Feuerbach's influence on "Parsifal" Part 7

General Discussion about Wagner and The Ring of the Nibelung

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Feuerbach's influence on "Parsifal" Part 7

Post by alberich00 » Wed Jun 17, 2015 3:03 pm

Feuerbach's influence on "Parsifal" Part 7:

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of subjective psychological needs which can’t be satisfied in actuality in this physical world, but only in the imagination, whereas the historical quest for the hoard represents this same gift of imagination and abstraction in the service of man’s quest for objective knowledge of the real world, which grants him finite but potentially unlimited, and ever increasing, power. As one can see in Wagner’s stunning expose of the true origin of the Grail above, the practical quest for the hoard’s power leads inevitably over time to the abstract quest for unlimited, supernatural power not subject to the limits of time, space, and matter. Alberich’s curse on his ring, which represents the incapacity of the human mind to find perfect satisfaction, the feeling of lack, or “Noth” (which according to Feuerbach is the root of all creativity in culture), is the origin of man’s futile quest for supernatural redemption from the limits of real, physical life on earth. And one can see that this acknowledgment of the identity of the quest for the Nibelung’s Hoard, and the quest for the Holy Grail, parallels Feuerbach’s and Wagner’s proclamation of a reconciliation of Nature and Spirit. It also parallels, amazingly enough, the transformation of the Ring Motif into the first part of the Valhalla Motif (i.e., that motif representing the heavenly realm of the gods) during the transition from Scene One to Scene Two of "The Rhinegold," the first part of "The Ring of the Nibelung."

Man has now become conscious of the nature, scope, and origin of his once unconscious sources of motivation. As Feuerbach said in concluding what I regard as his most important book, "Lectures on the Essence of Religion":

“It was my purpose to demonstrate that ... the being which man, in religion and theology, sets up as a distinct being over against himself, is his own essence. It was my purpose to demonstrate this so that man, who is always unconsciously governed and determined by his own essence alone, may in future consciously take his own, human essence as the law and determining ground, the aim and measure, of his ethical and political life.” [#194F-LER: p. 22-23]


There remains one key question, and it concerns the controversial final words of "Parsifal": they are sung by what Wagner described as an asexual chorus - mixing men’s and women’s voices – which proclaims: “Redemption to the Redeemer.” A simple answer, one which a number of scholars favor, is that the explanation for this conundrum can be found in Parsifal’s repetition of what we must assume was a plea which Christ the Redeemer made to him, at least subliminally, while the still ignorant Parsifal observed Amfortas’s anguish during the Holy Grail Service in the Temple of the Grail in Act One:

“Parsifal: I hear the Saviour’s lament, the lament, oh the lament o’er the desecrated sanctuary: ‘Deliver, rescue me from guilt-stained hands!’ Thus cried the godly lament thundering loud to my soul, and I, the fool, the [Page 62] coward, I fled to wild and childish deeds!”

We have already discussed the contradiction that though Parsifal’s wild and childish flight from the Grail Realm to Klingsor’s Magic Garden was the precondition to winning back the Spear which alone can heal Amfortas’s Wound, and bringing to an end the temptation offered by Klingsor’s Magic Garden and the Flowermaidens, yet Parsifal feels unbearable guilt at having made this journey to Klingsor’s realm, as if by so doing he missed his chance to redeem Amfortas. We can, however (as noted previously), construe Parsifal’s “wild and childish deeds!” as representing all of his prior visits, and all of his prior incarnations' prior visits, to Klingsor’s Magic Garden to obtain unconscious revelation and artistic inspiration. By being deluded as to the true means of redemption, Parsifal and his progenitors delayed the day of Amfortas’s redemption from illusion.

Of course, it can also be said of Titurel, the first Grail King who received the Christian relics, the Spear and Grail, that he redeemed God and Saviour by preserving the faith when it was under threat. The First and Second Procession of Knights who carry the Grail and Titurel’s bier, respectively, during Titurel’s funeral in Act Three, bear this out:

“Second Procession: 'This funeral shrine the warrior holds; there lies the heavenly power, into whose care God once gave Himself: Titurel we bear'. First Procession: 'Who did slay him that, in God’s care, once God himself protected?' ”

But a true God and Saviour can neither be under threat, nor redeemed, by man, unless they are a product of man’s imagination, and therefore depend upon man’s belief in them to sustain them, which is precisely, it seems to me, what the notion that God found himself in Titurel’s protection means.

An alternative explanation which seems to follow logically from our present interpretation is that Amfortas’s plea that the Saviour would relieve him of the burden of the heritage the Saviour left for him, the Holy Service Amfortas has to perform which overcomes him with unbearable guilt, is answered by the redemption which Parsifal offers, namely, the restoration of Nature and renunciation of that form of religion which denies nature. The following is Amfortas’ complaint to the Saviour:

“Titurel: 'Reveal the Grail!' Amfortas: 'No! Leave it covered! Oh, may no one know the torment which this sight in me arouses, yet you delights! What is the wound [i.e., acknowledgment of man’s natural, carnal, mortal nature and limitations, in this context], the fury of its pain ‘gainst the distress [“Not”], the hellish pangs of being condemned to this office! Woeful lot that I have inherited, that I, the only sinner among them all, Should tend the Holy of Holies, should beseech its blessing on the pure! O judgment! Peerless judgment of the – alas! – offended merciful One! (...) And now from me, in holiest office, the guardian of godliest treasures, custodian of redemption’s balm, there wells my hot and sinful blood, ever [Page 63] replenished from the spring of yearning. Alas, by repentance never staunched! Have mercy! Have mercy! (...) Take my heritage, heal the wound, that holy I may die, pure and whole in Thee!' ”

To grasp the irony in Amfortas’s confession that while he alone of all the Knights is a sinner, he alone has been favored by the Grail to serve its office, we must consult Wagner’s observation that the higher man, or inspired artist, stands out from other common men by his propensity to – or better, his inability not to - grasp the full, universal and tragic significance of things which common men understand from a merely mundane, practical, and narrow standpoint, in terms of its use or uselessness to them:

“... the great, the truly noble spirit is distinguished from the common organisation of everyday by this: to it every, often the seemingly most trivial, incident of life and world-intercourse is capable of swiftly displaying its widest correlation with the essential root-phenomena of all existence, thus of showing Life and the World themselves in their true, their terribly earnest meaning. The naïve, ordinary man – accustomed merely to seize the outmost side of such events, the side of practical service for the moment’s need – when once this awful earnestness suddenly reveals itself to him through an unaccustomed juncture, falls into such consternation that self-murder is very frequently the consequence. The great, exceptional man finds himself each day, in a certain measure, in the situation where the ordinary man ... despairs of life.” [#707W-{64-2/65} "On State and Religion"; PW Vol. IV, p. 30]

Amfortas is either one of these higher men (given the fact that he alone has been granted the privilege of officiating at the Grail’s holy service), or he has involuntarily obtained an insight into their horrific, forbidden knowledge through the wound which Klingsor delivered with Kundry’s aid, and is therefore more conscious of the guilt in our mere existence than others, just as Wotan was. But it was thanks to his seduction by Kundry and wounding by Klingsor that Amfortas can no longer enjoy the balm of that veil of Maya which religion and art once provided. What Amfortas desires, without being fully conscious of it, is to be relieved of the burden of belief in a transcendent realm of spirit which forever leaves sensitive men feeling unworthy and irredeemably corrupt. This I believe is the gift of healing that Parsifal delivers by refusing to wield the spear in his own self-defense, and touching Amfortas’s wound with the same point with which Klingsor once delivered the wound.

The implication of this for our interpretation is that Parsifal, as artist-hero and heir to the legacy left man by all those inspired culture-heroes who created religious mythology and inspired art, as heir therefore to Christ the Saviour and the Buddha, receives his decisive revelation of the sin (matricide) that all these prior redeemers perpetuated by offering man the delusion of redemption from this world, and frees man from this sin by proclaiming man part of the natural world, so to speak. In this sense the redeemer Parsifal redeems both himself, and retrospectivally all his prior incarnations, as [Page 64] redeemer of their sin in denying Mother Nature, by restoring Mother Nature’s rightful position.

There is one passage from Feuerbach’s writings which suggests that Christ himself needs a saviour. Feuerbach tells us that if Christ is not a supernatural God but is merely a symbol for human nature and human longings, Christ cannot be our saviour but needs a saviour himself:

(12A) [FEUERBACH] “... when I believe that the human nature alone has suffered for me, Christ is a poor savior to me: in that case, he needs a savior himself. And thus, out of the need for salvation is postulated something transcending human nature, a being different from man. But no sooner is this being postulated than man yearns after himself, his own nature, and man is immediately reestablished.” [#56F-EOC: p. 45]

So it seems that Parsifal, and therefore Wagner himself in his swan-song, offers us final redemption in a new religion which exalts feeling over thought, but disavows any dependence upon monotheistic religion and its renunciation of Nature. I conclude below with both Feuerbach’s and Wagner’s description of this “New Religion.”:

“... our religious doctrines and usages ... stand in the most glaring contradiction to our present cultural and material situation ... . (...) A new era ... requires a new view of the first elements and foundations of human existence; it requires – if we wish to retain the word – a new religion!” [#283F-LER: p. 216-217]

“As for our present Civilization ... nothing but the spirit of our Music ... can dower it with a soul again. And the task of giving to the new, more soulful civilization that haply may arise herefrom, the new Religion to inform it – this task must obviously be reserved for the German Spirit alone.” [#791W-{9-12/70} "Beethoven": PW Vol. V, p. 121; p. 123]

[Page 65]

SOURCES: (including identifying abbreviations)

Aeschylus (?): PROMETHEUS BOUND. Attributed to Aeschylus. Trans. by Paul Elmer More. From Volume One of the Random House ‘The Complete Greek Drama. Ed. by Whitney J. Oates and Eugene O’Neill, Jr. New York, 1938

Robert, Donington: Wagner’s ‘Ring’ and its Symbols. Faber and Faber, London, 1974.

Feuerbach, Ludwig:

[TDI] Thoughts on Death and Immortality. Originally Published in 1830. Translated by James A. Massey. University of California Press, 1980.

[EOC] The Essence of Christianity. Originally published in 1841. Translated by George Eliot [the novelist]. Harper Torchbooks. Harper and Row, Publishers. New York, Hagerstown, San Francisco, London, 1957.

[PPF] The Principles of the Philosophy of the Future. Originally published in 1843. Translated by Manfred Vogel. Hackett Publishing Company, 1986.

[LER] Lectures on the Essence of Religion. Originally published in 1848. Based on the book published in the early 1840’s entitled The Essence of Religion, which was intended to fill in some gaps left by The Essence of Christianity. Translated by Ralph Manheim. Harper & Row, Publishers. New York, Evanston, and London, 1967.

Wagner, Cosima: [CD, or CT] Cosima Wagner’s DIARIES. In two volumes . Ed. Martin Gregor-Dellin and Dietrich Mack. Trans. By Geoffrey Skelton. New York and London. A Helen and Kurt Wolff Book. Harcourt Brace Jovanovitch, 1978. Written by Cosima from 1869 through 1883.

Wagner, Richard:

[BB] ‘The Diary of Richard Wagner 1865-1882 - The Brown Book. Ed. by Joachim Bergfeld. Trans. by George Bird. Victor Gollanc Ltd., London, 1980. Wagner’s personal diary with dated notes which are relevant to the understanding of his opera librettos, writings, and recorded remarks.

LOHENGRIN, Romantic Opera in Three Acts. EMI Records. Libretto translation accompanying 1964 Angel Records recording of Lohengrin, conducted by Rudolf Kempe. In some cases I have modernised this translation to avoid stilted language. In several specific instances extracts were improved by Andrew Gray, and Stewart Spencer, for my article "How Elsa Showed Wagner The Way To Siegfried" published by Stewart Spencer in the May 1995 issue of the scholarly British publication WAGNER.

[ML] My Life. Trans. Andrew Gray. Ed. Mary Whittall. Cambridge, New York, Melbourne: Cambridge University Press, 1983. Wagner’s autobiography covers the years 1813- 1864.

[RWMW] Richard Wagner to Mathilde Wesendonck. Trans. William Ashton Ellis. New York: Vienna House, 1972. Originally Published in New York by Charles Scribner & Sons in 1905. Wagner’s letters to M. Wesendonck were written between 1852 and 1875.

[PW] Richard Wagner’s Prose Works. Eight Volumes. Second Edition. Trans. William Ashton Ellis. Reprinted in St. Claire Shores, Michigan by Scholarly Press in 1972. Translation Originally published in London by Kegan, Paul, Trench, Truebner & Co., Ltd., in 1895. These writings range from 1833 through 1883.

THE RING OF THE NIBELUNG, Prologue and Trilogy. Trans. by Stewart Spencer. New York; Thames & Hudson, 1993.

[SLRW] Selected Letters of Richard Wagner. Trans. and Ed. By Stewart Spencer and Barry Millington. New York and
London. W.W. Norton & Company, 1987. The letters in this anthology range from 1832 through 1883.

PARSIFAL, A Sacred Festival Play in Three Acts. The Decca Record Company, Ltd., 1966. Trans. by Peggy Cochrane for the Libretto Inserted in the 1973 London Records recording conducted by Georg Solti.with the Vienne Philharmonic.
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