Feuerbach's influence on "Parsifal" Part 5

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Feuerbach's influence on "Parsifal" Part 5

Post by alberich00 » Wed Jun 17, 2015 2:39 pm

Feuerbach's influence on "Parsifal" Part 5:

[Page 41]

favor of the purity of a supernatural realm of spirit, was produced the realm of secular art, particularly Wagner’s art, which smuggles back into the Eden of our imagination the physical world which spiritual man has allegedly renounced. Klingsor’s evil consists of his intent to compel the Grail Knights to acknowledge this need to smuggle into the spiritual paradise of our imagination the very earthly impulses which religious faith proclaims we must renounce to enter there. It was precisely through this smuggling that religious man’s longing for transcendence could live on in Wagner’s music-dramas, within the context of an increasingly secular, scientific, and cynical world ever more hostile to traditional religious faith.

Klingsor’s self-castration, described by Wagner above, is Wagner’s metaphor for the extremes to which man’s unhealing wound, his futile quest to renounce the bodily, earthly life in favor of a spiritual life, compels him. Klingsor, as an artist-hero of the religious phase of human history, was so desperate to attain the spiritual purity which the Grail seems to require that he actually castrated himself, removing his sexual organ as if, by doing so, he could wholly divorce himself from his physical origin and identity as a child of Nature. Also, the fact that Klingsor cannot have sexual union with the muse Kundry, the artist-hero’s unconscious mind, suggests that he has grown too conscious to enjoy the benefits of unconscious artistic inspiration, i.e., the benefits of a consoling illusion. But Klingsor, seeking futilely to purge himself of his physical nature, makes a terrible discovery: it turns out that the Grail Knights do not truly seek spiritual purity. What they seek instead is an allegedly spiritual paradise in which they can find again what they had to renounce, the satisfaction of bodily impulse and instinctive feeling, freed in the imagination from all which constrains and limits it, like mortality and pain. Klingsor, seeking revenge, if you will, against the illusion of faith which betrayed him, now seeks to force all others, still deceived by this illusion, to acknowledge the terrible truth. So, as Feuerbach suggests below, man’s futile quest to attain spiritual being, though stemming actually from his corporeal desires to attain infinite bliss and escape pain, deluded by the imagination, forces man into contradiction with his own true nature, denial of his own true identity, and self-mutilation:

(7C) [FEUERBACH] “Laws that a God gives to man, that is, laws that have as their foundation and goal an abstracted being who lives only in the imagination, are ... unfit for man, they result in the greatest hypocrisy, for I cannot be a man without denying my God ... . The necessary consequence of a spiritual, that is, abstract God, whom man makes into the law of his life, is self-mutilation and mortification. (...) Man must therefore replace the religious ideal with another ideal. Let our ideal not be a castrated, disembodied, abstract being but the whole, real, many-sided, fully developed man.” [#297F-LER: p. 257-258]

Wagner’s conversation with Cosima - described by her below - regarding the excesses engendered by religious man’s futile quest to purge his natural self, yet to live on in paradise in perpetuity, succinctly captures Feuerbach’s formulation:

(7D) [WAGNER] “... we decide that the excesses to which the [Page 42] insistence on chastity led constituted a terrible feature; they were due to the impossibility of realizing something felt to lie deep within the human character, the desire to set oneself outside nature and yet to go on living.” [#948W-{11/3/78}CD Vol. II, p. 188]

From this standpoint one can see how Amfortas’s feeling of guilt at being unable to resist his physical impulses, yet striving under the Grail’s inspiration to seek an unattainable spiritual purity, is echoed in Klingsor’s desperate attempt to purge his own nature of all animality, of everything which has a physical origin (which is everything, Feuerbach says, including our mind and so-called spirit, those very aspects of our humanity which religious man supposed were divine in origin and therefore autonomous from animal impulse and free from natural law). One can even account for Titurel’s peculiar fate along similar lines. Titurel also cannot die, i.e., cannot accept the fact of his mortality, so long as the Grail, i.e., the illusion that there is a transcendent and divine realm of redemption from the physical world, inspires him. Therefore it is actually a great benefit when Amfortas, refusing any longer to conduct the holy service by unveiling the Grail, finally allows Titurel to die.

What then, we may ask, is behind Klingsor’s employment of the Flower-maidens to seduce the Grail Knights into breaking their oath of celibacy and chastity? Because Klingsor’s artificial bid to acquire purity worthy of the Grail through self-castration was rejected by Amfortas’s father Titurel (according to Gurnemanz), Klingsor obtained a deep insight into the vulnerability at the root of the Grail knights' faith. He seems to have realized not only that the Grail Knights’ faith is itself a form of self-castration like his, but that, unlike him, the Grail knights hypocritically deny that what they are seeking in heaven is nothing more than the satisfaction of earthly desires and assuagement of earthly fears, abstracted by the imagination into a disembodied reality allegedly freed from servitude to the human ego, to the bodily impulses, and autonomous from Mother Nature’s rule. So Klingsor sets out to bring down the Grail Knights to his level, to demonstrate to them that even their highest impulses are as impure as his own. More than all, he sets out to disclose to them their hypocrisy (just as Alberich accuses Wotan of hypocrisy in claiming for himself Alberich’s ring and its power without wishing to pay its price), as described by Feuerbach below:

“ ... the ... true Christian ... is bound to deny nature, while he satisfies it ... . (...) ... he publicly disavows what he privately does.” [#165F-EOC: p. 314]

I noted earlier, and also in my prior talk (and the paper based upon it) ‘How Elsa Showed Wagner the Way to Siegfried,’ that Lohengrin seems to be guilty of this hypocrisy in secretly seeking to find his own salvation through sexual union with Elsa, without divulging that as a Grail Knight he is bound by an oath of celibacy. The key point here, I argued previously, is that he insists that Elsa not compel him to disclose his true identity, for if she did it would expose this contradiction to the light of day. Wagner seems to lend support to this argument below:

[Page 43]

“Renunciation, repudiation of the will [Schopenhauer’s Will], the oath of chastity separate the Knights of the Grail from the world of appearances. The knight is permitted to break his oath through the condition which he imposes on the woman – for, if a woman could so overcome a natural propensity as not to ask [about his origin and true identity], she would be worthy of admission to the Grail. It is the possibility of this salvation which permits the Knight to marry.” [#756W-{3/1/70} CD Vol. I, p. 194]

In other words, curiously enough, it seems that the Grail Knights’ innocence and/or guilt depends upon whether their true identity, and therefore their hypocrisy, is disclosed. I argued in that talk and paper also that what Elsa, as Lohengrin’s potential muse, offers him, is protection from consciousness of this contradiction, just as Bruennhilde as recipient of Wotans’ confession of his own guilt and hypocrisy protects his new incarnation, Siegfried, from fatal self-knowledge. Clearly Wagner’s notion that if the woman could so overcome her natural propensity as not to ask the forbidden question concerning the knights’ true origin and identity, she’d be worthy of admission to the Grail, is an oblique reference to Eve’s temptation by the Serpent in paradise, to eat the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge (of good and evil). And I noted previously that Eve is the figurative muse for that inspired secular art which replaces religious faith, and thus replaces faith’s dependence on fear of inquiry, i.e., its dependence on forbidding knowledge of its origin in nature, with feeling (music).


In the opening pages of our paper I introduced Wagner’s observation that art is, for him, a game of play, but I subsequently noted that Wagner in his latter years began to critique his own artistic endeavor as somehow evading the real crux of man’s existential dilemma, as, in effect, placing a mask over it, to hide from ourselves the true suffering of the world. Wagner spoke of his art as an artificial evasion of reality, a dream:

“Ah, we are all holy martyrs; perhaps I shall one day be a real one, but in that case all will be over for me with art – that beautiful delusion, the last and the most sublime, to hide from us the misery of the world.” [#629W-{3/55} Letter to Franz Liszt: CWL, p. 73]

And Cosima recorded the following conversation with Wagner:

“Reflections on history and the development of mankind’s predatory activities lead me to ask in the morning whether these have not
[Page 44] brought about art. ‘Certainly,’ says R., ‘and that is why it is an evasion and a dismal substitute; it becomes something worthwhile only when it is religion ... .” [#1054W-{1/16/81} CD Vol. II, p. 598]

In Wagner’s remarks below regarding Parsifal’s impressions of Klingsor’s Magic Garden and of his surrogate mother Kundry, Wagner echoes these sentiments, providing further evidence that Klingsor’s Magic Garden is his metaphor for his own art under the shadow of Wagner’s critique. Recording a conversation she had with Wagner, Cosima tells us that:

“... he says that he sometimes has the feeling that art is downright dangerous – it is as if in this great enjoyment of observing he is perhaps failing to recognize the presence of some hidden sorrow.” [#753W- {7/27/69} CD Vol. I, p. 130]

This seems to be reflected in Wagner’s observations below:

(8A) [WAGNER] “Parzival has entered Klingsor’s wonderful magic garden: his astonishment at the unutterable charm is mingled with an uneasy feeling of alarm, hesitation and horror. (...) Parzival abandons himself to what he takes to be a childish game without any thought of there being a serious side to the situation. (...) Then he hears the loud, loving sound of a woman’s voice calling him by name. He stops, shaken, believing it to be his mother, and stands, greatly affected, rooted to the spot. (...) Bending her head above his, she now presses her lips to his in a long kiss. (...) ... the mysterious happening witnessed at the Castle of the Grail claims him entirely; transferred wholly into the soul of Anfortas, he feels Anfortas’ enormous suffering, his dreadful self-reproach ... . ... to his innermost being there has been a loud appeal for deliverance, and he has remained dumb, has fled, wandered, child-like, dissipating his soul in wild, foolish adventures! Where is there a man sinful and wretched as he? How can he ever hope to find forgiveness for his monstrous neglect of duty? (...) All the torments of the human heart lie open to him: he feels them all and knows the only way of ending them.” [#716W- {8/30/65} BB, p. 56-58]

One of the first things that strikes us reading Wagner’s description of Parsifal’s first impressions when entering Klingsor’s magic garden, is that Parsifal is charmed yet fearful, as if there is something deadly serious and foreboding behind the charm of this garden. When Wagner adds that Parsifal nonetheless participates in a childish game (with the Flowermaidens), without realizing there is something serious lurking behind this game, we can’t help recalling Wagner’s description of art as a “game of play,” and that he told Cosima that art is “profound play.” These elements relate this passage directly to Wagner's other critiques of his art, his notion that it is an evasion of something deeply serious, a sort of mask which hides from us the earnest and tragic nature of the world.

[Page 45]

Why does Parsifal confuse Kundry with his mother, and why does Kundry virtually present herself to him as his surrogate mother when placing what she describes as his mother’s dying kiss on his lips? This may well be because, for Wagner, his art replaces reality, and therefore allegorically his art can be construed as a metaphor for the subjective surrogate the artist-hero (and his muse) offers man in place of the objective reality of Mother Nature, which religious man abhors as the source of pain and mortality. Art, like religion, replaces reality with a fiction (or in music a feeling divorced from conceptual claims to truth, and therefore equally divorced from falsehood), the only difference between them being that religious belief presents its fiction as truth.

There are other, related reasons why Kundry is the surrogate for the mother whom Parsifal killed through neglect. Kundry, as the muse for the artist-hero’s unconsciously inspired art, his unconscious source of artistic inspiration, is equivalent to what Feuerbach describes below as “ ... man’s inner nature ...,” that part of Mother Nature inside man himself which acts independently of man’s conscious mind, the involuntary unconscious:

(8B) [FEUERBACH] “The object of religion is nature, which operates independently of man and which he distinguishes from himself. But this nature is more than the phenomena of the outside world; it also includes man’s inner nature, which operates independently of his knowledge and his will. (...) The ultimate secret of religion is the relationship between the conscious and unconscious, the voluntary and involuntary in one and the same individual.” [#331F-LER: p. 310-311]

This dreaming, or unconscious and involuntary artistic inspiration, is presumably also the source of religious revelation, yet it stems from nature, per Feuerbach’s remarks above. As Feuerbach put it:

"Feeling is the dream of nature ... . In dreaming ... I take the spontaneous action of my own mind for an action upon me from without ... . (...) It is the same ego, the same being in dreaming as in waking; the only distinction is that in waking, the ego acts on itself; whereas in dreaming it is acted on by itself as by another being. (...) Feeling is a dream with the eyes open; religion the dream of waking consciousness: dreaming is the key to the mysteries of religion.” [#102F-EOC: p. 140]

Thus Wagner, who as one of a long line of artist-heroes who involuntarily and unconsciously invented the world’s religions and myths, and, in the modern secular world, lived on as artists independent from any specific religious world-view, could well say of his own art:

“... how can an artist hope to find his own intuitions perfectly reproduced in those of another person, since he himself stands before his [Page 46] own work of art – if it really is a work of art – as though before some puzzle, which is just as capable of misleading him as it can mislead the other person.” [#641W-{8/23/56}Letter to August Roeckel: SLRW, p. 357]

We can easily see how, in the context of Feuerbach’s remarks above, Kundry, as the artist-hero’s unconscious mind, links him with mother nature. It is implicit that for Wagner music is directly linked to the creative unconscious in a way that the other arts are not, and Wagner clinches our argument in the following extract which clearly states this equivalence:

“Viewed from this side of consciousness, the great musician [Beethoven] must always remain a complete enigma to us. At all to solve this enigma, we undoubtedly must strike an altogether different path from that on which it is possible, up to a certain point at least, to follow the creative work of Goethe and Schiller: and that point itself becomes a vanishing one exactly at the spot where creation passes from a conscious to an unconscious act, i.e. where the poet no longer chooses the aesthetic Form, but it is imposed upon him by his inner vision (Anschauung) of the Idea itself. Precisely in this beholding of the Idea, however, resides the fundamental difference between poet and musician .... The said diversity comes out quite plainly in the plastic artist [painter or sculptor], when compared with the musician; betwixt them stands the poet, inclining toward the plastic artist in his conscious fashioning (Gestalten), approaching the musician on the mystic ground of his unconsciousness.” [#763W-{9-12/70} Beethoven: PW Vol. V, p. 63-64]

In other words, musical inspiration, according to Wagner, is involuntary like dreaming, and it is the source of all artistic inspiration in general.

But there are many other respects in which Kundry links Parsifal with his Mother Nature. Music for Wagner is the language of the unconscious, involuntary mind, related to the organ which produces those night-dreams which though they are ours, yet we did not consciously create them and therefore cannot call them our own. Thus when we speak of our muse we are actually speaking of our unconscious, involuntary dreaming. Keep in mind that for Wagner sexual love between hero and heroine is a metaphor for the artist- hero’s unconscious artistic inspiration by his muse. We see this in his following unusual description of his own artistic creativity as a marriage of himself to himself:

“I had been distressingly but more or less decidedly disengaging myself from the world; everything in me had turned to negation and rejection; even my artistic creativeness was distressing to me, for it was longing with an insatiable longing to replace that negation, that rejection, by something affirmative and positive, the marriage of myself to myself [Page 47] (‘sich-mir-vermaehlende’).” [#657W-{9/18/58} Letter to Mathilde Wesendonck: Quoted by Robert Donington in his Wagner’s ‘Ring’ and its Symbols; p. 152]

Wagner therefore felt that his unique status as both author of the drama, and composer of the music, for his music-dramas, gave him a unique insight into the operations of his own unconscious mind, and therefore the creative unconscious in general. Keep in mind when reading his following critique of Schopenhauer’s notion of redemption that when speaking of sexual union as a path to salvation, Wagner is actually referencing his metaphor, the relationship of the male poet-dramatist to his muse, music. The proof of this is that he compares the redemptive effect of this sexual union with the ecstasy the genius (of art, of course) feels at the highest moments of perception (i.e., the ecstasy of his unconscious artistic inspiration):

“During recent weeks I have been slowly rereading Schopenhauer’s principal work, and this time it has inspired me, quite extraordinarily, to expand and – in certain details – even to correct his system. ... it must, I think, have been reserved for a man of my own particular nature, at this particular period of his life, to gain insights here of a kind that could never have disclosed themselves to anyone else. It is a question ... of pointing out the path to salvation, which has not been recognized by any philosopher, and especially not by Sch., but which involves a total pacification of the will through love, and not through any abstract human love, but a love engendered on the basis of sexual love, i.e. the attraction between man and woman. (...) The presentation of this argument ... involves a more detailed explanation of the state in which we become capable of recognizing ideas, and of genius in general, which I no longer conceive of as a state in which the intellect is divorced from the will, but rather as an intensification of the individual intellect to the point where it becomes the organ of perception of the genus or species, and thus of the will itself ... ; herein lies the only possible explanation for that marvellous and enthusiastic joy and ecstasy felt by any genius at the highest moments of perception, moments which Sch. seems scarcely to recognize, since he is able to find them only in a state of calm and in the silencing of the individual affects of the will.” [#664W-{12/1/58}Letter to Mathilde Wesendonck: SLRW, p. 432]

For Wagner, his art is, unlike religious faith, not a supposed stilling or renunciation of the will, or animal impulses, as found in all religions of renunciation, but its excitation to the point of revelation. Wagner therefore felt that he had unique and privileged access to the secrets of unconscious artistic inspiration and therefore also religious revelation, the religious mysteries:

“In the long run I always hark back to my Schopenhauer, who has [Page 48] led me to the most remarkable trains of thought, as lately indicated, in amendment of some of his imperfections. The theme becomes more interesting to me every day, for it is a question here of explications such a I alone can give, since there never was another man who was poet and musician at once in my sense, and therefore to whom an insight into inner processes has become possible such as could be expected of no other.” [#665W-{12/8/58} Letter to Mathilde Wesendonck: RWLMW, p. 78]

Wagner’s ability to access this otherwise unconscious, secret, and forbidden knowledge, it would seem, grants his works a large part of their power and underlying tension and suspense. This I believe is what is behind Parsifal’s alarm as he confronts his surrogate mother in Kundry, just as Siegfried is alarmed at the prospect of waking Bruennhilde.

Pursuing further the allegorical logic behind Kundry’s status as Parsifal’s surrogate for the mother he killed (Nature), we find that Wagner told Cosima that music is produced by Mother Nature:

“... ‘It took Nature a very long time to produce passion; this is what can lead one to the heights; music is its transfiguration, is, alone among all the arts, directly connected with it.’ “ [#1143W-{1/5/83} CD Vol. II, p. 986]

And in the following extract Wagner quite explicitly links Mother Nature with the agitated mood, or excitation of Will, which is music, in which Wagner says Nature (often the source of fear, as in Erda’s prophecy of doom) becomes a sympathetic being [i.e., Erda – Mother Nature, the source of Wotan’s fear - becomes her daughter Bruennhilde, who protects Siegfried from Wotan’s fear by hearing Wotan’s confession, so he can repress this knowledge in her, his unconscious mind]:

“Nature in her actual reality is only seen by the Understanding, which de-composes her into her separatest of parts; if it wants to display to itself these parts in their living organic connexion, then the quiet of the Understanding’s meditation is involuntarily displaced by a more and more highly agitated mood ... of Feeling. In this mood, Man unconsciously refers Nature once more to himself ... . In Feeling’s highest agitation, Man sees in Nature a sympathizing being ... .” [#526W-{50- 1/51} "Opera and Drama": PW Vol. II, p. 218]

The full significance of Wagner’s remark can be gathered from Cosima’s observation following Wagner’s own thesis, that Bruennhilde is a metaphor for music, and Siegfried a metaphor for the dramatic poet. I have already presented evidence that Siegfried’s relationship with Bruennhilde is metaphorically identical with Parsifal’s relationship with Kundry.

[Page 49]

In the Ring Wagner made this link between Mother Nature and the heroine-muse, the artist hero’s unconscious mind, clear, by presenting Bruennhilde, Siegfried’s muse of inspiration, as the daughter of Erda, Mother Nature. And Bruennhilde is, metaphorically speaking, Siegfried’s mother, because Siegfried was born of Wotan’s seed: Wotan’s confession of his hoard of forbidden knowledge and of his longing for a free hero, to Bruennhilde, inseminated her womb so she could bring Siegfried to birth, as a sort of virgin birth. Siegfried is, as I said, actually Wotan reborn without consciousness of his true identity, because Bruennhilde holds this knowledge for Siegfried. It is no accident therefore that Bruennhilde names Siegfried, and Siegfried’s literal mother Sieglinde accepts that name in her son’s behalf. And in Siegfried Act Three Siegfried actually confuses Bruennhilde with his mother:

“Bruennhilde: “I nurtured you, you tender child, before you were begotten; even before you were born, my shield already sheltered you: so long have I loved you, Siegfried! Siegfried: So my mother did not die? Was the lovely woman merely asleep?”

A final point to consider here is that as the repository of religious man’s forbidden knowledge of his natural origin and therefore of the natural origin of his religious longings to transcend Nature, the muses Bruennhilde and Kundry also represent Mother Nature.

It is worth mentioning that in "Tristan and Isolde," Act Three, Wagner both musically and verbally links the concept that Tristan’s Mother died giving him birth, with the idea that his loving union with Isolde (and the love-death potion which is its symbol) is, though the source of his greatest bliss, ultimately a curse, through the alte Weise (Old Tune). This is the shepherd’s tune which Tristan tells Kurvenal he heard while emerging from his mother’s womb, when she died giving him birth, and heard again as he traveled over the Irish sea in his coracle, suffering from an unhealing wound, to his fateful visit with his muse and lover Isolde. Isolde temporarily heals his wound with her magical arts which she learned from her mother, who Isolde proclaims can also control the sea: perhaps her mother is Nature. Isolde’s healing arts are, however, a metaphor for the figurative sexual union, or unconscious artistic inspiration, through which she temporarily heals the artist-hero Tristan’s ultimately unhealing wound. She heals him also by, significantly enough, preserving the secret of his true identity (in “silence”), which she alone has discovered!

These considerations, then, are the conceptual basis for Kundry’s status as Parsifal’s surrogate for his mother, nature, whom Parsifal killed through neglect.

[Page 50]


Cosima recorded a brief, seemingly insignificant remark by Wagner about his Good Friday Spell from "Parsifal" which actually gets to the very heart of my primary thesis, that the Grail, the symbol of man’s religious longing for transcendence, is actually a product of the earth:

“But he works and says to me, ‘Do not expect too much from the meadow – it must of course be short, and it cannot express delight in nonexistence, as in ‘Tristan.’ “ [#959W-{2/3/79} CD Vol. II, p. 265]

The point of this remark is that, while "Tristan and Isolde" was an artwork which dramatized the anguish of man’s unhealing wound, i.e., the futility of man’s quest to transcend the real world by seeking redemption in a spiritual realm of being, or within art’s illusions, the Good Friday Spell, unlike "Tristan," “cannot express delight in nonexistence,” and therefore must on the contrary express delight in existence, the real world of Nature, of time, space, and causality. The mere fact that "Parsifal," i.e., Wagner’s last will and testament expressing his ultimate concept of redemption, ends on Good Friday, the day of Christ’s crucifixion, rather than on Easter Sunday, the day of Christ’s supernatural resurrection which holds the promise of immortality for the faithful, strongly suggests that Wagner’s idea of ultimate redemption requires of man that he should reconcile himself with his true identity as part of the animal kingdom, and reconcile himself with his natural limits, including the necessity of death. The meaning is clear: there is no room for the supernatural, for a resurrection of the spirit and man’s redemption from his mortal coils, in a culture which fully embraces man’s natural origins and limits.

This Feuerbach-inspired libretto text for "Parsifal" culminates in Act Three with the Good Friday Spell and Parsifal’s healing of Amfortas’s previously unhealing wound. We saw in Act Two that thanks to Kundry’s kiss Parsifal simultaneously became conscious of the link between three things which otherwise would have remained unconscious, namely, (1) Kundry’s role as the muse of unconscious artistic inspiration, the seductress; (2) Parsifal’s guilt in perpetuating religious man’s denial of Mother Nature in the art that Kundry in her past lives has inspired; and (3) Amfortas’s wound, which cannot heal so long as heroes of religion and art perpetuate man’s futile longing for transcendence of Nature.

In order to atone for that sin and erase its effects, Parsifal has to renounce his former muse of unconscious artistic inspiration, Kundry, resist her seduction, and destroy the illusory world of art represented by Klingsor’s Magic Garden and its muses, the Flower-maidens. Parsifal has to do this in order to restore Mother Nature to her former position as the Mother of all things, so man can be reconciled to his mortal nature and the
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