our eyes. A common thread in many cultures is that of the hero, and how, to fulfill his destiny and assert his true identity, he must break with the past and symbolically "kill the father." This mythological basis is why the original Star Wars movie (to which Campbell was a consultant) had, despite the Spielbergian fluff, some resonance (i.e., Skywalker kills his father Vader, as Siegfried kills his grandfather Wotan). Or at least, he symbolically emasculates him by shattering the spear (an ancient phallic symbol of power and male prerogative) with the more modern phallic symbol of the sword, such that he can no longer procreate his comforting religious illusions. Campbell is also very good at explaining the Grail legend and the original confrontation of a young immature knight who charges a Moor (symbolic of the Nature man) who possesses the Grail with the cry "Amor!" (or in some versions, "Amor Fortis!", hence the origin of Wagner's name for Amfortas). The Moor is killed, but the young knight is emasculated (is this, like Klingsor's self emasculation, the true nature of the wound that cannot heal?).
The book "Wagner Without Fear" makes an astute observation: "Wagner is not for those who are in a hurry." With my limited cultural education, I find many utterances in the Ring and the other music dramas puzzling, or their meaning escapes me completely. The requires much additional research, but the results are quite rewarding. An example is in Act II of Parsifal, where Klingsor awakens the dormant Kundry with by calling out the names of some of her past incarnations: Herodias and Gundryggia. Herodias is the original Salome who also doomed a redeemer (John the Baptist), while Gundryggia is a Valkyrie (Kundry is described as "riding wildly" in Act I) who embraces men only in death. A google search of "A Pagan Spoiled:Sex and Character in Wagner's Parsifal" by Anthony Winterbourne yields some interesting insights.
The origin of certain myths as justification for cultural annihilation and warfare also show up in the Ring. One of the first actions of a conquering people is to have their gods destroy those of the vanquished. For example, nomadic herders tend to have male warrior gods, while agrarian cultures tend to have earth goddesses. When the nomadic Hebrew tribes annihilated the agrarian Canaanites, the first thing to be tore asunder by the Bronze Age warrior skygod was their earthbound fertility goddess, who was referred to as "the Abomination" (could this be one origin of his anti-Semitism?). One can see remnants of this mythology in domination of Erda by Wotan the Warfather, although Wagner uses the characters as vehicles for his particular message.
Pardon this rather disjointed rant. I have a few comments on sexual imagery in the Christian Church and the Met's Parsifal, but I'll spare you those until I have a clearer head.
General Discussion about Wagner and The Ring of the Nibelung
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