Michael Tanner: Wagner and Nietzsche

General Discussion about Wagner and The Ring of the Nibelung

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Michael Tanner: Wagner and Nietzsche

Post by alberich00 » Thu Sep 12, 2013 1:35 pm

Paul Heise's review of "Wagner and Nietzsche," a talk by Michael Tanner (Cambridge Univ.) recorded by BBC Radio 3 Essays as part of their
Wagner 200 celebration, back, I think, in May of 2013:

Tanner noted Nietzsche's description of his prior, now defunct relationship with Wagner, as their "Star Friendship," in Nietzsche's book "Gay Science." [PH: This was Nietzsche's way of saying that their friendship would forever have a sort of metaphysical significance in spite of the actual psychological distance between them in this life]. He stated that Nietzsche first met Wagner in 1868, when Wagner was 55 years old and Nietzsche 24. Nietzsche had studied both "Tristan" and "Mastersingers."

A main subject of their discourse was how philosophy had allegedly killed the art of Tragedy. Wagner wished to revive Greek tragedy in his total work of art, his music-dramas. The background assumption was that the human condition is tragic, and politics futile.

It is not certain that anything is "saved" at the end of the "Ring." [PH: Readers of my online book on the "Ring," the primary content of this website, will see that I hold little brief for the idea that anything has actually been redeemed at the end of the "Ring." All that is left is one's ability to reconcile with the bitter truth, and the "what if" of art, that product of the figurative union of Siegfried the music-dramatist and his unconscious mind and muse, Bruennhilde, which lives on with each new performance of the "Ring."]

Sexual love is longing, not fulfillment. Wagner discovered Schopenhauer, whose ideas, according to RW, paralleled his own intuitions in the "Ring." Schopenhauer's "The World as Will and Representation" had a major influence on RW. In Wagner's Schopenhauerian worldview redemption is grander than happiness.

In 1872 Nietzsche wrote "The Birth of Tragedy from the Spirit of Music," but Nietzsche later attacked this early book [PH: As Nietzsche gradually weaned himself from Wagner's Schopenhauerian influence he came to be sickened by what he regarded as Wagner's romantic delusions]. Nietzsche developed an independent streak which came out in his "Richard Wagner in Bayreuth." Nietzsche particularly hated Wagner's sycophants. [PH: Though it's hard for me now to second-guess somebody who was actually there on the ground with Wagner for several years, I've often felt that Nietzsche seems to have failed to realize just how much Wagner often hated his own sycophants also, though obviously Wagner may have treated them in Wagner's presence with a regard which Nietzsche found distasteful and hypocritical].

Nietzsche was in ill-health at the first Bayreuth Festival in 1876 and found it unendurable. Wagner had wanted to provide at least some of the audience with free tickets, but he had to compromise to stage the "Ring" at all. Nietzsche had outlived his usefulness to the Wagners. Their last visit together was in Sorrento, Italy [PH: I believe in 1878].

Nietzsche was appalled by "Parsifal," and in his "Human, All Too Human," railed against romantic artists. [PH: Nietzsche's evidently naive assumption that Wagner had turned to religion in "Parsifal," when it's clear through close analysis that "Parsifal" is a virtually Feuerbachian critique of both religion and its heir, inspired secular art (i.e., Wagner's own art), has always amused me. I sometimes wonder to what extent he really bought into this critique. Or did he have other reasons for launching it? (And I give him the benefit of the doubt that he didn't launch his critique for purely personal reasons like Wagner intruding into Nietzsche's private business re his alleged propensity for masturbation, with advice to Nietzsche's doctor that he needed a wife!). Wagner was worried about Nietzsche after their last visit, but there was no further contact [PH: Though I presume Nietzsche would have heard the Wagners' business through mutual acquaintances and Nietzsche's sister].

After Wagner's death, Nietzsche attacked him openly. Yet "Tristan" continued to haunt Nietzsche up through the onset of his madness. Nietzsche projected onto Wagner his own obsessions. Nietzsche's view of life was that his philosophy would replace all modern thought. Wagner hoped his art would transform his audience, but Nietzsche regarded this as an expression of the quackery of modern life which he hoped to replace.

Nietzsche's "Thus Spake Zarathustra" [PH: i.e. his one effort to make of his philosophy a work of art which could be compared with Wagner's] was a failure.

There was superabundant creativity in Wagner alone, whom Nietzsche made his artistic foe. Nietzsche holds now a lonely place as a culture critic.

[PH: A truly great, magnificent book could be drawn from an in-depth analysis of what is conceptually, philosophically at stake in Nietzsche's critique of Wagner, but also in getting at the truth of their relationship. It has always struck me as astonishing that Nietzsche, who must have known better, offered what now read as stunningly simplistic critiques of Wagner's art and librettos, which literally fail to acknowledge, time and again, the astonishing sophistication of Wagner's librettos as allegorical/poetic representations of Feuerbach's philosophy, and which in a highly creative way drew the consequences which follow from Feuerbach's philosophy which Feuerbach himself failed to draw. This places Wagner in a direct line of philosophical influence from Kant and Hegel and Feuerbach and Schopenhauer, through Wagner himself, to Nietzsche, and the modern philosophers. To this very day I do not believe that many scholars and students of this subject realize to what extent Nietzsche's critique of Wagner is based on what seems often to be deliberate misunderstanding of what is at stake, in order to make a pungent joke or a piquant piece of wit. Nietzsche's critique is so entertaining and witty that many do not realize how little substance there is in much of it.]
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