Shapiro Consolations Critique Part 18

General Discussion about Wagner and The Ring of the Nibelung

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Shapiro Consolations Critique Part 18

Post by alberich00 » Wed Oct 07, 2020 11:28 am

And here Wagner provides us a more succinct version of his Feuerbachian meditation on the redemptive potentiality of secular art, which adds a point highly relevant to our current discussion, that religion has sought art’s aid, i.e., effectively sought redemption from its vulnerability, its false claim to the truth (the Ring), which is echoed precisely in Wotan’s longing for a hero freed from the gods’ vulnerabilities who can redeem the gods:

“One might say that where Religion becomes artificial, it is reserved for Art to save the spirit of religion by recognising the figurative value of the mythic symbols which the former would have us believe in their literal sense, and revealing their deep and hidden truth through an ideal presentation. Whilst the priest stakes everything on the religious allegories being accepted as matters of fact, the artist has no concern at all with such a thing, since he freely and openly gives out his work as his own invention. But Religion has sunk into an artificial life, when she finds herself compelled to keep on adding to the edifice of her dogmatic symbols, and thus conceals the one divinely True in her beneath an ever growing heap of incredibilities commended to belief. Feeling this, she has always sought the aid of Art … .” [1019W-{6-8/80} Religion and Art: PW Vol. VI, p. 213]

It is noteworthy that it was only after Wotan confessed to Bruennhilde (unconsciously, of course) that he had been deceiving himself and others, and that he abhorred his own motives (because Alberich had forced Wotan to recognize his own motives were no higher than Alberich’s egoistic quest for power), that the possibility of redemption through the free hero Siegfried was attained. Wagner expresses this insight in the following remark recorded by Cosima:

“He says there are certain things human beings have been able to express only in symbols, and the church has committed the crime of consolidating these and forcing them on us as realities through persecution; it is permissible for art to use these symbols, but in a free spirit and not in the rigid forms imposed by the church; since art is a profound form of play, it frees these symbols of all the accretions the human craving for power [#19>#20a] has attached to them.” [1012W-{4/27/80}CD Vol. II, p. 470] [See also 1048W]

[PH: See Quotation from, Pages 566-567, previously cited]

[PH: In the following extracts from I described how Wagner offered secular man a substitute for dying religious faith in the miraculous (the Wonder) in his musical motifs of reminiscence and foreboding, which, because they come, in the course of the drama, to be associated with events and images and objects and characters and ideas widely distributed in time and space, hearing them collapses all this time and space, this dramatic action, into the here and now, making all these associations (and thus the whole drama) present, in a flash of aesthetic intuition, thus seeming (like religious miracles) to transcend the limits of time and space, and transcend also man's subjection to his egoistic animal impulses of desire and fear. Wagner's musical motifs, symbolized by the Woodbird's song which only Siegfried can interpret conceptually, are thus in a sense the ultimate embodiment of Wotan's sin against all that was, is, and will be (Erda's, Mother Nature's, knowledge), religious man's sin of world-renunciation, which Alberich created his Ring Curse of consciousness to punish. And, as I also noted at, Siegfried's seeming innocence and ignorance of his true identity is the product of Bruennhilde, Wotan's Will, who transformed Wotan's confession of his horrific history into redemptive musical motifs.]

[PH: Quotation from, Pages 703-704:]

Siegfried’s and Bruennhilde’s description of the nature of their relationship, through which Siegfried can grasp Wotan’s confession through feeling rather than thought, is Wagner’s key metaphor in the Ring for his concept of the “Wonder,” through which a musical motif can condense into a single, present moment of highly individualized feeling the entire history of its past (and future) associations with elements of the dramatic action and libretto:

“ … even the simplest action confounds and bewilders the Understanding, which would fain regard it through the anatomical microscope, by the immensity of its ramifications: would it comprehend that action, it can only do so by discarding the microscope and fetching forth the image in which alone its human eye can grasp; and this comprehension is ultimately enabled by the instinctive Feeling [Bruennhilde] – as vindicated by the Understanding [Wotan’s confession]. This image of the phenomena, in which alone the Feeling can comprehend them, … this image, for the Aim of the poet, who must likewise take the phenomena of Life and compress them from their view-less many-memberedness into a compact, easily survey-able shape, -- this image is nothing else but the Wonder [i.e., Wagner’s musical motifs]. [521W-{50-1/51} Opera and Drama: PW Vol. II, p. 212]

Having defined the “Wonder” in brief above, he now examines it in greater depth:

“The condensation of the most varied and extended phenomena, where many members harmonise to produce one, single, definite effect; the perspicuous presentation of such a harmony [in Wagner’s musical motifs], which to us remains unseizable without the deepest research and widest experience [as in Alberich’s and Wotan’s accumulation of their hoard of knowledge in the course of world history], and fills us with amazement when beheld, -- in art …, this is to be obtained through nothing save the miraculous. Here in poetic fiction the tremendous chain of connection embracing the most heterogeneous phenomena is condensed to an easily-surveyed bond of fewer links [Wotan’s confession is condensed into Wagner’s musical motifs], yet the force and might of the whole great chain [Wotan’s confession of world-history] is put into these few: and in art this might is miracle [Wagner’s “Wonder,” the gift of his musical motifs, is his substitute for the religious notion of the miraculous].” [478W-{49-51 (?)} Notes for ‘Artisthood of the Future’ (unfinished); Sketches and Fragments: PW Vol. VIII, p. 371]

When Wagner alludes above to discovering a harmony underlying a vast array of distinct phenomena, otherwise unseizable without the deepest research and widest experience, we find here the basis for Wagner’s metaphor of the Wandering Wotan gathering a hoard of knowledge during his travels over the earth (Erda), and personal visits to Erda. Wotan’s wandering represents the entirety of human experience of the world, and man’s advancement in knowledge, over time. It is this hoard of terrible knowledge which Wotan redeems aesthetically (thus “discovering a harmony underlying a vast array of distinct phenomena”) by dipping it in music through his repression of these unbearable thoughts into his unconscious mind, Bruennhilde. This hoard of knowledge of the gods’ inevitable fate was the basis for Wotan’s existential fear, which Siegfried will not suffer because Bruennhilde, holding this knowledge for Siegfried, protects him from Alberich’s curse on the Ring, the curse of consciousness. But these motifs, as Wagner says above, possess the force of the whole array of phenomena, widely separated in time and space, with which they have been associated in the course of the drama. This explains why Wagner’s music-dramas always feel more substantial and meaningful, at any given moment, than even the immediate dramatic and musical context might seem to warrant. One always feels as if each given moment is linked to the whole, and is portentous with the power of the whole. This also helps to explain why directorial tampering with Wagner’s stage imagery, which he deliberately left general and vague in order not to impose a particular or topical reading on his universal myth, can undermine the numinous, dreamlike effect which Wagner sought.

[PH: Quotation from, Page 719:]

And following up Wagner’s discussion of the nature of the “Wonder,” the magical effect created by the musical motifs, in the following extracts Wagner describes how these motifs make all space and time (within the context of the drama of which they are a part) here and now, i.e. present. This in turn explains why, thanks to Bruennhilde, Siegfried lives fearlessly in the present unencumbered by Wotan’s Hoard of unbearable knowledge of a sordid past and terrifying future.

There is no more cogent, striking evidence to support our allegorical reading of the Ring libretto than this:

“Siegfried lives entirely in the present, he is the hero, the finest gift of the will [i.e., Wotan’s Will, Bruennhilde].” [820W-{3/12/72}CD Vol. I, p. 466]

To grasp this we must recall that Bruennhilde called herself Wotan’s “will.” Siegfried is therefore Bruennhilde’s finest gift, for he lives in the present only because she (i.e., Wagner’s musical motifs, Wotan’s unconscious mind) holds for him the knowledge of gods’ and man’s history and fate, which Wotan imparted to her, so that Siegfried can be freed from Wotan’s existential fear and paralysis.

[PH: Quotation from, Pages 720-721:]

And in our final set of extracts which offer us insight into this passage Wagner presents, in a further elucidation of the concept of the “Wonder” in relation to his musical motifs, the best possible explanation of why Siegfried told Bruennhilde that while his senses only grasp and feel her, in the here and now, he cannot grasp what is far away in time or space:

“Let us … sum up this whole matter in one exhaustive definition, and denote the most perfect Unity of artistic Form as that in which a widest conjuncture of the phenomena of Human Life – as Content [Wotan’s confession] – can impart itself to the Feeling [to Bruennhilde] in so completely intelligible an Expression, that in all its ‘moments’ this Content shall completely stir, and alike completely satisfy, the Feeling. The Content, then, has to be one that is ever present in the Expression [thanks to the musical motifs into which Bruennhilde’s love transmutes and distills the essential contents of Wotan’s confession], and therefore the Expression one that ever presents the Content in its fullest compass; for only Thought can grasp the absent [fernen?], but only the present can be grasped by Feeling. In this unity of the Expression, ever making present, and ever embracing the full compass of the Content, there is at like time solved, … the … problem of the unity of Time and Space.“ [549W-{50-1/51} Opera and Drama: PW Vol. II, p. 348-349]

One can easily see in this how Wagner conflated Schopenhauer’s Kantian notion of the ideality of time and space and causation (i.e., Erda’s knowledge, which the Norns spin into their rope of fate) with Wagner’s own notion of the “Wonder” of his musical motifs, which make all time seem now, and all space seem here, and which makes us feel transcendent, as if we are freed from fate itself. [PH: I didn't sufficiently explain here that Wagner, after having studied Schopenhauer's Kant-based notion of the ideality of time, space, and causation, realized that in Schopenhauer's notion of the Will as the thing-in-itself to which the ideality of time, space, and causation can't be applied, he'd found a concept corresponding with Wagner's own concept of artistic Wonder which according to Wagner offers musical feeling as a substitute for Schopenhauer's ideality of time, space, and causation, an entirely different way in which to see the world, which could redeem us from our scientific understanding of it. In other words, Wagner doesn't "conflate" the ideality of space, time, and causation, with his artistic Wonder, but replaces the ideality of space, time, and causation, with it.]

And here Wagner explains why Siegfried urged Bruennhilde to be for him, now, what [PH: ,fearing,] she was and will be:

“R.: ‘The word ‘eternal’ is a very fine one, for it really means ‘holy’: a great feeling is eternal, for it is free from the laws of change to which everything is subject: it has nothing to do with yesterday, today, or tomorrow [Erda’s objective knowledge of all that was, is, and will be, which Alberich affirms and Wotan denies]. Hell begins with arithmetic.’ “[804W-{7/25/71} CD Vol. I, p. 396] [See also 550W]

[PH: See Quotation from, Pages 784-785]

[P. 112-113] "Whereas in Act II of 'Die Walkuere' Bruennhilde was called upon to deliver an Annunciation of Death (Todesverkuendikung) [PH: #88] to Siegmund, in Act III she now brings an Annunciation of Life [PH: #93] to Sieglinde. When confronting Siegmund, Bruennhilde had acted as agent of Wotan and the enforcer of a religion that ultimately favored the hero’s magical immorality [PH: immortality] in Valhalla over life itself; she asked him in disbelief: 'You’re so little heedful of bliss everlasting?' (RN 162) (84) (...) This new Annunciation supersedes the prior ritual that celebrated life after death in Valhalla. In 'Opera and Drama,' Wagner heartily rejected the Christian mythos 'that utters itself as dread and loathing of actual life, as flight before it, – as longing for death' (OD 159)."

[PH: Quotation from, Pages 405-406:]

Bruennhilde now unconvincingly tries to tempt Siegmund to renounce his earthly love for his sister Sieglinde for the sake of the essential privilege of Valhalla’s inhabitants, who enjoy sorrowless youth eternal thanks to Freia’s golden apples. This, by the way, proves that Wagner regarded the immortality granted by Freia’s golden apples as entirely distinct from Freia’s virtue as goddess of love, for Siegmund, in the name of authentic love, disparages the endless bliss the gods and martyred heroes enjoy in Valhalla by virtue of Freia’s golden apples, just as his father Wotan will in the end when (as described by Waltraute in T.1.3.1) he refuses to partake of Freia’s golden apples any longer):


Note the irony that in rejecting the eternal, painless bliss which Valhalla offers Siegmund is also renouncing Sieglinde [PH: Freia, not Sieglinde] as goddess of transcendent love, and immortality, whose golden apples give the gods - and presumably also all the heroic martyrs whom the Valkyries inspire and bring to Valhalla - eternal, painless youth. Siegmund instinctively expresses here Feuerbach’s acknowledgment that all that we look for in heaven is only an imaginary, idealized projection of what can only be found imperfectly on earth, during our mortal life, and that we hide this contradiction from our conscious mind by covertly, subliminally smuggling the earthly into our conception of heaven to give it substance:

“But into the idea of the personal God, the positive idea of whom is liberated, disembodied personality, released from the limiting force of Nature, to smuggle again this very Nature, is as perverse as if I were to mix Brunswick mum with the nectar of the gods, in order to give the ethereal beverage a solid foundation.” [80F-EOC: p. 100]

“The soul yearns after its lost half, after its body; as God, the departed soul yearns after the real man. As, therefore, God becomes a man again, so the soul returns to its body, and the perfect identity of this world and the other is now restored.” [113F-EOC: p. 183]

Siegmund’s moral repugnance at the idea of renouncing earthly love for the eternal bliss of heaven finds part of its basis in Feuerbach:

“… your morality is the most immoral, the most pitiable, the most vain, and the most futile morality in the world if it derives from the belief in immortality … .” [18F-TDI: p. 126]

Wagner obviously took offense at the idea that great men of good will, like the saints, perform their good deeds solely in hope of winning eternal bliss in heaven:

“Over coffee our conversation turns to the saints, and R. gets heated about the idea, so common nowadays, that they are virtuous in the hope, as it were, of future profit.” [1084W-{6/18/81} CD Vol. II, p. 678]

Siegmund seems to know instinctively what Feuerbach knew, that what heaven promises is illusory, and that all value is found in our physical life on earth:

“ … all wishes of the heart, even the wish for a personal God and for heavenly felicity, are sensuous wishes; - the heart is essentially materialistic, it contents itself only with an object which is seen and felt.” [155F-EOC: p. 295]

And here Wagner emulates Feuerbach, insisting that love is not in fact transcendent, coming to us from above, but “proclaims in itself pure delight of physical existence”:

“… the redeemer without whom Power remains but violence … is … Love; yet not that revelation from above, imposed on us by precept and command, -- and therefore never realised, -- like the Christian’s: but that Love which issues from the Power of true and undistorted human nature; which in its origin is nothing other than the liveliest utterance of this nature, that proclaims itself in pure delight of physical existence and, starting from marital love, strides forward through the love for children, friends and brothers, right on to love for Universal Man.

This Love is thus the wellspring of all true Art, for through it alone can the natural flower of Beauty bloom from Life.” [452W-{2/50} Art and Climate: PW Vol. I, p. 263]

[P. 114] "Through symphonic manipulation of the thematic material, Wagner signaled in the Annunciation of Life theme [PH: #93] that the binding strictures of fate – Wotan’s law – have been loosened, and human life and agency can now – in leaps of fourths and sevenths – move freely in time. (87) Taken together, then, these two themes [PH: #88, Bruennhilde's Annunciation of Death to Siegfried, and #93], each derived from the Fate motif [PH: #87], map the historical and theological paradigm shift that Wagner was dramatizing – from the cramped Christian mindset obsessed with death and the myth of immortality of the soul to the new religion of man focused on the species life; from a theological world governed by an overarching providential determinism (fate) – or at the opposing end of the philosophical pendulum swing by an Enlightenment utilitarianism that reduced man to a mere machine – to an ever fluid and developing world of nature charged with potential and the promise of progress."

[P. 114] "... far from incidental, the Annunciation of Life theme [PH: #93] arises as we have seen out of a dramatic and spiritual turning point laden with tension and expectation. Understood as a theme associated with the regenerative power of nature and a liberated spiritual mindset focused on life, not death, its reemergence in the last pages of the score takes on a new significance."

[P. 115] "Porges’s notes of the first Bayreuth rehearsals lend further credence to this interpretation. There he recorded that it was 'well known' that the Annunciation of Life theme [PH: #93], 'banishing the terror of death, is employed at the close of "Goetterdaemmerung" as the song of redemption that overcomes the power of fate.' (90) Feuerbach had taught that the means to banish the 'terror of death' was to reject the Christian myth of the immortality of the soul – which merely addressed the fear with a false palliative – and instead draw comfort from the future of the species life. (...) Wagner had taken these lessons to heart when he explained to Liszt his new secular theory of the 'hereafter' as quoted in Chapter 3 and when he preached to Roeckel in 1854 that 'without the necessity of death, there is no possibility of life' and that one must 'abandon oneself as a sentient human being to total reality … and to choose to live – and die – a life of happiness and suffering.' (91) Wotan – so dependent as he is on Freia’s apples – has not fully grasped this truth about death, and to the end remains gripped by anxiety and fear about his passing."

[PH: Shapiro evidently forgot what Waltraute told Bruennhilde in T.1.3.A, that Wotan has refused any longer to partake of Freia's golden apples of sorrow-less youth eternal.'s implications for the balance of Shapiro's remarks from his page 115 above can be found in the extract (referenced but not reproduced below, since I quoted it elsewhere in this critique) which assesses Porges' remarks about Shapiro's Annunciation of Life Motif, #93, cited by Shapiro in his page 115 above, in relation to Wagner's description of the World-Inheritance Motif #134 as being his motif of redemption and as sounding like the herald of a new religion.]

[PH: See Quotation from, Pages 426-428, previously cited]

[P. 116] "Fate in Wotan’s world had meant strict conformity with the god’s rule of law and immortal life after death chosen by Wotan’s Valkyries for those heroes worthy of the honor. But with the death of the god so goes the fallacy of 'bliss everlasting' as well as the unbending dictates of Wotan’s spear. The consolatory music that accompanies Bruennhilde’s 'Ruhe, du Gott' perfectly evokes Feuerbach’s new enlightened perspective on death and life: 'The sweet life of a new consolation … consoles you … With the angelic spirits of precious children,/The future masters of the present masters:/These call you away from life/And whisper you into a peaceful grave.' As Wotan’s daughter and heir to his world, 'the future master of the present master,' Bruennhilde 'whispers' Wotan into a 'peaceful grave.' Moments later, inspired with Erda’s wisdom about the inevitability of change and the truth of the species life, Bruennhilde chooses the time and place of her own death with composure and strength, invoking a theme [PH: #93] that anticipates the human lives that will succeed her own and itself supersedes the Fate motif [PH: #87] by redefining the modal significance of its static three-note phrase. In Feuerbach’s words, 'the individual dies within history because he is only one member of the historical totality.' (94)"

[PH: At I demonstrated that the fallacy of 'bliss everlasting' and the 'unbending dictates of Wotan's spear' had been superseded already in S.3.1 when Wotan made the artist-hero Siegfried and Siegfried's muse of unconscious artistic inspiration Bruennhilde his heirs in Erda's presence, and also obviously when Siegfried cut Wotan's Spear in half with Nothung, which of course had already occurred symbolically in Siegfried's breaching of Wotan's contract with the Giants by killing Fafner and taking possession of Alberich's Ring and Tarnhelm. I furthermore showed how Wotan and his fellow gods don't control fate, which is generated from Erda's sleeping wisdom spun by her daughters the Norns, but are its victims, since Erda foresaw that Alberich's Ring Curse (i.e., Alberich's and Wotan's gradual accumulation of a hoard of objective knowledge) was fated to bring to pass the twilight of the gods, and her daughters the Norns wove this into their rope of fate. That the Fate Motif #87 is introduced along with #88 (the so-called Annunciation of Death Motif) as Bruennhilde is preparing to announce Siegmund's and Sieglinde's fate to Siegmund, simply illustrates that what man during the religious phase of human history regarded as God's providence and punishment is later grasped as the coherence or laws of Mother Nature (Erda).]

[P. 116] "The other motivic connection noted between the Faith in Siegfried theme [PH: #149] and the Annunciation of Life theme [PH: #93] ... illuminates yet another dimension of Bruennhilde’s spiritual evolution. Bruennhilde had embraced Siegfried on the rock with trust in his noble deeds. In the Immolation, she no longer addresses him with those tones – that theme’s [PH: #149] momentum and integrity were broken on Siegfried’s betrayal. Instead, she now appropriates as her own Sieglinde’s ecstatic effusion [PH: #93] over the wonder of a new human life. As prescribed by Wagner in his theoretical treatise on the artwork of the future, Bruennhilde has moved from the love of the individual other – Siegfried – to the highest level – the love of all humanity. Although Bruennhilde’s words are addressed to the memory of Siegfried, the Annunciation of Life music [PH: #93] with its falling seventh continues to signal a prophetic vision – looking not back to Siegfried’s exploits and love but forward to the next heroes who are to come."

[PH: In I described how the very concept of heroism itself depends upon the assumption of man's transcendent value, i.e., that heroes can break their subjection to egoistic impulse and natural law. There is no reason to believe that such heroism survives Bruennhilde's self-immolation or the restoration of Alberich's Ring of consciousness to the Rhinedaughters and its dissolution in the Rhine. And Sieglinde's expression of the wonder of her child Siegfried's birth, protected as it is by Bruennhilde's compassionate intervention, doesn't necessarily invoke all future heroes, but can simply be construed as representing the Wonder of the secular, redemptive art which Siegfried's muse Bruennhilde will inspire him to create. In other words, Siegfried isn't simply a generic hero (an error which Kitcher and Schacht, and Scruton, made), but the secular, inspired artist-hero in whom dying religious faith can live on, not as a concept, but in feeling (music).]

[P. 116-117] "Emerging from the dark foreboding world of Hagen and Alberich, the disarming simplicity of the Annunciation of Life theme [PH: #93] recalls Beethoven's finale to the Ninth Symphony, as if to say: 'O Freund, nicht diese Toene!' Wagner's delight in the Ode to Joy provides yet another key to understanding how he intended his similarly fresh and simple melody to conclude his own monumental exploration of despair and consolation. For Wagner, the Ninth Symphony was 'the human gospel of the art of the future' and a work closely associated in his mind with the revolution. (...) Beethoven’s final theme, then, symbolized for Wagner the culmination of a philosophical journey, recapturing the truth about nature’s regenerative power and restoring the sublime wonder to the universe that had been lost in the excessively rational and utilitarian (“mechanical”) theories of the last century – just the philosophic vision associated with the concept of 'Wonder' and precisely the message that Sieglinde’s theme represents. (100)"

[PH: Quotation from, Page 730:]

Thus, Wagner avers, through inspired music we feel as if we’ve regained lost innocence, and to this degree secular art fulfills religious faith’s promise that we can attain redemption from our earthly coils, and affirm and enjoy our transcendent value. Wagner, significantly, describes music as a means through which we can “play” with the grief of being (i.e., “Noth”), without suffering from it. Siegfried and Bruennhilde, accordingly, feel innocent, as if wholly unaware of their implication in Wotan’s guilt:

… all his [Beethoven’s] seeing and his fashioning is steeped in that marvellous serenity (Heiterkeit) which Music first acquired through him. Even the cry, so immanent in every sound of Nature, is lulled to smiling: the world regains its childhood’s innocence. ‘To-day shalt thou be with me in Paradise’ – who has not heard these words of the Redeemer, when listening to the ‘Pastoral Symphony’? Now thrives apace that power of shaping the unfathomable, the never-seen, the ne’er experienced, which yet becomes a most immediate experience, of most transparent comprehensibility. The joy of wielding this new power turns next to humour: all grief of Being breaks before this vast enjoyment of the play therewith; the world-creator Brahma is laughing at himself [* Translator’s Footnote: “Cf. Wotan in Siegfried; ‘my jovial god who craves his own undoing.’ “ (Letter to A. Roeckel, Jan. 1854).], as he sees how hugely he had duped himself; guiltlessness re-won disports it with the sting of guilt atoned; freed conscience banters with its torment overpassed. (…) The effect upon the hearer is precisely the deliverance from all earthly guilt, as the after-effect is the feeling of a forfeited paradise wherewith we return to the world of semblances.” [777W-{9-12/70} Beethoven: PW Vol. V, p. 92-93]

And of course Wagner thought of himself, the inspired artist, as effectively a pre-Fallen being, not subject to the laws which circumscribe the lives of uncreative men:

“ … I maintain to R. that there are many things of which he understands nothing, since genius has no part in original sin. He: ‘I live like a sort of animal.’ I: ‘Yes, in innocence.’ “ [977W-{9/21/79}CD Vol. II, p. 367]
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