Critique: 'Finding an Ending' Part 5

General Discussion about Wagner and The Ring of the Nibelung

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Critique: 'Finding an Ending' Part 5

Post by alberich00 » Thu Jul 21, 2016 11:24 am

This Wagner has captured not only in the transformation of the Ring Motif #19 into the first segment of the Valhalla Motif #20a, but also in Wotan giving himself the nickname Light-Alberich, and Alberich himself the nickname Dark-Alberich (note, however, that on the assumption “Alberich” is taken to mean Elf-Lord, that Wagner gives Alberich, and not Wotan, this generic name which embraces both Light-Alberich and Dark-Alberich), and lastly, in Wotan only being able to securely establish the rule of the gods over the world from their domain in Valhalla by depending entirely on Alberich’s own Nibelung Hoard, Tarnhelm, and most importantly, Ring, to seal the deal whereby Wotan can both pay for and secure ownership of Valhalla, and also redeem Freia (who represents the very essence of what man’s ego, the giants, seek in heaven, namely, divine bliss, love, and freedom from fear through immortality). The gods’ rule is not established until the conditions of the archetypal social contract, the agreement Wotan made with the giants which is inscribed on his Spear of Divine Authority and Law, are met. Not only the giants and Alberich, but Loge the trickster god, are necessary to institute this divine order, and in my interpretation Loge is the archetypal human gift of artistic self-deceit which gave birth to the religions and art. So animal egoism (the giants), the force of human consciousness (Alberich’s forging of his Ring of world-power), and self-deceit (Loge’s machinations to redeem the gods from the truth), were essential to bringing about a social order predicated on the illusory belief in gods.

PH: Also, Alberich (and by extension, his son and proxy Hagen) does offer a reordering of the world and its meaning, predicated on seeing everything in a scientific, objective way which precludes dependence on consoling fantasy, a world predicated on the value of “use,” in which everything, including individual humans, is seen as an object in space and time, which can be exploited to enhance the worldly power of those who know how to make use of objective knowledge. As for Wotan’s weaknesses, Alberich knows what Feuerbach said was one of the essential weaknesses of religious faith (which does indeed thwart the freedom of inquiry which eventually gives birth to modern science and secularism), that it is contradicted by the facts of nature, and of human nature, which mankind, through historical experience, will eventually unearth and make conscious. Also, religion is vulnerable in its censorship of all thoughts which might contradict faith. This censorship, or fear of the truth and of that freedom of human inquiry which might bring the truth to light, is embodied in Fafner’s (Wotan’s fear’s) sitting inert on Alberich’s hoard of treasure, neither using its power himself, nor allowing anyone else to. It is for this reason that Alberich, the one who wakes and knows, watches and waits for his chance to win the Ring back, at Fafner’s cave, which Wotan avoids because his fear of the truth (which he repressed into his unconscious mind, his daughter Bruennhilde, in his confession to her) keeps him away. However, Wotan’s artist-hero Siegfried will be freed from Wotan’s fear because, as Feuerbach and Wagner said, the inspired artist makes no false claims to the truth which might be contradicted, and therefore doesn’t fear it, which is why Siegfried feels no fear of Fafner. Also, when Wotan repressed the hoard of fatal knowledge of the gods’ inevitable end which Erda taught him, by confessing this unspoken secret to Bruennhilde, Wotan also repressed his fear of this end. Thus Wotan can be reborn in Siegfried, minus consciousness of his true identity, and also minus his fear of the end.

P. 85: K&S: “When he [Alberich] and Wotan meet in Siegfried, Alberich offers a double judgment that elaborates his charge (made in Rheingold, Scene 3) that in wrenching the Ring from his finger, Wotan sins against ‘all that was, is, and shall be.’ The first part of it is the accusation that Wotan broke his contractual obligation in taking the Ring from him; and the second is the contention that the god cannot take from Fafner what he gave in payment. But his judgments are offered to no effect. Wotan has long accepted the second point, and so says nothing in response to it; and he dismisses the first by declaring that Alberich was always outside the scope of contracts - an outlaw whom the spear subdued not in virtue of its legal force but because of its power as a weapon.”

PH: Nowhere in the passage in question does Alberich suggest that Wotan will broke his contractual obligations to Alberich by wrenching the Ring from Alberich’s finger. Alberich is simply telling Wotan that Wotan employed the Ring he stole from Alberich to fulfill Wotan’s contract with the giants, and that Wotan is now bound to sustain that agreement, and therefore can’t take the Ring back from Fafner. Here is the passage:

“Alberich: With my treasures you paid your debts; my ring rewarded the toil of those giants (#20a/#20b) who built your stronghold for you; (#21) what you once agreed with those insolent creatures (#21) is still preserved today in runes (#28) on your spear’s all-powerful shaft. What you paid the giants by way of tribute (#21) you cannot wrest from them again: you yourself would shatter the shaft of your spear … .”


P. 86: K&S: “It is hardly an exaggeration to say that "Rheingold" is Loge’s opera. Alberich sets the drama in motion, is duped, and suffers defeat; Wotan broods and connives, eventually leading his fellow gods into Valhalla. But Loge connects the incidents, bringing Alberich’s theft to Wotan’s attention and masterminding the scheme through which Wotan (temporarily) gains the Ring. At each stage, his clarity of vision contrasts with that of the other participants.”

PH: K&S are correct that Loge is central to the entire plot of "Rheingold," but are not, if their prior reading of the "Ring" is taken into account, likely to grasp Loge’s nature in this chapter. We will see. The allegorical key to Loge’s role in persuading Wotan to make the agreement with the giants to build Valhalla and pay them Freia, on Loge’s promise to redeem Freia by finding another payment the giants will accept, is to be found in the following argument. The fact that the gods sleep while the giants, waking, build Valhalla, I take to be a metaphor for Feuerbach’s notion that earliest human civilization per se was founded on the illusory belief that transcendent beings, gods, founded that civilization, when in fact human beings themselves involuntarily and unconsciously invented the gods and created all the institutions alleged to have been founded by the gods. This corresponds with Feuerbach’s notion that the origin of religious belief is dreaming, which occurs when humans sleep. The gods sleep while the giants wake and build Valhalla, though Wotan describes how he, in effect, dreamed Valhalla into existence: this is surely a metaphor for Feuerbach’s thesis. Presumably, when human beings, unwitting products of natural evolution of species, woke up to the fact that they were human and distinct in the very nature of their conscious thought from their fellow animals, and that they had a freedom of action and capacity for change and adaptation unknown to their fellow animals, they found themselves already in possession of a mythology in which they explained their prior history as an establishment by the gods. This explains the gods’ assumption that they had a history prior to the events of "Rhinegold." Humans couldn’t have been conscious of their own invention of the gods, because if they were they couldn’t believe in them. So human beings must have been self-deceived by their own mental gift of artistic imagination during a phase in evolution, a transition from incipiently linguistic apes, to man. This dependence on self-deceit, a trickster created by ourselves, explains Loge’s strange collaboration with Wotan and with the giants, and even Wotan’s use of Loge’s cunning to steal Alberich’s Ring in order to set up the gods and their new domain on a secure footing. For as I said earlier, it was Feuerbach’s thesis that the very nature of the human mind, its gift of generalization and symbolic abstraction, fooled man into reifying the nature of his own mind by calling it god, an objectively real being. This must have been an unconscious process. It is no accident that one of Loge's Motifs, #35, gives birth to the Tarnhelm Motifs #42 and #43, expressing Loge's art of transformation.

P. 87-88: K&S: “One standard way of thinking about Loge is as a trickster - in the context of his narration, a masterly trickster - as if he were bent on deception; but this, we believe, is a mistake. Loge is the embodiment of cleverness - or, to put it more nicely, of the fine adaptation of means to ends. (…) He has no intention of his own to induce false belief by the cunning presentation of something true or to advance his own agenda. (…) There is no significant difference between the way he is employed in "Rheingold" - as a source of factual insight - and the manner in which he figures in later parts of the drama (as fire). But it is at least arguable that in doing Wotan’s bidding, he sees that the god is setting himself up for a fall, and that he is at least amused and, quite possibly, satisfied by this, by gaining a dutiful servant’s revenge on his master.”

PH: Here’s a nice example of Loge’s factual insight: Loge: “… a stately hall, a sturdy keep, such was Wotan’s wish. - House and court, hall and keep, your blissful abode now stands there, solidly built; the proud-standing walls I tested myself; I looked to see if all was firm: Fasolt and Fafner have done their work well; no stone stirs in the stud work.” Needless to say, since Loge in the finale of "Rheingold" tells us, as K&S themselves noted, that the gods who think themselves eternal are going to their doom, but doesn’t tell the gods that, it’s clear as day that Loge is helping the gods to deceive themselves into thinking they are gods who will live forever, since he arranged the deal, and conceives the other machinations, through which the gods will be able to enter their divine domicile under the illusion that their rule is eternal. Loge’s danger to the gods (which Wotan’s Waelsung proxy, the artist-hero Siegfried, will inherit), is that, as the gift of artistic self-deceit, who helped mankind to invent the gods, unconsciously, during mankind’s primal, collective dream-time, so to speak, he (or, that is, mankind) sees through the gods. Loge’s knowledge of the illusory foundations, which he himself conceived, upon which the gods’ rule over men’s hearts was built, is Wagner’s metaphor for the fact that humankind knows at some deep level of consciousness that this entire fabric of religious faith is sheer mythology. But the requirement of the faithful never to think about the foundations of their happiness too deeply fends off the inevitable rise to consciousness of the bitter truth for a time. But, as Loge himself predicts, he (i.e., man’s dependence on his own artistic gift of self-delusion) will eventually burn up the very gods he helped to create.

PH: The gods are set up for a fall precisely because religious man set himself up, unwittingly, for a fall, from the beginning, by depending on self-created illusions for his sense of life’s meaning, and his happiness. It is precisely this consoling illusion which Alberich, through his curse on the Ring, hopes to overthrow, thus stripping away man’s consoling illusions so that Alberich’s objective consciousness of the bitter truth can take its place. It is in this sense that Wotan’s rule thwarts Alberich’s ambitions.

P. 88-89: K&S: “… Loge explains [to the gods and giants] how Alberich stole the gold and implies that he has promised to appeal to Wotan, the guardian of law, for help in returning it.

K&S: This is the first of four occasions on which Loge indicates the possibility of restoring the Rhinegold - a possibility that comes to be appreciated in "Goetterdaemmerung," where Waltraute reports to Bruennhilde that Wotan has come to hope for this outcome and pleads with her to give up the Ring that Siegfried has given her. (…) We take it that Loge sees clearly how restoring the gold would contribute to the realization of Wotan’s aspirations - or, more exactly, how failure to take this action will result in the destruction of their realization.”

PH: In my interpretation, Wotan’s ultimate desire to follow Loge’s original recommendation to restore the gold Alberich stole (if we can really say he stole it, because he paid the price, renunciation of love, which gave him the ability to forge a ring of power from the gold) comes about only because Wotan has given up entirely his original aspirations, even his final aspiration to look for relief from Alberich’s curse on his Ring through the love of Siegfried and Bruennhilde, because, as Wagner told Roeckel in famous long letter from 1854, in which Wagner tried to explain the philosophy of the "Ring," Wotan doesn’t decide that restoring the Ring to the Rhinedaughters will be the right thing to do, until Siegfried fails as a hero, and this only happens when he falls under Hagen’s influence in "Twilight of the Gods" Act One.

PH: In my allegorical reading, Wotan had hoped religious feeling would live on in the secular art that Siegfried’s loving union with his muse Bruennhilde will produce, but Siegfried betrays his own art by giving his muse of unconscious artistic inspiration, and Wotan’s unspoken secret of which she was the guardian, away to his own audience, Gunther, by forcing Bruennhilde to wed Gunther, and also by ripping Alberich’s Ring off Bruennhilde’s finger (Bruennhilde who until then protected Siegfried from the Ring’s curse by keeping it and its secrets safe), and taking possession of it himself, thus exposing it and its secrets to the light of day. All this is dramatized finally in Siegfried, under Hagen’s influence (the original love-and-forgetfulness potion, and its antidote), exposing the secret of his true relationship to Bruennhilde to his audience of Gunther and the Gibichungs while singing his narrative of how he came to grasp the meaning of the Wood Bird’s song.

PH: This was Wotan’s final aspiration, his final bid to salvage something of the value of all he’d endeavored to accomplish. His final desire to relieve gods and world from the Ring curse by influencing Bruennhilde (through Waltraute) to restore the Ring to the Rhinedaughters, where they can dissolve it and its curse, is the end of all things represented by Valhalla and by Wotan’s proxies the Waelsungs, and his daughter Bruennhilde, because Valhalla itself was the product of Alberich’s Ring in the first place. In other words, all of Wotan’s actions in striving to free himself from the Ring curse were the fulfillment of the Ring curse, and it can only end when its conditions have been fulfilled, which they are by the finale of the "Ring." As Alberich had predicted, the gods themselves would lust only for his gold, and their heroes and women would eventually serve him, and because of this Alberich would eventually bring about the twilight of the gods by storming Valhalla with his host of night, when his hoard rises from the silent depths to the light of day. Wotan, in his quest for a hoard of world-knowledge, which originally he described to Fricka as bringing an increase in his power (his wish to conquer the world outside of Valhalla), fulfills Alberich’s prediction that even the gods themselves would seek Alberich’s gold and its power, and Siegfried, under Hagen’s influence, who forced himself on Bruennhilde, fulfilled Alberich’s prediction that Wotan’s own heroes would serve Alberich, and that Alberich would force himself on the gods’ women. Bruennhilde asks Siegfried, disguised as Gunther, if he is of "Hell's night-dwelling host." Finally, Siegfried fulfills Alberich’s threat that his hoard (of knowledge) will rise up from the silent depths to the light of day, by forcefully taking Alberich’s Ring from Bruennhilde’s protective hands and bringing it and its curse into the light of day, thus bringing about the end of the gods and all their proxies.

PH: Let me add that Siegfried and Bruennhilde figuratively restore the Ring to the Rhinedaughters (i.e., take possession of the Ring aesthetically and subjectively rather than objectively) by employing it as their token of loving union, and as the ultimate source of Siegfried’s own unconscious artistic inspiration, for Alberich’s Ring is identical with Wotan’s hoard of repressed knowledge, which Bruennhilde holds safe for Siegfried. Thus, while Bruennhilde still possesses Alberich’s Ring of consciousness (Bruennhilde is of course Wotan’s and Siegfried’s unconscious mind), Alberich’s curse of consciousness is temporarily ended. In this way she protects Siegfried, unbeknownst to him, at the front, from foresight of the end of the gods that Erda had foreseen. So long as Bruennhilde keeps the Ring safe, the gods and their proxies have a lease on life.

P. 89: PH: K&S, it seems to me, speculate wildly and unhelpfully in the following passage:

K&S: “He [Loge] understands that the problem of reinforcing and extending Wotan’s system of laws and contracts is insoluble, and he recognizes this well before Wotan comes to an explicit appreciation of the point. The local difficulties can be solved by giving up Freia and returning the gold to the Rhinemaidens, although this will have the consequence of weakening the gods (they will become “old and gray”).”

PH: K&S talk here of these metaphysical eventualities as if they were merely details of a realistic deal gone bad for which one might seek solutions of varying expediency and efficacy. If the gods gave up Freia, they would cease to be gods, because, as Feuerbach pointed out, gods are only worshipped because of what they offer man, and Freia represents both divine love (and bliss), and immortality (to the heroes who earn it through martyrdom). As Loge tells Wotan, the giants have aimed at the gods’ very lives by threatening to take Freia away. Giving up the gold to the Rhinedaughters would bring the entire world to an end. If, as in my interpretation, the Ring represents human consciousness, then to dissolve it ends human consciousness. But even if that were not the case, it is clear that the Ring, in its musical transformation into Valhalla, is the very foundation of Valhalla and all that for which it stands, even if this is repressed and sublimated. The entire deal with the giants, even Wotan’s primal breaking off of the most sacred branch of the World-Ash in order to make his spear of divine authority and law, are dependent upon Alberich’s Ring, because the deal with the giants, which was the foundational function of Wotan’s spear, is not done until all the events in "Rheingold" which were essential to the gods’ entrance into Valhalla, have transpired. The entirety of "Rhinegold" is merely the dramatization of the consequences which follow from the evolution of Alberich’s Ring into Wotan’s Valhalla and its world-order.

P. 90: PH: K&S had told us in earlier chapters that the distinction they have made between directive authority (the ability both to do, and to make others do) and epistemic authority (the possession of practical information which can influence judgment) would be crucial to helping them parse the philosophical implications of the "Ring." Here’s an example of their invocation of this distinction to help us grasp what would presumably not otherwise be self-evident:

K&S: “Loge’s directive authority, such as it is, stems from Wotan’s recognition of him as an epistemic authority with respect to some issues that bear on his projects (the gold could be used to pay off the giants, and it could be obtained by robbing the robber). Yet he does not realize that Loge has a clearer view of the possibilities and consequences than he does, and he is not willing to take Loge’s advice about everything (with respect to the return of the Rhinegold in particular).

PH: Now what, precisely, did we learn about the subtleties of the plot of the "Ring" here, by virtue of making this distinction, that weren’t already self evident?

PH: Here, again, K&S are not tidy in keeping abreast of the essential details of the "Ring" plot, for they tell us something plainly untrue:

K&S: “He [Loge] is an expert on matters of means; ends are not his bailiwick. If Wotan were to inquire whether there might be some viable way of going beyond the order of laws and contracts, or at least of bringing about an ending that would validate what he has been trying to accomplish, Loge would have no answer.

PH: K&S have forgotten here the central, and most obvious fact, about Loge, that it was thanks to Loge’s advice that Wotan sought to make a deal with the giants whose strict letter Wotan had no intention of keeping, since Loge said he would find an alternative means to satisfy the giants. Furthermore, Loge continuously (as the Norns tell us in the Prelude to Twilight of the Gods) gnaws at Wotan’s spear in order to free himself from the gods’ laws. In this sense Loge is a precursor, or model for, the Waelsung heroes, to whom Wotan looks to break the gods’ own foundational contract with the giants, so they can secure Alberich’s Ring from Fafner, in order to keep Alberich from regaining it.

P. 92-93: K&S engage here in speculations about what Loge would say if he were to be queried about what Wotan ought to do to solve his problem about bringing order into the world or, barring that, how to find an ending which will salvage some meaning, and about what might have happened if Wotan had taken his advice, in a fashion which I find vapid and confusing.


P. 94-95: PH: Referencing Erda’s proclamation to Wotan in "Rhinegold" Scene Four that she knows all that was, is, and will be, that everything that is, ends, that a day of darkness dawns for the gods, and her advice that Wotan yield the Ring (presumably to the giants), K&S say the following:

P. 95: K&S: “… Erda’s declaration is puzzling in at least three ways. First, if she knows everything, then she must know that Wotan will give up the Ring, and indeed that she will play an instrumental role in leading him to give it up; but this is hard to reconcile with the sense of urgency she expresses. Second, she announces that all things end. In context, it is natural for Wotan (and the audience) to apply this to the order he has been trying to fashion; but the generalization, if true, applies to Erda herself and her knowledge. Third, when we meet her again in "Siegfried," she expresses confusion. Wotan calls her up with the ostensible purpose of obtaining information, but the roles are reversed. He not only summons her (whereas earlier she had come to him unbidden), but moreover now seems to be the one with the knowledge; for example, he informs her about the fate of their daughter, Bruennhilde. Her responses to Wotan’s questions are to redirect them to beings (the Norns) who were earlier characterized as more limited than she. (In "Rheingold," the Norns are messengers who inspire Wotan’s dreams; but the abandonment of the Ring was so important that Erda felt she had to convey this information herself.)

K&S: Perhaps these questions could be dismissed as trivial … . (…) But we think that more is going on. The details of this last encounter between two great figures of the passing order genuinely matter: and the Wanderer’s uncharacteristic intensity and Erda’s perplexity tell us interesting things about both of them. So we shall take the questions of the last paragraph to be worth considering.”

PH: Erda’s sense of urgency in telling Wotan to do things she already must know (since she tells him she knows all things) he will do, can be explained in my interpretation. I have stated that the Ring represents the gift and power of human consciousness, and Alberich’s curse on the Ring (actually simply a description of the nature of the evolution of human thought, man’s gradual acquisition of a hoard of knowledge of himself and the world, which brings both objective power, and the dissolution of illusions) requires that those who have co-opted his objective power for the sake of creating and preserving these consoling illusions predicated on belief in transcendent being (the gods) will suffer the consequences, meaning that they themselves will, in time, overthrow the very illusions which they co-opted Alberich’s Ring power to preserve. Symbolically, when Wotan physically places Alberich’s Ring on his finger, it is as if the world itself, Nature, Erda’s knowledge of what was, is, and will be, which, without man’s rise to consciousness, would remain sleeping in nature, becomes conscious of itself in man. Thus Wotan, in a flash of intuition, sees the whole picture, and knows himself and his world doomed. However, by yielding the Ring to pure feeling, the giants who represent man’s fundamental instincts of sexual reproduction (Fasolt) and self-preservation (Fafner, or fear), Wotan can for a time cease to be conscious of the bitter truth. Erda’s urgency in "Rhinegold" Scene Four is actually Wotan’s own fear and trembling.

PH: Erda’s announcement that all things end doesn’t, as K&S suggest, necessarily apply to her, because, as a sort of world-spirit, a character who represents the sum total of reality in time, space, matter, and energy, the entire cosmos if you will, Erda is describing not the whole of reality, but the particular things that make up reality, the particular forms which come into being and cease to be, within the entire cosmic system. Erda, as the possessor of all knowledge of what was, is, and will be, can be construed not only as fate in its mythical sense, but also as natural law, which doesn’t come to an end when the specific things which embody it cease to be. However, if one were to construe her statement to include her also, then this could be accommodated within the scientific notion of the 2nd law of thermodynamics, in which the entire cosmic system eventually ceases to function. However, even in the most drastic science-based formulation of an end to the universe as we know it, the conditions exist for a recapitulation of an ordered universe (given enough time and space, matter and energy).

PH: K&S are also troubled by the fact that Erda, who allegedly knows all things, is confused in her second and final confrontation with Wotan in "Siegfried" Act Three Scene One. Erda, for instance, claims she was ignorant of what Wotan did to punish their daughter Bruennhilde. My interpretation again offers a solution. Erda specifically tells Wotan she is confused by man’s doings. Erda’s confusion consists in the metaphysical conundrum that Mother Nature, through a process of evolution, gave birth to the human species, one of whose highest values is, specifically, the positing of transcendent beings, gods, who are presumed not only to be autonomous from Mother Nature and her laws (through spiritual transcendence, the miraculous), but in some cases are supposed to be the creators of Mother Nature and her laws. So, in a sense, in man Mother Nature not only becomes more and more objectively conscious of herself (as in scientific knowledge), but also wills her own annihilation in favor of figments of the imagination. Erda’s confusion is man’s confusion, the split consciousness makes between subject and object, recapitulated in Wotan’s own divided mind (i.e., having both an unconscious and conscious mind, and seeking both objective knowledge for the sake of power, and seeking to redeem himself from this knowledge).

PH: Furthermore, Wotan has repressed the knowledge which Erda taught him into his own unconscious mind, Bruennhilde, during his confession to her in "Valkyrie" Act Two Scene Two, so that Wotan can remain unconscious of it. For this very reason Wotan tells Erda in his second and final confrontation with her that Erda’s knowledge wanes before his will, remembering of course, that just prior to his confession to Bruennhilde she called herself his "will." It is precisely in the art which Siegfried’s muse Bruennhilde will inspire him to create that an audience can feel as if it has transcended time and space and its concerns, in pure feeling, and thus feel as if the innocence of the preconscious Rhinedaughters has been restored. It is for this reason that the Norns proclaim, between Siegfried’s and Bruennhilde’s two love duets (the first in "Siegfried" Act Three Scene Three, the second in the second half of the Prelude to "Twilight of the Gods") that their rope of fate has been snapped, as we hear Siegfried’s horn motif #103 and the Sword (or Wotan’s Great Idea) Motif #57. This is purely figurative, for were their rope of fate already snapped the entire "Ring" drama would end immediately. It is of course crucial to recall that both Bruennhilde and Siegfried succumb to Alberich’s curse on his Ring after the Norns’ rope of fate is figuratively (but literally on the stage) snapped in the middle of the two love duets which, taken together, represent Bruennhilde’s unconscious artistic inspiration of the artist-hero Siegfried. As Wagner said, it is through the "Wonder" of his redemptive art and musical motifs that his audience can feel as if they have transcended the world.

P. 96: PH: Now let’s see how K&S address their questions. K&S offer the helpful remark that the Norns have correctly predicted the twilight of the gods itself, when Wotan will throw a torch made of his splintered spear into the dead remains of the World-Ash which he has had his martyred heroes pile up around Valhalla, so that Loge’s fire burns up Valhalla and the gods and heroes within it, an event which occurs, if the chronology is realistic and not purely mythical, after the Norns described their rope of fate being snapped. Their prophecy is of course predicated on that of their mother Erda; her sleeping knowledge wakes in their spinning, so to speak:

K&S: “… we could suppose that at the moment human freedom first expresses itself in the decisive confrontation between Siegfried and the Wanderer, the Rope snaps, leaving the Norns unable to foresee the subsequent events and depriving even Erda of predictive power. But this interpretation does not fit with the knowledge the Norns actually have in "Goetterdaemmerung": the second Norn narrates how a ‘dauntless … hero shattered the spear in combat’ … . And the third Norn predicts that Wotan will bury the ‘sharp-pointed splinters’ in the fire-god’s breast, thus beginning the conflagration that will consume the gods. Nor will it account for a crucial difference between the Norns and Erda: the Norns know the story of Bruennhilde, whereas Erda evidently does not (until Wotan tells her).

K&S: We think it more illuminating to think of Erda as possessing intuitive, inarticulate wisdom. She sleeps, and in her sleep, her judgments are informed by the broad currents of life and the world as they have always been.”

PH: Another way of understanding Erda, which I think is helpful, is that the Norns, waking, spin what was originally her sleeping knowledge. In mythology, this would be construed as fate, but scientifically, it can be understood as natural law, the coherence of nature. As Feuerbach put it, Mother Nature has a coherence, in laws, but this coherence doesn’t become conscious until man makes it conscious for himself. Figuratively speaking, Mother Nature first becomes conscious of herself in man. Note that Erda arises from her sleep, so to speak, in "Rhinegold" Scene Four, seemingly as an automatic consequence of Wotan placing Alberich’s Ring (what I’ve called the Ring of consciousness) on his finger. By doing this Wotan has a premonition of knowledge which it would normally take mankind perhaps the entirety of its history to acquire. Note that though Wotan as a Wanderer seeks knowledge by wandering the earth (Erda), he must go to Erda herself for the most essential knowledge. Wotan’s wandering therefore can be construed as mankind’s experience of his world over time, but his visit specifically to Erda, the foundation of the world of matter and energy which exists in time and space, is perhaps tapping into the laws of nature, the source of that coherence which explains mankind’s experiences. Erda then is the epitome or essence of the specific knowledge Wotan obtains in his world-wandering (mankind's historic experience).

K&S: “… Erda, without knowing any of the details, can tell Wotan both that his order must end, and that the ending produced by retaining the Ring will be the wrong ending - a blank defeat that will deprive his strivings of significance.”

PH: One terribly important point which K&S neglect in their discussions of Erda is the comparison we can make between Erda’s knowledge of all that was, is, and will be, and Alberich’s accusation against Wotan (which is actually the reason for Alberich’s punishing Wotan and his proxies with his curse on the Ring) that Wotan, in taking Alberich’s Ring from him, will be sinning against all that was, is, and will be. It is clear from Wotan’s rejection (likely rhetorical, since Wotan had already admitted to Alberich that nothing can be altered) of the Norns’ knowledge of all that was, is, and will be, when Erda suggests Wotan consult her daughters the Norns to obtain their knowledge (in "Siegfried" Act Three Scene One), that Wotan isn’t prepared to accept the world as it really is, in its truth, but prefers an alternative world of the imagination, a magical, transcendent world of miracles. He is, after all, an alleged god, an immortal, who by definition ought to be autonomous from Nature (but clearly is not in the "Ring"). This is why Erda tells Wotan that he if doesn’t like what the Norns have to tell him (he complained to her that they weave their rope only according to the world, while he wants to stop a rolling wheel - presumably the wheel of fate), he should consult instead their daughter Bruennhilde. Retaining the Ring, in other words, is tantamount to becoming fully conscious of the nature of the real, objective world, which is bound by laws, including the law of change that all things that are, must end. And according to Alberich, those who don’t possess the Ring will be driven to possess it. This, in my interpretation, is Wagner’s metaphor for the historical fact that man inevitably accumulates more and more knowledge (gathers a hoard of gold, from the earth), and this knowledge eventually rises to consciousness in man as a coherent, systematically organized body of knowledge we call scientific thought, which inevitably overthrows the gods, because, as Feuerbach said, what formerly man explained as the work of spirits, he gradually comes to see is just the work of Nature, which is not conscious, but only becomes conscious in man’s understanding of her. Thus Alberich was right to say in his curse on his Ring that all those who don’t possess it will strive to possess it, and, having done so, will destroy themselves. Alberich himself is not destroyed by the Ring curse because he can live with the bitter truth that there is no love, that the universe is indifferent, that all things in it are objects rather than subjects, and he can live with this fact because his sole concern is his increase in power through acquisition of more knowledge. This is the bad end Erda speaks of (keeping in mind that the Erda who confronts Wotan is Mother Nature as Wotan sees her, a source of fear but also perhaps of an antidote to that fear, Bruennhilde, Wotan’s unconscious mind, a gift from Mother Nature). The Ring-less end which seems to be implicit in Erda’s suggestion that Wotan yield the Ring to the giants is of course all the expedients Wotan and Loge, and later Wotan as the Wanderer, dream up in order to give the illusory gods a longer lease on life before succumbing to their inevitable fate, expedients such as a religion-less ethics of altruism, love and compassion (Siegmund and Sieglinde), and secular art (Siegfried’s and Bruennhilde’s love, Wagner’s metaphor for Siegfried’s unconscious artistic inspiration.). Note the crucial point that Erda doesn’t say Wotan should restore the Ring to the Rhinedaughters, and there is no Rhinedaughter music in Erda’s proclamation which would suggest this subliminally either. This is what Wagner meant when he said that there was no ending which wouldn’t result in the twilight of the gods.

P. 96-97: K&S: “When Wotan summons her [Erda] in Siegfried, however, Erda lacks the basis for the kind of synthetic judgment that would inform him. Whether current events are headed toward the right kind of ending will depend on many things she does not know - things that turn on the actions of human beings. These things have not been reported to her, and we have the clear sense that these new, free beings are opaque to her. Perhaps Bruennhilde, whom Wotan has sent into the human world to retrieve the dead heroes, will be able to help. Or perhaps the Norns have foreseen more. Her evasive replies to Wotan express her awareness of her own lack of any basis for judgment. She understands - even if Wotan does not - that the world is changing. Musically, there is no longer a connection to the primordial world, so strong and evident in the phrases that accompanied her in "Rheingold," underscoring the sense that this new world has rhythms that go beyond hers. Thus, she no longer has access to the intuitive features that would enable her to answer the question he is really asking.

P. 97: PH: Wagner once told King Ludwig II that Erda does not see that Wotan is reborn in Siegfried. In my interpretation at I have explained in detail what this means. Siegfried is the artist-hero who falls heir to mankind’s religious longing (the thing of most value Wotan wished to salvage so that it would survive even Alberich’s victory over the gods) for transcendence, which he will now express in a redemptive secular art which, because it stakes no claim to reality, can seem independent of Erda’s knowledge of all that was, is, and will be. In other words, Wotan is replacing his one-time religious claim to reality (to an even greater reality than the objective, material world we all know) with an art which stakes no such claim, and which therefore seems to be freed from Alberich’s curse on his Ring, the curse of consciousness. Wotan can tell Erda her knowledge wanes before his will, not only because Wotan repressed the fearful knowledge Erda taught him into his unconscious mind by confessing his secret (which will remain forever unspoken) to his other half, Bruennhilde, but also because the art which Bruennhilde will inspire Siegfried to create, the music-drama, has a redemptive music, motifs of remembrance and foreboding, which can make everything widely disbursed in the past and future, and widely disbursed in space, present, here and now, as feeling. Lost in the artificial world of art we can blind ourselves to objective reality and live within our own alternative universe of imagination. This explains the figurative nature of the Norns’ rope of fate snapping in the scene which is sandwiched in between the last scene of "Siegfried," and the second half of the Prelude to "Twilight of the Gods," in other words, right in the middle of the two love duets of Siegfried and Bruennhilde, which collectively represent the artist-hero’s ecstactic, unconscious artistic inspiration. This also explains why Erda seems confused by human doings.

PH: But Erda’s answers are not evasive. In sum, she is telling Wotan that if he can’t handle the bitter truth which the Norns would tell him, if he asked them (note that they weave Alberich’s Ring #19 into their rope of fate), then he can seek a different kind of knowledge from Bruennhilde, aesthetic intuition, which can offer a consoling illusion as a substitute both for the bitter truth of science, and the false claim to the truth represented by religious faith. Unconsciously inspired art is the third alternative, Wagner’s notion of the new religion which will replace the old, the savior who offers a loving alternative to god’s justice and law. This is the authentic reason why Erda’s authority seems here to end, and why Wotan consigns her and her knowledge to the oblivion of dreaming. This inspired secular art is the ultimate incarnation of Wotan’s sin against all that was, is, and will be, which is a sublimation of religious faith’s world-denial (i.e., denial of the objective world of was, is, and will be, in favor of an imagined world), and it is for this reason that Siegfried and Bruennhilde ultimately also succumb to Alberich’s curse on his Ring.
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