In other words, being unable to redeem the gods from their inevitable twilight, Wotan now wishes merely to cease to be conscious of what fetters his thoughts, care and fear. In other words, he wants to be unconscious of the thoughts which cause him paralyzing care and fear of the end. Bruennhilde, Erda’s and Wotan’s child, will be the product of these two desires Wotan has of Erda, namely, to learn the meaning of his fear, and to learn how to forget his fear (since he will acknowledge he can’t redeem himself from its cause).
The consequences of this distinction are far-reaching, because the hero Wotan longs for, Siegfried, will be fearless because he doesn’t know who he is, whereas Wotan has confronted self-knowledge so unbearable that, as he’ll tell Bruennhilde in V.2.2, he can’t bear to speak it (i.e., what he learned from Erda during the visit to her he is planning here at the end of "Rhinegold") aloud. Not only will Wotan repeat these two desires of Erda he expressed here in R.4, much later during his last confrontation with Erda in S.3.3, namely, the wish to know everything, and the wish to cease to feel fear caused by what he knows, but Siegfried will effectively repeat Wotan’s two distinct desires of Erda in his S.3.3 love duet with Bruennhilde, for Siegfried will both learn fear from Bruennhilde, and through consummating a loving union with her forget the fear she taught him. As we can see, Wagner is here preparing us to grasp Bruennhilde as both Wotan’s and Siegfried’s unconscious mind.
Wotan: (#20a:) In the evening light the sun’s eye gleams; in its glittering glow the stronghold shines resplendent: (#20b:) glinting bravely in the morning light, (#20c:) it still lay lordless and (#20d:) nobly alluring before me (:#20d). (#19:) From morn until evening in toil and anguish [“Angst”] it wasn’t happily won (:#19)! Night draws on: from its envious [“Neid”] sway may it offer shelter now. ([[ #57ab: ]] very resolutely, as though seized by a grandiose idea: [[ #58a voc: ]]) Thus I salute the stronghold (:#58a), [[ #58b voc: ]] Safe from dread and dismay (:#58b). (#57ab) (He turns solemnly to Fricka: #20d) Follow me, wife: in Valhalla dwell with me! (#20a).
Wagner introduces two motifs here which are significant in making my case that Bruennhilde is Wotan’s unconscious mind. The Sword Motif #57ab, introduced here as a foreshadowing of the appearance of the sword Nothung (Needful) to Wotan’s mortal son Siegmund at the end of V.1.2, is primarily based on the arpeggiated figure with which the Ring begins, Motif #1, what we might call the Primal Nature Motif, from which all other motifs, so to speak, ultimately derive. Since #1 is heard before the Fall (not only prior to Alberich’s theft of the Rhinegold and forging of the Ring of power, which I interpret as the Ring of consciousness, but theoretically before Wotan broke the most sacred branch off of the World-Ash to make his spear of divine authority and law - since I take Dark-Alberich and Wotan, Light-Alberich, to be identical though understood according to different perspectives), before the birth of human consciousness, I take Wotan’s and Siegfried’s sword Nothung to be Wagner’s symbol for a restoration of innocence, a restoration of the preconscious paradise which preceded the Fall.
Also, Motif #58b, heard here as Wotan salutes the fortress Valhalla, ‘safe from dread and dismay,’ is the basis for Motif #79, which will be heard in conjunction with Motif #82 (Wotan’s Revolt), and Motif #51 (Alberich’s Curse on the Ring), during Wotan’s explosion of despair just prior to making his confession of thoughts which he says he dare not speak aloud, to Bruennhilde, in V.2.2. Motif #79 is introduced in V.2.1 during Fricka's confrontation with Wotan, and is associated there with Fricka's accusation that Wotan's favoring the Waelsung twins Siegmund (to whom Wotan looks to redeem the gods from the doom Erda foresaw, and Alberich's curse on his Ring will bring about) will in fact bring an end to the gods' rule.
Siegmund: (leaping up: #71) Siegmund I’m called (#57) and Siegmund I am: (#58b:) be witness this sword that I hold without flinching (:#58b)! Waelse promised that I’d find it one day in my time of greatest need [“hoechste Noth”] :
Here we have this same conjunction of the Sword Motif #57 and #58b as Siegmund unwittingly accepts his fateful destiny as Wotan’s proxy in his futile attempt to redeem himself and the gods (religious faith) from the inexorable working of Alberich’s curse on his Ring, and the twilight of the gods. Wotan, in other words, can only save himself from Alberich’s curse of consciousness, free himself from feeling dread and fear of the end of the gods, by artificially restoring man’s lost innocence (the preconscious time before man’s Fall through the acquisition of consciousness). I argue later in my book that it is secular art, particularly he non-conceptual art of music, which offers an artificial substitute for dying religious faith (Wotan leaving Siegfried and Bruennhilde heirs to his legacy, from which he withdraws), and Wagner actually dramatized Siegfried’s identity as an artist in Siegfried’s last action, his singing the song narrating his heroic career, and how he learned the meaning of the Woodbird’s song, in T.3.2.
Wotan: [[ #79: ]] the same old storm, the same old strife (:#79)!
Fricka: (breaking out in the most violent indignation: [[ #79: ]]) So this is the end of the blessed immortals, since you begot (:#79) those dissolute Waelsungs?
Fricka: Who breathed it into humankind? Who lighted the coward’s eyes? Sheltered by you they seem to be strong; spurred on by you, they strive for the light: (#79 orch:) you alone urge them on whom you thus praise to me, the immortal goddess (:#79 orch).
In these passages above Motif #79 is introduced in association with Fricka, with her belief that the very Waelsung hero and heroine to whom Wotan looks to redeem the gods (religion) from Alberich’s curse, Siegmund and Sieglinde, actually threaten the gods’ existence (as Fafner had), and that Siegmund is in any case not the free hero Wotan told her the gods need, but a mere echo of Wotan himself (though, as we know, Siegmund is an unwitting, unconscious proxy for Wotan). #79 derives from #58b, the motif earlier associated with Wotan’s hope that Valhalla, the divine realm of the gods, will be a refuge from the care and fear caused by Alberich’s curse and by Erda’s prediction that it will ultimately destroy the gods. #79 is of course one of the three motifs (the others being #82 and #51) heard as Wotan explodes in an access of despair, prompting his daughter Bruennhilde to ask him to confide in her, an act of confession which I have construed as Wagner’s dramatization of a tortured mind repressing thoughts which are too horrible for the conscious mind to contemplate, into the unconscious.
Wotan: (vehemently) Siegmund won it himself (with suppressed trembling) in his need [“Noth”]. (from this point onwards, Wotan’s whole demeanor expresses increasing gloom and dejection: [[ #81 ]])
Fricka: (continuing vehemently) [[ #81: ]] You fostered that need [“Noth”] no less than you fashioned the fearsome [“neidliche”] sword: [[ #81 ]] would you deceive me who, day and night, follows hard on your heels? [[ #81 ]] For him you thrust the sword in the tree trunk; [[ #81 ]] you promised him the noble weapon: [[ #81 ]] will you deny that your cunning alone lured him to where he might find it?
Wotan: (dropping his arm in a gesture of helplessness and allowing his head to sink on his breast) (#81:) In my own fetters I find myself caught: - I, least free of all things living (:#81)!
Motif #81, a variant of Wotan’s Spear Motif #21, is introduced here to confirm that Wotan’s great idea, represented by the sword Nothung (#57), that a hero freed from the gods’ rule will redeem the gods from Alberich’s curse of consciousness and restore (at least artificially) lost innocence, is not free but is merely a product of Wotan’s own fears and needs. This is important because, later, Motif #81 will transform into Motif #137, which will be heard in S.3.3 as an expression of Siegfried’s fear of waking Bruennhilde (whom Wotan has made the repository of his confession of the knowledge Erda taught him, that the gods are predistined to doom), and of the fear he has learned from Bruennhilde which Siegfried begs Bruennhilde to help him forget. #137 will later transform into #164, a motif associated in "Twilight of the Gods" with Bruennhilde’s ultimate recognition that her love for Siegfried is not blissful but an extension of Wotan’s punishment of her.
Bruennhilde: Never have I seen you so! What is it that gnaws at your heart?
(from this point onward, Wotan’s expression and gestures grow in intensity, until they culminate in the most terrible outburst)
Wotan: ([[ #82: ]]; #51:) O righteous disgrace! O shameful sorrow (:#82; :#51)! (#79:) Gods’ direst need [“Goetternoth”]! Gods’ direst distress [“Goetternoth”] (:#79)! (#40:) Infinite fury! Grief neverending (:#40)! (#37:) The saddest am I of all living things (:#37)!
Bruennhilde: (startled, throwing down shield, spear and helmet and sinking down at Wotan’s feet in anxious solicitude) Father! Father! Tell me, what ails you? How you startle your child and fill her with fear! Confide in me: I’m true to you; see, (#40; #64:) Bruennhilde begs you (:#40; #64) (Lovingly and anxiously she rests her head and hands on his knees and lap. #40; #64)
Wotan: (Gazing at length into her eyes, after which he strokes her hair in a gesture of spontaneous tenderness. As if emerging from deep thought, he finally begins in whispered tones:) If I let it be spoken aloud, shall I not loosen my will’s restraining hold?
Bruennhilde: (very quietly: #25 voc major frag:) To Wotan’s will you speak when you tell me what you will (:#25 voc major frag): (#? – [some chord changes suggest #59a and #15 as heard in T.3.3 when Bruennhilde sings “Ruhe! Ruhe!”:]) who am I if not your will (:#? – possible hint of #59a & #15?)?
Wotan: (very quietly) What in words I reveal to no one, let it stay unspoken for ever: with myself I commune when I speak with you.
This is the passage which first clued me into the possibility that Wagner had dramatized an example of repression of unbearable knowledge into the unconscious mind, and its sublimation into something which the conscious mind could bear, but which is actually a mask which hides the forbidden, secret truth. When this essay reaches the point, in Part B, where I start introducing extracts from Wagner's other canonic operas and music-dramas, Feuerbach’s writings, and from Wagner’s writings and recorded remarks, which offer supporting evidence for my reading of the "Ring" libretto and music, I will be quoting not only Feuerbach’s and Wagner’s ruminations on the importance of the unconscious in unwittingly and involuntarily inventing religion and creating art, but also evidence that both grasped the concept of repression of unbearable thoughts into the unconscious mind and the mind’s substitution of a consoling illusion for the bitter truth. I will also quote from Schopenhauer’s essay on “Madness,” in which he explained this process of repression of unbearable thoughts and their sublimation in some detail, as proof that such ideas were in the air prior to the period when Wagner authored the "Ring" libretto (though there is no evidence that Wagner had read, or was familiar with, Schopenhauer, prior to completing his libretto in 1853). Before I assess the passages above in some detail, it’s important to recall that Wagner regarded Wotan’s confession to Bruennhilde as the most important scene in the "Ring." This is for good reason, as per below:
When I first became acquainted with Wagner’s "Ring" at the age of 18, in 1971, the summer after I graduated from High School, and listened to the mono recording on Seraphim Records of Wilhelm Furtwaenglers’s recording of the RAI orchestra performing it, with libretto in hand, it was not long after that I recognized this moment with which V.2.2 begins as a metaphor for repression of unbearable thoughts into the unconscious mind. Bruennhilde’s plea to her father Wotan to confide in him thoughts so unbearable that he dare not speak them aloud, lest he lose the grip sustaining his will, is what elicits Wotan’s confession of thoughts which are so unbearable that, as he suggests above, they must remain forever unspoken. And they can remain unspoken, i.e., remain unconscious, even for Wotan himself, who tells Bruennhilde here that this is because in speaking to her he is speaking to himself. This has nothing to do with Freud because, of course, Wagner lived long before Freud, and therefore, if anything, we may suggest that Wagner influenced Freud, rather than the other way around. For this reason my interpretation can't be made subject to quibbles about Freud's theories.
I also instantly realized that this moment is in stark contrast to that moment in "Lohengrin" Act Two during which Lohengrin, unlike Wotan, does not acquiesce to Elsa’s plea that Lohengrin confide in her by confessing knowledge which Lohengrin tells her is forbidden to her or to anyone else. It was this insight into the meaning of Wotan’s confession to Bruennhilde, and its radical contrast with Lohengrin’s unwillingness to share his forbidden secret with Elsa, which initially inspired my 38 year quest to demonstrate the conceptual unity of Wagner’s "Ring," and its systematic conceptual relationship with Wagner’s three canonical romantic operas ("Dutchman," "Tannhaeuser," and "Lohengrin"), and three other canonical music-dramas ("Tristan," "Mastersingers," and "Parsifal"). I learned over the course of my life thereafter that these two insights provided a key to open up a previously unsuspected thread of meaning which is at the heart of Wagner’s canonical artistic legacy. I will save a more detailed discussion of these conceptual links for my subsequent discussion of how these 6 other operas and music-dramas can be understood within the conceptual/allegorical framework of the "Ring."
It wasn’t until many years later that Dr. Allen Dunning, who had worked out a rather large list of what he regarded as authentic musical motifs from the "Ring" (178 in number: however, I believe 3 or 4 do not deserve that title, and that there are perhaps 3, 4, or 5 musical motifs he didn’t identify that ought to have been in his list), at my suggestion looked very closely at the musical score for this passage above, and discovered that while Bruennhilde is asking Wotan, “… who am I if not your will?”, we hear chord changes which seem to reference #15 from the Rhinedaughters’ original song and dance in honor of the Rhinegold from R.1, and #59a from their lament for the lost Rhinegold which Alberich stole, from R.4, chord changes which underlie Bruennhilde’s putting Wotan’s struggles and wandering the world to rest in T.3.3 with her simple remark, “Rest, rest, you god.” But it had dawned on me long before this that Bruennhilde, by virtue of her loving union with the Waelsung hero Siegfried, metaphorically or artificially restores the Ring to the Rhinedaughters, by inspiring him as his muse of unconscious artistic inspiration, for (as she tells Hagen and Gunther in T.2.5) she protects Siegfried at the front from wounds, which I take to be the wounds caused by Alberich’s Ring curse of consciousness, the wounds caused by Wotan’s foresight of the inevitable end of the gods. But this also I will save until the appropriate point, in our discussion of S.3.3 and T.P.
Wotan: Unwittingly false I acted unfairly, binding by treaties what boded ill: cunningly Loge lured me on but vanished while roaming the world. – (#81) Yet I did not like to give up love; in the midst of power I longed for love’s pleasures.
Here Wotan not only confirms that he has been unwittingly false in binding those he ruled by treaties, but that the liar god Loge inspired him to do this. For an alleged god to say he was unwittingly false, to others and to himself, in the very thing which is supposed to identify him as a god, his authority, suggests that he was unconscious of the truth in creating his law and exercising his rule, and that those who honored his authority were also unconscious of the hypocrisy behind it.
Wotan: (#53) She who knows all that ever was, Erda, the awesomely all-wise Wala, told me to give up the ring and warned of an end everlasting. (somewhat more forcefully) Of that end I wanted to know yet more; (guardedly) but the woman vanished in silence. (more animated) (#81:) Then I lost all lightness of heart; the god desired knowledge (:#81): (#37 hint?:) into the womb of the world I descended (:#37 hint?), mastered the Wala with love’s magic spell and broke her wisdom’s pride, that she gave account of herself. Knowledge I gained from her (#54?); from me though she gained [“empfing” – “hid”?] a pledge: [[ #88 embryo:]] the world’s wisest woman (:#88 foreshadowed) bore to me, Bruennhilde, you.
I have previously suggested we can make much more sense of Alberich’s Ring and its worldly power than traditional interpretations do, if we acknowledge it as a metaphor for human consciousness, that special gift which granted man unique power in the world. Here Wotan says that his fear of the natural truth (spoken by Mother Nature, Erda) that all that is ends, and that the gods like all things must die, led him to query the source of that knowledge, Erda, to know more about his fate. Evidently one thing he learned was that he couldn’t escape that fate. So the only recourse (unless Wotan actually welcomed that fate, which would presumably bring about the end of all that Wotan hoped for from the world, including his efforts to redeem himself from its bitter truth) was to cease to foresee, or be conscious of, that fated end.
Evidently Wotan’s seed, which in Erda’s womb (the womb of the world) gave birth to their daughter Bruennhilde, was his fearful quest for knowledge of the gods’ doom. So Erda gave Wotan this knowledge he can’t bear to think aloud (i.e., consciously), and in exchange she gave him Bruennhilde, the means to be both in possession of this fateful, fearful knowledge, and not conscious of it.
Wotan: (#77) With eight sisters I brought you up: through you Valkyries I hoped to avert the fate that the Vala had made me fear – a shameful end of the gods everlasting. (#77:) That our foe might find us stalwart in strife I bade you bring me heroes (:#77): (#21 hint?:) those men whom, high-handed, we tamed by our laws, those men whose mettle we held in check by binding them to us in blind allegiance through troubled treaties’ treacherous bonds (:#21 hint?). (#77:) You’d [didn’t Spencer mean to say something like “You were …”?] to spur them on (increasingly animated, but with muted force) to onslaught and strife, honing their strength for hot-blooded battle (:#77), so that hosts of valiant warriors I’d gather in Valhalla’s hall.
General Discussion about Wagner and The Ring of the Nibelung
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