But, since Wagner followed Feuerbach in denying the authenticity of the creator god of the Old Testament, and offered us instead redemption through the artist-hero, Wagner makes a shift with his variation on this older Biblical division, and instead pits the old god of law Wotan against the secular redeemer, the artist-hero Siegfried, who takes the place of Christ as the redeemer. This not only explains somewhat Siegfried’s relationship to Wotan, but also helps to explain Parsifal’s relationship to the redeemer who is invoked several times in "Parsifal." Parsifal, as the artist-hero, is the secular heir to the redeemer in Christian faith, Christ, as well as the heir to Buddha. Furthermore, Wagner very clearly equates the artist-hero Walther von Stolzing with Christ the redeemer, for Sachs acts as John the Baptist in baptizing Walther’s redemptive mastersong.
PH: As for Siegfried’s blood being sacrificed to Mother Earth (i.e., Erda) figuratively as Siegfried spills the contents of his drinking cup onto the ground just before his death, Siegfried is sacrificed in atonement for Wotan’s original sin against all that was, is, and will be, the sin Alberich accused Wotan of committing in co-opting the objective power of Alberich’s Ring to sustain the subjective use of the Ring’s power in support of man’s rule by gods, figments of man’s imagination, for in positing the gods as independent of the laws of nature we figuratively kill our mother, so that on this view pessimistic world-denial is the ultimate sin. Siegfried inherits Wotan’s sin and perpetuates it in his inspired secular art, so Siegfried must pay the price of Alberich’s curse on his Ring, which Alberich designed to punish this sin.
P. 189: K&S: “Many commentators have suggested that the task Wagner set for himself in the "Ring" - that of integrating medieval conceptions of the heroic with a post-Enlightenment perspective on human motivation - was difficult, if not insuperable. To make his characters dramatically persuasive, he would have had to equip them with a rich psychology; and, one might suppose, it is of the essence of the heroes of the old epics and myths that there are at least some psychological dimensions along which no such filling-in is possible. We are not convinced that there is a generic problem here; Odysseus (to cite just one obvious example) combines the characteristics of the hero with great psychological breadth and depth, and Wagner introduced into the "Ring" one version of the hero - Siegmund - who is, we believe, a clear dramatic success. (…)
P. 189-190: K&S: (…) The problem with him [Siegfried] is … related to the ways in which the character had to conform to the devices of Wagner’s plot in its final form. He is to be brought up in profound ignorance, and his naive recklessness is to enable him to overcome obstacles that would have blocked the path of anyone who knew fear. Nor could Wagner have allowed him a more extensive education on the rock, for his unpreparedness is critical to his undoing and to the corruption of his love. Hence it is essential to most of his time on stage that he remain naive and shallow - less a paradigm of the heroic than a parody of the stereotypical hero as witless marvel.”
PH: I have already described at considerable length in this review how Siegfried’s witlessness, ignorance, naivete, and heroic fearlessness are all the product of the fact that Wotan confessed the self-knowledge which he couldn’t bear to face consciously, to his unconscious mind Bruennhilde, thereby repressing it - god’s word construed as a seed of insemination - into the womb of his wishes, who figuratively gave birth to a hero who is Wotan reborn, reincarnate, minus consciousness of his true identity, history and fate, knowledge which Bruennhilde knows for Siegfried so that he will be protected from its paralyzing influence. But all of Wotan’s wisdom and hopes and fears, as expressed to Bruennhilde, influence Siegfried subliminally, through Bruennhilde. Therefore in my interpretation Siegfried in all his aspects is entirely justified, entirely fits into the overall plot of the "Ring," and doesn’t require any of the sort of random scattershot musings which K&S are forced to descend to here in their embarrassment at not being able to account for Siegfried at all.
PH: As for being a “parody of the stereotypical hero as witless marvel,” K&S seem to be unaware of that universal feature of world-mythology, the hero who remains a sheltered child, innocent of the world, but who is able to perform tasks in his apparent intellectual witlessness (but absolutely on-point natural instincts) that no seemingly wiser human beings can accomplish. Note that in Siegfried’s interactions with Mime Mime confesses that he is “too wise” to be able to accomplish what only the untrained hero Siegfried can, the re-forging of Nothung. Wagner also depicted this in Alberich’s clumsy inability to properly woo the the graceful Rhinedaughters who, in their joyous and playful song and dance in celebration of the Rhinegold as an aesthetic wonder, are Wagner’s metaphor for the ease with which instinctive animals do what they do, for Alberich’s efforts are increasingly thwarted by his rise to reflective consciousness (his ability to forge the Ring of power from the Rhinegold), which impedes his natural progress. He must now learn how to force nature to let him do what he wishes and needs to do, through the difficult acquisition of learned knowledge. The difficulty of acquiring such knowledge is embodied by the Nibelungs’ enslavement to Alberich’s will to acquire a hoard of treasure through intense and painful labor. In this sense Siegfried’s unconscious artistic inspiration is an artificial return to the spontaneity and aesthetic feeling of the Rhinedaughters, reflected in their song and dance in celebration of the pure joy of the Rhinegold.
P. 190: K&S: “If we are right about this, it might seem that Wagner’s problems result from his initial choice of plot. He formed his conception of this music drama before writing the libretto, and constructed the text in advance of conceiving the music. Moreover, the drama originally evolved from back to front. Setting out to write an opera on Siegfried’s death … , Wagner worked back into his early life; and as he did so, the scope of his canvas and project expanded enormously. He came to wrestle with issues of human meaning, and was impelled to construct a mythology suited to their exploration on a grand scale. In the course of this wonderful efflorescence, the youthful hero who had once been at the center of things could no longer be drawn with the depth and richness invested in other characters. The Siegfried we see on the stage is, in a sense, a fossil, remaining from an earlier version of Wagner’s project in a final version to which he and his life and death are no longer central.”
PH: This is absolute, utter nonsense. As I have said, according to his own testimony, Wagner recapitulated the plot of "Twilight of the Gods" in "Tristan," except that at the very beginning of the tale Tristan has already betrayed his muse of unconscious artistic inspiration to the light of day by offering her as wife to his uncle, King Marke. While - according to my reading of the plot of Wagner’s "Ring" - Siegfried, in the only work of art which he is depicted creating (during his love-duets with Bruennhilde) and producing for a public (in the narrative he sings for the Gibichungs of the heroic tale of his life and how he came to grasp the meaning of the Woodbird's song), offers his public not a truly redemptive work of art in which its true source of inspiration would be hidden, but offers them this secret source of inspiration instead, in "Tristan," which is more inward than the "Ring," Melot and Marke (during their hunt whose actual object, or prey, is the adulterously loving couple Tristan and Isolde) expose to the light of day Tristan’s actual unconscious artistic inspiration, thanks to Tristan having given his muse Isolde in marriage to King Marke. Wagner in other words is exposing the truth behind the allegory in "Tristan." Wagner also repeated a variant of this plot in "Mastersingers" in which, as I said, we have an artist-hero who, unlike Siegfried and Tristan, successfully creates and produces a work of art unconsciously inspired by his muse Eva in a dream, and therefore does not give her or her secrets away to another man (Walther’s audience), but offers them art’s redemption instead. However, Sachs in his Act II confession to Eva in the context of his cobbling song, describes for us the hidden, bitter truth which is the subliminal foundation of Walther's unconscious artistic inspiration by his muse Eva, which gives birth to his redemptive mastersong. It is actually this disturbing truth which causes the riot in Nuremberg that night, not merely Sachs's loud singing. And, lastly, in "Parsifal," the artist-hero Parsifal, who initially (like Siegfried) does not know who he is, follows up on Tristan’s ultimate indictment of his unconscious artistic inspiration by his muse Isolde, as ripping open the wound it was meant to heal (because he is becoming too conscious of who he is), by renouncing unconscious artistic inspiration altogether, and rejecting his loving union with his muse. This of course puts the lie to readings such as Nietzsche’s, that Wagner had set out in "Parsifal" to offer a faux religious renunciation of sexual love in favor of saintly chastity. No, Parsifal in the end embraces the ways of nature, but renounces the artificial nature, the surrogate mother, which formerly was offered by the muses of unconscious artistic inspiration like Kundry and the Flowermaidens of Klingsor’s Magic Garden. Therefore it is totally absurd for K&S to maintain that Siegfried is a fossil which Wagner, by the time he was completing the "Ring," had long lost interest in and could no longer assimilate to his allegedly more mature conception of the "Ring," since my interpretation shows him to be part of the natural evolution of Wagner’s artistic confrontation with the nature, and place in history, of his own art, in relation to religion, science, society, and government, among other arenas.
P. 190-191: K&S: “Yet there is a deeper source of Siegfried’s character and its shortcomings. Great and creative dramatist that he was, Wagner would have been eminently capable of modifying the plot had it failed to accord with his broader purposes. In fact, as we have suggested earlier, if heroism is to offer any promise of resolving Wotan’s thinking, then it must be heroism of a very specific sort. As we reconstructed Wotan’s judgments in Chapter 12, the ideal of Siegfried was that of a free being, unshackled by commitment to any system of laws and contracts. A Nordic counterpart to Odysseus would be useless - and moreover would surely prove too much like Wotan himself. Hence the particular package of qualities that Wagner assigns to his hero is beautifully adapted to one aspect of Wotan’s problem - and it is that aspect on which the god, quite understandably, is most focused: the transcendence of his order by a bold, unfettered, reckless, and unknowing hero. Siegfried must have a heedless capacity for defying everything; he must be the ignorant boy who knows no fear. The plot, then, is no accident, and reflects no mere failure on Wagner’s part to modify his original design as its evolution should have led him to do. Both it and the type of hero embedded in it proceed from the logic of the drama in the development and elaboration of which Wagner was engaged.”
General Discussion about Wagner and The Ring of the Nibelung
1 post • Page 1 of 1