Critique: 'Finding an Ending' Part 15

General Discussion about Wagner and The Ring of the Nibelung

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Critique: 'Finding an Ending' Part 15

Post by alberich00 » Thu Jul 21, 2016 10:57 am

Just as Wotan established belief in the gods of Valhalla, placing them seemingly securely in their heavenly abode, by making his archetypal contract with the giants, so Siegfried in his oath to Gunther is, in effect, making a new social contract between the artist-hero and his audience, in which Siegfried promises to sustain man’s honor, man’s high opinion of his transcendent value, and in this way Siegfried the secular artist-hero takes over where Wotan’s original contract left off. And here is the ironic twist: Siegfried the artist-hero could only truly preserve Gunther’s illusory honor (since Gunther and Gutrune both were willing to cheat in order to obtain what they could not obtain on their own, through Hagen’s potion and Siegfried’s involuntary actions in their behalf) if Siegfried did consummate his loving union with the muse Bruennhilde, because only in this way could Siegfried have produced a truly redemptive work of art in which Gunther and Gutrune could still have found support for their illusion of having transcendent value. However, as becomes apparent later, by virtue of giving Gunther the secret formerly hidden within Siegfried’s own unconscious artistic inspiration (Siegfried’s muse Bruennhilde), instead of the redemptive work of art which would otherwise have been the product of that loving union, Siegfried opens up an unhealing wound in Gunther by not only exposing him to dishonor, but making both him and Gutrune appear to themselves as dishonorable, as willing to lie to themselves to make themselves feel uplifted. So, ironically, by respecting the letter of his honorable oath to Gunther to hand Bruennhilde over to Gunther as wife (when Gunther could never have won her himself, and should never have won her), without Siegfried himself taking her presumed virginity first, Siegfried has ultimately dishonored Gunther. For there are two types of honor: the ersatz honor which man obtains by lying to himself, as we find in religious belief and inspired secular art, and the real honor which can only come to us as a result of strict adherence to the truth. The problem with this latter alternative is that man seems historically to have obtained his sense of honor from self-delusion, and therefore can’t face the truth, which would entirely destroy his traditional sense of honor. Such is the case with the resistance which society made to the implications of the heliocentric theory of our solar system, or to the implications of Darwin’s notion of natural selection and the descent of man. No honor can be of value which is untrue: but what if the truth destroys the very concept of honor, which has always unconsciously been predicated on self-deception!

PH: On this view, Siegfried was both honorable and innocent when he forced Bruennhilde’s Ring off of her finger and out of her protection, and captured her for Gunther, because this was the inevitable, necessary last stage in the evolution of man’s futile bid for transcendent value, in religion, ethics, and art (i.e., in spirit, the good - including love -, and the beautiful). Siegfried has betrayed his true love Bruennhilde unwittingly. This is the true meaning of the vulnerability in Siegfried’s ignorance of himself and his world, and his naivete. Siegfried could not be forewarned of the danger, because had he been forewarned he would already have been so conscious that Alberich, in this sense, would already have regained possession of the Ring, for the Ring curse is the curse of consciousness, that mankind is predestined to acquire a hoard of knowledge of himself and his world that will overthrow all of the consoling illusions which previously gave his life meaning.

P. 174-175: PH: The following is K&S’s attempt to solve these problems:

K&S: “We do not think that it is crucial to resolve the dispute about what happened after Siegfried-as-Gunther ruthlessly ‘tamed’ Bruennhilde. Wagner uses their impassioned disagreement as a device to advance the plot and more specifically to set in motion the events that will lead to Siegfried’s death. For us the important question is, does Bruennhilde too, in her fury, sink to mendacious deception? We think not, regardless of what Siegfried-in-disguise actually went on to do. She obviously does not intentionally deceive if, shattered and confused by the events we have witnessed, she has formed the belief that her assailant followed up ripping of the Ring from her finger by forcing sexual relations. Yet, even if she knows that on that night, Siegfried-as-Gunther held back, her accusation that he has forsworn himself remains justified. She has heard Siegfried deny their love, speaking as though it had never been, as if to blot it out; and she takes the crucial point to be not just whether he no longer loves her (and is refusing to acknowledge having done so), but rather whether he even loved her once.

K&S: In light of the terrible possibility that that part of what he says is true, Bruennhilde must re-conceive everything that has happened to her, including the original appearance of Siegfried on the rock: perhaps from the beginning he never loved me. After all, she now must realize that she has no clear view of the chronology; and, for all she now knows, the original awakening, the apparently tender wooing, the consummation of sexual love and the swearing of vows could all be part of some hideous sham, with the veils partially ripped away on Siegfried’s brutal return. Siegfried is either forswearing himself in denying that he ever loved her, or he has practiced upon her, from the moment he first appeared, the most cruel of deceptions. (If that were so, of course, any distinction between the two occasions would be irrelevant.)

K&S: Bruennhilde’s account is an elaboration of the claim that for all his apparent denials and the falsity of his actions and his speech, she and Siegfried had in fact been wedded. If his account of the night on the mountain is to be believed, Siegfried can quite legitimately swear that he has kept faith with Gunther (and Gutrune). But even so, Bruennhilde can with equal justice declare that he has ‘broken every oath he swore’ - for, from the perspective of erotic love and its presumed exclusiveness, the oaths that count are those they once exchanged. So there is an apparent return of the order of laws and contracts, with Hagen’s spear appropriately serving as a perverted substitute for Wotan’s. Siegfried takes an oath upon its point, swearing that his conduct has been honorable; Bruennhilde calls upon the same spear’s point for his downfall for having sworn falsely and broken his oath to her. (…)”

PH: All of Bruennhilde’s and Siegfried’s problems stem ultimately from the fact that Alberich’s Ring gave birth to the gods and their Valhalla, and from Wotan’s original social contract with his egoistic animal instincts, the giants, which he intended from the start (thanks to Loge, Wotan's the artistic gift of self-deceit) not to honor, so that he could insure that the ideal man sets for himself in paradise, the enjoyment of freedom from fear of death through immortality, and the enjoyment of divine love, the bliss of sorrowless youth eternal, could be imagined purified of any taint by the very earthly, bodily impulses - the giants - which gave birth to this belief in a divine realm, once man’s animal lineage evolved to the point of reflective consciousness (Alberich’s forging of his Ring). Wotan unconsciously and involuntarily (as in dreaming) built Valhalla and civilization itself on the basis of self-deception, and that fact is now catching up with Siegfried and Bruennhilde and their love, secular art, especially the art of music, the last refuge of man’s age-old bid for transcendent value (Freia). All of K&S’s ruminations on this problem are beside the point. They can’t hope to grasp the mystery of Siegfried’s unwitting betrayal of Bruennhilde, under the influence of potions, with a purely realistic, common-sense reading of the libretto, because Wagner is referencing the entirety of human history in its essential conflict between man’s subjective view of himself, and his gradually but inevitably increasing objective knowledge of himself and his world. This is a world-historical allegory, not some plot which would be more appropriate in a tv drama. It is objective knowledge of this more cosmic view of things which will ultimately reconcile Bruennhilde, in a sense, to the necessity of all that has happened, and in this she will reflect the objective knowledge of her mother, Erda, Mother Nature, the true ground of everything. Read K&S’s following discussion of Bruennhilde’s own effort to get to the bottom of this, with my previous remarks in mind:

P. 175-176: “Bruennhilde, who cannot believe her eyes and ears, senses that there has been trickery and tries to probe it. Although she suspects that her intuitive wisdom has been diminished by her commitment to love, she understands a great deal. There has been a plot to which Gunther has acceded because he has wanted ‘rewards of fame … .’ Bruennhilde suspects that they are all complicitous in her betrayal; but because Siegfried has been the central actor in this plot, and because he has profaned their love, his death will suffice to atone for it as far as she is concerned. But Bruennhilde’s discernment falls just short. She has failed to appreciate the prime mover in her betrayal, underestimating Hagen. When he suggests that he will avenge her, her (understandable) reply is ‘… [On Siegfried? … You?]’ - and we should hear this against the background of the chilling menace of the closing lines of Hagen’s ‘Watch’ (which ends Act 1, Scene 2): ‘… [Though you think him lowly, you’ll serve him yet - the Nibelung’s son].’ “

PH: K&S have omitted so much crucial content in the libretto and music which they gloss here that they seem to have almost entirely missed what’s at stake. Note how glibly they pass over Bruennhilde’s status as the knower for Siegfried of that knowledge which Wotan taught to her in his confession, that unspoken secret it was Bruennhilde’s mission to keep secret, even from Siegfried, which is embodied by Motif #150. As for the Gibichungs having all been complicit with Siegfried in her betrayal, Bruennhilde is blaming mankind as a whole (and will later similarly blame Wotan, who is not only godhead but also collective, historical man) for having set up Bruennhilde for failure by depending on deception to make life livable. Siegfried must die as a sacrifice to Alberich’s curse, to atone for mankind’s sin against all that was, is, and will be, the sin of religious world-renunciation to which Siegfried and Bruennhilde, the artist-hero and his muse of unconscious artistic inspiration, have fallen heir. And, since Bruennhilde is Siegfried’s unconscious mind, with his death the contents of his unconscious mind, Bruennhilde, are revealed to the world, and, having lost her function of keeping this secret, she must die also. Note also Wagner’s deliberate equating of Siegfried’s upcoming sacrificial death with Christ’s, for Siegfried like Christ must atone for the sins of all. Since Wagner followed Feuerbach’s thinking on religion and denied the real existence of god, and since in Wagner’s Feuerbachian view his own redemptive music-drama is a modern secular substitute for dying religious faith, Siegfried the artist-hero on this view is analogous with Christ, and must be sacrificed to atone for Wotan’s (mankind’s) original religious sin of world-denial, just as Christ was God embodied on earth as a mortal human to atone for man’s original sin against God. But Wotan’s sin was against Mother Nature, Erda, and so Siegfried must atone to her by suffering the doom of Alberich’s curse on his Ring, the curse of consciousness. This is why Siegfried pours off part of the drink he shares with Gunther (which as Gunther says has Siegfried’s blood in it) to Mother Earth (Erda), in atonement of Wotan’s original sin against all that was, is, and will be. Of course, Hagen’s threat that those joyous beings who are still dedicated (unlike he, Alberich’s son and proxy) to the illusion of man’s transcendent value, will ultimately serve him, not only comes true, but was foreseen by Alberich way back in "Rhinegold" Scene Two.

PH: For these reasons I reproduce below a few key passages from "Twilight of the Gods" Act Two Scene Five to prove my point that K&S have omitted almost everything of importance, and focused on things which presumably are important to them, but which have little bearing on Wagner’s "Ring":

“Bruennhilde: (#164 - the motif which embodies Bruennhilde’s recognition of Siegfried’s betrayal of her love as the ultimate incarnation of Wotan’s punishing her for living for love, derived from #137, the motif which embodied the fear Bruennhilde taught Siegfried, derived in turn from #81, the Motif which incarnates Wotan’s recognition that Siegmund is not a free hero but reflects all that Wotan loathes in his own nature, which is derived ultimately from #21, Wotan’s Spear, of dubious contracts) What demon’s art lies hidden here? (#167 - The so-called Murder Motif based on Alberich’s Ring Motif #19) What store of magic (#87 - Fate) stirred his up? (#87) Where now is my wisdom against this bewilderment? Where are my runes against this riddle? (#87) Ah, sorrow, Sorrow! Woe, ah woe! (#134 - the motif which embodies Wotan’s hope to make Siegfried and Bruennhilde his heirs, who would redeem the world from Alberich’s curse, and which later symbolizes their love as unconscious artistic inspiration; for Wotan’s thought, which Bruennhilde felt, was, as she said, just her love for Siegfried) All my wisdom I gave to him (#150 - the motif which represents Wotan’s Hoard of Runes which Bruennhilde imparted to Siegfried, but of which he remained unconscious, untaught, and which he told her he did not know how to cherish, keep, or guard, also set to #150): in his power he holds the maid; in his bonds he holds the booty which, sorrowing for her shame, the rich man exultantly gave away.”

PH: We can see here that Bruennhilde isn’t just upset that Siegfried has betrayed his loving fidelity to her in a conventional romantic sense. She is upset that she had entrusted him with Wotan’s hoard of runes, the booty which Siegfried exultantly gives away to Gunther (the artist-hero’s audience) along with his muse of artistic inspiration Bruennhilde. We can also see in the music that the demon’s art that lies hidden here (#164) was Wotan’s originally futile quest to find a free hero (#81), emancipated from the protection and laws of the gods (#21), who could free the gods from Alberich’s curse on his Ring by taking possession of it and keeping Alberich from regaining it. But Siegfried has now regained it for Alberich and Hagen, so to speak. The demon’s art was mankind’s foundational dependence on the gift of artistic self-deceit represented by Loge, who persuaded Wotan to make his primal social contract (from which all others derive) with the Giants, a contract whose original intent Wotan could not meet. Siegfried is about to betray Wotan’s secret hoard of runes, the implications of his confession to Bruennhilde, to the light of day, without forewarning, because Siegfried’s unconscious mind Bruennhilde has protected him from Wotan’s foreknowledge and his fear, thus, as Siegfried said in "Siegfried" Act Three Scene Three, leaving him in a situation in which he doesn’t know how to cherish, keep, or guard the knowledge Bruennhilde gave him, because it has left him untaught (i.e., thanks to Bruennhilde, he is unconscious of it). The presence of #87, the Fate motif, throughout much of Bruennhilde’s monologue also tells us not only that Wotan’s knowledge, which he learned from Erda, was knowledge of his fate, but that Bruennhilde’s betrayal by Siegfried, and Siegfried’s unwitting involvement in helping Alberich and Hagen to fulfill Alberich’s threat that his hoard would rise from the silence of night (from Siegfried’s unconscious mind Bruennhilde) to the light of day and destroy the gods, and that the gods’ heroes would turn against them, and Alberich would force himself on the gods’ women, all come to fulfillment by Siegfried, as fated by Alberich’s curse on his Ring.

PH: And in the following passage Bruennhilde explains to Hagen and Gunther how through her magical protection she has spared Siegfried from wounds at the front, but not his rear, and that this is how all three of them can venge themselves upon Siegfried, who thus will atone for the sins of all:

“Hagen: … whisper me sound advice and say how the hero may yield to my might.

Bruennhilde: (#150 Variation/#15 Variation - a motif combination, the first motif of which represents the hoard of Wotan’s runes which Bruennhilde imparted to Siegfried, but which left him untaught, and the second being the Rhinedaughters’ ‘Rhinegold! Rhinegold!’ with which they introduced the Rhinegold in their song and dance of pre-Fallen joy in its presence in R.1, and which represents the fact that so long as Siegfried preserves the sanctity of his muse of unconscious artistic inspiration Bruennhilde, she offers him protection from Alberich’s curse of consciousness temporarily, as a sort of substitute for restoring the Ring to the Rhinedaughters) O rank ingratitude! Shameful reward! Not a single art was known to me that did not help to keep his body safe! (#141 - the motif previously associated in "Siegfried" Act Three Scene Three with Bruennhilde’s comment to Siegfried: ‘Your own self I am, if you but love me in my bliss’) Unknown to him, he was tamed by my magic spells which ward him now from wounds.

Hagen: (#173 Variation) And so no weapon can harm him? (#167)

Bruennhilde: In battle, no! (#50 - Alberich’s Envy or Resentment Motif) But, if you struck him in the back. (#15/#50 Variation) Never, I knew, (#92 - Siegfried) would he yield to a foe, (#15 Variation) never, fleeing, present his back (#57); (#150/#15) so I spared it the spell’s protection.”

PH: We can see here that Bruennhilde, Siegfried’s unconscious mind, protects him at the front from foresight of the end, the foresight Erda taught Wotan of the inevitable end of the gods, which Wotan couldn’t bear to contemplate consciously, and therefore repressed into his unconscious mind Bruennhilde, who now protects Siegfried from suffering the unhealing wound of consciousness of this fatal knowledge. But Siegfried can be killed from behind by a repressed memory, a memory of the past which Wotan has, figuratively, put behind him by storing it in his unconscious mind, Bruennhilde. If Siegfried gives his unconscious mind, the muse of his artistic inspiration, and her secrets, the hoard of knowledge Wotan imparted to her and which she imparts to Siegfried only subliminally and therefore safely, away to his audience, then Siegfried will be stabbed from behind by a memory from which Bruennhilde is no longer protecting him. We must also recall here that Bruennhilde told Wotan that in battle she protects him at the back (obviously because Wotan feels fear, since she protected Siegfried only at the front because he is fearless and would never turn his back on an enemy), but she doesn’t protect Siegfried there. Bruennhilde’s spell is that as Siegfried’s unconscious mind she is a surrogate Rhine in whom Siegfried stored Alberich’s Ring for safekeeping, in order to free himself from suffering its curse of consciousness. Alberich’s Ring is now the embodiment of Wotan’s secret hoard of runes, from consciousness of which Bruenhilde has protected Siegfried up until now, when he is becoming too conscious of who he really is. Siegfried is effectively becoming conscious of himself as Wotan, i.e., as the heir to Wotan’s (religious man’s) legacy. And of course Wagner dramatized this in the entire plot of the "Ring," depicting the entire historical context of his own art.

P. 176: PH: The following is all that K&S have to say about Bruennhilde’s revealing Siegfried’s secret vulnerability to Hagen, so that Bruennhilde can have Siegfried martyred to atone for mankind’s sins:

K&S: “Not content merely to invoke laws and contracts and to appeal for justice, Bruennhilde is moved to action, providing Hagen with the all-important secret to the killing of Siegfried.”


P. 177: K&S: “Bruennhilde, in the end, has an extraordinary measure of authority. (…) She has it because she knows. (…) She has learned wisdom. - She poses a crucial question to the gods … after upbraiding them (‘behold your eternal guilt … ‘) … and then more than answers it: ‘Do I now know what you require? - All, all, all I know, all is clear to me now! … .’ But she does not elaborate - even though what she means is obviously of the utmost importance. What, then, does Bruennhilde now know?

P. 177-178: K&S: First, we suppose, she now knows that the dominion of love is not a solution to Wotan’s problem of order. Exclusive erotic love can neither turn away, renouncing the world for private ecstasy, nor can it prevail and triumph over the contagious corruption of the world. The first option was unthinkable for the happy pair at the very beginning of "Goetterdaemmerung": they rightly saw that life on the mountaintop would only narrow them both and stultify their love, since it would stifle them (Siegfried in particular). But for erotic love to survive in interactions with others requires a combination of luck and wisdom. There are too many fair-seeming competing claims and attractions that can subvert or corrupt what was once pure and good; so, most notably, Siegfried falls not only to a magic potion and to the potent evil of Hagen but also to the superficial charms of camaraderie and reputation - and Bruennhilde’s own blind (if understandable) rage at Siegfried is easily exploited by Hagen, thereby involving her - misguidedly but nonetheless willingly - in the killing. Deceit and profanation come quickly in "Goetterdaemmerung," but we take it that we are being invited to think that debasement was almost inevitable, even without the apparent contrivances that drive the plot.”

PH: One thing that Bruennhilde now knows is that her mother Erda’s formerly sleeping knowledge of all that was, is, and will be, which Erda’s daughters (and Bruennhilde’s half-sisters) the Norns wove into the rope of fate (the ur-law), has woken in her. Bruennhilde now accepts the necessity for the twilight of the gods, and also charges them with guilt for all the tragic events which have transpired. However, when I say gods, I am really speaking of humankind, since Feuerbach and Wagner recognized in the gods man’s own unconscious and involuntary projection of his own ideal nature into figments of the imagination. For this reason Bruennhilde will now do what Wotan had whispered he wished for her to do, restore Alberich’s Ring to the Rhinedaughters so they can dissolve its curse in the waters, but clearly, the precondition for this is not only the sacrifice of the gods (and the illusions which sustained them), but also the sacrifice of the gods’ proxies, the Waelsungs and Bruennhilde, the sacrifice of man’s historical bid for transcendent value. In this sense Wotan can now rest from his restless wandering in quest both of objective knowledge of the world, and of the means to redeem himself from this knowledge, and from fear of it. For in Bruennhilde Wotan’s long-repressed, unconscious hoard of runes, his confession of the inevitability of the gods’ twilight, is now becoming wholly conscious. We must remember that Bruennhilde’s final words are coming from Siegfried’s own formerly unconscious mind. When K&S make such distinctions between Siegfried and Bruennhilde we can read these as distinctions within a single mind, though I frankly give little weight to their distinctions. The restoration of the Ring of consciousness to the Rhinedaughters can be taken to be a metaphor for some real return to the state of nature, at least of preconscious nature, or it can be taken in an even more figurative sense. Wagner, for instance, said during his final years that he wished to forsake drama and only compose music. Since Woglinde’s lullabye, Motif #4, was the basis for the Woodbird’s Song #128 and #129, and I take the Woodbird’s song to actually be Wagner’s metaphor for the special redemptive music he composed for his music-dramas, to restore the Ring to the Rhine could perhaps be taken for a return to pure music unadulterated by drama and metaphors for human history.

PH: K&S speak of two alternative paths for the romantic love which, they say, Bruennhilde now sees can’t offer ultimate redemption. One way was to seek private ecstasy. The other was to test that love in wider human relations. Wagner stated that with the failure of the political revolution he had supported in the late 1840s’, and then especially with the failure of a subsequent hope for reform, because of a coup, in France in the early 1850’s, he had given up hope for redemption through politics and looked for it instead in art, in looking inward rather than outward. This is part of what the Rhinedaughters mean when they sing in the finale of "Rhinegold" that truth is to be found only in the depths. This is partly true of what Wotan does in renouncing rule by the gods in favor of the loving couple Siegfried and Bruennhilde, to whom Wotan leaves his legacy, since their loving union is Wagner’s metaphor for his own unconscious artistic inspiration. But even more profoundly than this retreat to subjective art from objective, worldly action, is a deeper retreat, to the profoundly private world of Wagner’s own unconscious artistic inspiration, which takes no account of the need to present its gift of an artwork to the world, and this is what Wagner represented allegorically in Siegfried’s and Bruennhilde’s love-duet in "Siegfried" Act Three Scene Three. In the second love duet of the Prelude to "Twilight of the Gods," however, Siegfried’s muse Bruennhilde sends him out into the world to present humankind with the product of their union, a redemptive work of art (or many such works). The purpose here is not to engage the outer world of men politically or to enhance one’s reputation or status or property or wealth, but to offer them a special secular redemption through art, rather than through religion or political reform. Wagner, however, only dramatized the presentation of one work of art to an audience in the "Ring," the final work of art, a metaphor for his own "Ring," which, according to its own plot, would effectively be the last functioning example of unconsciously inspired art, because in it (Siegfried’s narrative of the heroic story of his life, of how he came to grasp the meaning of the Woodbird's song, i.e., the meaning of music and its secret prehistory) the artist-hero would expose the secret which it had been the purpose of religious faith and secular art to keep, to the conscious understanding of his audience, thereby bringing about the tragic end not only of the gods but also of the artist-hero. It is this distinction between the artist-hero’s private experience of unconscious artistic inspiration, and the artist-hero’s heroic adventure of sharing his private dream of inspiration in a sublimated, allegorical form with his audience, which corresponds with K&S’s distinction between the lovers’ private ecstasy and the public face of their love.

PH: I presume readers can see just how dilute K&S’s conventional reading of Bruennhilde’s assessment of her situation seems to be in comparison to the reading I offer above. I don’t think their reading is at all accurate (though it is reasonable and realistic so long as one doesn’t take into account all that they have omitted or misunderstood) because it doesn’t tap, even remotely, the full wealth of all that Wagner has brought to the fore in "Twilight of the Gods." I don’t believe, for instance, that Siegfried falls for the charms of “camaraderie and reputation.” Siegfried remains what he is, the authentic artist-hero, throughout all of his life, and remains such even in his betrayal of his muse of unconscious artistic inspiration Bruennhilde, because the rise from unconsciousness to consciousness is the inevitable trajectory of human history, and Siegfried unwittingly (as I believe Wagner did) contributed to this, even in the act of bringing to birth the most powerful and redemptive-feeling work of art of all, the "Ring." How ironic that the best should be last, and even betray itself! And as I have already explained, Bruennhilde’s collaboration with Hagen in order to destroy Siegfried was the inevitable, natural consequence of Siegfried the artist-hero becoming too conscious of who he is to be capable of finding redemption in unconscious artistic inspiration any longer.

P. 178: PH: I suppose I can at least agree with K&S’s following conclusion:

K&S: “Their [Wotan’s and Bruennhilde’s] experiences are indicative of the hard truth that there simply is no viable solution to the problem of stable order that Wotan set for himself. By the end of "Goetterdaemmerung" Bruennhilde knows this. She does not actually say so; but she is not given to such pronouncements. Her knowledge is implicit in what she does.”

PH: I can fully endorse this statement if we expand its sense to mean that Wotan and Bruennhilde are aware that no order predicated on the illusion of man’s transcendent value can survive.

P. 178-179: K&S: “Bruennhilde also knows that the claims of the different forms of love are often irreconcilable … . The apparent resolution reached at the end of "Siegfried" was premature, not only because the commitment to exclusive erotic love turned out to be unsustainable, but also because of the pretense that nothing else mattered except the demands of that love. She has come to see that Wotan, and what is noble in his world, continue to have claims on her. And this creates a dilemma: for, as Bruennhilde recognizes, to honor those claims would be to slight the demand for exclusiveness of her very different sort of love for Siegfried, and thus to debase it … . Neither she nor "Goetterdaemmerung" offers us a way to resolve this predicament in general; indeed, both she and the drama itself suggest that the general problem is insoluble.”

PH: Wagner often stated that his happiest moments were spent during the process of creation of his art (at least a part of which presumably involved his unconscious artistic inspiration, in which he, in effect, channeled the creative, collective human spirit, Wotan and his collaborator Loge, and its collective unconscious, Bruennhilde). However, he was driven by another muse (Hagen, in collaboration with the false muse Gutrune) to share his own private redemption with an audience, with mankind, in a work of art to which his private artistic inspiration had given birth, which was predestined to betray the secret of its gestation to consciousness. It is this need to present his private, innermost secret in sublimated form to the public which, according to the plot of the "Ring," in these modern, ultra-conscious times, led inevitably to the exposure of the secret of Wagner’s (and retrospectively, other artists’ inspiration and religious men’s divine revelation) to the light of day. What was dangerous in this was the potential revelation of the mundane, earthly source of all which mankind feels must be transcendent and mysterious. Wagner’s greatest fear was that science would explain away all of what he called the mysteries of being, including the altruistic heroism of a Christ, or the formerly mysterious process of artistic creation.

PH: Wotan and the gods continued to have a claim on Bruennhilde and her private love for Siegfried, as did Alberich’s curse on his Ring, because Bruennhilde’s loving relationship with Siegfried was as much a product of Wotan’s hopes and fears (expressed in his confession) as was Siegmund’s compassionate heroism. As Bruennhilde told Siegfried, what Wotan thought, she felt, and that was only her love for Siegfried, embodied by Motif #134, which Wagner called a redemption motif. Note that both Bruennhilde and Siegfried initially refuse to give up the Ring, which is the symbol for their love, and restore it to the Rhinedaughters. Bruennhilde only concedes the need to give it up to the Rhinedaughters, thus following through on Wotan’s desperately nihilistic last wish, after both Siegfried and she have betrayed their love. There is no redemption by love at the end of the "Ring," but perhaps there is a redemption through art, whose metaphor is the loving union of Siegfried with Bruennhilde, which of course is the image Wagner leaves us with at the end, an ostensible reunion of them in death. The redemption, if there is one, is found in performances of the "Ring."

P. 179: K&S: “Justice requires, as Loge saw long ago, that the gold be returned to the Rhinemaidens. In "Goetterdaemmerung," returning the gold has taken on a new meaning - as has the gold itself. For the Ring, into which it has been shaped, is now the symbol of the romantic love Bruennhilde has discovered with Siegfried. To relinquish it, signifying subordination of that love to something else, would now be to make a great sacrifice - and indeed a quite inconceivable one for her, however grand and compelling that ‘something else’ might be. For looked at in a certain way (as she undoubtedly looks at it), relinquishing it would be almost tantamount to what Alberich already did in the first place - that is, to renouncing love itself, as she now understands and embraces it.

P. 179-180: K&S: Earlier, when Waltraute asked it of her, this sacrifice was unimaginable for Bruennhilde, even for Wotan’s sake; for Siegfried was alive, the love between them was still perfect and unsullied (or so she confidently believed), and she saw all only with a lover’s eyes. But by the time of the Ring’s final scene, Siegfried is dead, and that love too has died an awful death. Yet for Bruennhilde simply to cast the Ring away at this juncture, after she has retrieved it from Siegfried’s (now unprotesting) dead hand, might be seen as acquiescing in those deaths, bleakly admitting the defeat of love. Indeed, that would surely be the significance of returning the Ring, if that were all that Bruennhilde did. In the aftermath of Siegfried’s death, however, she can declare her love anew, offering a quite different token - in the form of herself. She can do what Siegmund was prepared to do in their critical encounter, proclaiming that life without the beloved is unthinkable, and expressing her unsurpassed love for him by joining him in death - not ‘laughingly,’ to be sure, but most certainly triumphantly.”

PH: Since Alberich had to renounce love in order to steal the gold from the Rhinedaughters and forge a Ring from it, we might assume that to restore the Ring to the Rhinedaughters and let them dissolve it, thus terminating Alberich’s curse on his Ring, would be to restore the love that was lost. But I have already described at length how the love that Alberich renounced in order to forge his Ring of power is a more primitive phase in the evolution of love, what Wagner himself would have described as the life of feeling of the innocent animals. It was not romantic or compassionate love which was at stake at that early point, but a more undeveloped form of love (according to Wagner’s own testimony, human passions at this early point in the "Ring" are still primitive and undeveloped). To return the Ring to the Rhinedaughters would be tantamount to returning to a state of nature prior to the evolution of human consciousness, at least figuratively if not literally. And as I have pointed out in detail, the love which Siegfried and Bruennhilde share, though based on a metaphor of romantic love shared by hero and heroine, is that special type of love which Wagner identified with unconscious artistic inspiration, the loving union of the drama/word with music. So Siegfried’s and Bruennhilde’s love is quite distinct from the love which Alberich renounced (though what Alberich renounces will come to embrace all subsequent developments of this primal love), which is why Bruennhilde so forcefully dismisses Waltraute’s plea to respond to Wotan’s whispered wishes by giving the Ring back to the Rhinedaughters, and Siegfried refuses to offer it to the Rhinedaughters because they appeal to a fear which he doesn’t feel but is also too proud to affirm is a motive that can move him. This is entirely because Wotan believed that their love (art) alone would defeat Alberich’s curse. Wagner himself told Roeckel that Wotan only resorts to wanting to return the Ring to the Rhinedaughters after he has realized Siegfried will fail. Since Waltraute brings Bruennhilde this message just moments before Siegfried actually does betray their love by forcing Alberich’s Ring off of her finger and abducting her to give her to Gunther, we must assume that Wotan hoped to preempt Siegfried’s prospective betrayal of Wotan’s hopes for him by ending it all in the only way that offers an alternative to Alberich’s intent to force all to acknowledge the bitter truth, that there is no love and all the living live for egoism alone. The only way out for Wotan is to escape having to consciously acknowledge this by ending it all beforehand. Of course, there is no way to grasp in any precise sense what Wagner intended to convey by the restoration of the Ring to the Rhinedaughters, but undoubtedly it is meant to represent some sort of return to nature and escape from culture, which Wagner identifies with the Fall. Bruennhilde’s triumphant plunge with Grane into Siegfried’s funeral pyre I take to be, among other possible meanings, Wagner’s affirmation that in spite of all his work of art lives on. I think that in all probability K&S would not construe this as contradicting their interpretation, at its heart.

P. 180: PH: It would not necessarily contradict their following formulation of what is at stake:

K&S: “… by making the form of her death one in which the vain splendor of the gods is also consumed, she can give voice to her love for Wotan and the things about him that inspired love. She can bring about the kind of ending for which he has yearned, purging the world over which he has presided of the corruption that has infected the noble things they struggled to foster. So she at once sacrifices and sanctifies both the token of her first love for Siegfried and herself. And in doing so she also affirms and consummates Wotan’s strivings, thereby achieving for him (as well as for herself) the ending he had sought, in the only way possible.”

PH: This is one reason why Wagner retrospectively read Schopenhauer’s philosophy into Wotan’s character, first reading Schopenhauer in the late summer or early fall of 1854 after Wotan had been entirely conceived. For Wotan’s resignation to his (and even possibly the world’s) end dramatizes what Schopenhauer said was the sin of existence itself, that, given the corruption which the very nature of life, and of man in particular, embodies, it would be better never to have been born, it would be better if the world had never existed. Of course I don’t think this reading exhausts what Wotan is, or does, but it is surely part of it. Why, if lost love were being fully restored by giving the Ring to the Rhinedaughters, would Wotan go to his end in such gloom, surrounded by the other gods, Valkyries, and martyred heroes who look upon the end in dismay? Why wouldn’t he have been as glad of this end as he was when he thought his ideals could live on in Siegfried and Bruennhilde, even if he and the gods had to pass away? Furthermore, it is noteworthy that since the gods don’t actually pass away until Siegfried and Bruennhilde have betrayed their love and also passed away, that their destiny is one and the same. Siegfried and Bruennhilde were never objectively free from Wotan’s influence; but subjectively they felt as if they were, because they remained unconscious of it.

PH: I cannot truly endorse K&S’s following attempt to make sense of Bruennhilde’s self-immolation as a sacrifice in honor of all that she has loved or valued, though I certainly can’t say with absolute certainty that it doesn’t contain some truth also, mainly because Wagner’s "Ring" finale, which presented for him such a struggle to come to terms with what his own "Ring," and his life in art, had meant, seems almost open-ended in its ambiguity, and seems to embrace many possible endings, almost like that concept in physics of indeterminacy, in which there are multiple possible histories:

K&S: “For although no stable order has been - or can be - found, her action simultaneously honors the justice that was informed by his [Wotan’s] benevolent love, her earlier empathic love, and the erotic love she has felt so intensely for Siegfried.

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