Critique: 'Finding an Ending' Part 10

General Discussion about Wagner and The Ring of the Nibelung

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Critique: 'Finding an Ending' Part 10

Post by alberich00 » Thu Jul 21, 2016 11:11 am

This surely is the reason why Wotan in "Twilight of the Gods" Act One Scene Two whispers in Waltraute’s hearing that he hopes Bruennhilde will take the weight of the Ring curse off the gods, and the world, by restoring it to the Rhinedaughters, when Wotan had previously, in Erda’s presence, embraced the hope that Siegfried’s and Bruennhilde’s love would, of itself, redeem the world from Alberich’s curse on his Ring. Had Wagner wanted us, his audience, to assume that Bruennhilde’s redeeming act, upon waking, would be to restore Alberich’s Ring to the Rhinedaughters, the music which accompanied Wotan’s statement in "Siegfried" Act Three Scene One, would surely have included one of the Rhinedaughter or Rhine Motifs, and it does not. That is to say, Wotan had hoped that inspired secular art would be freed from Alberich’s curse of consciousness, because art lives in feeling rather than thought, yet preserves the essence of religious longing for transcendent value, but Siegfried is about to (shortly after Waltraute acts on Wotan’s wish by visiting Bruennhilde to beg her to restore the Ring to the Rhinedaughters) betray that loving union with Bruennhilde which is Wagner's metaphor for unconscious artistic inspiration. Since Wotan had to have expected not to go quietly when Siegfried, as he had anticipated and hoped for, defied him and broke his Spear in order to gain access to Bruennhilde, and Bruennhilde herself tells Siegfried in "Siegfried" Act Three Scene Three that Wotan’s thought, which she felt, was just her love for Siegfried (embodied by motif #134), surely Wotan doesn’t suddenly give up all hope that their love (inspired art) will, of itself, fail to offer the redemption Wotan had hoped for, just because Siegfried is rude and disrespectful. No, it is only Siegfried’s succumbing to Hagen’s influence which compels Wotan to seek an ultimate redemption in the Rhinedaughters which is quite distinct from what he hoped for from Siegfried’s and Bruennhilde’s loving union. Furthermore, Wagner described Motif #134 as a redemption motif, and that motif does not play a role in the finale of the "Ring" when Bruennhilde decides to leave Alberich’s Ring in her ashes for the Rhinedaughters, but rather, Motif #93, which Wagner called the Glorification of Bruennhilde and a Hymn to Heroes, is the motif heard most prominently in the finale, a motif which at its inception expressed Sieglinde’s praise of Bruennhilde’s intervention in the Waelsungs’ behalf, an intervention that saved the life of the as-yet-unborn Siegfried.

P. 131-132: PH: K&S now offer more and more confusing rationalizations for their strained assumption that Siegfried is somehow a free agent that his father Siegmund was not.

K&S: “In any event, the upshot would seem to be the vindication of the idea of Siegfried’s autonomy, despite the validity of Fricka’s critique in a case like that of Siegmund. When someone other than the agent is in control of all the critical variables, as in the instance of Siegmund, there is only the semblance of autonomy. But when at least some such variables are under the agent’s control, then however witless the agent may be (and Siegfried is) with respect to the complexities of the situation, the ability of someone other than the agent (like Wotan) to intervene in certain ways does not suffice to preclude the possibility of action that may be considered genuinely (even if not unqualifiedly) autonomous - despite the fact that the outcome may be an action that happens to accord with the desire prompting the intervention (as happens in the case of Wotan and Siegfried). (…) For better or worse, Siegfried acts independently of Wotan’s will, even if he does realize Wotan’s basic intention in doing so.”

PH: If K&S had only asked themselves why Siegfried seems so witless, they might have arrived at the conclusion I came to when I first discovered Wagner’s "Ring" back in 1971, that Siegfried is witless, without any knowledge of his own identity and history, because Wotan repressed and stored this knowledge in Bruennhilde in his confession to her. Bruennhilde calls herself Wotan’s will, and Wagner said that the reason Siegfried lives entirely in the present is that he is the finest gift of the will, i.e., the finest gift Bruennhilde, Wotan’s will, gave Wotan and Siegfried. As Wotan told Erda in "Siegfried" Act Three Scene One, Erda’s knowledge (the fateful, fearful knowledge Erda imparted to Wotan, when Wotan enjoyed that union with Erda through which Erda gave birth to their daughter Bruennhilde) wanes before Wotan’s will, i.e., it wanes before their daughter Bruennhilde, Wotan’s unconscious mind, because Wotan stored that knowledge, his unspoken secret, in Bruennhilde, during his confession to her, and it is this Hoard of Runes which Bruennhilde in turn subliminally imparts to Siegfried. Thus Siegfried can on the surface appear a Parsifal-like pure-fool, yet act on Wotan’s wishes subliminally, because Bruennhilde is Siegfried’s secret repository of Wotan’s knowledge which, as Siegfried tells Bruennhilde in the "Twilight of the Gods" Prelude, leaves him untaught (i.e., unconscious of it), even though Bruennhilde imparted it to him (i.e., holds it for him). Bruennhilde explicitly told Siegfried in T.P that: "(#150) What gods [read: Wotan] have taught me I gave to you, a bountiful store ["Hort," i.e., Hoard] of hallowed runes ...," but Siegfried remains untaught by this knowledge because Bruennhilde holds it for him. In my reading of the allegory Siegfried has been influenced by the entire legacy of mankind’s religious, moral, and artistic past which is embodied in his father Siegmund’s broken sword (whose core purpose is the restoration of lost innocence, which Wagner said was the primary trend of world history), which Siegfried, as an individual artistic genius, has to make his own instinctively, through his own inspiration, and thus he reforges it. Similarly, this legacy subliminally conveys to uniquely gifted, unconsciously inspired, artists, mankind’s collective unconscious and its secrets, and this is represented by Bruennhilde. That she is figuratively the mother of the Ring’s music we see in Bruennhilde’s remark that what Wotan thought, she feels. In other words, according to Wagner the redemptive orchestral music of Beethoven, and Wagner himself, is the distillation in feeling of all that the legacy of past thought in religion and philosophy could no longer offer as redemptive. So Siegfried is not just influenced subliminally by Wotan’s heritage, he is Wotan reincarnate, minus consciousness of his true identity.

P. 132: PH: I suppose I can concur with K&S’s following statement, but not for the same reason which evidently inspired them to write it:

K&S: “As in the case of Siegfried’s forging of the sword and of the Wanderer’s subsequent confrontation with him, the chain of causation runs through emotional states rather than through deliberate acts of planning, and indeed runs contrary to Wotan’s settled intentions.”

PH: Of course K&S mean by this that the emotional reactions of Wagner’s primary sympathetic characters like Wotan and Bruennhilde bring about actions on their part which were not part of their original intent, but my reading of this is that man’s entire legacy of religious belief, ethics, and art, is more a matter of subjective feeling than objective thought.

PH: As an illustration of K&S’s notion of “… the creation of Bruennhilde as a free being,” K&S say the following:

K&S: “The punishment [Wotan’s punishment of Bruennhilde for disobedience], which strips Bruennhilde of her divinity and makes her fully human, is not intended to turn her into a free being - but that is its result. If Wotan had been serene and reflective, dreaming up a very similar plot, in which Bruennhilde was duped into ‘opposing’ him with the goal of making her a free being, then he would not have achieved his end. The product would still have been a creature bearing the stamp of his will. Precisely because his anger overwhelms him, however, and because he is not deliberately attempting to transform her into a free being but simply to express what he feels to be the appropriate response to her betrayal, he does manage to produce an outcome he had thought to be impossible … .”

PH: If my long-held surmise is correct, that Bruennhilde is Wagner’s metaphor for Wotan’s unconscious mind (modeled on what Wagner himself said in "A Communication To My Friends," that Elsa is Lohengrin’s unconscious mind, in whom he seeks redemption from his conscious ego), Bruennhilde is already automatically free, since the unconscious mind, the source of our dreaming (and collectively, presumably the source of religious revelation and unconscious artistic inspiration) is, according to Feuerbach, both us, and not us, just as dreams are our own, yet seem to come from somewhere else, since we did not consciously conceive them. They are involuntary. Wotan, by the way, in his confession to Bruennhilde had already told her he wished for a free hero who would be freed from the gods’ law, and so, in taking her divinity away, he is indeed freeing her to live for her love for the artist-hero Siegfried, for, as Bruennhilde tells Siegfried, Wotan’s thought is her feeling, and Wotan’s thought is just her love for Siegfried, #134. Secular art must be freed from its former dependence on religious belief, to be redemptive in Wagner’s sense. In any case, K&S’s rationalizations to support their argument that Siegfried and Bruennhilde are really autonomous from Wotan are, in my view, absurd. In fact Bruennhilde will come to see her allegedly free, loving marriage to Siegfried, once he's betrayed her, as the ultimate incarnation of Wotan’s original punishment for disobedience, and will blame Wotan in the finale of "Twilight of the Gods for having doomed Siegfried, through Siegfried’s freest deed (killing Fafner and taking Alberich’s Ring from him), to suffer the same curse to which Wotan succumbed. Wotan's true status as Light-Alberich, the alter-ego of Dark-Alberich, and ultimately the transformation of Alberich’s Ring (#19) into Valhalla (#20a), is behind all of it, behind every single thing that happens in the "Ring," even behind what seems most exalted and free and transcendent.

P. 133: PH: Therefore I think that K&S are entirely wrong in trying to justify their assumption that through the mere chance of emotional reactions which have unintended consequences, this somehow miraculously creates for Wotan the free hero and heroine he needs, as expressed in the next extract:

K&S: “Wotan’s lament that ‘servants are all I can produce!’ is therefore wrong and yet well warranted; for free beings can only be generated from those of his actions in which planning does not play the central role - paradigmatically when his deliberations are overridden by the surges of his feelings, and when his conception of what he is doing overlooks important consequences that will result. In a very deep sense, the freedom of Bruennhilde and Siegfried is generated in spite of itself.”

PH: Wagner once stated that in creating his own unique art he didn’t have to plan ahead, because he knew that he was unconsciously following a plan. In other words, Wagner could feel his way through the creation of the "Ring" because deep down in his unconscious mind the "Ring" was being being involuntarily constructed by Wagner’s muse, so to speak, like a dream, which provided him a subliminal blueprint, so to speak. He also said that for this reason he always knew that something would turn up. I think this is a more accurate description of how Wotan’s intent subliminally influences the allegedly free Siegfried and Bruennhilde.

K&S: “We are given one last detailed vision of the god and his judgment. In "Goetterdaemmerung," Waltraute comes to Bruennhilde to ask her to return the Ring to the Rhinemaidens, and she quotes Wotan’s whispered wish: ‘ … [If she gave back the Ring to the deep Rhine’s daughters, the weight of the curse would be lifted from both god and world!].’ (…) His [Wotan’s] despair should not be understood as an expression of a residual longing for his system of laws and contracts. By this time his commitment to that order is long gone, and the order itself has passed with the shattering of the spear. Nor is Wotan simply coming to grasp the point that Loge insisted on many operatic hours ago - that the rule of law required and depended upon the return of the gold. Instead, we take Wotan to have become profoundly dubious about the possibility of any stable order that might succeed his own and fare any better.”

PH: I’ve already provided my reasons that I can’t accept K&S’s notion that Loge’s advice to Wotan to restore the Ring to the Rhinedaughters has anything whatsoever to do with Loge’s alleged concern that the rule of law requires that Wotan return the Rhinedaughters’ property to them. I’ll just repeat, in brief, that the forging of the Ring is the central necessity of the drama, and that law itself could not have come to be without Alberich’s theft of the gold and forging of the Ring. That said, I can concur with the remainder of K&S’s remark, and their main point that by the time Wotan whispers his wish to Waltraute that Bruennhilde return the Ring to the Rhinedaughters to take the weight of Alberich’s curse on his Ring off of the gods and world, Wotan has given up on any sort of redemptive outcome in which human life can be made meaningful.

P. 133-134: K&S: “The Wanderer ironist of Siegfried was reconciled to the prospect of his end because he supposed it would usher in a new age of heroic virtue, with vileness vanquished and baseness banished under Siegfried’s banner. In the confrontation scene, however, Wotan has seen the downside of naive heroism … . Back in Valhalla, he broods on the world he has loved, left in the hands of a foolish boy.”

PH: It is remarkable to me, especially in view of the fact that Wagner offers us another pure fool in his final artwork, "Parsifal," that K&S, in spite of having put considerable thought into their analysis of the dramatic dynamics of the "Ring," have offered in their book so little inquiry into what might be behind Siegfried’s naivete. They never mention, for instance, Wagner’s remark that it is thanks to saturating his entire music-drama with musical motifs which can reference all those things in the drama with which they are associated, that the dialogue can attain a naive pointedness missing from conventional drama, which must reference its historical context. This should have offered them a clue about Siegfried’s unique nature as a hero who lives in the moment and seems to have no past history or identity, and has no fear of the future. It never dawns on them that Wotan’s confession to Bruennhilde, the womb of Wotan's wishes, of all in his own character and history from which he wishes to be freed actually gives birth to Siegfried.

P. 134: K&S: “But it has not been left in Siegfried’s hands alone. For there is also Bruennhilde, the recollection of whom can at least lighten the god’s despair. So Wotan may at least be capable of entertaining the idea of love as a kind of consolation that might even be a last great hope - if only it were attainable and sustainable. Yet he quite certainly knows that the world still contains the enemies of love, Alberich and his kin, bent on instituting a very different order of their own, demonic and grim; and he already foresees what the action of "Goetterdaemmerung" will make devastatingly clear: that the rule of love has very poor prospects. The gray god therefore can only envision a bleak ending, a blank defeat. He is at a complete loss. All that remains for him is to arrange the conditions for the consummation of the gods, leaving the world to its own sad devices and sorry fate, and to await those ends, without hope, in infinite sadness.”

PH: The finale of the "Ring" has several possible readings and this is one of them.


P. 136: K&S: “We eventually learn that the branch from which the spear was fashioned was torn from the World-Ash, severely wounding it, and thus that the acquisition of power came at great cost to a source on which everything ultimately depends. As was noted above, Wotan’s unnatural rending of the primordial state is not unlike the violence Alberich inflicts on the rock that bears the Rhinegold, even though Wotan aims at a positive improvement of the primal order. His dealings with the giants and many other previous attempts to achieve his high ends have involved Wotan in tricks, deceit, and the naked exercise of power. (…)

P. 136-137: K&S: Thus the purportedly meaning-constituted order of laws and contracts was instituted and is being maintained by decidedly shady means, generating serious worries about the legitimacy of the entire arrangement.”

PH: Wotan’s breaking a branch from the World-Ash in order to make his Spear of Divine Authority and Law, thereby blighting the World-Ash and ultimately killing it and drying up the spring under its roots, is in my interpretation one of several metaphors for the fact that man’s earliest mode of thought, in which he posited imaginary beings as transcendent and autonomous in relation to Nature, was what Feuerbach described as a figurative matricide, religious faith's figurative murder of Mother Nature. Thus the World-Ash is blighted and dies. Its motif is closely related to that of Erda.

PH: In my interpretation, one of the primary distinctions between Wotan and Alberich, in their exercise of power, is that, unlike Alberich, Wotan’s consciousness is split between the full, objective exercise of power, and his desire at like time to retain the love which he confessed to Bruennhilde had waned prior to his grab for world-power. It is because Wotan’s mind is split between the need to acknowledge the objective truth, which is the sole means to acquire true, worldly power, and the need to foster subjective wish, to sustain belief in man’s transcendent value (which Wotan calls love), that Wotan is two-faced and therefore must involve himself and others in deceit. In fact, he confesses to Bruennhilde in "Valkyrie" Act Two Scene Two that he unwittingly engaged in deceit of both himself and of those heroes who fall under his law. Alberich, on the contrary, is of one mind, not two, because he acknowledges the bitter truth and doesn’t maintain any consoling illusions which have to be protected from it. It is for this reason that Wotan develops an unconscious mind, his daughter Bruennhilde, in response to his experience of the objective world (all that was, is, and will be), Erda. This is the truth behind the metaphor of Erda giving birth to Wotan’s child Bruennhilde. Bruennhilde is not only a persuasive character but also the representative of the involuntary part of ourselves which in each single person gives rise to dreams, but in collective, historical man gives birth to our waking dreams of the gods (i.e., religion), and later, art. When Erda, in "Siegfried" Act Three Scene One, accuses Wotan of being a hypocrite in punishing Bruennhilde for doing the very thing Wotan wished, she is accusing him of having two minds. In any case, Wotan in his confession effectively accuses himself of having unconsciously deluded himself and others in order to create a society predicated on a rule of law of allegedly divine origin. Thus K&S are right to say the following, though they haven’t really established the correct basis for it:

P. 137: K&S: “An order built and maintained in this way may be divine in inspiration and appearance, and even in substance; but an end achieved by such means is far from unproblematic, however immaculate its conception. The flawed basis for Wotan’s authority, moreover, is reflected in the evident limits to its scope and sway.

K&S: "Goetterdaemmerung" offers a narrative explanation of how this has come about: the story of the breaking of the branch from the World-Ash. Wotan paid a price for his gain. He sacrificed an eye to obtain (simultaneously) directive authority and a capacity for knowledge that transcends that of his companions. His cognitive authority derives, we suggest, from the fact that he was driven to make this sacrifice by his prior awareness of a question that other denizens of the world in which he found himself had never posed - the question of how to create a stable order that would make meaningful life possible.”

PH: In my interpretation I have already described how Alberich’s sacrifice of love for the sake of the Ring’s power, and Wotan’s sacrifice of an eye to obtain wisdom from the spring under the World-Ash’s roots, and to break a branch from the World-Ash in order to establish divine authority and law among men, are one and the same act viewed from two distinct perspectives. In my interpretation the precondition for Wotan to impose his divine order upon the world was Alberich’s forging of the Ring, an act which musically gives birth to Valhalla, and the gods’ rule is not fully established until they take their place in Valhalla. In fact, as I have pointed out, the gods’ sleeping, and therefore dreaming, while the giants (the gods’ animal instincts) and Alberich’s Ring (the formerly animal man’s acquisition, through evolution, of the power of conscious, symbolic thought) built the entire civilization (Valhalla) predicated upon belief in gods, took place before the gods had even become conscious of themselves as gods, or men had become conscious of themselves as men. The alleged history of the gods (and man) prior to their settling into Valhalla is mythological, not real, their remembrance of this time dreamlike. As Feuerbach said, religion is a waking dream. Also, I have pointed out Feuerbach’s notion that the positing of godhead was a natural outgrowth of early man’s acquisition of human consciousness, which involuntarily and unwittingly reifies itself by calling its seemingly infinite and transcendent nature godhead.

PH: Donington was probably right to conclude that the eye Wotan lost to obtain his allegedly divine power was the eye that looks inward, the subjective eye of feeling, or love. This is why, when Wotan confronts Siegfried and Siegfried asks why Wotan is missing an eye in "Siegfried" Act Three Scene Two, Wotan responds that Siegfried is looking at Wotan with Wotan’s missing eye. Siegfried is the ideal Wotan, minus consciousness of his real, true, objective identity, who looks inward to Wotan’s unconscious mind Bruennhilde, the muse of Siegfried’s unconscious artistic inspiration. Since the Rhinedaughters represent man’s link between this inner, subjective self of feeling, or love, and man’s preconscious animal ancestors who responded only to felt, instinctive impulses, the Rhinedaughters say in the finale of "Rhinegold" that truth lies only in the depths. This is not objective truth, but felt truth, subjective truth, which Wagner identifies with love and with music. That Wotan hoped to retain that love, in its wider meaning, even in his divine realm of law, is expressed not only in Wotan’s confession to Bruennhilde that even in his desire for power he didn’t want to give up love, but in Loge’s evidently sarcastic remark to the Rhinedaughters in the finale of "Rhinegold" that, having lost the light of their gold (because Alberich stole it), the Rhinedaughters can now enjoy the newfound radiance of the gods. The whole point of man involuntarily and unwittingly inventing the gods is to restore the innocence lost through the acquisition of consciousness. For this same reason Siegfried’s and Bruennhilde’s loving union, which is an artificial substitute for restoring the Ring to the Rhine and ending its curse, will be accompanied by several motifs associated with the Rhinedaughters, especially in their second love duet, in the Prelude to "Twilight of the Gods."

P. 138: K&S: “He [Wotan] did not stride away from the World-Ash with all the intelligence and acuity we see him applying in the "Ring." Before the opening of "Rheingold," he was able to appreciate Loge’s aptitudes and to acquire his service. With the experience of Erda, he saw a new opportunity for extending his intellectual grasp. He synthesized cognitive gifts that are distributed between these two, his principal sources, with the intelligence and vision he had already acquired. Throughout the "Ring" all are put to work as he wrestles with the problem that obsesses him. His knowledge becomes vast because he continues to understand what he still needs to learn and who might help him to learn it. (Thus there is a special edge to the exchange with Mime in Act I of "Siegfried" since, cunning though he is, Mime is not an intelligent learner.”

PH: I don’t find K&S’s analysis here helpful. In my interpretation Wagner has distinguished two aspects of Wotan in two distinct roles he plays. First, and most obviously, he represents mankind’s notion of godhead, whom mankind takes to be the creative author of those divine laws which guide the lives of men. But Wotan has another distinct role, that of the Wanderer, who seeks knowledge from Erda, Mother Nature, both in the general sense that he wanders the world (Erda) seeking knowledge, and in the special sense that he actually has two confrontations specifically with Erda (subsequent to his first confrontation with her in "Rhinegold" Scene Four), in which he seeks and obtains two kinds of knowledge, on the one hand objective knowledge of why Wotan must feel care and fear, and on the other hand how Wotan might cease to feel this care and fear (once he has learned that he can’t evade the cause of this fear). This first kind of knowledge is objective knowledge. The second kind of knowledge is how to cease to feel this fear, in the face of his inability to objectively alter the bitter truth, and this kind of knowledge we might call aesthetic intuition. Bruennhilde is the product of Wotan’s first confrontation with Erda. The distinction between these two roles Wotan plays come from Ludwig Feuerbach, who described godhead as a metaphor for collective, historical man, who over time, through experience of the world and acquisition of objective knowledge of himself and his world, gradually forsakes the original religious explanation of the world as being under the direction of transcendent beings, or gods, and replaces this subjective, aesthetic way of viewing things, with objective knowledge that what mankind had formerly construed as the product of divine beings, is actually the coherence of Mother Nature, her laws. This acquisition of knowledge is historically inevitable, and since I have construed Alberich’s hoard of treasure as actually a hoard of knowledge of the earth, which gives man power, I have also construed Wotan’s acquisition of knowledge during his world-wandering as equivalent to Alberich’s amassing of a hoard of treasure (knowledge). It is no accident that Mime describes Nibelheim as "Erde's Navel-Nest." It is no accident, either, that Bruennhilde describes for Siegfried the knowledge Wotan imparted to her in his confession, and that she imparted in turn to Siegfried, as the gods' [i.e., Wotan's] Hoard (“Hort”) of runes. The historic inevitability of this amassing of knowledge by collective, historical man, is a product of Alberich’s curse on his Ring (the nature of human consciousness itself), in which Alberich tells Wotan that all those who have co-opted Alberich’s Ring power will seek gold (knowledge), but bring about their own destruction in the process, and that those who don’t possess it will envy those who do and try to possess it themselves, until Alberich regains possession of his Ring, a perfect description of the historical inevitability that mankind would, over time, transition from religious faith to an objective, scientific understanding of the world, which is what Alberich’s possession of the Ring of consciousness represents.

PH: In my interpretation Wotan’s contest of knowledge with Mime dramatizes the fact that unlike Wotan, who seeks knowledge of how to redeem himself from knowledge of the truth, to redeem himself by affirming the transcendent value of human beings (presumably an illusion), Mime doesn’t seek this subjective kind of knowledge, this means to redemption, but only the small amount of knowledge of the prosaic, real world which he requires to satisfy his immediate needs. Mime therefore is incapable of reforging the sword Nothung (just as Wotan is incapable of it), because the sword Motif #57 is based on the arpeggiated figure with which the Ring begins, the Primal Nature Motif #1 which represents the innocent time before the Fall (the Fall brought about by man’s acquisition of consciousness, the Ring’s power), the state of nature, or preconscious nature, which is the very essence of what man seeks in man’s search for lost innocence as found in religious belief, in an ethics predicated on loving self-sacrifice instead of egoism (ignoring the fact, of course, that in the state of nature it’s eat or be eaten, even among one’s own kind, in spite of instincts in some species which sustain various kinds of family-care), and inspired secular art, particularly the art of music. What Wotan proves in this contest of knowledge is that Mime knows and grounds himself in the real world, but is incapable of redeeming himself from it. Wagner in his personal life accused the Jews of being inherently subject to this limitation, but Wagner actually dramatized in the "Ring" his fear that all human beings, of whatever race or religion, were cursed with ineradicable egoism. Mime (often taken to be Wagner’s stereotype for Jews) is actually Wotan’s prosaic self (while Siegfried is his poetic self).

P. 139: K&S: "At its [the "Ring" tragedy’s] center is his [Wotan’s] commitment to a grand task, which he pursues with ferocious determination - and yet he ultimately realizes that not only has he failed to achieve it, but he has also contributed to the failure by the ways in which he has attempted it.

PH: My last few paragraphs of commentary explain K&S’s description above, but of course from a viewpoint foreign to their own.


P. 140-141: PH: K&S offer the following speculation that Siegmund and Sieglinde and Bruennhilde all bring something about, crucially important to Wotan’s hope to find something redemptive in all he has done to bring meaningful order to the world, which he did not anticipate. Regarding Siegmund and Sieglinde, K&S say:

K&S: “Their importance is greater than their presence; for, in a way Wotan never imagined, they far overshoot the mark he set for them, attaining authority and making judgments that affect the entire course and meaning of the "Ring." They herald and catalyze the metamorphosis from the saga of Wotan’s great but doomed campaign into Bruennhilde’s transcendent drama, anticipating not only Siegfried’s heroic alternative to Wotan’s divine way but also its Bruennhildean supersession. The kind of love Siegmund and Sieglinde discover and share changes everything.

K&S: Siegmund and Sieglinde are often regarded as little more than a warm-up act for Siegfried and Bruennhilde, foreshadowing in lower case what their successors display in capital letters, hero and HERO, love and LOVE. But this does not do them justice. Siegmund compares favorably in many respects with his son [Siegfried]; and while Bruennhilde does surpass Sieglinde (along with everyone else), she never would have been able to do so without the lessons in love that she learned thanks to them.”

PH: K&S are correct to say that Siegmund and Sieglinde are not merely Siegfried-and-Bruennhilde-Lite, but this is not only because they introduce self-sacrificial love into the "Ring," a ball which subsequent characters pick up when it is dropped. It is also because Wagner distinguishes these couples in a manner guided by his understanding of Feuerbach. Wagner said that he was deeply influenced by Feuerbach’s belief that the only truly immortal things we humans possess are great acts of heroism, and great works of art, and also by Feuerbach’s notion that what religious folk believe in is ultimately identical with man’s aesthetic sense. The distinction between these two couples is that Siegmund and Sieglinde represent the heroics of self-sacrificial, compassionate love, or morality, minus the promises of religious faith (Siegmund renounces Bruennhilde’s promise of immortal life in Valhalla), and the love of Siegfried and Bruennhilde represents art as a substitute for dying religious faith. This is the essential distinction between them: in other words, Wagner depicts Wotan seeking out the two alternatives to religious faith (the gods) which Feuerbach described as potential substitutes for lost religious belief. In the "Ring," both alternatives fail, just as religious belief is lost, and both alternatives represent different meanings of the word love for Wagner.

PH: A big problem for "Ring" exegesis is that neither Siegmund nor Sieglinde seem to fail, in themselves. They never betray their consciences, their love, unlike Siegfried and Bruennhilde. However, Wotan, as the author of everything, as the incarnation not only godhead but of Feuerbach’s collective, historical man (Wotan as Wanderer), sees through their ostensible heroism and compassionate love as values which collective humanity’s religious heritage has instilled in mankind, but which Wotan sees as corrupted in its very core by the fact that our religious heritage is founded on the illusion of man’s (or God’s) transcendent value, knowledge Alberich has forced Wotan to confront. Valhalla is founded on Alberich’s Ring of worldly power, both musically and literally. But Siegmund and Sieglinde remain sympathetic to us throughout, in spite of our knowledge of their true origin conveyed to us by Wotan. Like Bruennhilde, we are not persuaded that such inspiring characters can be explained away by Wotan’s assertion that he was himself behind everything which seemed free and independent in their thoughts, feelings, and actions. The problem here is akin to that which confronts us in trying to cope with the concept that our most exalted thoughts and feelings are ultimately reducible to physical phenomena which obey physical laws, and, similarly, that through a very gradual process of evolution from very simple beginnings, such seemingly transcendent things as self-sacrificial love, and the sublime bliss of music, have come to be, rather than existing sui generis as wholes without causes.

PH: I am reminded of a problem for most people in grasping the full implications of the theory of evolution of species. Feuerbach noted, long before Darwin discovered the mechanism of natural selection, or Mendel discovered the basic laws of genetic inheritance, that most humans can’t grasp the very concept of natural process, because it can be invisible if we try to register it in the here and now. For instance, creationists often argue that the human eye could only, ever, have had its current complexity, because, on their view, the eye’s usefulness is only a yes or no proposition: either it works or it doesn’t. But scientists who are currently working out the process of evolution tell us that what we call sight is the culmination of very, very gradual steps, each of which conferred a slightly greater probability that the local breeding group of a species selected for due to some slight advantage in a changing environment (and isolated from other pockets of the same species not subject to these local environmental conditions which were the cause of selection for specific mutations) would survive to breed and pass on its genes. This is true of all of our senses and of the other aspects of anatomy in general, including the brain. The point I am making here is that our subjective impression of being a self, an I, our consciousness of ourselves as ourselves, can differ in degree. As Feuerbach said, the deeper we look, the more we may discover the Not-I behind the I.
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