Shapiro Consolations Critique Part 19

General Discussion about Wagner and The Ring of the Nibelung

Moderators: alberich00, Justin Jeffrey

Post Reply
Site Admin
Posts: 464
Joined: Tue Apr 19, 2011 11:03 am

Shapiro Consolations Critique Part 19

Post by alberich00 » Wed Oct 07, 2020 11:21 am

[P. 118] "... Wagner quoted at length a passage from Carlyle’s 'Frederick the Great,' in which the Sage of Chelsea employed the imagery of fire and destruction to communicate the mechanism of historical regeneration. Describing the French Revolution as 'that universal burning-up, as in hell-fire, of Human Shams,' Carlyle had predicted that centuries would undoubtedly pass before the 'Old is completely burnt out, and the New in any state of sightliness?' (...) Wagner noted that when he wrote 'Art and Revolution' in 1849 he had been 'in complete accord with the last words of this summons of the grey-headed historian,' ... . (AR 23-9) (...) A whole political world in the throes of 'Spontaneous Combustion’ (AR 29) and Carlyle’s Hegelian vision of history were thus clearly on Wagner’s mind as he approached the final passage of the 'Ring.' "

[PH: Quotation from, Pages 1000-1001:]

Is George Bernard Shaw’s interpretation of the Ring as an allegory of a socialist revolution against the old order of inherited political power, wealth, tradition, and religion, and the historical succession of capitalist plutocrats (Alberich) to the power formerly held by blood-aristocrats (the gods), adequate to capture the full meaning of the Ring? At best, Shaw’s allegorical reading works for portions of a few scenes in the 36 scene work. Clearly, though, social revolution played a role in Wagner’s original (but ever widening) conception, as we see in his commentary on a passage from Carlyle below, which provides us one possible interpretation of the meaning of the final holocaust in which Valhalla and its gods burn up, leaving man free and independent:

“Thomas Carlyle, in his ‘History of Frederick the Great,’ characterises the outbreak of the French Revolution as the First Act of the ‘Spontaneous Combustion’ of a nation ‘sunk into torpor, abeyance, and dry-rot,’ and admonishes his readers in the following words: -- ‘There is the next mile-stone for you, in the History of Mankind! That universal Burning-up, as in hell-fire, of Human Shams. The oath of twenty-five Million men, which has since become that of all men whatsoever, ‘Rather than live longer under lies, we will die!’ – that is the New Act in World-History. (…) This is the truly celestial-infernal Event: … . (…) For it is withal the breaking-out of universal mankind into Anarchy, into the faith and practice of No-Government, -- that is to say … into unappeasable revolt against Sham-Governors and Sham-Teachers, -- which I do charitably define to be a Search, most unconscious, yet in deadly earnest, for true Governors and Teachers. … When the Spontaneous Combustion breaks out; and, many-coloured, with loud noises, envelopes the whole world in anarchic flame for long hundreds of years … .” [817W-{1-3/72} Introduction to ‘Art and Revolution,’ ‘The Artwork of the Future,’ and ‘Opera and Drama’: PW Vol. I, p. 23]

We may see Wagner’s reminiscences of the Russian anarchist Bakunin’s apocalyptic vision of old Europe and its culture in flames, set by the revolution, as found in Wagner’s autobiography Mein Leben, in the light of Wagner’s remarks about Carlyle’s universal combustion, which would burn up all human shams.

But in the course of his career Wagner gradually expanded what had originally been a purely socio-historical concept of revolution, in which an old and tired order would make way for a new one with greater justice, tolerance, freedom, and happiness, into a quasi-scientific understanding of the cyclic nature of evolution (of both species, and culture), a philosophic development which eventually incorporated the entire cosmos.

[P. 120] "... whatever personal Schopenhauerian doubts he may have continued to harbor about man’s Sisyphean predicament, he need no longer shudder at the thought of completing his Grecian style masterwork with the optimism inherent in his original vision for the cycle. By celebrating the dream of historical renovation in the final bars of the opera while at the same time acknowledging the destructiveness of love and Brünnhilde’s all too human grief, Wagner was ... aspiring to the highest achievements of Aeschylus. In his 'Beethoven' essay, Wagner praised the composer for accomplishing a similar vision of sublime transcendence in his Ninth Symphony, the final theme of which speaks to 'someone waking with a shout of anguish from a terrible dream and near to madness after every quieting of his repeated despair,' with the consoling words 'yet man is good!' (117) The Ode to Joy’s 'childlike innocence' evoked the 'inexpressible joy of Paradise regained.' (118) Music drama thus could reach for the stars while at the same time acknowledging the abyss. And on the aesthetic plane, at the very least, Siegfried could return unblemished by man’s encounter with history."

[PH: Quotation from, Pages 147-149:]

One way of understanding Wotan’s (the Folk as artist’s) creative dream of inspiration which, in a sense, gives birth to Valhalla, i.e., to society predicated upon religious belief, is that Alberich's renunciation of love, theft of the Rhinegold, and forging it into the Ring representing the power of conscious thought, is the actual dream of inspiration which gave birth to Valhalla. But we must recall the proviso that Wotan upon waking forgets the true source of his inspiration, which remains unconscious, and instead credits himself with this inspiration, just as religious man, the product of unconscious processes of nature, credits figures of his own imagination, his gods (that is to say, himself), with his creation. If we describe Wotan as the Primal Folk Artist who creates Valhalla, himself, and his fellow gods as a work of art, then we ought to take account of Wagner’s description of himself as an authentic (i.e., unconsciously inspired) artist for whom his artwork remains a puzzle, since he is unconscious of its true mainsprings:

“ … how can an artist hope to find his own intuitions perfectly reproduced in those of another person, since he himself stands before his own work of art – if it really is a work of art – as though before some puzzle, which is just as capable of misleading him as it can mislead the other person.” [641W-{8/23/56}Letter to August Roeckel: SLRW, p. 357]

And here we find Wagner’s detailed description of the actual process of unconscious artistic inspiration, a process we’ve actually heard in the musical interlude between R.1 and R.2, in the transformation of Alberich’s Ring, #19, into Wotan’s and the gods’ abode, Valhalla, #20a:

“… the prodigious force here framing appearances from within outwards, against the ordinary laws of Nature, must be engendered by the deepest Want (Noth). And that Want presumably would be the same as finds vent in the common course of life, in the scream of the suddenly awakened from an obsessing vision of profoundest sleep. (…) What we here experience is a certain overcharge, a vast compulsion to unload without, only to be compared with the stress to waken from an agonising dream; and the important issue for the Art-genius of mankind, is that this special stress called forth an artistic deed whereby that genius gained a novel power, the qualification for begetting the highest Artwork.” [786W-{9-12/70} Beethoven: PW Vol. V, p. 111-112]

If we compare this fascinating passage with the events in R.1 and R.2 we have just witnessed, then Alberich’s “Noth,” his anguish which inspires in him the wish to avenge himself on nature for not satisfying his desires, and to attain world-power, involuntarily gives birth to Godhead, Wotan (Light-Alberich), and the heavenly abode of the gods, Valhalla, through what may be described as Wotan’s (mankind’s) dream. Wotan of course remains unconscious of the part his dark, or unconscious half, Alberich, played in creating Valhalla. In any case, Alberich’s curse on love, theft of the Rhinegold, and forging of the Ring in Nibelheim, with all the attendant horror Alberich’s lust for power forces upon his fellow Nibelungs, becomes for Wotan his obsessive vision of profoundest sleep, the nightmare which he forgets upon waking, but which gave birth to his waking dream Valhalla. Valhalla can thus be construed as a sort of allegory representing Nibelheim, a waking sublimation of Nibelheim, which remains in the dark, unconscious. This would explain why #19 becomes #20a, why Wotan is Light-Alberich, and why, as we’ll see later, Wotan is entirely dependent upon Alberich’s forging of the Ring, and upon all that follows from Alberich’s power, to establish and preserve his abode Valhalla for himself and the other gods. Both Alberich and Wotan are then ultimately motivated by egoism, except that Wotan, unlike Alberich, in proclaiming his divine rank, must falsely interpret his true motive as noble, not selfish:

“We must assume that … this immediate vision seen by the Religious [i.e., the actual source of religious revelation, as opposed to what our conscious, waking mind makes of it] to the ordinary human apprehension remains entirely foreign and unconveyable … . What … is imparted thereof … to the layman (den Profanen), to the people, can be nothing more than a kind of allegory; … a rendering of the unspeakable, impalpable, and never understandable …, into the speech of common life and of its only feasible form of knowledge, erroneous per se. In this sacred allegory an attempt is made to transmit to worldly minds (der weltlichen Vorstellung) the mystery of divine revelation: but the only relation it can bear to what the Religious had immediately beheld, is the relation of the day-told dream [Wotan’s waking dream of Valhalla] to the actual dream of night [Alberich’s realm of mist and night, Nibelheim]. … the record left upon our own mind by a deeply moving dream is strictly nothing but an allegorical paraphrase [i.e., Valhalla], whose intrinsic disagreement with the original [Alberich’s Nibelheim] remains a trouble to our waking consciousness … .” [Wotan will be troubled by his debt to Alberich, and by Alberich’s curse, the price of that debt, throughout the entire Ring drama] [704W-{64-2/65} On State and Religion: PW Vol. IV, p. 27-28] [See also 767W]

[PH: See Quotation from, Page 730, cited previously]

[P. 121] "13 While Wagner was drafting the final musical passages of the 'Ring' in April 1872, he commented to Cosima about 'this great discovery' of fire 'which at once places human beings on the level of the gods, which banishes the night; and how rightly and beautifully the Greeks had distilled it all in the legend of Prometheus.' CT, i, 478 (19 Apr. 1872)."

[PH: See Quotation from, Pages 678-679, previously cited]

[P. 122] "24 ... when rehearsing the orchestra for the premiere of 'Siegfried' in 1876 he told the players that the World Inheritance theme [PH: #134, introduced as Wotan announces to Erda he no longer fears the fated doom of the gods she prophesied because his heirs Siegfried and Bruennhilde will redeem the world from Alberich's Ring Curse] 'must sound like the proclamation of a new religion' and that 'the whole scene must be imbued by this revelation of spiritual renewal.' Porges, 'Wagner Rehearsing the "Ring",' 103-4. (...) This paradoxical 'fusion' linking Wotan’s 'resignation' to the 'joy of life' can be read in two ways: (a) on the one hand as reflecting Wagner’s own quixotic need to reconcile his Feuerbachian aims with his Schopenhauerian instincts, itself a Hegelian approach which renders a Hegelian sublation or synthesis; (b) on the other hand as a statement simply consistent with the concept of generational deference so fundamental to species consciousness and historical progress. Either way, this statement alongside the reference to 'spiritual renewal' makes clear that by the time he came to perform his 'Ring' cycle, Wagner was not interpreting his work in terms of Schopenhauerian futility."

[PH: Quotation from, Pages 632-633:]

So Wotan – religious man’s longing for transcendence of reality – lives on not in Alberich’s son Hagen, but in Wotan’s grandson Siegfried, the artist-hero. Wotan does not fear the end of the gods because belief in gods must lose its power to control the thinking of the most thoughtful men, in order to free artist-heroes from serving religion, and free them ultimately also from religious belief’s vulnerability to scientific, secular thought, represented by Alberich’s heir Hagen. The gods (Wotan’s head, Mime) must go down to destruction as a concept, a faith, for Siegfried to redeem the gods from destruction as feeling, or love. The escape hatch which Wotan’s own collective unconscious, Bruennhilde, offers as an alternative to his nihilistic impulse to self-destruction, which might otherwise wholly consume now disillusioned religious men (who had previously staked their life’s meaning on redemption in heaven, i.e., on Freia’s golden apples of sorrowless youth eternal, as Loge put it when chastising the gods for putting all their eggs in one basket), is that of Wagner’s secular art. This then is the meaning of #134 [PH: The so-called World-Inheritance Motif], the only motif in the Ring which Wagner ever christened a “redemption motif,” and whose first occurrence in the Ring in our current passage from S.3.1 Wagner described as sounding like the proclamation of a “new religion”:

“Wagner expressly demanded that the Redemption theme [Dunning’s Motif #134; Millington’s Motif number 49, as found in Stewart Spencer’s translation of the Ring] as it enters after Wotan’s words, ‘Was in des Zwiespalt’s wildem Schmerze verzweifelnd eins ich beschloss, froh und freudig fuehre, frei ich nun aus’ [“What I once resolved in despair, in the searing smart of inner turmoil, (#134:) I now perform freely, in gladness and joy … “ - from Stewart Spencer’s translation of the Ring, p. 247-248:]: … should be taken ‘slightly faster’ than the preceding bars and that it should be ‘very brought out (sehr heraus)’, as he tersely put it. He once characterized the spiritual significance of this theme (whilst going through the work at the piano) by the statement: ‘It must sound like the proclamation of a new religion.’ “ [878W-{6-8/76} WRR, p. 103]

And here in Feuerbach’s description of his “new religion” we find a part of the foundation for Wagner’s notion that his own secular art is a new religion:

“… our religious doctrines and usages … stand in the most glaring contradiction to our present cultural and material situation; our task today is to do away with this loathsome and disastrous contradiction. Its elimination is the indispensable condition for the rebirth of mankind, the one and only condition for the appearance of a new mankind, as it were, and for the coming of a new era. Without it, all political and social reforms are meaningless and futile. A new era also requires a new view of the first elements and foundations of human existence; it requires – if we wish to retain the word – a new religion!” [283F-LER: p. 216-217]

[PH: See Quotation from, Pages 687-688, previously cited]

[P. 122-123] "25 Darcy tries to explain away this key theatrical detail as an illusion: 'these human figures no longer represent the Gibichung men and women, who have been swept away with everything else; rather, they are now a projection of the audience, which has been, so to speak, sucked into the vortex of the drama to preside over the concluding scene of cosmic destruction.' Darcy, 'Metaphysics,' 39 n. 59. This would make an interesting directorial choice, but is not convincing as textual interpretation."

[PH: My interpretation at corresponds with Darcy's view that the Gibichungs who stand, moved to the depths of their being, watching Loge's fire burn Wotan and the gods in Valhalla, are Wagner's metaphor for his own audience, not least because, in Wagner's dramatization of Siegfried singing for the Gibichungs the story of his life, particularly how he came to grasp the meaning of birdsong (i.e., how Wagner became a revolutionary music-dramatist, heir to dying religious faith), Wagner presented a metaphor for the performance of his own "Ring" before an audience.]

[P. 128] "116 'Now it is as if the Olympian magic mountain had opened before us and revealed its roots to us. The Greek knew and felt the terror and horror of existence. That he might endure this terror at all, he had to interpose between himself and life the radiant dream-birth of the Olympians…. Here, when the danger to his will is greatest, art approaches as a saving sorceress, expert at healing.' Nietzsche, 'The Birth of Tragedy,' 42, 60."

[PH: Shapiro's extract from Nietzsche's "The Birth of Tragedy ... " corresponds with Wagner's Feuerbachian theory of art as a form of noble Wahn (self-deception) which allows us to bear the horrors of existence first through religious belief, and then through art, which sublimates dying religious belief into blissful feeling.]

[P. 129] "6 Myth versus history"

[P. 129] "... Bruennhilde is the true change agent of the 'Ring.' It is her knowledge, insight, and sacrifice which seal the fate of the gods and hold the promise for future generations. She is the revolution, while Siegfried is only a possible future that the revolution is intended to bring about. But in working his way back into 'Der junge Siegfried' Wagner deeply complicated this message of 'Goetterdaemmerung.' For there is a striking disjunction between the character of Siegfried in the eponymous opera and in 'Goetterdaemmerung' that cannot be explained – as others have done – as a revelation of a fault of character or failure of the revolution. (...) Wagner even grants his hero some of the powers necessary to defeat the corruptions of Hagen’s world. In a telling moment, touched by the blood of the dragon Fafner, Siegfried suddenly has the capacity to understand the underlying meaning and intent of Mime’s lying double-speak. Siegfried thus gains the consciousness to pierce the veil of civilization’s hypocrisy and safely rejects the potion proffered by the dwarf. (...) It is this and other elements of epic heroism – not least his shattering of Wotan’s spear – that make Siegfried such an appealing candidate for the role of the revolutionary. But his gifts of action and insight are short-lived; once he enters the world of the Gibichungs his mythical strengths are largely rendered powerless, and he accepts without a second thought the poisoned draught offered by Gutrune. (1) In 'Goetterdaemmerung,' Nothung, once a radical tool of power, now serves impotently as a barrier enforcing customary morality and etiquette. However glorious in the world of pre-historic myth the hero does not have the tools to survive in the cruel reality of civilization."

[PH: Siegfried's transformation from Bruennhilde's lover to her betrayer I explained at as the natural consequence which follows from Alberich's Ring Curse of consciousness, under whose influence man is historically predestined to accumulate a hoard of conscious, objective knowledge which will make what was formerly unconscious rise to consciousness. When Siegfried still enjoyed the gift of Bruennhilde's protection from Wotan's unbearable knowledge (since she knew for Siegfried what he didn't know, his true identity and fate - #87), he could be protected by the Woodbird's revelations from imbibing Mime's potion, but in the modern, scientific era represented by "Goetterdaemmerung," Siegfried drinks Hagen's potions of forgetfulness and (its antidote) remembrance because, as Wagner said himself, through his musical motifs of remembrance and foreboding (represented by the Woodbird's song, just as the Tarnhelm and Hagen's Potions represent Siegfried's artistic Wonder) he made his audience fellow-knowers of the profoundest secret of the artist's aim, an aim which, according to Wagner, remains a mystery to the authentically inspired artist. This aim was predestined to become conscious. This explains why Hagen insists Siegfried sing to his Gibichung audience how he came to understand birdsong.]

[PH: Quotation from, Page 604:]

This extensive passage again draws a subtle comparison between Wotan’s exploitation of his Waelsung race, represented here motivally by #66 perhaps, and Mime’s exploitation of Siegfried. The fact that thanks to the Woodbird’s music (or rather, the dead Fafner’s blood) Siegfried has an insight into the egoistic motives behind Mime’s two-faced protestations of interest in Siegfried’s welfare, i.e., an insight into the thoughts which Mime is hiding from Siegfried (but not from himself), is a direct parallel to the fact that, thanks to Bruennhilde, Wotan’s unconscious mind (which Siegfried will soon wake), Siegfried has direct access to Wotan’s unconscious thoughts, thoughts which even Wotan himself cannot afford to be conscious of. While Mime is fully conscious that he is attempting to deceive Siegfried in order to exploit him, Wotan is unconscious of the fact he is lying, because he is - as he told Bruennhilde in his confession - deceiving himself. But, as Alberich said, Wotan’s motives in seeking to take possession of the Ring to keep it out of Alberich’s hands, are no higher than Alberich’s motives in having forged it in the first place. Of course the fact that the artistic genius Siegfried has the unique privilege of unconscious inspiration by music, sets him apart from the wholly conscious, venal, and ulterior mind of Mime, which is why Siegfried can see through Mime’s hypocrisy. But the point is, he can also see through Wotan’s unwitting hypocrisy (just as Siegfried’s archetype Loge could), for Siegfried will soon wake Bruennhilde and take possession of the hoard of knowledge of his own unconscious hypocrisy which Wotan confessed to her. Siegfried is, after all, the product of Wotan’s self-deceit.

[PH: Quotation from, Pages 849-850:]

Aside from the obvious interpretation that Siegfried is preserving Bruennhilde’s chastity in order to honor his oath to Gunther, the meaning of Siegfried’s refusal to seek sexual union with his former lover Bruennhilde seems to be the following. Siegfried, to put it simply, is becoming too conscious of the inner processes of his formerly unconscious artistic inspiration, to effectively seek temporary redemption from man’s unhealing wound in the arms of his muse Bruennhilde, any longer. Metaphorically speaking, by refusing for the first time to draw unconscious artistic inspiration from his muse Bruennhilde, in other words, by refusing to penetrate her womb with his phallus Nothung, to plant a new seed of poetic intent which might bear fruit as an inspired music-drama, Siegfried will produce a work of art in which what had formerly remained hidden, its true source of unconscious inspiration, is now revealed to consciousness. Siegfried will become conscious of his formerly unconscious source of inspiration and share this with his audience, making them fellow-knowers of the profound secret of the author’s poetic intent. Thus, by honoring his oath to Gunther, to provide Gunther the world’s most glorious woman (i.e., muse of the world’s most glorious work of art, in which man’s transcendent value is most sublimely affirmed), Siegfried’s own muse Bruennhilde, Siegfried will unwittingly expose Gunther to unbearable dishonor, the revelation of the disreputable source of what Gunther had formerly called his honor, the meaning of his life. His hypocrisy will be exposed, just as Wotan’s (man’s in general) will be exposed.

In calling on Nothung to attest and act as witness to Siegfried’s original oath to protect and preserve his blood-brother Gunther’s honor (represented here by various motifs which call that oath to mind, such as #157 and #160), Siegfried swears a new oath accompanied not only by #57 (Nothung the sword, representing Wotan’s grand idea to redeem Valhalla), but significantly by #21, the motif representing Wotan’s (collective, historical man’s) social contract, the spear of divine authority and law. Now, with supreme irony, Siegfried’s sword, with which he had once cut Wotan’s spear in half, thus emancipating himself from the gods’ influence and protection (i.e., emancipating art from its former service to religious ideology), is now supporting the contracts engraved on Wotan’s spear, taking part in an oath. What this means is that egoism and the conscious acquisition of honor, the purpose of all public presentation of works of art, have taken the place of authentic unconscious inspiration as the motive behind Siegfried’s production of works of art. In this case his art can no longer redeem man from the truth, but is likely instead to expose the truth to the light of day which his art formerly served to hide.

There is one last point of interest before we leave T.1 and move on to T.2. Wagner once noted that the plot of Tristan and Isolde is virtually identical to the plot of the last part of the Ring (but the first libretto to be written), Twilight of the Gods. In both instances, he said, a hero, under the influence of a spell which deludes him, woos for another man his predestined bride, and thereby finds his doom:

“With the sketch of ‘Tristan und Isolde’ I felt that I was really not quitting the mythic circle opened-out to me by my Nibelungen labours … . For the grand concordance of all sterling Myths, as thrust upon me by my studies, had sharpened my eyesight for the wondrous variations standing out amid this harmony. Such a one confronted me with fascinating clearness in the relation of Tristan to Isolde, as compared with that of Siegfried to Bruennhilde. Just as in languages the transmutation of a single sound forms two apparently quite diverse words from one and the same original, so here, by a similar transmutation or shifting of the Time-motive, two seemingly unlike relations had sprung from the one original mythic factor. Their intrinsic parity consists in this: both Tristan and Siegfried, in bondage to an illusion which makes this deed of theirs unfree, woo for another their own eternally-predestined bride, and in the false relation hence arising find their doom. Whereas the poet of ‘Siegfried,’ however, before all else abiding by the grand coherence of the whole Nibelungen-myth, could only take in eye the hero’s downfall through the vengeance of the wife who at like time offers up herself and him: the poet of ‘Tristan’ finds his staple matter in setting forth the love-pangs to which the pair of lovers, awakened to their true relation, have fallen victims till their death. Merely the thing is here more fully, clearly treated, which even there was spoken out beyond mistake: death through stress of love (Liebesnoth) – an idea which finds expression in Bruennhilde, for her part conscious of the true relation. What in the one work could only come to rapid utterance at the climax, in the other becomes an entire Content, of infinite variety; and this it was, that attracted me to treat the stuff at just that time, namely as a supplementary Act of the great Nibelungen-myth, a mythos compassing the whole relations of a world.” [811W-{12/71} Epilogue to ‘The Nibelung’s Ring’: PW Vol. III, p. 268-269]

In Tristan and Isolde, of course, Tristan woos his own predestined love, Isolde, for his uncle King Marke, and in so doing brings doom to himself and his lover Isolde. The meaning is the same in both instances, Tristan and the Ring: the artist-hero has betrayed the secret hoard of knowledge once held for him by his muse, his own unconscious mind, to the light of day, so that both he and his audience can become conscious of them, and with this knowledge comes unbearable shame. In this the artist-hero finds his doom, because, having become conscious of what heretofore was his unconscious source of inspiration, he can no longer produce genuinely inspired art. His art has become too self-conscious to be redemptive.

I believe it can genuinely be said of this plot scenario that it is the fundamental basis of Wagner’s revolutionary, mature music-dramas, inasmuch as the first two of his four essays in this unique art genre have identical plots. What is more, this plot is also the basis for Tannhaeuser, one of his three canonical, romantic operas which preceded his development of the revolutionary music-drama. Like Siegfried and Tristan, the unconsciously inspired artist-hero Tannhaeuser unwittingly, as if under a spell, reveals the true but formerly hidden source of his artistic inspiration, the Venusberg and his muse Venus, during the performance of his song about love which is intended to win the hand of his waking muse Elizabeth (by waking I mean she is his conscious motive for artistic production). We must presume that each time Tannhaeuser has left Venus and the Venusberg to go out into the world and perform the songs which her love has inspired, he forgets both her and the Venusberg and attributes his inspiration to something else, perhaps God in heaven, or Elizabeth on earth. In any case, he finds his doom in revealing to the assembled guests at the Wartburg song contest his true, venal source of inspiration, which is not divine, but rather, from the standpoint of the conservative, religious folk, satanic.

[PH: Quotation from, Pages 957-959:]

To grasp the import of Hagen’s antidote to his original love and forgetfulness potion, we must understand that both potions, which share the motif #154, are really just one potion, since the final consequence of their effect upon Siegfried is that he fulfills Alberich’s threat to bring Alberich’s Hoard (his Ring) up from the silent depths of night, to the daylight, in order to overthrow the gods of Valhalla. A remarkable aspect of Hagen’s two potions, taken as one, is that what Mime failed to do, get Siegfried to drink his fatal potion (thanks to Siegfried’s being warned by the Woodbird, and being granted the privilege of hearing Mime’s hidden thoughts, by virtue of tasting the dead Fafner’s blood - which also allowed Siegfried to grasp the Woodbird’s music as speech), Hagen succeeded in doing, even though the Rhinedaughters warned Siegfried in general terms of his fate. But this time Siegfried paid no heed to the Rhinedaughters’ more general warning of danger to come. Siegfried’s suspicion has not been aroused either by Gutrune when she offered Siegfried Hagen’s original potion, nor by Hagen as he has offered Siegfried this drink spiced to enhance memory. The reason for this is that Hagen and his potions actually represent a force working from within Siegfried himself, something true to his own nature, the inevitability that the secret he and all other authentically inspired artists and religious visionaries have kept, would someday rise to consciousness, and that the final artist-hero would collaborate unwittingly in his own demise, by exposing to view, within his art, that which art and religious faith had long kept hidden, the secret of its inspiration. How else does Hagen know so much about Siegfried’s and Bruennhilde’s most intimate life!

We are reminded of Tristan’s remark in Act III of Tristan and Isolde, after he had had a revelation of his true identity and fate, and therefore grasped the meaning of his life, that he himself (the artist-hero) had brewed the fateful love-and-death potion which Isolde and he drank, a potion compounded of all the elements in his life (all his hoard of knowledge of the world) which had deeply impressed him, i.e., all that he could take possession of aesthetically, as an artist. Like Siegfried’s Woodbird tunes, Tristan’s “Old Tune” (the “alte Weise”) - which reminds Tristan all at once of his unhealing wound, how his mother died giving him birth (in this similar to Siegfried), and how his muse of inspiration Isolde offered him temporary healing of his unhealing wound - grants Tristan an entre into his formerly unconscious knowledge of his true identity and fate. Like Bruennhilde, Isolde had kept the secret of Tristan’s true identity in silence, and was shattered when Tristan glibly, but apparently unwittingly, let Melot (like Hagen) influence him to betray his true muse of inspiration Isolde by giving her away to another man, his uncle, King Marke (like Gunther, Wagner’s metaphor for his own audience). By giving his muse of inspiration Isolde away to his audience (King Marke), Tristan exposed the secret of their loving union to his audience in the light of day, letting the sunlight of bleak, vulgar consciousness penetrate his sacred womb of night, just as Siegfried is doing now by confessing how he came to grasp the meaning of birdsong.
Post Reply