Wagner made a couple of remarks about Lohengrin which are quite interesting in relation to your current topic. He said that the fact that as a Grail knight Lohengrin was sworn to chastity or celibacy made his wish to marry Elsa problematic (this is a vague paraphrase of his original remark). He also said that a Grail knight could marry if a woman could be found who had the character not to ask him the forbidden question about his origin and identity. This is quite interesting. It sounds as if RW was suggesting that the Grail knight could marry so long as his hypocrisy in doing so was kept secret. The knight can marry if the woman he seeks in marriage can so outstrip her ancestress Eve as not to seek knowledge. This corresponds well with my thesis that Elsa knows something about Lohengrin which it would be dangerous for him to admit to, which is precisely what Ortrud told Elsa. Klingsor's intent (like that of several nihilists in Dostoevsky's novels who seek to pop the bubble of Christian faith, but only after having sought the meaning of their life in a futile quest for spirituality) is to expose the hypocrisy hidden behind the Grail knights' protestations of purity, to, as you say, desecrate what is otherwise held to be sacred, by exposing it as venal. I recall some bizarre character in one of Dostoevsky's novels who repeats the following question: "Is God then only Nature?"
I've written elsewhere in my commentary on your book on Parsifal how Wagner bases virtually all of his heroines from Venus onward on Eve in Paradise, whose gift to Adam of knowledge God forbade to man expelled man from paradise. Eve thereby becomes the muse of man's world-historical quest to restore lost paradise, whether this be through Christ's compassionate self-sacrifice, or through inspired secular art. Therefore Kundry both delivers the wound that will never heal, and offers temporary healing of that wound (the feeling it's been healed) in atonement. Thus she's both the seductress and the Grail servant.
Wagner told Cosima that he was irritated when admirers of his art told him how much they preferred Isolde and her transfiguration over Kundry. He noted that Kundry could be said to have undergone Isolde's final transfiguration numerous times in her former lives, and in that sense superseded Isolde. Well, since RW said this, and also implied that Isolde corresponds to Bruennhilde in his Epilogue to the 'Nibelung's Ring,' since he stated there that the plots of Twilight of the Gods and Tristan and Isolde are identical (since in both the hero, under the sway of some force, gives his true love away to another man, and thereby meets his doom), this suggests that in RW's mind both Isolde and Bruennhilde represent a mid-point in the evolution of the muse of unconscious artistic inspiration, between Eva in Mastersingers, whose lover, the artist-hero Walther, never gives her away to another man (nor ever becomes, like Tristan, Siegfried, and Parsifal, conscious of himself as the author of his mother's death), and therefore is able to successfully win through her inspiration the ability to present a redemptive artwork (his mastersong) to the Volk, and Kundry, in whose case the former muse of unconscious artistic inspiration has entirely lost her capacity to heal, since the artist-hero himself is fully awoken to his true identity as a formerly unwitting perpetuator of religion's sin of world-renunciation (the killing of his mother, Nature), and renounces her bid to be his lover. On this allegorical reading Kundry's effort to offer Parsifal an ersatz experience of godhead by offering him the now defunct redemption of unconscious artistic inspiration is what you describe above as a wish to contaminate him.
Parsifal's quest for purity is a quest to renounce religious man's sin of world-renunciation (symbolized by the Grail considered as a religious mystery, the Grail for which Parsifal neglected his mother, Nature, and thereby killed her) and to purify himself of his crime of matricide, for which he feels unbearable guilt, by restoring Nature's innocence. Religious man, according to Wagner, had demonized man's body, renounced the real world, and renounced man's kinship to the animals in positing an immortal soul and positing man's origin in a supernatural creator god. So redemption would consist in overthrowing such a religion and restoring man's true relationship with his body, with Nature, with the animals and plants, etc. On this view Parsifal isn't renouncing sexual relations in favor of religious man's longing for chastity and purity, but is doing quite the opposite in refusing sexual relations with Kundry, which is Wagner's metaphor for an unconscious artistic inspiration which no longer heals, which perpetuated religious man's original sin of repudiating Mother Nature.
By the way, I recall reading in some ethnology of a New Guinean tribe back in anthro grad school detailed information of its rites of passage and deliberate separation of boys undergoing initiation from their mothers and women in general. In such tribal groups menstrual blood is often taboo. But what's interesting is that the men carved statues of spiritual beings in what they called the Womb-House. A large part of their religious life seemed to consist in identifying women as a source of pollution, but also as objects of jealousy, since women, not men, can give birth to new life. By way of compensation the men alone could carve these statues in the womb house, thereby transferring the women's creative power to the men. Some of their myths account for this sexual discrepancy. In Wagner's last writings on the "Human Womanly," if I recall correctly, he identified woman with nature, and man with spirit, and suggested that polygamy is somehow more natural, fidelity to one woman more spiritual. The point I'm getting at is that in most human societies woman has been identified as more natural and less spiritual and therefore as inherently polluted. I suppose that in some matriarchal farming societies that wasn't the case. That's what for Wagner makes Bruennhilde being the ultimate redeemer so moving, and what makes the Buddha's final victory over himself, his final enlightenment, so moving, that through Savitri's example he recognized that women, like men, could attain enlightenment and cease to be reborn.
In my interpretation the womb of night in Tristan is identical with Bruennhilde in her role as Wotan's unconscious mind, with Elsa in her bid to be Lohengrin's unconscious mind and in her corroborating Ortrud's doubts of Lohengrin, with Nibelheim (Erda's navel or umbilical nest, as Mime calls Nibelheim), Alberich's realm of night where the unconscious processes occur which produced Wotan's dream realm, Valhalla, with the dream of inspiration Eva gifts to Walther, with the muse Venus's sojourn with the artist-hero Tannhaeuser in the Venusberg, and with Klingsor's Magic Garden where the muse Kundry tries, one last time, to seduce the artist-hero Parsifal (Siegfried, Tristan, Walther reincarnate) into plunging into his womb of unconscious artistic inspiration which Tristan in his desperation rejected in the end. Klingsor's Magic Garden is Wagner's final word on Tristan's and Isolde's realm of night, a realm Tristan in the end rejected and renounced, blaming himself for having brewed the love-death potion. Just as Hagen's potions and the potion Brangaene selects from Isolde's mother's collection (again, Nature) aren't outside forces but tell us of a process produced naturally from within the artist-hero himself, so Klingsor's magic in my interpretation isn't something outside of Parsifal through which Klingsor tries to coerce and seduce him, but is a product of Parsifal's past misdemeanors, a fact he recognizes and for which he seeks to atone, blaming himself for everything.
As RW himself said, Tristan and Isolde is a variation on the myth dramatized in Twilight of the Gods, in which a hero, as if under a spell, gives his own true love away to another man, and thereby finds his doom. Tristan is unique in that the hunting party of Melot and Marke are granted direct access to the secrets of the lovers' womb of night, since Tristan and Isolde suicidally wait for the sun to rise, exposing their seemingly illicit love to the light of conscious day. In Twilight of the Gods, by contrast, Siegfried exposes his seemingly illicit relationship with his muse Bruennhilde to the hunting party of Gunther and Hagen by report, in his song narrating the story of his heroic life and how he came to grasp the meaning of birdsong. In Tristan, his alte Weise plays the same roll as Siegfried's Woodbird song, a musical/motival portal from the conscious light of day into the unconscious realm of night, the artist-hero's unconscious mind. But nonetheless from the allegorical standpoint these situations are identical. Gunther, Marke, and Amfortas all suffer unbearable shame as a consequence of the artist-hero having granted them access to what the artist-hero alone had the gift to face without losing his mind, his muse and her secrets. RW once said that for the higher man (he was referring to himself, of course), what for other common men is experienced only in relation to whether or not it bears on their egoistic will, i.e., whether to satisfy or thwart it, is experienced in its universal tragic significance. But he noted that his gift or artistic inspiration granted him the ability to heal himself, to forget this unbearable vision of the fatal truth, by masking it with a veil of Wahn, an inspired artwork. RW said that this vision of the unbearable truth sometimes made him feel as if he couldn't go on living. He said if the common man was granted such a terrible vision of the truth behind all of our consoling self-deceptions, he might be driven mad or to self-destruction. That's what happens to Wotan just prior to his confession to Bruennhilde, and that's why Wotan can't bear his vision of the truth forced on him by Alberich, and represses it into her, his unconscious, through his confession. This is the womb of night, the source of Siegried's unconscious artistic inspiration by Bruennhilde. This explains why Siegfried is overcome by fear prior to waking Bruennhilde. It explains why Gunther, Marke, and Amfortas are covered in unbearable anguish and shame once they've been granted access to the artist-hero's muse of unconscious artistic inspiration and her secrets (a shame that runs much deeper than the conventional readings re Gunther's and Marke's jealousy and Amfortas's anguish at having succumbed to temptation and failing to properly serve the Grail). It explains why Lohengrin couldn't risk sharing knowledge of his true identity, and why Tannhaeuser's revelation of his true but formerly unconscious source of unconscious artistic inspiration so profoundly dismayed his audience in the Wartburg.
This is because, in the end, the critique of RW's own artistic creativity which RW himself had more and more been emphasizing in his latter years attained its fullest flowering in the vision of his own art he portrayed in Klingsor's Magic Garden, his exploitative use of Kundry, and the seductions of prior heroes of religion and art (the Grail knights) by prior muses of unconscious artistic inspiration, the flowermaidens. This is implicit in the entire trajectory of RW's creative life from the Dutchman onward to Parsifal. All of RW's prior canonical artworks reach their culmination in Parsifal, in which they live again a ghostly life. If I'm remembering correctly, Dostoevsky has some characters who desperately longed to find transcendent meaning, including through a quest for deep religiosity, only to become disillusioned, and then set out to undermine the faith they'd lost, in others who still have it. Such is Klingsor. Like RW, Dostoevsky was profoundly worried about the de-mythologization which Western science was bringing to traditional and Orthodox Russia, and saw his art as a protest against it. But RW may have discovered that in his Ring and other inspired artworks he had perpetuated a false narrative, had perpetuated religious man's futile longing to escape the world, and came to see himself, in a strange way, in Klingsor, in whom such inspired art actually reveals the terrible truth, its true source of inspiration, which it originally was meant to conceal and to redeem us from. It adds to the mystery and luster of this supposition that RW, till the end, remained only partially conscious of what I'm saying here, and actually dramatized this fact, that he didn't know who he is, in his operas and music-dramas. It's not an accident that RW confessed that for the authentic artist, his art may remain as much a mystery to him as to his audience. But what remained unconscious for Wagner he exposed in his artworks. Tannhaeuser's and Siegfried's and Tristan's and Klingsor's giving their muses and their secrets away to another man (metaphor for their audience), is RW's secret story of how he may have viewed his own life in its universal, world-historical significance.
With respect to Mary Douglas's book on purity and danger (I had to read her for anthro classes ages ago), Fafner's lair is taboo for Wotan. In V.3.1 we learn that Wotan never goes there, avoids the place. That's because Fafner guarding Alberich's Ring, Tarnhelm, and Nibelung Hoard is RW's metaphor for faith's fear of intellectual inquiry. Alberich (and implicitly his as-yet-unborn child Hagen, RW's metaphor for the modern, secular, scientific spirit of de-mythologization and scientific reductionism) wakes there for millennia waiting for the chance to break this taboo to free the human mind from this constraint. RW saw himself as a world-historical artist-hero (Siegfried) who would fulfill Feuerbach's prophecy that man would eventually explode the religious mysteries, which man himself invented. But Wagner did this unwittingly and involuntarily (thus Siegfried doesn't know who he is, doesn't know he's the agent of Wotan's bid for redemption from Alberich's Ring Curse) in his very bid to protect and preserve the religious mysteries (Wotan's confession) to which he'd fallen heir.
Imagine Isolde and Bruennhilde perpetually reincarnated to repeatedly suffer Tristan's and Siegfried's inevitable betrayal of their love, where this would finally end. What sort of attitude would Bruennhilde and Isolde have if, like the heroine of The Victors, they were granted remembrance of all their past lives, and how they repeated the same mistake with their hero, over and over again, never finding rest from this repeated cycle predicated on self-deception. Perhaps they'd yearn for final release like Tristan.
Wagner said that the death of the hero in a work of literature or drama or music-drama is the life of the work of art.
My friend, the art-forger (gone straight since he narrowly escaped an FBI investigation) Ken Perenyi (author of "Caveat Emptor"), was watching a "60 Minutes" expose by Christiane Amanpour of the Trokosi Cult, found in Benin, Togo, and Ghana in West Africa, about 20 years ago, when he was overcome with compassion for a little girl, approximately 7 years old, whom Christiane interviewed. The little girl (whom Ken later saved and adopted, and who has now completed graduate school and is working in international and community development - or something like that - in Ghana now, Bridget Soussou Perenyi), had evidently been given as a scapegoat sacrifice to male priests, practitioners of this cult, as a way of appeasing the gods so they wouldn't inflict her entire clan with sickness and other traumas in punishment for a crime committed by one of Bridget's older male relatives, perhaps against another rival clan. Bridget was to be enslaved for life. There is a 1/2 hour BBC documentary about Bridget's return to her family in Togo, who gave her up (indirectly,, to an uncle who claimed he merely wanted her to help him work around his home) to these priests, in order to restore her lost roots but also to obtain their explanation of why they did this.
It has always seemed self-evident that Parsifal primarily concerns Parsifal's self-development as a compassionate individual who ultimately, after a life previously without direction, forsakes the temptation of seeking self-satisfaction in the pleasures of the flesh offered by Kundry and Klingsor's Magic Garden with its flowermaidens, in order to fulfill his mission to heal Amfortas's unhealing wound. So Agape triumphs over Eros. This assumption, which seeming satisfactory tends to stop further inquiry in its tracks, is made even more plausible by its evident basis in Tannhaeuser, in which Tannhaeuser must allegedly make a choice between sensuous delights, or lust, in the arms of Venus, or a truly divine love with Elizabeth, who redeems Tannhaeuser from eternal damnation by sacrificing herself in Christlike compassion for him. But of course in both Parsifal and Tannhaeuser much more is at stake, though the original assumption is at stake as well. Venus isn't simply a symbol of sensuousness in opposition to spirituality. Venus is Tannhaeuser's muse of unconscious artistic inspiration. The fact that Tannhaeuser feels he must leave Venus and only admire her from afar as an aspiration and source of inspiration because, as he says, a mortal being like him can't bear the endless life of love, immortal love, she offers him, but needs pain and death to make his life meaningful, is Wagner's Feuerbachian critique of the Christian concept of heaven. Feuerbach said that the Christian longing for eternal life, a blissful life in paradise purged of pain and death, is actually predicated on natural desire and fear, i.e., egoism, and this is precisely what's so horrifying about the Venusberg among Tannhaeuser's Wartburg audience, though they remain unconscious of this true source of their horror. Their horror arises from the Venusberg's implications for their faith in the divine, but so far as their conscious minds are concerned the Venusberg's horror arises from its illicit sexuality, which in their minds has nothing to do with the divine but is simply a source of pollution, something taboo.
When Tannhaeuser, as if under the influence of a spell (Venus's curse), exposes the true source of his allegedly divine inspiration for his songs, as being the loving embrace of his muse Venus in the Venusberg, while performing his contest song at the Wartburg to win Elizabeth's hand in marriage, Tannhaeuser's audience condemns him to irrevocable damnation not merely because he has exposed his primary motivation as selfish sexual satisfaction, but for the much more terrifying reason that he has exposed to them an unbearable, unthinkable truth behind their own consoling illusions of transcendent value and divine inspiration. Christians imagine they must die to the world, to the impulses of the body, in order to be worthy of rebirth in heaven as spiritual, immortal beings. But as Feuerbach noted, what the Christian heaven of the imagination really is is a place where we wish to magnify to infinity the things which in our corporeal life gave us bliss, while artificially purging from our existence pain and the prospect of death. In other words, what we want in heaven is what we would like to have had in life but couldn't enjoy without also suffering pain and death. Believers wish to think of the bliss they'll enjoy in paradise as pure and spiritual, but in fact these feelings are sublimations of what they loved on earth. And of course Venus's realm Venusberg is in the heart of the earth (Erde, or Erda). As Feuerbach stated, there's no escaping the natural origin of what we call God. That's the secret hidden within the religious mysteries, as RW himself said when speaking to Cosima about Aeschylus. Wagner stated that this truth is regarded as blasphemous. And that is what Tannhaeuser's sojourn in the Venusberg, his unconscious mind, which is a repository for this unbearable truth which believing Christians can't afford to acknowledge, means. Something like this is also at stake in Klingsor's Magic Garden and his ability to ensnare the Grail knights who've sworn oaths of chastity/celibacy. Needless to say, when Wagner authored and composed Tannhaeuser he hadn't yet conceived the allegorical scheme which underlies his mature music-dramas, so Tannhaeuser isn't fully self-consistent, which is one reason RW was never contented with it. But it's clear that it contains the seeds for much of his subsequent art, including dramatic tropes later found in Siegfried and Twilight of the Gods, Tristan and Isolde, Mastersingers (which was supposed to be its satyr play), and Parsifal.
The fact that in Parsifal all emphasis, as you say, is placed on Christ's compassionate self-sacrifice on the Cross on Good Friday, to take away the sins of the world by taking their burden upon his own head, and Christ's resurrection at Easter is ignored, is the surest evidence that in Parsifal Wagner has renounced mankind's bid for godhead, for transcendent being. It's no accident that the alleged god Wotan forsakes Freia's golden apples of sorrowless youth eternal in his final days, and that Amfortas begs to be relieved from serving as the officiant of the Grail's renewal.
A key premise of RW's never completed The Victors was that the Buddha had one last trial. He had to determine if "woman" is capable of redemption, of forsaking attachment to the world. Women across the world are, at least in traditional cultures, generally regarded as more bound by the earthly because of childbirth and menstruation, among other things. Note RW's remark in his early years that a Grail knight could marry only if he could find a woman so capable of transcending her generic nature that she could resist the temptation to ask the forbidden question about the knight's true origin and identity (i.e., if she were capable of purging her Eve-Nature). It's no accident that in the Bible, obviously the product of patriarchal herds-people rather than matriarchal farmers (a key reason for the visceral hatred of the Jews for the Philistines and Canaanites and their pagan rites, I presume), Eve, the woman (or serpent) is their scapegoat who tempts Adam, the generic man, into sin, and expulsion from paradise. The Buddha calls on the Chandala maiden Prakriti, who loves the Brahmin Ananda, to be worthy of him by sharing in his oath of chastity. She faints at the prospect. But the Buddha grants her a flash of insight into all her prior lives, and in a prior life she had actually been a Brahmin woman who had rejected and even mocked the love of a Chandala man who longed for her. This of course is the Buddha teaching that caste distinctions are just an illusion. She was reborn as a Chandala in order that she might know what it's like to feel the torments of hopeless love. Chastened, she renounces sexual love and swears Ananda's vows of chastity. Buddha can now admit her into his community and Ananda welcomes her as his sister. I suppose this is teaching that sexual distinctions are also ultimately an illusion. This was the Buddha's last test before he could gain final enlightenment, according to RW. The ultimate meaning of this, I suppose, is that Buddha, at least in Wagner's reckoning, was accepting that there's no possibility of renouncing Nature, the world, woman. This would be his final enlightenment.
I suppose we might say that when Kundry dies in the end she's absorbed in a sense by Parsifal, for Wagner said that to be fully human man had to, in effect, wake the woman in himself, that only man with woman could be the complete human being, and redeemer. Of course in my interpretation the meaning is that since Kundry was Parsifal's unconscious mind, once he becomes fully awake and conscious and knows who he is, she automatically ceases to exist. By the same token when Bruennhilde offers her final words in the Ring she is speaking Siegfried's final words, since she is his unconscious mind, made conscious, waking now forever.
Sexual love for RW is a metaphor for the artist-hero's (Wagner's) unconscious artistic inspiration, which is what made Wagner unique and world-historical among his fellow human beings, rather than what made him indistinguishable from them. Love understood this way is consecrated because in RW's world inspired secular art is the heir to dying religious faith, the quest for the sacred. And in Parsifal RW renounces sexual love in its sense as unconscious artistic inspiration, which RW had come to see as a cowardly evasion of the true, earnest nature of the world.
The Good Friday Spell and Gurnemanz's interpretation of it is surely RW's goodbye to mankind's bid for transcendence, in full acceptance of Mother Nature, all that was, is, and will be, and the ur-law that all things that are must end, through which Nature regains her lost innocence. Mankind no longer renounces the world or the body for the sake of the illusion of transcendence. In other words, RW says yea to life, in a virtually Nietzschean sense. This is what makes Nietzsche's critique of Parsifal so absurd.
Curiously, RW stated that his musical motifs grant his actor-singers and his audience a clairvoyance such that they can experience RW's work of art as he experiences it, revealing to them the profoundest secret of his intent, an intent which elsewhere RW said might be as mysterious to the artist himself as to his audience.
RW remarked that man is the cruelest animal. He pointed out that the cat doesn't know what it's like to be its mouse victim, but man does know, and enjoys this knowledge.
Tannhaeuser is virtually excommunicated by the community of Christians who formerly embraced him, after he reveals in his contest song what he should have concealed, that the contradiction between mankind's metaphysical longing for transcendent value, and the natural origin of that longing, can't be reconciled. This is the meaning of the Venusberg, the true source of Tannhaeuser's unconscious artistic inspiration, and also of Klingsor's Magic Garden.
It's no accident that Elsa collaborates with the alleged villains Ortrud and Frederick to breach Lohengrin's demand for faith (don't ask the forbidden question), Bruennhilde collaborates with the alleged villain Hagen to avenge herself on Siegfried for his betrayal of her in giving her away to another man (Gunther, Wagner's metaphor for his own audience), Isolde collaborates in a sense with Melot to avenge herself on Tristan for his betrayal of her in giving her away to another man (King Marke, RW's metaphor for his own audience), and Kundry collaborates with Klingsor to wreak destruction on Amfortas (RW's final metaphor for his own audience). In all these cases the collaboration of the muse with a villain is RW's metaphor for the inevitable rise to consciousness of the truth that religious faith and inspired secular art have striven to hide from us and for which they offered consolation.
Beckmesser, in spite of allegations he was Wagner's stereotype for a Jew, is very much a part of his community of German Nurembergers and has considerable respect within it (as, if I recall, Bryan Magee noted), even presumably after he made a fool of himself for Eva's sake, something for which Sachs forgives him, stating that we're all subject to such foolery at some point in our lives. This observation by Sachs, pointing to reconciliation with Beckmesser and acceptance, is lost sight of by those who've made a cottage industry of finding evidence for anti-Semitism in Mastersingers.
You'll I'm sure find it counter-intuitive that in my interpretation Parsifal sees himself, with horror, in Klingsor, since Klingsor's realm, his treatment of Kundry, and Amfortas's unhealing wound, even Titurel's continuing to live within the grave pining for another sight of the Grail which keeps him from accepting his natural death, all stem from the sin of world-renunciation, matricide, for which Parsifal holds himself accountable, which Parsifal in his foolishness and unconsciousness perpetuated in his past lives as hero of religious faith, moral hero, or artist-hero.
It's no more an accident that Parsifal finds himself at Klingsor's Castle and Garden, after his first visit to the Grail Castle, than it's an accident that Wotan's allegedly free hero Siegfried finds himself at Fafner's lair and performs, allegedly randomly, the heroic act which Wotan required of his free hero, the killing of Fafner and taking possession of Alberich's Ring so Alberich can't regain it and use it to destroy the gods. In fact Kundry informs Parsifal that surely he came to the Magic Garden to acquire self-knowledge from her. Both Parsifal and Siegfried (and Walther and Tristan and Tannhaeuser) are inspired unconsciously by what in the Ring Wagner represented as Wotan's confession of fatal knowledge of the gods' predestined doom he acquired from Erda, Mother Nature, and knowledge also of Wotan's desperation to find a free hero who could perform that deed of redemption which the gods can't perform.
According to the Genesis account of Adam and Eve and God's expulsion of humanity from the Garden of Eden, simultaneous with Eve's and Adam's acquisition of the consciousness of death, i.e., mankind's unique ability to foresee his inevitable death (the muse of religious belief and philosophy), came consciousness of shame in sexuality, and the need to cover themselves with clothing for the sake of modesty. In truth, recognition of the inevitability of our death, and shame in the face of our sexuality, are both instances of man's abhorrence of his animality, his animal origin, which points of course directly to a need to renounce his animal nature and Nature in general and to posit a transcendent realm of being from which he has allegedly fallen into sin. It's this feeling of sin which Feuerbach warred against, and I believe Wagner in the Good Friday Spell expressed man's reconciliation with his place in nature and his mortal body, in some sense eradicating the very concept of sin.
General Discussion about Wagner and The Ring of the Nibelung
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