Here is Paul Heise's review of "Wagner Unmanned," Sanna Pederson's (Univ. of Oklahoma) talk presented at the Wagner Worldwide 2013 bicentennial symposium sponsored by the Univ. of South Carolina during the winter of 2013:
Pederson opened her lecture with the remark that there is a relationship between the sex-act and artistic creation. [PH: Of course, my own interpretation makes the case that Wagner's metaphor for unconscious artistic inspiration is the sexual union of hero with heroine]. Pederson references Jean-Jacques Nattiez's 1993 book "Wagner Androgyne" in which Wagner's essay "Opera and Drama" is described as an extended sexual metaphor. She also cited Thomas Grey's 1995 dialogue with Nattiez. Other authors who have dealt with this theme include Eva Rieger, [?] Dreyfus, and Barry Emslie.
Pederson asks why Wagner's Zurich writings, starting in 1849, are preoccupied with gender. She suggests that the failure of the 1848-1849 revolution in Dresden emasculated the men involved in it, who could at least compensate by dominating women. She says that the revolutionaries' lack of political power had an impact on the relations of husbands with their wives. There was a mid-19th Century reaction against women's emancipation and encroachment on male territory. Men wished to be emancipated from women. Music had become too feminized. There was a longing for an anti-feminine, more manly art.
Wagner, she suggests, did not have a high opinion of the state of music in 1849. He had a higher opinion of politics. Then Wagner became an exile, and had to build his own identity. He made special demands on his friends and on women.
Pederson cited Robert Solomon's "The Fall of the Public Man," noting that he suggested that we should expect romantic love to come to the fore when man's self-identity is in question. A sense of self-identity for Wagner was problematic. Wagner was a narcissist. A narcissist, she notes, can't find satisfaction. He has voracious needs whose fulfillment is blocked. Wagner thus had an unquenchable desire for self-identity through love. He suffered from a voracious absorption in selfish needs and frustration in their fulfillment. His essay "A Communication to My Friends" brings this out. Wagner demands love and understanding. He writes this essay only to those who love him. This is expressed in his correspondence with Liszt.
Pederson stated that Wagner's relationships with women were doomed by his narcissism. Wagner was addicted to love. She described 'limerance' as a form of extreme emotional dependency. Wagner often expressed his narcissim with Minna: he cried for her like a child for its mother. Pederson described this love addiction as a mental illness. Wagner wanted Minna in Zurich desperately, but she was thinking of divorce. He had left her in Dresden to deal with his creditors, and his music. It was humiliating for Minna that Wagner was financially dependent on others, and had given up his professional career in Dresden [PH: thanks to his involvement in the revolution].
Wagner's essay "Art and Revolution" was an expression of his fear that he wasn't getting support, but "Art and Revolution" alienated even his supporters.
His essay "Artwork of the Future" was influenced by Feuerbach (love, and sex). After the failure of the revolution, what to do? The sexual act became a metaphor for art-creation.
In Wagner's essay "Opera and Drama," music and women, alone, can't create. Music can only receive, and only the poet can make music procreative. The [male] poet begets the child, and music bears it. In "A Communication to My Friends" this union of the sexes occurs only in the artist.
Pederson said that it is risky for a man to be an artist. It is impossible for a composer to be a man. Wagner must have asked himself if he was a woman. [PH: Recall here that Wagner told Mathilde Wesendonck, referencing his own unconscious artistic inspiration, that Wagner was involved in "a marriage of myself to myself."] Wagner was unmanned.
Wagner's theories of art were based, said Pederson, on Wagner's inability to live up to the ideal of manhood. [PH: It is noteworthy that during this same period, in which he wrote his essays in which love between the sexes is a metaphor for unconscious artistic inspiration, Wagner also frequently repeated the trope that it was only because he couldn't fulfill his desire for love that he was forced to become an artist to compensate; think here of Alberich's inability to find love among the three Rhinedaughters, and Alberich's virtual creation of the conditions which gave birth to the entire "Ring" drama].
However, Pederson noted, Wagner eventually became a father, and this may have alleviated his identity issue.
Q&A: Somebody asked whether Wagner might have taken his idol, Schroeder-Devrient, as a mother-figure. I believe that Pederson responded that Schroeder-Devrient was a motherly type.
PH: I don't put much stock in the thesis that the alleged de-masculinization of the failed revolutionaries had anything to do with Wagner's employment of sexual union as a metaphor for unconscious artistic inspiration. However, Pederson is right to give this metaphor prominence, as it is central to grasping the allegorical logic at work in Wagner's operas and music-dramas from at least "The Flying Dutchman" onward, right up to and including "Parsifal." Both Nattiez and I have built our entire assessment of Wagner upon this concept. I also don't put much stock in Pederson's psychological portrait of Wagner as artistically inspired by some sort of identity crisis relating to questions about his masculinity. The male/female dichotomy provided Wagner with a wonderful metaphor for both the distinction between the conscious and unconscious mind of the artist, and the relationship between these two halves of the artist's mind. However, I don't think this required any sort of pathology other than that inherent to Wagner's status as an unconsciously inspired artist.
General Discussion about Wagner and The Ring of the Nibelung
1 post • Page 1 of 1