Her joyful embrace of this end honors the conflicting demands that beset her at the close of "Siegfried" (and so she escapes her own dilemma) in a many-sided expression of her many-sided love, and provides a kind of resolution to Wotan’s problem after all. Her new kind of loving, expressed rather than extinguished by her chosen death, transcends all three of these others, even as it negates and preserves them, in Hegelian Aufhebung or transformation beyond compare. One might call it ecstatic loving, for ‘ecstasy’ denotes an exalted state of feeling, and there surely is none more exalted than that by which Bruennhilde is transported at Goetterdaemmerung’s conclusion. Indeed, it is the Ring’s version of the humanly divine, with its hallowing power."
P. 180-181: PH: I can somewhat more fully endorse K&S’s following evident acknowledgment of what Wagner told Roeckel in his famous 1854 letter in which Wagner tried to explain the philosophy behind his "Ring," that we need to learn to die in the fullest sense of the word, and to will the necessary, in order to embrace life as transience (but, in my interpretation, a transience which perhaps includes all of man’s hopes for transcendent value):
K&S: “Bruennhilde goes beyond Wotan. Because he can see no prospect of stable order, he comes to doubt the possibility of endowing this life in this world with meaning. She sees that there can be meaning without stable order of the mundane sort that Wotan unsuccessfully attempts to establish securely, and that there are or can be actions that are meaning-creating in ways that transcend their transience; she both sees and does. She vindicates the world that makes possible her own final action, affirming love, valor, and justice despite their instability and frequent corruption; and she thereby vindicates her own life - as well as Wotan’s, and even Siegfried’s - in ending it.”
PH: This strikes me as inadequate to account for the finale of the "Ring." Wotan wasn’t just seeking merely mundane order through law and government, but transcendent, divine order. As for finding meaning even in the transient, I think Feuerbach captured this concept when he described each moment of music, which is based on transience, on motion, as eternity, as absolute being. I think that in the end Bruennhilde enjoys a sort of ecstatic realization in resigning herself to the inevitability of all that has happened, all that she has done, but this isn’t precisely a vindication in the sense that Bruennhilde or Wotan would have wished to imagine it. Why, for instance, should Siegfried’s and Bruennhilde’s betrayal of their mutual love somehow vindicate that love? I think something quite different is at work here, perhaps some kind of cosmic wisdom which transcends both man’s subjective view of himself and his world, and science’s objective viewpoint.
P. 181: K&S: “Bruennhilde ends the world - but she does not negate it. Fire and flood wipe the slate clean, reestablishing the primordial state of natural and human simplicity in which it all began (albeit with Alberich still around to mar and jar its rhythms). But we - we - are not simply returned to Square One. We now know something we did not at the beginning, or along the way."
PH: I can concur with this with the exception that I’m not sure that human beings survive the holocaust at the end of the "Ring." But if they do, if the Gibichungs (who represent “US”) survive, they represent the audience for Wagner’s "Ring," as I have said when I stated that in giving Bruennhilde away to the Gibichung Gunther Siegfried is figuratively giving away the muse of his unconsciously inspired art, and its secrets, to his audience. It is not only the Gibichungs who watch in awe, but we who watch the Gibichungs watching in awe, as the gods (our gods, to whom our imaginations gave birth) burn up in the flame of Loge’s gift of artistic self-deceit, in Valhalla. Also, on the chance that the "Ring" cycle may repeat itself endlessly, in a sort of Nietzschean eternal return, in that case no amount of knowledge gained by consciousness in one cycle influences the next. Everything starts over from the beginning, with no memory of any other (or past) cycle.
K&S: “Love may not conquer all, or even resolve all; but the kind of love Bruennhilde comes to know and to express at the end can vindicate all, the inevitability of death and destruction notwithstanding."
PH: I doubt whether K&S were consciously referencing Feuerbach here, but Feuerbach stated that objective knowledge of the world, as discovered through scientific endeavor, was a kind of love of the universe to itself. But acknowledgment of the objective truth might also require acknowledgment that Alberich was right, that there is no transcendent value, and that transient value must include the recognition not only that all things end, but that all the living, including man, is compelled by egoism, that in the end, the will to life in any given individual will sacrifice others, no matter how beloved, for the sake of themselves, not necessarily just in order to live (because obviously some individuals are capable of sacrificing their lives for another person, or for a cause), but in order to live without misery. And this presents one of the biggest questions in moral philosophy. If mortal man truly had an immortal soul, then one would think that such an immortal soul would be the ultimate guide to moral behavior in this world, and that no physical coercion of any kind could necessarily make a person, presumably guided by his autonomous soul, compromise his nature or his acquired values. However, as it is obvious that most, perhaps even all (I am not yet ready, from personal experience, to decide this question one way or the other) individual humans will compromise their highest values under physical and/or psychological duress, then clearly what we call personality, or even consciousness itself, is physical.
I must confess here that my inclination is towards belief in humans having a transcendent spirit (sans dogmatic assertions about it), but I have no basis in fact, but only in feeling, for my inclination, a feeling which, unless it is inherent, was probably instilled in me by my upbringing, in which independence of mind and personal bravery were received values. Feuerbach stated that all higher human states of mind, including morality, fail utterly when confronted with physical needs which take precedence over higher functions of the mind. The assumption that there is an immortal soul totally complicates matters. Why, if all humans had an immortal soul, would some succumb to coercion, and others not? If on the other hand all can be made, under different circumstances, to succumb to coercion, then where is there evidence of an immortal soul, i.e., a core of personality which is autonomous from the physical body and world which it inhabits? Yes, Bruennhilde sacrifices herself, according to her own words, to in some sense join with her dead husband Siegfried in love, but we may read this sacrifice also as a despairing suicide made more palatable by some sort of metaphysical hope. It is comparatively easy to sacrifice one’s life (people do this in desperation, not by virtue of courage, all the time), but much more difficult to continue to live under duress. Because questions such as these remained outstanding in the finale of the "Ring," Wagner still had one more artwork gestating in him, "Parsifal," in which he presented the possibility of our final reconciliation with ourselves as products of Mother Nature, who grow, bloom, wither, and die.
K&S: “Love may not have the Ring’s last word; but it has the final word. It is not Wotan’s, or Erda’s, or even Siegmund’s, and certainly not Siegfried’s. It belongs to that final Bruennhilde alone. But it is less a matter of what she says than of what she becomes and does.”
PH: In the following passage K&S make an interesting comparison of Cordelia, from Shakespeare’s "King Lear," with Bruennhilde:
K&S: “A last comparison with Lear may help clarify our reading of this magnificent scene. It may appear fanciful to compare Bruennhilde with Cordelia … . But both characters are alike in their illumination, through love, of a world of cruelty and darkness. The world of "Lear" is one in which order passes with Lear’s fading strength, and we know that it cannot be restored. Nevertheless, Cordelia shines with the vulnerable flame of her love, doomed though it is to be snuffed out. But when she is gone, the darkness that descends on the stage is complete and without hope.
P. 181-182: K&S: “And the 'Ring'? It initially revolves around a struggle - first to establish a certain sort of order and then to achieve a meaningful ending to that endeavor - that appears doomed to failure, Wotan’s persistent and increasingly desperate efforts notwithstanding. Then, just when failure is manifest - when Siegfried is dead and Hagen advances to claim the Ring - Bruennhilde’s radiant presence transforms the scene. And while she too meets her end, it is one that she embraces, delivering the final coup de grace to Wotan’s failed order as she does so, but in a manner denying victory to the looming darkness as well. (…)"
PH: K&S noted earlier that Alberich seems to survive the catastrophic finale of the "Ring," though his son/proxy Hagen (in my interpretation the spirit of the modern, scientific, skeptical, secular age, in which all mysteries are to be explained, all enchantment ended) is drowned by the Rhinedaughters. But Wotan (Light-Alberich, the Alberich with a consciousness divided against itself) does not survive. Wagner himself had stated that perhaps the whole world tragedy would end with no one else surviving than the cold knower. In the finale of the "Ring," Bruennhilde does indeed go to her end in the very kind of ecstasy which she wished for the gods in their twilight, for she sang ecstatically, in the finale of "Siegfried" (which in my interpretation is Wagner’s metaphor for his own ecstatic unconscious artistic inspiration), “(#145 - a motif which Dunning calls a love motif, but which I trace to the motif #104 which represents Siegfried’s abhorrence of Mime, which is the same as Wotan’s self-loathing; #140) Fare well, resplendent pomp of the gods! (#140 - a love motif) End in rapture, you endless race!” But the gods don’t end in rapture, but in dread and dismay, and Wotan ends in resigned gloom. Again, Wotan could have ended in the rapture, the gladness he expressed to Erda, of knowing that his spirit lived on in the love which Siegfried and Bruennhilde share, but they betrayed that redemptive love, which represents Wagner’s artwork of the future, so that the finale of the "Ring" must, if it points to any redemption at all, be pointing to a different kind of redemption. I believe Wagner completed "Parsifal" in order to present that special kind of redemption to the world with his last breath. It was mankind's final redemption from mankind's (Wotan's, Amfortas's) original sin of religious world-renunciation (symbolized by the sublimation of the Nibelung Hoard into the Holy Grail - see Wagner's "The Wibelungs" - or the transformation of Alberich's "Ring" Motif into the first segment of Wotan's Valhalla Motif #20a), stated in words by Alberich when he told Wotan that he would be sinning against all that was, is, and will be (Erda's, Nature's, knowledge of all that was, is, and will be) if he co-opted Alberich's Ring (of consciousness) and its power to sustain the gods (to sustain mankind's illusion that he has transcendent value).
P. 182: K&S: “ 'Lear' and the 'Ring' are both studies in the power and expression of love. Cordelia and Bruennhilde are both beloved and then harshly rejected by their fathers (who themselves had felt betrayed by them). For both, the rejection brings severe costs. Both feel the competing demands of different forms of love. (Cordelia earns her banishment, after all, by declaring to her father ‘Haply when I shall wed,/That lord whose hand must take my plight shall carry/ Half my love with him, half my care and duty … .’ Yet both daughters not only sustain the loves they return but raise them to new heights, even while coming to love in other ways as well. Few lines in the world’s drama are as simple as Cordelia’s response to Lear’s suggestion that she has reason to punish him - two monosyllables repeated (‘No cause, no cause’ …). Similarly, in the entire emotional spectrum of opera, few passages are as simple as Bruennhilde’s low-register benediction to her father [‘Ruhe, ruhe, du Gott’ [Rest, rest, you god!]); but few can rival it for emotional impact.”
PH: Concurrent with Bruennhilde's brief statement above, we hear in the orchestra the following motival hints: chords suggesting the last segment of the Rhinedaughters' lament for their lost gold in the finale of "Rhinegold," #59c; the following two segments of the five-segment motif of the gods' heavenly abode, Valhalla, #20cd, and the motif called the "Need of the Gods" comprised of Motifs #53/#54/#81. Motif #53 at its inception embodied Erda, Mother Nature, and her knowledge of all that was, is, and will be, and also the primary law of nature that all things that are, end ['Alles was ist,Endet!']. #54 is the motif which sounded as she prophesied the inevitable twilight of the gods, and #54 is, according to Allen Dunning, an imperfect inversion of Motif #53. And Motif #81 at its inception represented Wotan's rising consciousness that he can't create the free hero he needs in order redeem the gods from Alberich's curse on the Ring. These three motifs in combination express Wotan's need therefore for a hero, freed from the gods' protection and laws (from religious faith itself), who alone can do what Wotan is bound by his own divine law not to do, breach his contract with the giants by taking the Ring the giants exchanged for the goddess Freia, back from the giant Fafner, in order to insure that Alberich can't regain possession of it and destroy the gods of Valhalla. In the "Ring," Fafner as guardian of Alberich's Hoard, Tarnhelm, and Ring, is Wagner's metaphor for the stranglehold which religious faith and habit and custom and tradition holds over freedom of inquiry and human creativity, thus taking the mind (Ring) prisoner. Bruennhilde's remark that Wotan can now rest, therefore, suggests that Wotan can now rest from his futile quest to seek redemption from Alberich's curse on his Ring. Wotan and his fellow gods go down to destruction, in Loge's flames (Loge representing mankind's gift of artistic self-deceit, which gave birth to religious faith in the first place, according to Wagner's Feuerbachian perspective), just after Bruennhilde's remark. This gives you just a little glimpse into the extraordinary compression of meaning (akin in its way to Shakespeare’s powerful dramatic compression of the entire meaning of "Lear" into ‘No cause, no cause') which occurs in Wagner’s "Ring," in which he can employ motifs of reminiscence and foreboding to link any portion of his drama with any other, subliminally, in a flash of intuition, thereby, as he said, making all that is widely disbursed in space and time, present, here and now. It was Deryck Cooke who first drew attention to this fascinating constellation of motifs heard during Bruennhilde’s brief remark.
P. 182-183: K&S: “The glorious theme [PH: #93] that soars in the orchestra after Bruennhilde has sung her final lines has been heard just once before in the entire "Ring," sung by Sieglinde at the moment she learns that she is carrying Siegmund’s child, and that he will grow up to be a great hero. This motif is conventionally referred to as ‘Redemption through Love’ (although Cosima Wagner reported that Wagner resisted giving it any name, but that, if he had, he would have chosen ‘Glorification of Bruennhilde’ - in our judgment a more apt choice). Any shred of justification for the link to ‘redemption’ must rest on Wotan’s prophecy of a ‘redeeming world-deed [erloesende Weltenthat]’ [PH: set to Motif #134 in "Siegfried" Act Three Scene One] to be enacted by Bruennhilde. Yet nothing is ‘redeemed’ in any standard sense of this term, either when Sieglinde introduces the theme or when it recurs at the end of "Goetterdaemmerung." The importance of these moments, however, is great. With "Lear" in mind as well, we would characterize it differently. This theme certainly has to do with love; but what it evokes is the possibility that despite all, love can achieve a form of triumph, giving meaning and value to what would otherwise be blank and bitter defeat.
P. 183: K&S: “At times of deepest darkness, when it seems that everything good and true has been defeated, acts of love can at least temporarily illuminate a collapsing world in a way that crucially alters its countenance, making possible an affirmation of life - and of death as well - in spite of the inevitable destruction of all that lives. (So a better title might be the ‘Phoenix theme.’) Sieglinde’s cry - ‘O hehrstes Wunder! [Sublimest Wonder!]’ - expresses her realization and joy that not everything has been lost, that Siegmund’s love and her own live on in her womb, that this means something that matters far more than the stark facts of the situation would seem to indicate. This is not ‘redemption.’ The Christian term is out of place here. (…) The end of "Goetterdaemmerung" - the apotheosis of the "Ring" - has a resonance that is Greek rather than Christian, tragic rather than salvific, and more precisely affirmative precisely on that account. We prefer to call it ‘vindication.’ “
PH: There is, as K&S suggest, more here than meets the eye, even their eye. Sieglinde in "Valkyrie" Act Three Scene One, when she introduces #93 by singing ‘Sublimest Wonder,’ is explicitly praising Bruennhilde’s intervention to insure that Siegmund’s and Sieglinde’s love will live on in the greatest of heroes, Siegfried. I have already described at length how Siegfried is, in a figurative sense, Bruennhilde’s son, since Wotan virtually gives birth to Siegfried by planting the seed of God’s word (Wotan’s confession to Bruennhilde of his fear of the gods’ inevitable end, and futile hope that a hero, freed of the gods’ protection and influence, will somehow independently do what the gods need in order to find redemption from Alberich’s curse on his Ring, the curse of consciousness) in the womb of his wishes Bruennhilde. Since in Wagner’s allegorical reasoning Siegfried is drama, the word, and Bruennhilde is the language of the unconscious, music, and their union brings the redemptive music-drama of the future to birth, we can say that Wotan’s terrible history (all that was, is, and will be, the source of man’s existential fear), is redeemed by music, which gives birth to the history-less and identity-less man, what Feuerbach and Wagner called the 'Naked Man,' Siegfried. Siegfried lives in the present and is pre-fallen because it was music which gave birth to him. On this note, recall that it was Woglinde’s lullabye #4 which gave birth to the Woodbird’s Song #129, which I regard as Wagner’s metaphor for his own specially redemptive music. It is because Siegfried’s self-knowledge is known for him by Bruennhilde, so that he can be redeemed from its paralyzing influence (if conscious), that Siegfried seems so lacking dramatically. His innocence and naivete are the product of Bruennhilde holding his self-knowledge for him. Only when they are in figurative sexual union are they the single human being, for Bruennhilde, Siegfried’s music, is his unconscious mind.
PH: So here is what is at stake. Wagner said that Siegfried, who lives only in the present, is the finest gift of the will. Bruennhilde called herself Wotan’s will. So Siegfried’s ability to live only in the present is conferred on him by Bruennhilde, his unconscious mind, his music. Bruennhilde’s magic (Wagnerian “Wonder”) protects Siegfried at the front, from wounds, i.e., from Wotan’s paralyzing foresight of the gods’ inevitable end. Wagner explained that his music-dramas would be redemptive in a way that dying religious faith would not be because of the “Wonder” of musical motifs of reminiscence and foreboding, which make all that is widely disbursed in time and space present, here and now. Thus Siegfried is the history-less and identity-less man he is, the reincarnation of Wotan minus consciousness of who he is, thanks to music, thanks to Bruennhilde, who is the repository of Wotan’s confession of his corrupt history and his loathsome identity. Wotan also told Erda that Erda’s knowledge of all that was, is and will be (which Alberich told Wotan Wotan sinned against in taking the Ring - of consciousness - from Alberich) wanes before his will, i.e., Wotan’s confession to Bruennhilde of the fateful, fearful knowledge which Erda imparted to him, insures that Erda’s foreknowledge of the gods’ predestined end wanes before Bruennhilde. So this is the “Wonder” whereby Bruennhilde not only saves Wotan’s allegedly free hero, the as-yet-unborn Siegfried, from destruction, but also how she figuratively gives birth to the child to whom Sieglinde literally gives birth. This is why Bruennhilde knew that Sieglinde was with child when Sieglinde didn’t know, and why Bruennhilde assumes responsibility for naming Siegfried, and lastly, why Siegfried confuses Bruennhilde with the mother who died giving him birth. Another important point is that ultimately the mother who died giving Siegfried birth (Siegfried considered here as Wotan reincarnate, who in committing his religious sin against all that was, is, and will be, the real world, figuratively murdered Mother Nature) is Erda, and of course Bruennhilde is Erda’s daughter.
PH: Siegfried is Feuerbach’s and Wagner’s “Naked Man” for the following reason. Feuerbach said that the disembodied man of the religious imagination who is redeemed from his mortal coils to live in paradise was the naked man because, in order to imagine a mortal, bodily human being enjoying eternal life in a transcendent, spiritual heaven, one would have to jettison from bodily man all that he experiences only as a mortal man, i.e., every bodily sensation and emotion (which depend upon having a body, a body which includes the brain itself, which alone confers upon us consciousness), even consciousness itself, leaving only a history-less, property-less, nothing. For Feuerbach noted that in spite of religious man’s assumption that earthly man must renounce all that attaches him to the devil’s earth and body, to be worthy of translation into the immortal life in paradise, religious man can’t imagine paradise at all without smuggling into it all that grants man bliss on earth, while renouncing knowledge of its bodily, earthly origin (i.e., by sublimating it in imagination, transfiguring it), and artificially rejecting everything which bodily man experiences of earthly life which is painful, including death. But in physical life one can't experience the bliss without also experiencing the pain and fear. This revelation that what we think of as the exalted feelings of the spiritual life are actually physical feelings sublimated, which has artificially purged feeling of all pain and fear, is the meaning behind Tannhaeuser’s complaints to Venus in the Venusberg, and also the reason why Tannhaeuser’s audience for his art of song is so repulsed by his involuntary revelation of his true, formerly hidden source of inspiration in Venus and the Venusberg. The fact that what had been supposed to be Tannhaeuser's divine inspiration was actually earthly, is what so horrifies Tannhaeuser's audience that they proclaim him irredeemable, for Tannhaeuser has unwittingly revealed to them that what they seek in heaven, to redeem them from earth, is merely the earth sublimated by their own imagination. This is what Feuerbach called smuggling.
PH: In Wagner’s view the transfiguring power of music was secular man’s substitute for dying religious faith, and Siegfried is born of the womb of music, born of Bruennhilde. So Siegfried is translated to this artificial paradise, shorn of bodily, earthly man’s pain and fear, through music, instead of through religious faith, through Bruennhilde’s “Highest Wonder,” so to speak. But this also explains his fatal flaw. If he becomes truly conscious of who he really is, if his unconscious knowledge of his true history and identity (Wotan’s true history and identity; i.e., the history of mankind’s projection of his own ideal self onto the illusory concept of godhead, and his eventual recognition of himself in godhead) rises to consciousness in him, is remembered by him, then Siegfried is exposed (even to himself) as an artificial creation. What I am suggesting is that all of this, also, may be implicit in Wagner’s holding back the reoccurrence of Motif #93 until the finale of the "Ring." Wagner himself stated that he was glad he held back this motif, heard only once before as Sieglinde’s “Highest Wonder,” for the finale of the "Ring," in which Wagner stated it can be heard as a sort of 'Hymn to Heroes.' What #93, and also the wonderful genealogy of Waelsung motifs heard during Siegfried’s funeral procession, tells us in the finale, is that Wagner is offering us a hymn, a funeral song, for mankind’s entire, futile historical quest, from the beginning of human history, for the restoration of lost innocence in religious faith, loving, sacrificial relationships, and inspired secular art. This explains why Siegfried is so naive and innocent, and at the same time the greatest of heroes: he is the product of mankind’s gradual jettisoning of all conceptual content from his bid to restore lost innocence, because thought would inevitably betray to consciousness the contradictions inherent in man’s assumption that he could restore his lost innocence or affirm his alleged transcendent value, but man’s most exalted longings could live on, un-contradicted by thought, in non-conceptual music, which stakes no claim to the power of truth, and therefore can't be exposed as illusory. That is why Wagner thought that he could expose the most horrible, abhorrent, intolerable truths to view in the "Ring," because music could transfigure this horror into the sublime, as in Greek tragedy. K&S certainly got this right: as they say, the finale of the "Ring" owes more to Greek Tragedy than to the Christian notion of redemption, though the religious notion of redemption is also at stake here, since Siegfried and Bruennhilde (as the artist-hero) were the god Wotan’s heirs, and Wotan looked to Siegfried as a savior.
P. 183-184: K&S: “At the end of the 'Ring,' Wotan’s struggle has failed, his order is gone, and he and the rest of the gods are gone as well. Siegfried is dead, Bruennhilde rides into the flames and is consumed, and the petty world of the Gibichungs is swept away, leaving the Rhine flowing on, the Rhinemaidens back in mindless play in a world purged of all that had made it both troubled and interesting - and Alberich. Yet Bruennhilde’s action stands, as Sieglinde’s pregnancy did earlier, as a memorial and testament to something deeply valuable and enduringly true. Alberich’s world, like the world Edgar is left to run, is ‘cheerless, dark, and deadly’; and even that of the Rhinemaidens is shallow, if innocent and beautiful.’ But the world Edward inherits had been graced by Cordelia, and the world inherited by Alberich and the Rhinemaidens, by Bruennhilde, and that is of enormous importance. For their lives and actions have given point to their worlds, and to the lives of those who struggled against the world’s darkness and mindlessness. That judgment is not theirs; indeed, were they to have made it, the significance of what they do would be undermined - they would not be Cordelia and Bruennhilde. The judgment belongs to the larger works in which we encounter them.”
PH: My interpretation doesn’t necessarily differ strongly with this summation, except that K&S have not taken into account the powerful evidence for an allegorical reading of several features of their summation. They at no point in their book seem aware of the significance of Wagner’s equating of the love of Siegfried and Bruennhilde with his own art. One thing implicit in their summation is that, with Alberich and the Rhinedaughters still living now in the world with which the "Ring" began, the entire "Ring" Cycle (or that which is the subject of its allegory) could theoretically be repeated, perhaps with the same result, offering us one possible interpretation of Nietzsche’s notion of the eternal return, i.e., that the overman stakes his claim on life by being willing to repeat, endlessly, all that he has once experienced, and in this way saying ‘Yea’ to life, beyond good and evil, so to speak. However, when Bruennhilde restores Alberich’s Ring to the Rhinedaughters so they can dissolve it and its curse in the Rhine, she clearly doesn’t plead for a repeat of all that has happened, cautioning the Rhinedaughters now to “… safely guard the shining gold that was (#37 - “Loveless Motif”) stolen to your undoing.” We might take Nietzsche’s eternal return as his antidote to the pessimism and spiritual nihilism of the Buddhist notion of Nirvana, the wishing to achieve an enlightenment which precludes the possibility of rebirth. Nietzsche’s overman wills rebirth, eternally. This is the ultimate Feuerbachian world-affirmation, what Wagner might call shallow optimism.
P. 184: K&S: “She [Bruennhilde] sees that Wotan’s problem cannot be solved as he conceived it, and that what must be done is to end his order in a way that expresses its worth. Through her human awakening, suffering, and transformation, she gains both cognitive authority and the power to translate her judgment into action. … she does not simply see the world end; she ends it. She also vindicates it, illuminating it anew and offering the possibility of renewal.”
PH: In my interpretation, Wotan had already ended his order in a way he thought would express its worth, in the love Siegfried and Bruennhilde share, i.e., in Wagner’s redemptive artwork, the music-drama. But Wotan’s final bid for transcendence through secular art was predestined to succumb to the curse of consciousness (the Ring) in precisely the same way that Wotan’s hope to preserve the gods (religion), and to redeem the gods in the compassionate love of Siegmund and Sieglinde, fell before Alberich’s curse. Wotan is clearly not pleased, and he is not glad, in spite of what he told Erda prior to Siegfried’s and Bruennhilde’s failure to redeem the gods (or the worth of the gods) through their love/art. As far as Wotan is concerned at the end, nothing whatever of the worth of his original endeavor has been salvaged, so that, whatever value Bruennhilde finds now in her awakening to full consciousness of the bitter truth about the world, it is not the same as that which Wotan wished for, not even subliminally. His resort to the Rhinedaughters to dissolve the Ring curse can only be construed as the lesser of two evils, the worst being that Alberich would regain the Ring and compel all humankind to consciously acknowledge man’s objective nature as an egoistic species in which competition for earthly power is the sole good. Wotan instead chooses to jump into the Rhine, if you will, to seek salvation in an impossible return to the primordial state from which man and his consciousness first arose. Bruennhilde, however, thanks to Siegfried’s betrayal of their love, can no longer offer mankind temporary redemption from the bitter truth by inspiring art, because man’s unconscious has now awoken, forever. Furthermore, a return to the primordial state or even to the chaos of the earliest phases of the cosmos does not escape the potentiality for a restoration of the evolved condition of the cosmos which inevitably brings forth, somewhere in the widely disbursed matter and energy across time and space, reflective consciousness, with the usual tragic consequences.
K&S: “Wagner does not give the last line to her. He gives it instead to Hagen, oddly enough, in Hagen’s last desperate and doomed lunge for the Ring - an expression of utter futility if ever there was one. But perhaps that is more fitting than it might at first appear, as a last word and judgment on those who cannot, or will not, learn Bruennhilde’s lesson. And the real last lines are neither his nor hers but the wonderful final measures of Wagner’s orchestral score, which speak with unsurpassable eloquence. They bespeak affirmation as well as ending. They do not mourn and salute the devastating conclusion of a long day’s journey into night, as does Siegfried’s Funeral Music (the ‘false’ and merely penultimate finale of "Goetterdaemmerung"), which they transcend. Instead, they celebrate the wonder of Bruennhilde’s transformation in the final scene, its value beyond all mere mundane reality, and the prospect of perpetual possibility.”
PH: When Hagen brings the "Ring" libretto to its close by yelling at the Rhinedaughters “Get back from the Ring,” accompanied by a fragmented variant of Alberich’s Curse on the Ring Motif #51, Hagen is referencing Alberich’s warning to Hagen in "Twilight of the Gods" Act Two Scene One:
“(#167 - So-called Murder Motif) The golden ring, the circlet, must be gained! (#21 fragment - Wotan’s Spear) A wise woman lives for the Waelsung [Siegfried] alone: were she ever to urge him (#17/#19) to give back the Ring (#4 - Woglinde’s lullabye) to the deep Rhine’s daughters who once befooled me in watery depths, (#17/#19) the gold would be lost to me then, no cunning would ever reclaim it. So strive for the ring without delay!”
PH: This, in conjunction with the raising of Siegfried’s dead hand to warn Hagen against trying to take it off of Siegfried’s finger, was from very early in my attempt to grasp the "Ring" conceptually as a whole, a difficult problem to solve. I agree with Deryck Cooke in my conclusion that one can’t grasp the finale of the "Ring" without appeal to some kind of metaphysical interpretation, though Cooke seemed to be aiming at a Schopenhauerian reading, whereas my reading is quite different. When I say metaphysical, I don’t mean necessarily spiritual in a religious sense, but rather, that Wagner here is telling us that in the final analysis nature swallows us, we do not swallow nature, that perhaps in our quest to grasp nature conceptually, to make nature become fully conscious in us, we may perhaps unwittingly and involuntarily return nature to its primal state, perhaps a state of chaos, out of which originally sprung an ordered universe under natural law. Or perhaps Wagner simply means that there are foundational questions about nature that are inherently not subject to conceptual query. Questions such as why there is anything rather than nothing, or why I am I, and not someone else, may intrinsically resist understanding. Certainly the quantum physicists suggest that in some sense nature in its deepest basis may automatically resist understanding. This of course would correspond in a certain sense to Kant’s and Schopenhauer’s notions of the impossibility of accessing the “Thing-in-Itself,” Nature as it exists independently of the inherent subjectivity of human consciousness. It is no accident that the Sword Motif of Wotan’s Great Idea #57 (i.e., Wotan’s wish to restore lost innocence and thus redeem the world from consciousness, the Ring, itself) sounds at the moment Siegfried raises his dead hand and Hagen rebounds from the Ring, because the Sword Motif #57 incorporates the original arpeggiated figure out of which the entire Ring music-drama grew, The Primal Nature Motif #1, a symbol for the world before (or without) the Fall through consciousness.
P. 185-196 CHAPTER TWENTY - SIEGFRIED AND OTHER PROBLEMS
P. 185: K&S: “But what about Siegfried? Our excursion through the "Ring" has consistently downplayed his significance; and much of what we have said about him is dismissive, even harsh. Yet we are well aware that the entire "Ring" grew out of Wagner’s original intention and effort to write and compose a single music drama that was to be entitled Siegfrieds Tod [Siegfried’s Death]; and it is undeniable that large chunks of the "Ring" seem to be devoted to his anticipation, his youth, his adventures, his fearlessness, his ardor, and the events surrounding his demise. How, then, can we say so much about other characters and so little about the apparent star of the whole show?
P. 185-186: K&S: In fact, we do assign Siegfried considerable significance - but in ways that have little to do with the complex of philosophical issues we have pursued through the "Ring." We draw a distinction we take to be valuable in thinking about this drama (and others as well). There are characters who are important from a philosophical point of view, because their thoughts, feelings, and actions embody the subtle meaning of aspects of the work. Interesting questions arise about what they are doing and why they are doing it. Other figures perform actions that affect the development of the intrinsically interesting characters, even though their own thoughts and emotions are of no independent significance. These figures may even bulk large in the action, and they may sing glorious music; but they are important chiefly because of their impact on the ideas, feelings, and plans of the first set, and more for what they signify and what becomes of them (and what this means for what they signify) than for what they say or do. Siegfried, we suggest, is among the latter, even if by far the largest of them.
PH: Here is where K&S drop the ball so fatally that they’ve delivered a mortal wound to their interpretation.
General Discussion about Wagner and The Ring of the Nibelung
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