Paul Heise's review of "Wagner's 'Parsifal' as Art and Ideology, 1882-1933," a talk presented by William Kinderman (Univ. of Illinois) at the Wagner Worldwide 2013 bicentennial symposium sponsored by the Univ. of South Carolina in the winter of 2013:
Kinderman notes that Hitler came to power in 1933, and asks to what extent "Parsifal" encourages use by the Nazis. The replacement of a ruler is depicted, analogous to Hitler's taking power from the Weimar Republic. Hitler himself was regarded as a Parsifal-like savior. Among the Bayreuth circle of Houston Stewart Chamberlain Hitler was thought of as a figure of light in a time of trouble. Hitler was regarded as a redeemer.
Though Wagner wrote the death of Kundry into the libretto, many modern productions depart from this. The Grail realm excludes women, yet the Grail itself seems to be a feminine symbol, whereas the spear seems phallic. Are they reunited at the end?
Kundry's death seems unreconciled. All she says in Act III is "To serve, to serve." Kundry becomes Mary Magdalen. Kundry's schadenfreude in her earlier life [PH: she mocked and laughed at Christ as he pulled his cross to Calvary, and suffers from the curse that she can never cry, but only laugh and scream] is countered by her act of cleaning Parsifal's feet. Her cycle of reincarnations are alternations between her service to Klingsor, and her service to the knights of the Grail in the Grail realm.
The Gnostic Gospels may have had an influence on Wagner's characterization of Kundry, who contains all kinds of paradoxes and contradictions in one figure. Kundry resists unambiguous assimilation. This casts doubt on the conclusion of "Parsifal." Waltraud Meier, who has performed Kundry, notes that Kundry wishes to end the endless cycle of her rebirths. Kundry as a wanderer represents the Wandering Jew [PH: who could never be redeemed, presumably, until the judgment day].
The knights of the Grail are rejuvenated during the communion service. There is an uncomfortable parallel here with fascist organizations.
Kundry expires to a minor chord: the terror of holiness emanates there. Wagner stated that one of his greatest inspirations was the sound of annihilation in the tympany during Parsifal's baptism of Kundry. The notion of the terror of holiness evokes the numinous. Does Kundry enter Nirvana?
Kundry embodies both the Grail and the anti-Grail. She seems to transcend her opposites. But is she excluded from the final redemption?
The Nazis struggled with the compassion in "Parsifal," its spear used for healing rather than war.
Various producers have intervened to let Kundry live [PH: always the act of an imbecile; once you break the musico-dramatic thread by subverting the allegorical logic in Wagner's artworks, you destroy the whole] .
The Bayreuth circle, inspired by Wagner, diminished Germany's and Wagner's international standing.
Question: An artwork can't be detached from its reception history. Did Wagner see himself as Parsifal, as a redeemer?
Answer: Not much. Wagner called Ludwig II Parsifal. Can we interpret Wagner's characters in terms of the actual world, of history? Many myths and legends went into the makeup of Kundry. Wagner invests too much complexity into his characters for easy comparisons.
Mark Berry: Compare "The Magic Flute" with "Parsifal." There too, one leader is replaced by another. Also, is "Parsifal" Wagner's resolution of "Tannhaeuser," so that Kundry is a synthesis of Elizabeth and Venus? PH failed to record Kinderman's answer.
PH: Readers can peruse my lengthy essay on the influence of Feuerbach's philosophy on "Parsifal" at www.wagnersocietyflorida.org, by clicking on "Resources," and then on "Texts on Wagner." Yes, it would be correct to say that in a sense Kundry is a synthesis of Elizabeth and Venus. What's at stake in "Parsifal" is Wagner's following through the consequences of Feuerbach's assessment that what religious humans have long described as the realm of spiritual transcendence is nothing more than man's earthly longings and fears disguised as supernatural. For that reason Kundry embodies in herself both man's/woman's physical impulses, and man's longing to transcend these impulses in the realm of the spirit. Amfortas's wound is unhealing because the Grail [i.e., man's longing for transcendent value, his longing to escape the real world into an imagined world of the spirit which nonetheless is thought to be more real than the physical world] inspires man to seek something impossible, i.e., to seek to transcend his own identity and nature, even though man's very longing for transcendence is itself a product of man's physical nature magnified to infinity, to the unassuageable, by man's imagination. Parsifal brings this misery to and end by solving the religious mysteries (which according to Feuerbach man invented in the first place), and restoring the real world, mother nature, to her rights, which is the meaning of the Good Friday Spell.
PH: My final contribution to the epic Wagner debates will be my completion, someday, of my definitive account of "Parsifal."
General Discussion about Wagner and The Ring of the Nibelung
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