P. 127: K&S: “Yet he [Wotan] is still there - and what he does could well have an impact. How, then, does Wotan avoid compromising the integrity of Siegfried’s freedom? How does he solve the problem that seemed so intractable to the Wotan of "Walkuere" - that of creating a being who would be no mere extension of himself, but rather, despite the effects of his continued presence, a genuinely autonomous agent?”
PH: Wagner’s notion of the authentically inspired artist is that he is motivated from within by a drive, a need (“Noth”), so that he “must” create art, in spite of external circumstances. The inauthentic, uninspired artist creates alleged art for the sake only of applause, or profit, and to this extent creates only what he feels a preexistent audience wants, often modeling his art on the lowest common denominator. But for the great artist creation of his art is a necessity, an expression of his character, and his ideal audience is both himself and the entire legacy of former heroes of art to whom he reaches out by both incorporating their lessons, and transcending them, much as Siegfried does in re-forging his heroic father Siegmund’s broken sword. Also, for this reason, the artist-hero brings the new, the original, into the world. It is in this sense that Wotan can look to a secular artist-hero as the free hero he has been seeking.
PH: But in what sense does such an unconsciously inspired artist-hero redeem Wotan and the gods from Alberich’s curse of consciousness? First, not having conscious, ulterior motives, the artist-hero seems to be freed from fear and envy and greed. He simply creates his art because he must. But whence this must? According to Feuerbach and (and at least partly to Wagner), when religious faith is slowly dying both science and art liberate themselves from their former adherence to religious dogma, so that the artist’s own individuality and originality expresses the secular equivalence of the illusion of divine transcendence. But the religious longing for transcendent human value survives in authentically inspired secular art. Note that Siegfried, by virtue of winning Wotan’s daughter and unconscious mind Bruennhilde (since Wotan represents not only godhead but Feuerbach’s notion that godhead is a metaphor for collective, historical man, Bruennhilde on this view is mankind’s collective unconscious), falls heir to Wotan’s hoard of runes, his confession to Bruennhilde, and this is Siegfried’s hidden source of inspiration. Siegfried seems to be spontaneous and free but he is responding to subliminal, felt knowledge of Wotan’s fears and hopes.
K&S: “During the course of "Siegfried," Wotan does a number of things. To begin with, he engages in a riddle duel with Mime, at the end of which he provides the dwarf with a crucial item of information: only one who does not know fear can forge Siegmund’s sword Nothung anew. He converses with Alberich, offering to warn Fafner that the hero is on his way and allowing Alberich to volunteer to take the Ring (thereby saving the dragon from Siegfried’s sword). He summons Erda, and then delays Siegfried on his way to awaken Bruennhilde. These actions have causal consequences that seem to bear on the outcome for which Wotan hopes: Siegfried’s forging Nothung, killing the dragon, and awakening Bruennhilde. Without Wotan’s divulging to Mime the special attributes of the sword-repairer, would Nothung have been reforged? If Wotan had tried a bit harder to convince Fafner, could the dragon have been persuaded to give up the Ring to Alberich? And if Wotan had exercised his full godlike powers, could he have stopped Siegfried? If the answers to these questions are the wrong ones (No, Yes, and Yes, respectively), it would seem to follow that the Wanderer, for all his hands-off pretense, would still be manipulating and guiding the action; and like his father before him, Siegfried would turn out to be merely a Ring-retrieving, dragon-slaying puppet.”
PH: It is clear from Siegfried’s dialogue with Mime in "Siegfried" Act One Scene Three that Siegfried doesn’t register anything that Mime is saying, half to himself, about the fact that only he who never knew fear can forge the sword anew, or about the fact that Mime’s head is forfeit to such a fearless man, or that Mime forgot to teach Siegfried fear. Siegfried only begins to follow Mime’s ruminations when Mime tells Siegfried that Mime has learned the meaning of fear so that Mime can teach Siegfried. At that point, for the first time, Siegfried asks Mime: “(#104 - A motif representing Siegfried’s contempt for Mime) What’s this about fear?” Note that in order for Wotan’s allegedly free hero to act on Wotan’s fear of the end of the gods, to do what is necessary to redeem them from the fate Erda foresaw, Wotan must somehow motivate Siegfried to act upon Wotan’s fear without Siegfried actually feeling it or responding to it with paralysis as Wotan did. Since Wotan repressed his knowledge of what has caused him fear into Bruennhilde, and Siegfried was the figurative product of Wotan’s repression of this fearful knowledge into the womb of his wishes, Bruennhilde, Siegfried is already fearless by virtue of Bruennhilde’s holding for him the knowledge which plunged Wotan into fearful inaction. Therefore, Siegfried will be immune from the fear that Fafner would otherwise teach Siegfried. Mime represents Wotan’s head, which Wotan has already figuratively cut off by storing it in his unconscious mind, Bruennhilde, thus giving birth to Siegfried. But Mime himself, in his fear of losing his head, is registering Wotan’s egoistic resistance to losing it. However, Wotan longs for his heart to replace his head, and therefore is willing to sacrifice Mime, Wotan’s prosaic self, so that Wotan’s heart, his poetic, ideal self, can live on purified of all that he loathes in his own egoistic nature, in Siegfried, and his loving union with Bruennhilde, Wotan’s and Siegfried’s unconscious mind.
PH: So Siegfried does not act upon the information Mime faintly gives him in his muttered remarks which Siegfried scarcely can follow. Furthermore, if Siegfried was motivated by Mime’s remark that only someone fearless can reforge Nothung, why would Siegfried even agree to accompany Mime on a trip whose purpose is to teach Siegfried fear, which Mime says has practical value (a value Mime tells Siegfried was suggested to him by Siegfried’s dying mother Sieglinde. Sieglinde is unlikely to have told Mime to teach Siegfried this, but Mime invokes her in order to exploit Siegfried’s love for her to get what Mime wants out of Siegfried)? Obviously, if Siegfried learned fear, then if Mime's statement (following Wotan’s advice) that only a fearless hero can reforge Nothing, is true, then Siegfried would be disqualifying himself. Why wouldn’t Siegfried undertake the forging of Nothung right now, if Siegfried knows he is fearless, and is persuaded of the truth of Mime’s remark that only he who knows not fear can reforge it, since Mime clearly will never be able to reforge it for him (and this is just a metaphor for the fact that Wotan can’t forge Siegfried’s sword for him)? Why is Siegfried so amenable to going on this trip to learn fear when generally he resists any suggestions Mime makes? Could it be that Siegfried is already motivated subliminally by the knowledge that Bruennhilde holds for him, to undertake an adventure which will culminate in Siegfried’s killing of Fafner, learning the meaning of the Woodbird’s song, taking guidance from the woodbird in inheriting Alberich’s Hoard, and taking possession of Alberich’s Tarnhelm, and Ring, killing the treacherous Mime, and winning Bruennhilde’s love? If Mime, as I suggest, is Wagner’s metaphor for all that Wotan loathes in his own nature, and Siegfried is Wagner’s metaphor for what would be left, ideally, of Wotan’s impulses and character, if he were purged of the craven Mime-nature in him, then Wotan is already guiding Siegfried anyway, with or without Mime’s revelations about the hero who knows not fear.
PH: Furthermore, how comes it that, having killed Fafner, Siegfried can grasp the meaning of the Woodbird's song, and why does it tell him specifically to take possession of the very sources of Alberich’s power in the Hoard, Tarnhelm, and Ring, to defend himself against Mime, and to win the love of Bruennhilde, which also can only be done by the hero who knows not fear? It is no accident that this Woodbird tells Siegfried precisely all that Wotan would wish for him to act upon in order to redeem gods and world from Alberich’s curse on his Ring. If we take Wagner’s own remarks that the Woodbird is the spirit of Siegfried’s deceased mother Sieglinde, trying to warn and influence her son, this could account for the Woodbird's warning about Mime’s treachery (which presumably Sieglinde experienced during her last days alive being watched over by Mime), and for the Woodbird's suggestion that Siegfried find a companion in Bruennhilde (since Sieglinde had foretold this to Bruennhilde in "Valkyrie" Act Three Scene One), but it couldn’t account for the Woodbird’s suggestion that Siegfried take possession of the sources of Alberich’s power. This could only have come from Wotan, subliminally, via Bruennhilde, in whom Wotan had stored all that he had learned from Erda about the gods’ fate, and his hope to somehow redeem himself from this fate through his free hero. In other words, Wotan’s thoughts have become, as she says in "Siegfried" Act Three Scene Three, her feelings, and these are embodied in the Woodbird's song, i.e., in music, which guides Siegfried to his own muse of artistic inspiration, his unconscious mind, Bruennhilde.
PH: When Mime tells Siegfried that Mime omitted to teach Siegfried fear, though Mime had learned fear for Siegfried’s sake, Mime actually speaks for Wotan, who made Siegfried fearless by repressing into his unconscious mind Bruennhilde the fearful knowledge which had paralyzed Wotan into inaction. As further evidence that Mime’s remark, that only a fearless hero can reforge Nothung, has no influence on Siegfried’s decision to reforge Nothung himself, after Mime finishes describing fear for Siegfried, and describing how he’ll take Siegfried to Fafner so Fafner can teach Siegfried fear, Siegfried says the following: “Thither [to Fafner’s lair] you shall lead me: when I’ve learned the meaning of fear, I’ll away then into the world! Be quick then! Make me the sword … .” Siegfried knows perfectly well that Mime is not fearless, so, if Siegfried has taken to heart Mime's remark that only someone fearless can re-forge Nothung, he wouldn't ask Mime to re-forge his sword, except perhaps in mockery. But Siegfried speaks here as if he intends to learn fear so he can run off into the world with his sword. When Siegfried learns from Mime that Mime couldn’t reforge the sword, and Mime suggests that he who knows no fear could sooner find the art, Siegfried declares that Mime is a bungler, and decides to reforge the sword because, as Siegfried says, “For me my father’s blade will doubtless fit together: I’ll forge the sword myself!”
PH: Respecting K&S’s question whether, if Wotan had only tried a bit harder, perhaps he (and Alberich) could have convinced Fafner to give Alberich the Ring so that Fafner would not be a target for Siegfried who, according to Wotan and Alberich, will kill Fafner to obtain the Ring from him, in my interpretation Wotan undertakes this (what seems like an) experiment precisely because Fafner represents Wotan’s (religious faith’s) own fear of freedom of inquiry, and Wotan knows very well that, so long as man’s self-preservation instinct is satisfied by the illusory consolations of religion (recall that both Fasolt and Fafner originally built Valhalla, the divine realm of gods, in order to win Freia), Alberich (man’s objective consciousness, which irrevocably seeks power through acquisition of objective knowledge of the world) will not be able to persuade Fafner to give him the Ring (i.e., to hand over to modern, secular, scientific thought the mandate to provide man’s conscious mind its essential mode of thought, and the content of that thought).
PH: K&S also ask whether or not Wotan could really have stopped Siegfried from waking and winning the sleeping Bruennhilde, which will overthrow Wotan’s power. The answer is again no, because Wotan’s passing on the torch to Siegfried embodies the inevitable historical dissolution of religious faith and its replacement by science (Hagen) and art (Siegfried’s loving union with his muse of inspiration, Bruennhilde).
P. 128: K&S: “Within the Christian tradition, there is a long history of discussions of the compatibility of human freedom with divine providence. Typically, the questions begin from the supposed omniscience of the deity: since God knows everything, he knows how human actions are going to unfold, and that advance knowledge is often taken to preclude our freedom. Wagner’s Wotan is a more limited god and is far from omniscient; for example, he often clearly does not know in advance how things will turn out. So there is no problem in the "Ring" about the possibility of human freedom on this score. (…) Wotan also is far from omnipotent. (…) Even with Wotan’s limited powers, … one might discern a problem for the possibility of human freedom - as Fricka did previously in the case of Siegmund. Do Wotan’s actions render the idea of Siegfried’s autonomy an illusion too?”
PH: In my interpretation, which has been much (but not entirely) guided by both Feuerbach’s writings, and Wotan’s writings and recorded remarks (as well as, obviously, a very detailed and close reading of Wagner’s libretto and music for the "Ring"), all of Wotan’s and his proxies’ thoughts, feelings, and actions, are entirely accounted for by Erda’s knowledge of what was, is, and will be, i.e., the objective world of time, space, matter, and energy, under the laws of causation (or some other more complex concept of nature’s coherence and consistency), which is the natural equivalent to the Norns’ rope of fate, into which they weave Erda’s knowledge. This means that (again following Feuerbach, and also Wagner) even Wotan’s and his proxies’ longing for love and transcendent value, their longing to renounce the world we live in, for something better, is entirely grounded in natural laws and man’s animal impulses, but subject to unwitting self-deception. Wagner himself, for instance, on several occasions denied the logic of the very concept of freedom of will, for the simple reason that one can’t transcend oneself, whether one’s self is the expression of nature (genetic inheritance) and/or nurture (one’s upbringing by others, and experience of the world), or even an immortal soul. In any of these cases, it would not make sense to say one can transcend or escape from one’s own self, for then we would have to ask, what is the identity and origin of the impulse to transcend oneself, if not one’s self? And if the origin of this impulse is not one's self, then the impulse must be alien to one’s self, and therefore not relevant to the question whether one’s self has freedom of will.
PH: Fricka located the problem of human freedom in her notion that only divine beings, gods, have true freedom of will, while mortal beings are merely products of the gods and must do their bidding. Yet, strangely, Fricka was prepared to demand of Wotan that he punish the Waelsungs, Siegmund in particular, for taking actions contrary to the gods’ laws. How, Feuerbach asked, can a god who denies merit to humans’ upright actions, because humans lack freedom of will, condemn humans for corrupt actions, since, if humans lack freedom of will, then all human actions, good or bad, are inevitable, and not to be judged? Let me also add that it is conceivable that one might have foreknowledge of all things to come, yet that knowledge might embrace actions which are freely undertaken. The real question then becomes, if God created all things, including men and women, and in so doing could also foresee all their actions, including their disobedience which led to the Fall, isn't it correct to assume that, undoubtedly, God is responsible for the Fall of man, and therefore it is senseless to speak of a judgment on man’s actions? If one both creates something and foresees its entire destiny, then one created its post-creation history, or destiny, a priori, and the creator is responsible, the object of creation not. The key here is that humans, as I believe Roger Scruton would put it, as a natural consequence of the nature of human consciousness, feel “as if” they are free, engaging in relations with other free selves. In any case, Fricka is right that mortal humans are not free in some metaphysical sense (as creator-gods are supposed to be), but, since in Wagner’s Feuerbachian worldview during the period in which he completed the "Ring" (remembering also that Schopenhauer denied freedom of the will too), the gods themselves are products of mankind’s artistic gift of imagination, all men (and gods, if you wish) obey the laws of nature and the egoistic animal impulses, even in those instances in which man appears to be striving to transcend this natural limitation. The key point, the mystery here, is that man, though natural, posits as his highest value transcendence of his natural state.
K&S: “Consider Siegmund. Wotan planted a sword with magic powers in Hunding’s hut; and he also raised the young hero to behave in particular ways, so that he would be led into quarrels that ultimately left him in need of a weapon, and in the right place to find it. He both shaped Siegmund’s will and altered what would have been the normal consequences of Siegmund’s exercise of his will had he been left to himself from the outset. Are things any different with Siegfried?”
PH: In my interpretation Wotan’s bringing Siegmund up in the forest as a renegade from established human society, who is encouraged by Wotan, evidently, to fight for the freedom of other human beings from loveless oppression, is Wagner’ metaphor for the subtle ways that our religious heritage (even when belief in God or gods is beginning to wane) encourages an ethic of self-sacrifice based on one’s personal conscience, and places value on a courage willing to stand up against received opinion and the universal desire of society for quiet and self-preservation, for the sake of a higher good. Such was Christ’s relationship to the Roman authorities and Jewish Synagogue’s authorities in the New Testament. Siegmund’s upbringing in the wilds isn’t just a reflection of the allegedly iron-age Teutonic landscape in which the "Ring" myth is ostensibly set, but might be construed as an expression of Wagner’s notion that the man of genius must reserve a private wilderness for himself free of established society and its customs, habits, and norms, in order to develop a unique individuality. If Siegmund is the moral hero who has fallen heir to the ethics of self-sacrificial love which is part of our heritage from religious belief, then Siegfried the artist-hero is equally the heir to our religious legacy of longing for transcendent value, as it is expressed in the arts. That Wagner has Mime bring up Siegfried instead of Wotan just bespeaks the fact that in Wotan’s confession to Bruennhilde, Wotan told her he had come to loath himself, even that self which longs for redemption from himself (as Wotan complained that he finds, with loathing, always only himself in all that he undertakes), and longed for a new self purged of all that Wotan loathes in his old self. Mime comes to represent what Wotan loathed about himself: Siegfried, Wotan’s ideal self, his heart (instead of, like Mime, his head), loathes Mime, Wotan’s head, and figuratively cuts it off, which is precisely what Wotan desired. So, it is what Wotan loathes in himself that is the cultural legacy into which Siegfried is born, and which Siegfried instinctively wishes to free himself from, just as Wotan expressed it in his confession to Bruennhilde. Wotan’s self-loathing is Siegfried’s loathing of Mime. Note how strongly Siegfried wishes to deny Mime’s influence and teaching: this is Wotan’s desire for the hero who, in defying Wotan, would be his friendly foe.
PH: Since, in my interpretation Siegfried is Wotan reincarnate, minus conscious knowledge of his true identity, corrupt history, and fate (knowledge which Bruennhilde holds for Siegfried, and from which she, his unconscious mind, protects him), and since, as Bruennhilde told Wotan, she is Wotan’s will, and as Wotan said to her, in speaking to her he is speaking to himself, this shows how superfluous are the following questions which K&S pose about how Wotan could find redemption through a hero entirely freed from his influence who would nonetheless, as if by a miracle, do precisely what Wotan needs for him to do:
P. 128-129: K&S: “Wotan is plainly not responsible for the preservation of the sword for Siegfried’s eventual use. That is Bruennhilde’s work, undertaken while she is opposing his explicit commands. Nor can Sieglinde’s escape (and thus the preservation of the embryonic Siegfried) be traced to any cunning plan on Wotan’s part. For Wotan does not know either that Sieglinde has survived or that she is pregnant until it is too late for him to do much about it. But he would have interfered in a manner analogous to his shaping of Siegmund’s life if he had given Siegfried instructions about how to refashion the sword. Nor would things have been better if he had told Mime, and the dwarf had passed on the instructions. From the beginning of "Siegfried," the young hero wants a proper sword and, in his childish way, he rails at Mime for not providing him with one. Wotan would have played a role in shaping the outcomes if he had made it possible for Siegfried to obtain what he wants.”
PH: It must be clear by now to anyone who has read my critique through from the beginning to this point, that though Wagner offers us wholly persuasive individual human characters, these characters, in their complex interrelations in a plot which seems so often mysterious, speaking a sometimes metaphysically weighted language (even in its apparent simplicity), and swimming in an ocean of music which nonetheless seems at all points to tell us highly specific things about these characters, what they are thinking and feeling even when this does not seem self-evident, and even things of which they remain unconscious, and which sometimes contradict what they are saying, that all these characters are bigger, more comprehensive, more weighty than even they appear to be. What I am driving at is that K&S can never really hope to answer the questions they have posed until they give up their futile intent to read the "Ring" as if it were a realistic drama, and grasp that all, or at least most, of their questions, can be answered if we acknowledge that Wagner is offering us an allegory, and that we must register its logic to make sense of any part of it. Note for instance Siegfried’s obsessive desire, from earliest youth, that Mime make him a hero’s sword which he can really use, knowing perfectly well that Mime is inherently incapable of this. Since I have described Mime as Wotan’s prosaic self, the self Wotan loathes, who forged (or found?) a sword for Siegmund, which nonetheless Wotan had to break once he saw his own loathsome self behind all his efforts to bring Siegmund up to be the free hero who will free the gods from what Wotan fears, Alberich’s curse on his Ring, it is clear that if Siegfried is to be Wotan’s authentically free and autonomous hero he can no longer, like Siegmund, accept a sword made by Wotan, but must forge his own sword. This is what is behind the entirety of "Siegfried" Act One. Wotan can’t forge this sword either himself, or as his alter ego Mime, because Wotan fears the end, and his longed-for hero must be freed from fear. Neither Mime nor Fafner can teach Siegfried fear (Wotan needs for his fearless hero to be inspired by Wotan’s fear of the end, as otherwise his hero will not do what is necessary to save the gods from Alberich’s curse), but nonetheless Wotan has taught what makes him feel fear to Bruennhilde, and she will teach Siegfried. Another sense in which Siegfried the artist-hero is freed from fear is that the authentically unconsciously inspired artist-hero is not motivated by ulterior needs and wants, but does what he does of necessity, from instinct, seemingly spontaneously, without forethought. So, as one can see, in my interpretation K&S’s questions are irrelevant and have nothing to do with the case.
PH: I have already dealt at length with the following case K&S make that in spite of the fact Wotan taught Mime that only the hero who knows not fear can reforge Nothung, nonetheless Mime’s conveying of this information to Siegfried does not influence Siegfried to reforge Nothung. However, it’s worth quoting this passage since they make their case on slightly different grounds:
P. 129: K&S: “But this is not the way the forging of Nothung goes. When Siegfried returns, Mime does not hand him the pieces and tell him that to have the sword he wants, he, the unskilled youth, will have to do the job. Instead, after Mime’s apparently evasive remarks about learning fear, Siegfried finally becomes impatient and decides to forge the sword himself. The consequence is achieved without the hero being taught anything … . Wotan has taught Mime, but the chain of instruction stops there; so the god’s intervention plays no real role in the actual manufacture.”
PH: Again, I have already provided detailed arguments to show that Wotan continues to have a hand in Siegfried’s destiny, and the key stages of Siegfried’s life, even if these are not conscious, not self-evident (certainly not to Siegfried, who seems not even to know who Wotan is, throughout the entire "Ring"). Note, first, that in spite of Siegfried having fallen heir only to the broken halves of his father Siegmund’s sword Nothung, nonetheless this is still the sword which Wotan provided to Siegmund, even when it is reforged. The fact that the artist-hero Siegfried reforges his father Siegmund’s sword, the sword which Siegmund inherited from mankind’s religious legacy of seeking to establish man’s transcendent value, corresponds with Wagner’s notion that the authentic artist-hero must make his past legacy his own, instinctively. Wagner described this past legacy as a causeway made up of all the distinctly original personalities who have contributed to the mainstream of man’s cultural inheritance. Siegfried doesn’t need to learn anything from Mime because Siegfried is already the heir to Wotan’s legacy, his hoard of runes, subliminally, thanks to his unconscious mind Bruennhilde, who holds this knowledge for him, and thanks later also to Wotan’s/Bruennhilde’s messenger, the Woodbird. Mime, for Siegfried, as Siegfried’s foster-father, represents the established society of those who exist essentially for themselves, the society into which, according to Wagner, the isolated artistic genius is born, alienated. Such a genius may feel figuratively orphaned because the number of equally talented geniuses is very small, distributed thinly in time and space, whereas the common man, Mime, is omnipresent. Nonetheless, it is from this society made up mostly of average human beings that the genius learns of his true legacy, after which he seeks after that legacy (to purify it of the taint imparted to it through hands he considers unworthy), and after his own kind.
PH: Here, below, we have another example of K&S straining for an explanation of Wotan’s gambit in telling Alberich that he, Wotan, no longer acts but only observes, and in suggesting that Alberich try his hand at getting Fafner to give up the Ring to Alberich in exchange for Alberich fending off the hero Siegfried, who is coming to kill Fafner in order to win the Ring from him. I have already explained this a few pages ago:
K&S: “Consider next the meeting with Alberich outside the dragon’s lair. In the early phases of their conversation, Wotan informs the Nibelung that he is standing back and observing the attempts to regain the Ring, and that he himself will not play an active part. In what appears to be an act of bravado to prove his good faith, after explaining that the candidates for winning back the Ring are the hero and the two dwarves who covet it, he then offers to wake Fafner so that Alberich can try to persuade the dragon to let the Ring go. Wotan even acts as an impresario for Alberich’s attempt, shouting to rouse the dragon, and then introducing the dwarf as someone who has come to issue a warning. The important point here, however, is that Alberich is allowed to try the ploy for himself. Perhaps Wotan could have done more to help; but what is crucial is that the god does nothing to hinder. Hence his action cannot be accused of slanting the outcomes toward what he prefers. On the contrary, tempting fate, he provides an opportunity for his own plans to go awry - an opportunity which comes to nothing.”
PH: Such a so-called opportunity comes to nothing because it was not a true opportunity: Wotan, as I explained earlier, knows in advance that the dragon of his own (religious faith’s own) fear of the truth, Fafner, who insures that no one, not even himself, will ever use the Ring’s objective power, for fear that freedom of inquiry may expose the truth to the light of day and overthrow the illusions which sustain mankind’s belief in the gods, will not relinquish the Ring to Alberich (i.e., give up religious faith, which promises supernatural, unlimited satisfaction of life's impulses) in exchange for the scientific world-view that mankind is just an object, of no greater value than a mote of dust, until man’s acquisition of knowledge has reached the point that doubt kills Fafner. Siegfried the secular artist-hero is partly a product of Wotan’s self-doubt which he imparted to Bruennhilde in his confession to her. Wotan is just proving this to himself; his question to Fafner is rhetorical. Until mankind voluntarily gives up religious belief, Fafner remains guardian of Alberich’s Ring of symbolic consciousness, Tarnhelm of imagination, and repressed Hoard of objective knowledge. But Alberich, he who knows and wakes, waits in the wings to swoop in and take the Ring from Fafner once mankind begins to loosen the stranglehold of religious faith which has guided human societies for thousands of years.
PH: Wotan’s no longer acting, but only observing, is another of Wagner’s metaphors for the fact, discussed by both Feuerbach and Wagner, that religious belief is distinguished from inspired secular art by the fact that religious belief posits the actual existence of divine beings who can miraculously intervene in the real world, whereas secular art stakes no claim to the power of truth. In art, we merely observe, but do not act, whereas religious faith stakes a claim to truth which can be contested by science. For this reason Wotan and Alberich are adversaries. Feuerbach noted that religious faith is distinguished from love in that faith is motivated by man’s practical egoistic desire for immortality, and is thus motivated by fear, whereas love is free of such an ulterior motive. It is precisely this prosaic aspect of belief in the gods which Wotan wishes to jettison (i.e., the Mime in Wotan) in order to give birth instead only to the poetic aspect of religion, its musical feeling, in art (the Siegfried in Wotan). The artist-hero is thus the fearless, free hero Wotan dreamed of. However, Wagner outstripped Feuerbach in carrying this argument further. In Wagner’s "Ring," eventually the scientific, secular, sceptical mind of modernity (Hagen) makes the artist-hero and his art (his inspiration by his muse Bruennhilde) its object of knowledge, and is able to trace seemingly non-conceptual music (the Woodbird’s song), the ultimate distillation of man’s religious longing for transcendent value, back to its origin in the now debunked religious faith (Wotan and the gods). Therefore Siegfried’s and Bruennhilde’s demise is concurrent with the twilight of the gods, because the gods’ last refuge was inspired secular art.
P. 129-130: K&S: “The most challenging issue concerns what does and does not happen during Wotan’s final active moments onstage. For Siegfried to supplant Wotan and his brand of admirable order, there must be a confrontation, in which the hero must be victorious. But in the scene immediately preceding their meeting, Wotan tells Erda that he wills his end. How then can there be a genuine struggle? If Wotan wills his own passing, then he must be determined to lose - but if that is so, how can the hero genuinely win? The fight is fixed, even if Siegfried has no inkling of it, or even of what is going on.”
PH: This is a non-issue in my interpretation. The only reason Wotan needs to stage-manage a struggle with Siegfried is to, one, insure that Siegfried truly is the free hero who is capable of supplanting him (i.e., an authentically unconsciously inspired artist-hero who, for that reason alone, is capable of wooing the muse for inspired art, Bruennhilde, and this means that Siegfried fears neither Fafner nor Wotan’s Spear nor Loge’s ring of fire - the veil of Wahn within which hides the forbidden knowledge which Bruennhilde holds for Siegfried), and two, to insure that Siegfried can’t trace his own personal history back to Wotan, which is why Wotan asks Siegfried, almost ritualistically (and yet playfully and exuberantly, since art, Wagner said, is a profound form of play), to trace back how Siegfried came to be on the mountaintop seeking Bruennhilde. Wotan’s series of questions culminates in the question, who made the broken pieces of Siegfried’s sword which he has reforged, and Siegfried can’t answer, and says it doesn’t matter anyway. In other words, Siegfried can’t trace his influences back to Wotan, i.e., back to religious faith’s fear of truth and artificial longing to restore preconscious bliss, in a paradise of the imagination. Siegfried’s sword Nothung is of course embodied, for that reason, in the arpeggiated figure with which the Ring began, the Primal Nature Motif #1, which symbolizes the innocence before man’s Fall through the acquisition of consciousness (the Ring). Siegfried’s sword is the embodiment of man’s religiously inspired longing to restore what was lost, innocence. In fact, Siegfried’s sword, so conceived, naturally decapitates Wotan’s head, Mime, because Mime was, as he said, too wise (i.e., too wise to be capable of reforging Nothung). Mime is the precise antithesis of innocence, and therefore Nothung, with its pre-fallen arpeggiated figure, is the death of him.
P. 130: PH: Note that K&S miss the significance of Wotan’s need to prove Siegfried a fit heir, and Wotan’s need to query Siegfried to insure he can’t trace his heroic trajectory back to Wotan:
K&S: “Interestingly, the Wanderer does nothing obvious to provoke a conflict with the youth. He poses a few questions, asks for respect, and responds ‘very calmly’ (stage direction) when Siegfried exhibits some of his standard impatience.”
PH: In their following remarks they prove again that they are not clued into Wotan’s intent in testing Siegfried, though I agree with them that Wotan’s anger at Siegfried’s assertion of the very independence as a friendly foe which Wotan confessed to Bruennhilde he wanted in his free hero, is genuine:
K&S: “Gentle admonishment ‘… [If you but knew me, brave-hearted youth]’ gives way to anger, when Siegfried’s arrogance finally becomes intolerable to him [Wotan, as Wanderer]; and out of what is clearly an emotional response, he brandishes his spear, thereby picking the fight that Siegfried quickly and easily wins.
K&S: We do not think that Wotan is play-acting here. The anger and passion are genuine. However strongly he may have resolved to remain in the mode of onlooker, and however genuinely he may have intended to let the hero surpass him, when the moment comes he cannot help asserting himself. Siegfried’s brashness is so intolerable that we can well imagine the god wondering whether he should stand aside and relinquish the world to this. Among other things, the boy is totally devoid of any curiosity about the history that might stand behind this relationship, caring neither where the fragments of the sword came from nor why this old man professes love for him and his kind. So Wotan has grounds for doubt about the stability of the rule of the heroic.”
PH: K&S have missed the significance of the fact that Siegfried tells Wotan that Wotan, if he continues to thwart Siegfried’s mission, will go under just like Mime did. Mime is the part of Wotan which Wotan had to sacrifice, as it were, to allow Wotan’s ideal self Siegfried to grow out of Wotan’s original hopes and fears, as an allegedly independent spirit. That is why Wotan tells Alberich that Wotan himself no longer seeks to act, but that Alberich only has to concern himself with Mime (Wotan’s prosaic self, which Wotan is renouncing) and Siegfried. K&S don’t see that Siegfried’s lack of curiosity is, ultimately, what Wotan wanted, even if Wotan now chokes on his own best intent. What better way for Siegfried to assert his independence of the gods! The plain truth is that Wotan is still involved even after Siegfried wholly emancipates himself from the gods’ divine law and religious faith, since religious man’s longing for transcendent value lives on as a feeling, in art. K&S seem to have forgotten that Wotan told himself, when instructing Loge to make a ring of fire around his sleeping daughter Bruennhilde in "Valkyrie" Act Three Scene Three, that “(#92 - Siegfried the Hero Motif) He who fears my spear point shall never pass through the fire.” Wotan has to provoke Siegfried in order to insure that Siegfried will defy him and break his spear. But of course this is merely a dramatization of what already happened when Siegfried killed Fafner and took Alberich’s Ring and Tarnhelm from him: doing that, Siegfried had broken Wotan’s foundational contract engraved on his spear. That Wotan, at the moment of decision, still resists the very going under that he had told Erda he has willed, is quite natural, just as religious faith doesn’t just hand off the torch to inspired secular art easily, even though it is inevitable, and religious faith lives on for a time even after its heyday is done. In any case, Siegfried's lack of curiosity about Wotan and about Siegfried's own historical connection with him shouldn't give Wotan doubt about Siegfried’s capacity to be the heir to his legacy (Bruennhilde), because it is a necessary precondition for it.
P. 131: PH: Now, at last, K&S recall, after all, Wotan’s proclamation that he who fears his spearpoint will never pass through the fire [to win Bruennhilde]:
K&S: “It is hard to tell, from the way Wotan ‘quietly’ picks up the pieces of his spear, ‘falls back,’ says ‘… [Go ahead! I can’t stop you!],’ and ‘suddenly disappears’ (as the stage directions specify) whether he is acquiescing in what has just occurred or is a broken god with nothing left but his dignity. What has happened … is nothing less than he [Wotan] envisioned with great fanfare in his final promise to the sleeping Bruennhilde at the conclusion of Walkuere: ‘… [Whoever fears the point of my spear will never pass through the fire!].’ “ (…) … what we subsequently learn of Wotan thereafter from Waltraute certainly would seem to support the conclusion that he is indeed broken by the encounter, left with little hope of any fitting ending to his strivings.”
PH: Wotan may very well be broken by his encounter with Siegfried (in spite of his having gladly willed his own and the gods’ end, in favor of his heirs Siegfried and Bruennhilde, in his conversation with Erda in Siegfried Act Three Scene One), simply because he has been put (or put himself) out to pasture. That is depressing indeed, in spite of living on vicariously in Siegfried. However, his ultimate conclusion that Siegfried will fail as a hero is not in any way a consequence of his encounter with Siegfried in "Siegfried" Act Three Scene Two. It is a consequence of Wotan’s learning, somehow (through his messengers the Ravens, perhaps? - of course, in my interpretation this is a moot point anyway, since Wotan represents not only godhead but, in his role as Wanderer, historical man) in "Twilight of the Gods," that Siegfried has failed as a hero by coming under Hagen’s influence (thus fulfilling Alberich’s threat that he would turn Wotan’s heroes against Wotan, and storm Valhalla with his host of night, Siegfried’s and Bruennhilde’s love being figuratively the new Valhalla which Wotan hoped would replace the old), and is about to force Bruennhilde into a marriage with another man, and rip Alberich’s Ring out of Bruennhilde’s protective hands, thereby bringing about the twilight of the gods literally, rather than figuratively.
General Discussion about Wagner and The Ring of the Nibelung
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