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Part 4: Scruton's critique of my book, & my response

Posted: Fri Jul 29, 2016 8:45 am
by alberich00
PH: We may assume that Siegfried's Rhine Journey, expressed only by Wagner's music, compresses a virtual lifetime of Siegfried's experience, prior to his final heroic adventure at Gibichung Hall. Siegfried's successful creation and performance of other inspired, redemptive works of art (presumed to have occurred during the long period of time represented by Siegfried's Rhine Journey) Wagner dramatized elsewhere, in "The Mastersingers of Nuremberg," in which we find Siegfried (in his incarnation as the artist-hero Walther) again in his role as the artist-hero unconsciously inspired by the divine, fatal, forbidden knowledge which Eva in Paradise acquired, which brought about mankind’s Fall and exile from paradise, knowledge which Sachs imparted secretly to Eva during his Act II cobbling song, a song whose import the artist-hero Walther, like Siegfried, could not understand. We can see here that Wagner modeled Sachs's confession to Eva upon Wotan's confession to Bruennhilde, which Bruennhilde imparts subliminally to Siegfried, just as Eva in paradise imparts Sachs's knowledge to Walther in the dream of unconscious artistic inspiration which gives birth to Walther's redemptive mastersong. Wagner saw Eva in paradise, who caused the Fall and exile from paradise by giving mankind this secret knowledge which God had forbidden man to possess, as the archetypal muse for inspired secular art, which offers fallen man a secular substitute for religion's promise of restoration of lost paradise. Similarly, Siegfried's loving union with Bruennhilde, which gives birth to redemptive works of art, is a substitute for restoration of Alberich's Ring to the Rhine, and is thus a temporary annulling of Alberich's curse on his Ring. The narrative Siegfried sings, at Hagen's behest, of how he came to grasp the meaning of the Woodbird's song, is Siegfried's final work of art, because it is in this work of art that Siegfried unwittingly and involuntarily reveals what should have remained concealed, the secret of his unconscious artistic inspiration by his muse Bruennhilde, thus betraying her secret (represented by Alberich's Ring, a symbol also for Wotan's confession of his unspoken secret, which Siegfried rips away from her protective embrace) to the light of day. Tristan similarly, in giving his muse of unconscious artistic inspiration Isolde away to another man (King Marke, like Gunther, being a metaphor for Wagner's audience for his art), betrays the secret of Isolde's womb of night to the light of day.

PH: I might add that Siegfried's Woodbird narrative, Wagner’s Hamlet-like play-within-the-play, Wagner’s metaphor for the performance of his own "Ring" (in which, according to Wagner’s own highly original personal mythology as disclosed by me, Siegfried the artist-hero and music-dramatist unwittingly and involuntarily reveals what should have remained concealed in his womb of night, the secret of his own formerly unconscious artistic inspiration by his muse, Bruennhilde), Wagner modeled on Tannhaeuser’s unwitting and involuntary - as if under a spell - revelation of his true, but formerly forgotten, hidden, and forbidden source of unconscious artistic inspiration by his muse Venus, to his audience in the Wartburg castle, in his contest-song. These observations will put in their proper context Dr. Scruton's following remarks.

RS: “The act of liberation brings together the separate spheres of the masculine and feminine, and of poetry and music, in a mystic act of sacrifice. But even if the result is liberation, it is liberation from the old enslavement, but not liberation to the free order that will replace it. Gradually, as the message of his own music sank in, Wagner recognized that liberation is not political but a spiritual process, and that what is being asked from us is not the self-affirmation of the sword-wielding Siegfried, but the self-sacrifice of his suffering wife. Redemption does not mean entry into another and better life, but a rearrangement of this one. Neither Bruennhilde nor Siegfried understand this at first. She cheerfully waves him on to ‘new deeds’ and then calmly awaits his return as though the world below the mountaintops could never be a threat to her. And when he returns it is in an altered form, repeating his first encounter with her not as love but as power. You might say that, in composing "The Ring," Wagner put the optimistic philosophy of the Young Hegelians to the test of drama, and the drama refuted it.”

PH: Here Dr. Scruton has departed from my interpretation, though he does record here what relates my interpretation to the entirely independently conceived interpretation of Jean-Jacques Nattiez in his "Wagner Androgyne," in which Nattiez follows (as I do) Wagner’s lead in construing Siegfried as Wagner’s metaphor for the poet-dramatist and Bruennhilde as Wagner’s metaphor for music. Since, in my interpretation, Siegfried’s “suffering wife” Bruennhilde is actually Wotan’s (mankind's) collective unconscious, and Siegfried's muse of unconscious artistic inspiration, this offers us an entirely different understanding of Dr. Scruton's remark that “… what is being asked from us is not the self-affirmation of the sword-wielding Siegfried, but the self-sacrifice of his suffering wife.” Siegfried and Bruennhilde, as they say themselves in T.P, are one and the same, the difference being that Siegfried is the conscious artist-hero who is unconsciously inspired by his muse Bruennhilde, Siegfried's own unconscious mind, to create redemptive works of art in which Wotan’s fear, which subliminally inspired their art, can be sublimated into the feeling of transcendent bliss and love. We find a key source for Wagner’s notion that Bruennhilde is both Wotan’s and Siegfried’s unconscious mind in Wagner’s statement, in his 1851 essay “A Communication to My Friends,” that Elsa is Lohengrin’s unconscious, the involuntary half of Lohengrin, and that Lohengrin gains his own redemption through her. Thus Siegfried's nature and destiny are one with Bruennhilde's nature and destiny. When Bruennhilde survives Siegfried's death for a brief time and speaks her mother Erda's wisdom in the finale of "Twilight of the Gods," and then grants the Rhinedaughters access to Alberich's Ring out of her ashes so they can dissolve it and its curse in the Rhine's waters, this is Siegfried's formerly unconscious knowledge rising to consciousness in Bruennhilde's final words and acts. Wagner himself identified Bruennhilde's final words with the knowledge, or runes, that Siegfried gave up in death, which Wagner also identified with Alberich's Ring and with the Norns' (and thus with Erda's) knowledge.

PH: It will help to clarify this problem to which Dr. Scruton alludes, that Siegfried was not himself able to redeem the world from Alberich's curse, while Bruennhilde is able to restore the Ring to the Rhinedaughters who dissolve it in the Rhine's waters and end its curse, if we understand that Wagner resolves the problem of Siegfried's failure as a redemptive hero, and Bruennhilde's evident success in bringing about the redemption which Siegfried could not, in "Parsifal," which it is quite accurate to say resolves the problems left unsolved in the finale of "Twilight of the Gods." For Siegfried, the naive, ignorant hero who does not know who he is, and Bruennhilde, Siegfried's muse of unconscious artistic inspiration who knows for him what he doesn't know, his true identity (as the killer of his mother, i.e., as the heir to Wotan's original sin against all that was, is, and will be, which Alberich's curse on his Ring was intended to punish), are reborn in Parsifal and Kundry, as I have been saying in copyrighted studies since the 1980's. Siegfried's failure as a redemptive hero is allegorically the failure of art, Wagner's art, to offer mankind any final redemption, because in Wagner's allegorical thinking the unconsciously inspired artist-hero, Wagner himself, perpetuated religion's sin of world-denial in secular art. This means that inspired secular art, Wagner's music-dramas, only offered temporary healing of mankind's unhealing wound (the wound caused by man's futile striving to affirm his transcendent value, a striving man inherited from his primal religious impulse, his ineradicable need to posit transcendent meaning, as Kant put it, in the face of man's inevitable acquisition of the knowledge that man is entirely a product of Nature, even, as Feuerbach put it, man's need to posit his transcendence of nature), when the only possible way for man to heal his unhealing wound, to resolve his existential dilemma, is to give up striving for the impossible, and to accept his status as a mortal being, as a part of Nature.

PH: This Wagner dramatized in "Parsifal," when Parsifal in a flash of intuition in Act II wakes up from mankind's long sleep, and realizes that his former unconscious artistic inspirations by his muse Kundry in their former lives (keeping in mind that Parsifal is not only a character in a drama but an archetypal artist-hero, heir to man's religious impulse represented by the Grail) had perpetuated mankind's futile longing for redemption from the real world, Wotan's sin against Mother Nature, which, instead of healing man's unhealing wound, had ripped it open wider. Thus Kundry's salves for Amfortas's unhealing wound now, in the modern world, no longer offer even temporary redemption, but increase the anguish caused by mankind's futile religious impulse. In other words, Parsifal sees, suddenly, that his former foolishness and ignorance, his former relationship with his muse of unconscious artistic inspiration Kundry, his killing of his mother Herzeleide (a figure for Mother Nature) through neglect, and Amfortas's (mankind's) suffering from the unhealing wound (Alberich's curse on his Ring, that mankind will strive futilely for that which he can't have, transcendent value, thanks to the power of the conscious mind, the Ring), all have the same cause. The only way to end this misery is to cease striving for redemption from Mother Nature's bitter truths, and to embrace her. Thus, as Gurnemanz puts it during the Good Friday Spell, nature regains her day of innocence. Parsifal atones for the collective sin of mankind (Wotan, Amfortas) and of all the culture heroes who invented our religions and created our works of art, by restoring Mother Nature, all that was, is, and will be, all that blooms, withers, and dies, to its rightful place. Wagner in "The Wibelungs" stated that the Nibelung Hoard was sublimated into the Holy Grail. This echoes Wagner's transformation of the Ring Motif #19ab into the first two segments of the Valhalla Motif #20ab, which is also echoed in Wotan describing himself as "Licht-Alberich." These are dramatizations of Feuerbach's materialist interpretation of religious faith, that it is the product of natural man, a being entirely the product of, and bound by, natural law (Erda and her knowledge), who invented the gods and man's striving to affirm his transcendent value, in the face of the truth that this striving is futile and illusory. It is for this reason that the muse of unconscious artistic inspiration Kundry dies in the end: Parsifal's unconscious mind has woken and no longer serves any purpose, just as Bruennhilde awoke to the truth in the finale of "Twilight of the Gods."

PH: Siegfried involuntarily exposes the secret knowledge which Bruennhilde held for him (Wotan’s confession of his unspoken secret, represented now by Alberich’s Ring) through Siegfried’s narrative of how he learned the meaning of the Woodbird’s song, that song, #128 and #129 (derived from Woglinde’s Lullabye #4), being Wagner’s metaphor for the musical motifs of the "Ring." Siegfried (Wagner), in other words, betrays the secret of his own unconscious artistic inspiration to his audience (us, the Gibichungs) through his musical motifs, just as Tristan unwittingly betrays his own muse of unconscious artistic inspiration Isolde, his womb of night, to the light of day, by giving her away to another man, King Marke, who, like Gunther, is Wagner’s metaphor for his own audience. As Wagner said, through his musical motifs he granted his audience a clairvoyance like to that of the music-dramatist himself, making them sharers in his most profound secret, a secret, moreover, which Wagner stated elsewhere is unknown even to the artist, the music-dramatist, himself. As Wagner said, for the authentic artist his art may remain as much a mystery to him as to his audience. This, I think, is the authentic explanation for many of the mysteries of Wagner's art, and of his "Ring" in particular.

PH: I have broken up Dr. Scruton’s following paragraph into segments in order to respond directly to the various components of its critique of my interpretation.

RS: “Wagner’s original conception constantly appears beneath the surface of the story, and has been meticulously spelled out by Paul Heise, who assumes that individual characters, objects and actions represent other, more general features of the human condition - motives, interests and processes which are of broadly cosmic or political significance.”

PH: Dr. Scruton, throughout his critique of my interpretation of the "Ring," states that it represents Wagner’s “original conception”, implying or stating outright that in the final version of the "Ring" with which audiences are familiar, Wagner has left this original conception behind, but without, however, justifying this statement with either documentary evidence or argument. I believe part of the problem is that Dr. Scruton conflates my interpretation with Feuerbach, as if my interpretation is somehow identical with Feuerbach’s thinking, and that, since it is well known that Wagner, after he first became familiar with Schopenhauer’s writings in the Fall of 1854, renounced Feuerbach’s influence in favor of Schopenhauer, this somehow proves that Feuerbach’s thinking was no longer central to Wagner, and that any interpretation of the "Ring" which places emphasis on Feuerbach’s influence is apriori unrepresentative of Wagner’s more mature approach to the "Ring" as he completed composition of its music from 1854 onward until the score's completion in 1874. One big problem with this approach to my interpretation is that Wagner had already built a critique of Feuerbach’s materialist philosophy into his "Ring" libretto prior to first becoming familiar with Schopenhauer in 1854, and my interpretation reflects Wagner’s critique. One way of looking at this is that Feuerbach’s materialist philosophy is the ground base or foundation of Wagner’s "Ring," which Wagner’s key characters like Wotan, Bruennhilde and Siegfried are trying in different ways to transcend. However, as Feuerbach put it, religious man's tragedy is that even his quest to transcend his natural limits is itself the inevitable consequence of natural law, and that any such attempt will fall back to earth as if under the influence of gravity. Wagner echoed Feuerbach's thesis in his writings about Lohengrin. This I suspect is what Dr. Scruton means when he says that “Wagner’s original conception constantly appears beneath the surface of the story, and has been meticulously spelled out by Paul Heise … .” But my interpretation is not solely or merely Feuerbachian: it also incorporates Wagner’s rebellion against Feuerbach’s materialism, which Wagner dramatized in Wotan’s, Siegmund’s and Sieglinde’s, and Siegfried’s and Bruennhilde’s efforts to create an ideal world of transcendent value distinct from the real world. Wagner's musical transformation of Alberich’s "Ring" motif #19ab into the first two segments of Wotan's Valhalla Motif #20ab is his motival dramatization of Feuerbach’s materialist philosophy, which offers a materialist explanation even for man’s quest to transcend his material, natural origins. Thus Wotan's and his proxies' quest for redemption is predestined to failure from the beginning. Alberich's Ring and its curse is the gravity which brings this quest back to earth.

PH: Furthermore, I have demonstrated that the Feuerbachian conundrums which Wagner incorporated into his "Ring" are also present in "Tristan and Isolde," "The Mastersingers of Nuremberg," and "Parsifal." Dr. Scruton can’t be faulted here because I have not yet been able to provide him with my definitive interpretations of those post-1854 Wagnerian music-dramas, in which I demonstrate that their plots can be construed in light of the Feuerbachian/Wagnerian conceptual frame of reference of the "Ring," which is a sort of master-myth into which the plots of these three subsequent music-dramas can be fit systematically. This Wagner himself implied, for instance, when he stated in his Epilogue to ‘The Nibelung’s Ring’ that the plots of "Twilight of the Gods" and "Tristan and Isolde" are virtually identical (in both, the hero, as if under a spell, gives away his true love to another man, with tragic consequences), or when he said in Cosima’s presence that Kundry had already undergone, in her prior lives, Isolde’s transfiguration, multiple times. As another example, Hans Sachs’s secret confession to Eva in his Act II cobbling song from "The Mastersingers of Nuremberg," which the artist-hero Walther hears but doesn’t grasp conceptually (but which inspires Walther during his dream of unconscious artistic inspiration by his muse Eva, to give birth to his redemptive master-song), is based directly on Wotan’s confession to Bruennhilde in V.2.2, fateful knowledge which she imparts in turn to Siegfried, subliminally, during their S.3.3 love duet, during which Bruennhilde tells Siegfried that what Wotan thought (i.e., his confession), Bruennhilde felt, and that what Wotan thought, and she felt, was just her love for Siegfried (#134). It is worth mentioning here that Bruennhilde tells Siegfried in T.P that she gave him the "hoard of runes" which the gods (i.e., Wotan in his confession) taught her, and in S.3.3 Bruennhilde calls Siegfried "hoard of the world" for precisely this reason. So far as I know only my Feuerbachian/Wagnerian interpretation can make sense of these examples of conceptual/dramatic continuity between Wagner’s "Ring" and his subsequent mature music-dramas.

RS: “Sometimes this allegorical interpretation seems plausible, at other times less so.”

PH: It would be interesting to learn from Dr. Scruton which aspects of my allegorical interpretation are either plausible, or less plausible, and why.

RS: “But there is a real question of what allegory is and when it is part of the meaning of a work of art. An allegorical meaning can be assigned to just about any story, by correlating characters and events one-to-one with another story about more general things. But to say that this second story gives the meaning of the first is to go beyond giving a one-to-one correlation.”

PH: In Wagner’s "Ring," following Feuerbach’s lead, Wagner actually distinguishes between the Valhallan gods and heroes as experienced by us, his audience, in their role as convincing, fully rounded dramatic characters, or subjects, and what they are as allegorical objects of understanding, and Wagner shows us, in poetic/musical allegory, how their material foundation or base evolves, by a natural but unconscious process of transition, into these characters with their complex motives and passions. Wagner provides us with a sort of Nietzschean genealogy of morals, aided greatly by the evolving musical motifs, as for instance most dramatically in the musical evolution of Alberich’s Ring Motif #19ab (representing, if you will, the real, objective world, in which true power can be obtained), into the first two segments of the Valhalla Motif, #20ab (which represents man’s ideal bid for transcendent meaning and value, in the gods’ heavenly abode of sorrowless youth eternal). My interpretation consistently and continually keeps both levels of understanding in view, both the characters’ status as persuasive and vital personalities who are striving to affirm their transcendent value, and as objects bound by fate or natural law. One can trace this evolution in either direction, disclosing the links between the evolved character representing what Feuerbach called the “I,” which religious man reified in Godhead, and the subject as natural object, bound by natural law or fate, representing what Feuerbach called the “Not-I,” Nature. As Feuerbach put it, from an objective standpoint the “I” can ultimately be construed as nothing more than “Not-I,” or Nature. But we can also privilege the “I,” as mankind did in reifying his subjectivity and calling it God, or as Dr. Scruton does in privileging the responsible human Self, in its relation with other human selves.

RS: “In a truly allegorical work of art the allegorical meaning is embodied in the primary action and characters. This is to say, it becomes part of what you respond to, in responding to the primary story. Thus both Heise and Nattiez tell us that, in the union of Siegfried and Bruennhilde, the first represents poetry and the second music. But do we hear things in that way? Are we responding to Siegfried as the voice of poetry, when he starts away from the sleeping female whose armour he has opened? Do we hear Bruennhilde’s declaration of love as the voice of music, as well as the voice of an individual woman awoken by her lover? It seems to me that this particular ‘allegory’ adds nothing to our experience of the drama, and is more like an academic curiosity, inspired, of course, by Wagner’s own theory of the art-work of the future, but for all that not much more than a theory that lies dormant alongside of the work of art without becoming a part of it.”

PH: I believe the passage above is the core argument in Dr. Scruton’s critique of my allegorical interpretation of the "Ring." What he seems to be saying is that even if the allegorical meaning I claim to have discovered in Wagner’s "Ring" could be proven to be the foundation of Wagner’s original conception, nonetheless it evidently has no bearing on how Wagner’s audience responds to his "Ring," since it exists for the audience, if at all, only below the level of consciousness, even, one presumes, consciousness of emotion. I agree with him that no naive audience, i.e., no audience not previously prepped with an allegorical outlook, would ever construe Siegfried as the artist-hero when he wakes Bruennhilde, or construe Bruennhilde as the artist-hero Siegfried’s muse of unconscious artistic inspiration, or just basically experience Siegfried as a poet-dramatist or Bruennhilde as music. Even I, when I experience a fully staged performance of Wagner’s "Ring," only experience Wagner’s characters in their most self-evident dramatic roles as people in conflict and love. And this is proper and true, because all interpretations such as mine are the product of reflection, and it would be totally inappropriate ever to usurp or upstage Wagner's dream-like spell during performance, by trying to import any interpretation artificially into the staging of Wagner's operas and music-dramas, no matter how much evidence there may be that any given interpretation reflects accurately what Wagner was about. Interpretations such as mine are for reflection upon Wagner's art outside of the theater. But that is not to say that the allegorical meanings I believe I have discovered in the "Ring" are not part of what audiences experience during performances. I believe on the contrary that much of the urgency and enchantment and suspense of the "Ring" stems from our emotional intimation of these mysteries which, as Dr. Scruton says, are constantly lurking just beneath the surface of the "Ring." Wagner's musical motifs, which make connections which the conscious mind might never make, hold the key to unlock the realm I have been at such pains to describe. But this realm is accessible to conscious thought, and this is dramatized by Siegfried's unveiling the meaning of the Woodbird's song at Hagen's behest. Perhaps I can best be described as Hagen.

PH: There is, then, much more to our experience of the "Ring" in the theater than merely our common-sense, conventional reaction to the doings of dramatic characters. The music continually points to logical conundrums and mysteries which the conscious mind can scarcely parse during performance, or even in reflection after a performance. This is why questions of meaning relating to Wagner’s use of musical motifs in this or that situation in the "Ring" are continually being debated even today.

Re: Part 4: Scruton's critique of my book, & my response

Posted: Fri Oct 28, 2016 12:08 pm
by alberich00

Re: Part 4: Scruton's critique of my book, & my response

Posted: Sat Jan 28, 2017 11:57 am
by alberich00

Re: Part 4: Scruton's critique of my book, & my response

Posted: Mon Jun 18, 2018 11:42 am
by alberich00