What is more, this subliminal transformation (the giants’ building of Valhalla, evidently thanks to the power of Alberich’s Ring) occurs while the gods sleep,as Fasolt himself says. A key detail is that Wotan says he conceived Valhalla in a dream, and through his will decreed it. It is worth mentioning here that Bruennhilde will in V.2.2 describe herself as Wotan’s “Will,” and Wotan will endorse Bruennhilde’s self-description, stating that in speaking to her he is only speaking to himself. He will add that he is speaking to himself (i.e., Bruennhilde) things he dare not say aloud, things therefore which will remain unspoken. Could Wotan be suggesting that what he is about to say will remain unconscious even for him? A chief characteristic of dreaming is that it is involuntary, a product of our unconscious. It is our dream, but it is not a product of our conscious intentionality. Thus a dream is ours, and yet not ours, something like a divine revelation, but a revelation from within, from our own unconscious. I will save my more detailed discussion of these questions until we arrive at my extracts from the libretto/music of V.2.2.
This is crucial to all that will come later in the "Ring," for Wotan and the gods owe, apriori, a debt to Alberich’s theft of the Rhinegold, and forging of the Ring, for their very existence, the creation of their heavenly abode Valhalla, a debt which at the time that it is represented musically in #19>#20a and dramatically in the gods remaining asleep (and Wotan dreaming) while it is made manifest in the building of Valhalla, remains subliminal and unconscious for the gods. For purposes of analysis Wagner distinguishes this debt into two parts, the first being what the gods owe the giants in exchange for building their heavenly abode Valhalla (Freia, the goddess of divine love and immortality), and the second being Wagner’s dramatization of the transformation of the Ring Motif #19 into the first segment of the Valhalla Motif #20a in Wotan’s need to employ Alberich’s Hoard, Tarnhelm, and Ring, to pawn Freia from the giants and secure the gods’ rule in Valhalla.
In my interpretation, the giant Fasolt represents man’s animal instinct of sexual desire and the family feeling which is the natural consequence of sexual relations (which ultimately involve children), and his brother Fafner represents man’s animal instinct of self-preservation, i.e., fear of death. We know this because of the two giants Fasolt alone desires Freia, the goddess of love, for her own sake, while Fafner only considers what power can accrue to the giants from holding her hostage. He will come to represent fear in S.2.2 when Mime offers to take Siegfried to Fafner in order that Fafner can teach him the meaning of fear. The allegorical point here is that in the evolution of the human species from animal ancestors, the acquisition of the fully conscious human mind (Alberich’s Ring of power) enlarged the province of our two fundamental animal instincts (the giants) to create a civilization predicated on religious belief in gods (hence the gods waking from sleep and from dreaming to find themselves already in possession of their heavenly home Valhalla).
Since we will learn from Wotan himself in S.1.2 that Wotan is “Light-Alberich,” this, combined with the evolution of Alberich’s Ring into Valhalla solves the old problem of chronology relating to whether Alberich’s theft of the Rhinegold and forging of his Ring preceded, or followed, Wotan’s breaking a branch from the world-ash to make his spear of divine authority and law. It has long been understood that Wagner conceived of these two foundational events as logically parallel. We can construe Wotan and Alberich as in a sense identical beings, but understood from two different points of view. Alberich’s theft of the Rhinegold and forging of his Ring of power can be construed as a logical, not so much a temporal, precondition for the very existence of the gods and their heavenly abode, since human beings first became human through the acquisition of reflective, symbolic consciousness in the natural course of evolution, and only then could attempt to interpret themselves and their world according to the new light given by the power of consciousness. Let me add that Fasolt says to the gods “Gentle slumber sealed your eyes” as we hear an embryonic version of Wotan’s Spear Motif #21. Wagner is making the Feuerbachian point that we humans collectively, but unconsciously and involuntarily, invented the gods during the earliest phase of our uniquely human existence on earth. But in order to believe in the gods’ objective existence we had to have been unconscious of the imaginative process through which we invented them. All of this is contained allegorically in the passages above from R.2.
Alberich: (#24 vari violin:) You who live, laugh, and love up there in the breath of gentle breezes (:#24 vari violin): (#47:) in my golden grasp I’ll capture all you gods (:#47)! (#19) (#18; #24 vari violin:) As love has been forsworn by me, so all that lives shall also forswear it (:#18); (#24 vari violin:) lured by gold, you’ll lust after gold alone (:#24 vari violin). (#19)
Alberich: [The following English passage scrambles the order of the German original] (#20c:) Rocked in (:#20c) (#20a modulation:) blissful abandon on radiant heights, (#20a:) you eternal free-livers (:#20a) (#19:) scorn the black elf (:#19): - Beware! Beware! (#39 &/or 40?:) For when your menfolk yield to my power (:#39 &/or 40?), (#39?:) your pretty women, who spurned my wooing (:#39?), (#47:) shall forcibly sate the lust of the dwarf, though love may no longer smile upon him (:#47). (…)
Alberich: (#46:) Beware of my army of night (:#46), (#5) when the Nibelung’s hoard (#5) arises [[ (#@: a) = #12/#20b: ]] from silent depths to the light of day (:#12/#20b)!
These passages offer motival and dramatic premonitions of much which will occur later in the "Ring," even in "Twilight of the Gods." Motif #47 (heard here in conjunction with Alberich’s threat that he’ll capture the gods in his golden grasp, and that he will forcibly sate his loveless lust with the gods’ pretty women) sometimes known as Alberich’s Revolt Motif, is the basis for Motif #82, which will be heard in V.2.2 in conjunction with Alberich’s Curse Motif #51, and motif #79, as Wotan explodes in despair in Bruennhilde’s presence just before she asks him to confide in her, and he confesses all those things he can’t bear to speak aloud to himself, which he says will remain forever unspoken (i.e., Bruennhilde will be keeping a secret not only for Wotan, but perhaps even be keeping a secret from him, since he couldn’t bare to speak it aloud even to himself). I will later make the case that Alberich’s prediction that the Nibelung Hoard will one day rise from silent depths to the light of day and overthrow the gods is one of Wagner’s numerous metaphors for the rise of Wotan’s repressed, unbearable knowledge of the true debt he (religious man) owes to Alberich (the fact that what we call the supernatural and the heavenly is just a human invention predicated on the gift of human consciousness, which has a material, not a spiritual origin), and which remains hidden in Wotan’s unconscious mind, will one day become conscious.
Wotan will confess that he has learned from his lover, and Bruennhilde’s Mother, Erda (Earth, Mother Nature) that the twilight of the gods is predestined and irrevocable, and that Wotan’s hope for a hero who will spontaneously and independently do what Wotan and the gods need for the hero to do in order to redeem them from Alberich’s curse and the twilight of the gods, is futile. It is my argument that Wotan can’t afford to acknowledge these things consciously, so that in confiding them to Bruennhilde (in whom, as Wotan tells Bruennhilde, they will remain forever unspoken), Wotan is effectively repressing unbearable knowledge into his unconscious mind. Later I will reference an extract from Schopenhauer from his essay on madness, which, though it’s unlikely to have influenced Wagner (since he presumably didn’t read Schopenhauer until 1854, after the "Ring" libretto was completed), offers a complete theory of repression of unbearable thoughts into the unconscious mind, and their sublimation into a consoling self-deception, or madness, as proof that this concept was already in the air in Wagner’s time, and will reference extracts from Feuerbach’s writings, and from Wagner’s writings and recorded remarks, which prove that Wagner’s mentor and Wagner himself thought along these same lines.
Loge: A ring you boldly flourished (#19); (#41) trembling, your people shrank before it: (#19 varis; #42 varis:) but what if a thief crept upon you, asleep, and slyly snatched it away – how would you ward yourself then in your wisdom (:#19 varis; #42 varis)?
There are numerous metaphors in the "Ring" for the concept that Dark-Alberich is also Light-Alberich (Wotan), that Alberich represents the reality hidden behind Wotan’s ideal self-image and his self-deception, and that therefore things which Wotan can’t afford to acknowledge to himself consciously (such as his true debt to Alberich and the Giants, and the fact that in order to pay it Wotan has to give up everything he lives for) are sublimated into a safe form which Wotan can acknowledge consciously, through dreaming (or, since Wotan represents not only Godhead but collective, historical man who involuntarily dreamed the gods of religion into existence, through the collective dreaming called myth-making). So, Loge warns Alberich that something will come to pass which has already occurred subliminally, or musically, the transformation of the power of Alberich’s Ring into Valhalla (#19>#20a), while Alberich sleeps (i.e., while Alberich dreams). What has already happened musically is now being dramatically enacted, since Loge and Wotan will indeed co-opt the power of Alberich’s Ring during their visit to Nibelheim, which can be construed as Wagner’s dramatization of the process of unconscious and involuntary creation of Valhalla we already witnessed in the transition from Rhinegold Scene One to Scene Two.
Wotan: You’re captured and firmly fettered, just as you thought that the world and all that lives and moves in it was already in your power. You lie before me in shackles, you can’t deny that, you craven dwarf: to set you free a ransom is needed.
Alberich: O dunce that I am! A dreamy-eyed fool [“traeumender Thor”]! How foolish to trust their thievish deceit! Fearful revenge shall atone for my failing!
Just as Loge warned Alberich that he might lose possession of his Ring (of consciousness) while he is asleep, so Alberich here blames himself for being a dreamy-eyed fool” (“traeumender Thor”) in letting Wotan and Loge co-opt the power of his Ring for their own purposes (namely, the establishment and perpetuation of the rule of the gods in Valhalla, a rule based upon man’s own involuntary, collective dreaming which gave birth to the self-deception of religious belief, gave birth to the gods.
Alberich: Disgraceful trickery! Shameless deceit! You upbraid me, you crook, for the wrong you so fondly desired? (#7) (#19:) How glad you’d have been to have robbed the gold from the Rhine (:#19), were the skill to forge it so lightly gained! How lucky for you, you smooth-tongued god, that I, the Nibelung, from shameful necessity [“Noth”], slave to my anger, mastered the fearful magic whose work now smiles so gaily upon you. (#19 varis:; #5 varis:) Shall the curse-heavy, harrowing deed of the hapless, fearstricken dwarf serve haply to gain you a princely toy? Shall my curse redound to your joy? – (#19)
Alberich here reminds Wotan that what gave him and the other gods the gift of Valhalla, man’s involuntary invention of the realm of the gods from which they rule the faithful, was won through Alberich’s self-sacrifice in the name of power, his Ring which only he could forge, and that the gods (i.e., those humans who believe in the gods though they involuntarily invented them) will ultimately have to pay a price for co-opting his power.
Alberich: (#19 vari:) Be on your guard, you haughty god! If ever I sinned, I sinned freely against myself (:#19 vari): but you, you immortal, will sin against all that was, is and shall be – if you brazenly wrest the ring from me now!
Erda: (Stretching out her hand to Wotan in a gesture of remonstration: [[ #53: ]] Yield, Wotan! Yield (:#53)! Flee the curse on the ring! To irredeemably dark destruction its gain will ever ordain you.
Wotan: What woman are you that warns me thus?
Erda: [[ #53: ]] How all things were – I know; (#53:) how all things are, (#53 modulating:) how all things will be, I see as well (:#53 modulating): [[ #53: ]] the endless earth’s (:#53) primeval Wala, Erda, bids you beware. [[ #53: ]] Ere the world was, my womb brought forth three daughters: what I see [[ #53: ]] the Norns unfold each night (:#53).
Here we learn that if Wotan co-opts the objective power of Alberich’s Ring in order to sustain the rule of the gods, Wotan will be sinning against Erda’s knowledge of all that was, is, and will be, i.e., if mankind posits the self-deception of godhead, of belief in the supernatural, belief that immortality can save man’s gods and man himself from Mother Nature’s fundamental law that all that exists must end, as a substitute for the objective world of Mother Nature (Erda), man will be sinning against all that was, is, and will be, i.e., man will be committing the essential sin of religious belief, pessimistic world-renunciation in favor of self-deception.
Erda: (#50:) But gravest danger brings me myself to you today (:#50): (#5:) Hearken! Hearken! Hearken! (:#5)! (#53:) All things that are – (#53 modulating [with octave drop:]) end (:#53). [[ #54: ]] A day of darkness dawns for the gods (:#54) (#53): (#19:) I counsel you: shun the ring (:#19)!
Erda posits the essential truth of Nature, that all that is ends, all is transient, even the allegedly supernatural and immortal gods (which are after all figments of mankind’s imagination), in opposition to the gods’ assumption of their divine right to rule and their immortality (which, note, the giants have already called into question by demonstrating their power to deprive the gods of the very essence of religious belief, Freia, the goddess of divine love and immortality - sorrowless youth eternal). The twilight of the gods is subsumed under Erda’s general law that all which exists ends. Since I have argued that Alberich’s Ring is Wagner’s metaphor for mankind’s unique gift of reflective and symbolic consciousness, it follows that for Wotan to actually possess the Ring, to place it on his finger, is tantamount to becoming conscious of this terrible truth which Erda has just uttered. The twilight of the gods is already accomplished if one possesses full consciousness, full consciousness of the bitter truth. So Erda suggests that Wotan shun the Ring. In other words, since Wotan and the gods can’t escape destruction, since it is the fundamental law of Nature, the only redemption they can enjoy is to shun the Ring of consciousness, to remain somehow unconscious of the bitter truth. The gods are predestined to destruction anyway because, as Alberich warned, they (i.e., the humans who worship and obey them) will ultimately strive to acquire Alberich’s hoard of treasure (one of several of Wagner’s metaphors for the knowledge humans acquire through their experience of themselves and nature over the course of time, knowledge which grants man power) and overthrow themselves (i.e., humans will unveil the truth and overthrow their own self-created illusions). But in the meantime mankind can enjoy temporary redemption from the knowledge of the truth.
Wotan (#53:) Sublimely awesome your words resound (:#53): tarry, till I know more!
(Erda sinks down to chest height, as the bluish light begins to fade.)
Erda: (sinking: #53:) I’ve warned you – (#53:) you know enough: (#53 – fading:) brood in care and fear!
(She disappears completely; Wotan tries to follow her into the fissure in order to stop her; Froh and Fricka throw themselves in his way and hold him back.)
Wotan: If care and fear must consume me then I must seize you and find out everything!
Wotan now offers us a premonition of mankind’s historical quest for knowledge of himself and of his world, Mother Nature, in his expression of a longing to learn from Erda (Mother Nature) why he must live in care and fear. He (mankind) must live in care and fear not only because in the real world all things that are, end (for man, in death), but because religious man has involuntarily created an illusion that man can be redeemed from the laws of nature in paradise (share the gods’ immortality in Valhalla), an illusion that mankind, through acquisition of knowledge of himself and Nature over time, is predestined to overthrow.
Wotan: (shaken) Fearful now I find the curse’s power!
Loge: (#50:) Wotan, what can compare with your luck? Winning the ring gained you much; that it’s now been taken away from you serves you even more (:#50): (#26a:) behold, your enemies fell one another (:#26a) for the sake of the gold that you gave away.
Wotan: And yet how a sense of unease binds me fast! (#51) (#53:) Care and fear fetter my thoughts – how I may end them (:#53) (#54:) Erda shall teach me: to her I must descend (:#54)!
Wotan has just witnessed the first fruits of Alberich’s curse on his Ring in Fafner’s murder of his brother Fasolt for the Ring (proving that fear of death and egoistic desire for self-aggrandizement is stronger than man’s impulse for love?), that all will seek its power but none draw profit from it, and ultimately draw only death from it (i.e., metaphorically, acknowledge that there is only death, only the knowledge that all things must end, with no redemption), and so he no longer wants to learn from Erda why he must live in care and fear (presumably because he has recognized, at least unconsciously, that there is no true redemption from Alberich’s curse on his Ring and from the fated twilight of the gods), and now is less ambitious. He now only wants to learn from Erda how he can end the care and fear that fetter his thoughts.
General Discussion about Wagner and The Ring of the Nibelung
1 post • Page 1 of 1