Shapiro Consolations Critique Part 17

General Discussion about Wagner and The Ring of the Nibelung

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Shapiro Consolations Critique Part 17

Post by alberich00 » Wed Oct 07, 2020 11:32 am

[P. 109-110] "It has frequently been argued that Schopenhauer’s privileging of music as the royal road to the blind will had an impact on Wagner’s compositional mindset when he returned to complete the score of the 'Ring,' thereby upsetting the delicate balance of the branches of art that had originally defined the Gesamtkunstwerk. (69) Ironically, however, the leitmotif system, as originally conceived, and as methodically pursued through to the last measures of the score, was as programmatic as music could be. Music as a complex pattern of symbolic units is designed to communicate not through the dumb intuition of the will, but through extra-musical association with ideas and phenomena. (70) (...) Wagner made the point clear in 'Opera and Drama' when he maintained that the purpose of the leitmotiv system was to achieve the 'highest unity of musical Form, – a Form which the musician has hitherto put together at his own caprice, but through the poet’s aim can for the first time shape itself into a necessary, a truly unitarian, i.e. an understandable one' (OD 347). (...) In completing the final bars of 'Goetterdaemmerung,' Wagner hewed close to his original design and did not reject the elaborate musical syntax he had adopted throughout the tetralogy. (74) In doing so, he chose a form of meaning that is directly susceptible to rational and associative analysis and whose very premise necessarily invites such analysis. Thus, insofar as Goetterdaemmerung’s musical ending continues to embrace the original Apollonian design for the 'Ring,' it contradicts at its structural core any notion of a truly Schopenhauerian musical finale."

[PH: Quotation from, Page 615:]

It is a remarkable aspect of Wagner’s composition of the Ring’s music that he stopped composing it for twelve years, from 1857 and 1869. In 1857 he completed the music for the second act of Siegfried, but he would not return to composition, picking up where he left off at the third act of Siegfried, until five years after King Ludwig II of Bavaria had undertaken to finance his work. During this twelve year period Wagner completed the libretto texts, and the music, of two other great music-dramas, Tristan and Isolde, and The Mastersingers of Nuremberg, both of which, it turns out, are systematically and conceptually linked with the plot of The Ring of the Nibelung (this proposition will be examined in detail in my two chapters covering these respective music-dramas). As can well be imagined, Wagner’s fluency in writing music for his music-dramas advanced hugely while writing the music for these two smaller (though nonetheless very large) music-dramas, so that when he returned to composing the Ring he undertook this task with even greater sophistication than he had before.

There are those who argue that his employment of musical motifs had by this time grown much more independent of the immediate passages of libretto text with which they are associated, and it is widely believed that in many cases his employment of specific motifs and their variants is often inspired solely by musical rather than dramatic considerations. I would argue that in many such alleged cases the commentators have not sufficiently grasped the conceptual context in which certain motifs appear, nor the full range of conceptual association acquired by motifs by virtue of all their recurrences in the course of the drama, to make such a judgment. We will examine several such instances in the course of our assessment of the last act of Siegfried and the entirety of Twilight of the Gods, whose music was composed after this hiatus.

[PH: Quotation from, Pages 988-989, previously cited:]

After Wagner had written the entire Ring libretto (1853), with the exception of a few changes made afterward, he discovered Schopenhauer’s philosophy in 1854, and, as is well known, renounced Feuerbach’s materialist, so-called optimistic (i.e., world-affirming) philosophy for the sake of Schopenhauer’s pessimistic philosophy (i.e., a philosophy of world-denial, which owes much to Hindu and Buddhist thought as understood by Schopenhauer through numerous translations). Evidently during the writing of the libretto for the Ring, in which Wagner traced the necessity for Siegfried’s death back to the birth of human consciousness in evolution, Wagner discovered something about the nature of man which disillusioned him about the possibility of predicating a humane civilization upon the materialist truth, objective knowledge of man and nature, that the atheist Feuerbach was preaching. He made a few changes in the Ring libretto but left most of its Feuerbachian content and structure intact. It is generally argued, however, that Schopenhauer’s influence can be found in Wagner’s changing attitude to the music, most of which was not yet written in 1854 when he first read Schopenhauer’s works. It is argued, for instance, that because Schopenhauer insisted that music is the Will, the thing-in-itself, Wagner concluded that the drama and poetry of the Ring is secondary to its music, a pale reflection of it, and that therefore Wagner felt freer to manipulate the music and to employ motifs for purely musical rather than dramatic reasons as his composition progressed. But I would argue that Wagner in the writing of the Ring libretto had already had, long before he read Schopenhauer in 1854, a revelation of the irredeemably egoistic nature of man, especially of the egoism underlying man’s quest for redemption from his egoism, the quest to posit man’s transcendent value, and that there was little Wagner found in Schopenhauer that was not already implicit in the Ring drama, Schopenhauer providing merely philosophic support for Wagner’s own turnabout in attitude toward his material.

[P.110-112] "Among all the leitmotifs that have sounded over again throughout the cycle and which carry the weight of so much history with them, the Glorification theme [PH: #93] has been heard only once before in 'Die Walkuere' – when Sieglinde learns that she is carrying a child in her womb. (...)

[ O hehrstes Wunder Herrlichste Maid! ]

This melodic effusion [PH: #93] has been called the Glorification theme based on Wagner’s comment to Cosima that it served as a “glorification of Bruennhilde” [die Verherrlichung Bruennhildens] when re-introduced at the end of the drama. (80) But Sieglinde does not simply extol Bruennhilde – 'herrliche Maid' – but also exults in the glorious prospect – “hehrstes Wunder” – of her son’s birth. Notably, the falling minor seventh that so defines the musical phrase falls on the word 'Wunder' and not 'herrliche Maid.' "

[PH: Quotation from, Pages 426-428:]

Bruennhilde, like her mother Erda a prophetess, also foresees that Siegfried will re-forge his father Siegmund’s sword Nothung, whose pieces she salvaged from the battlefield. And Sieglinde herself, inspired by Bruennhilde’s gift of prophecy, anticipates that Siegfried will smile upon Bruennhilde someday. Sieglinde, Bruennhilde foresees, would suffer the special “Noth,” or misery, to which the Waelsung race are doomed by virtue of having to take on the burden of Alberich’s curse on the Ring, in order to free the gods from this curse. She will suffer this “Noth” in order to bring the greatest Waelsung hero to birth. Thus Sieglinde suggests that her woe may be Bruennhilde’s blessing. This concept that the Waelsungs’ “Noth” is the basis for Siegfried’s and Bruennhilde’s marital bliss will be echoed when the Woodbird in S.2.3 tells Siegfried the lovers’ secret, that bliss is made from woe. But this is a variation of Wagner’s metaphor for redemption through unconscious artistic inspiration: through this blessing granted by the artist’s muse (in Siegfried’s case, Bruennhilde) the artist-hero, like Loge, draws advantage – i.e., inspiration – from the most terrible things, to transform them into the sublime. This is the “Wonder” of inspired art.

The new, transcendently beautiful motif Sieglinde introduces while singing her hymn of praise to Bruennhilde, in which she extols the “sublimest wonder” or miracle of Bruennhilde’s intervention to save Sieglinde’s child Siegfried, is #93. #93, as the primary motif which will be heard in the finale of the Ring (T.3.3), is generally regarded as the “Motif of Redemption by Love.” Wagner’s recording secretary he engaged to record all of Wagner’s observations about the Ring during the rehearsals for its premier in 1876, Heinrich Porges, provided the following evidence for this reading, a commentary presumably corresponding with Wagner’s own remarks at the time:

“Into her ecstatic outcry: ‘O hehrstes Wunder!’ Sieglinde must put all the intensity of which she is capable, she must release a great flood of emotion, enraptured and enrapturing.” [* Porges’ Footnote: “It is well known that this supremely lovely melody, banishing the terror of death, is employed at the close of Goetterdaemmerung as the song of redemption that overcomes the power of fate.”]” [872W-{6-8/76} WRR, p. 69]

Porges’ interpretation presumably had Wagner’s imprimatur, but in point of fact Wagner himself never, so far as I know, described #93 as a redemption motif. He said, rather:

“I am glad that I kept back Sieglinde’s theme of praise for Bruennhilde, to become as it were a hymn to heroes.’ “[832W-{7/23/72}CD Vol. I, p. 515]

But we must not let our enthusiasm for the sublimity of the Ring’s finale, and the passionate hopes we invest in the Ring’s sympathetic heroes and heroines, delude us into canonizing #93 as a motif representing “Redemption by Love,” for many reasons, not least of which is that both Siegfried and Bruennhilde will betray their love before we reach the drama’s denouement. And there are many other reasons as well: there is much more at stake here. We must never forget the historical context in which the heroes and heroines live their lives, and Wotan’s (the spirit of collective, historical man’s) considered opinion that all these heroic characters are merely products of his own craven needs and fears.

#93 is, interestingly, in the same family of motifs which includes #8, #23, and #149, a family which seems to be associated primarily with two concepts. #8, the first of the series, and presumably fairly definitive in locking down its ultimate meaning, illustrated the Rhinedaughters’ pretense of love toward Alberich to mock him. #23, the next in the series, captures the domestic tranquility of a secure life within the confines of Valhalla, in both its initial form as the fortress of the gods, and in its subsequent incarnation as the love of Siegfried and Bruennhilde, in which Wotan’s hope to preserve Valhalla from Alberich’s threat is embodied. Cooke considered #23 an expression of inspiration of men by women. But clearly, Wotan’s resistance to Fricka’s suggestion that the domestic tranquility of Valhalla will keep him from wandering and seeking out new dalliances, both when #23 is introduced early in R.2, and later in R.4 when Fricka suggests they enter Valhalla together (at that point he protested that it had been won with evil wage), shows that Fricka’s inspiration has been ineffective, just as the Rhinedaughters’ flattery of Alberich’s romantic inclinations was false. But surely Cooke’s notion that this family of motifs represents woman’s inspiration is true of its ultimate incarnation as an expression of the sublimity of the love which Siegfried and Bruennhilde share, since we will later recognize their love as Wagner’s metaphor for the unconscious inspiration of the artist-hero Siegfried by his muse Bruennhilde! #149, the final entrant in the series of motifs within this family, is clearly associated with Bruennhilde’s inspiration of Siegfried to undertake adventures when it is introduced in T.P.2. But in this instance Bruennhilde does not attempt to inspire Siegfried to stay at home, as Fricka attempted to inspire Wotan to do, but instead inspires Siegfried with her love so that she can send him off on adventures. And the grand result of this last adventure inspired by his muse Bruennhilde is that he will betray his love for her, and she will in turn betray him. Therefore, there is something suspect in conceiving #93 as the Motif of “Redemption by Love.”

A grand motif which will be introduced in S.3.1 during Wotan the Wanderer’s final confrontation with Erda, #134 [PH: The so-called World-Inheritance Motif], Wagner did actually describe as a redemption motif. He said that it should sound, at first hearing, as if it is the declaration of the founding of a “new religion”:

“Wagner expressly demanded that the Redemption theme [Dunning’s #134; Millington’s number 49] as it enters after Wotan’s words, ‘Was in des Zwiespalt’s wildem Schmerze verzweifelnd eins ich beschloss, froh und freidig fuehre, frei ich nun aus’ [Spencer’s translation of the Ring P. 247-248: “Wotan: What I once resolved in despair, in the searing smart of inner turmoil, [#134)] I now perform freely, in gladness and joy … “] … 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]

This new religion will of course be secular art, the redemptive art which the muse Bruennhilde will inspire Siegfried to create and present to audiences in the outside world. We will save analysis of this apparent contradiction for our discussion of S.3.1 and T.3.3.

[P. 112] "The word 'Wunder' had great significance for Wagner. A word that had traditionally been understood to mean 'miracle' in the Christian sense – a false view of the world associated with the unnatural tarnhelm – was recast by Wagner in 'Opera and Drama' to signify the dramatist’s ability to forcefully communicate 'life-energy' to the spectator – in a word, the sublime. According to Wagner, 'this strengthening of a moment of action could only be achieved by lifting it above the ordinary human measure, through the poetic figment of the Wonder – in strict correspondence with human nature, albeit exalting and enhancing its faculties to a potency unreachable in ordinary life ... .' (82) (...) The experience of the sublime thus drove home the fundamental philosophical tenet that the world was not a static clockwork universe, as the Enlightenment philosophers had posited, but an organic force that was continually in a process of change and renewal – the very characteristic of nature that Kant and Leibniz had identified as the engine of progress. The wonder that nature evoked in man also recaptured a measure of the spiritual void that had been lost with the death of the gods. (...) Bruennhilde’s revelation to Sieglinde is thus a key moment of 'Wonder' in the Ring, whereby, in a moment of highest dramatic tension in the plot, Wagner delivers a musical, scenic, and spiritual vision of the sublime force of nature – its awesome, awe-inspiring, 'forever-becoming' power to bring forth a new hero and drive the species to new heights of development."

[PH: In the first two extracts from below I discuss Feuerbach's and Wagner's description of earliest, collective man's involuntary invention of the gods, as religious Wonder, and describe how the modern secular inspired artist inherits this formerly religious Wonder. The second of these extracts I quoted at length in my previous discussion of Shapiro's identification of Alberich's Tarnhelm with religious Wonder, the miraculous, so I only referenced it here. Use the "Find" tool to locate it.]

[PH: Quotation from, Pages 136-137:]

But, as Feuerbach noted, all such abstract products of the imagination begin with concrete experience, from which the imagination draws only those properties which strike it as universal and therefore immortal and divine:

“Man must always start from the concrete, from what is simplest, clearest, most undeniable, namely the sensuous object, and only then proceed to the more complicated, to abstractions that the eye cannot see.” [264F-LER: p. 184]

In the following extract, describing how his music-dramas must first present the concrete and self-evident, before proceeding on to the depiction of the miraculous (whose basis is ultimately the mundane, real world we know), Wagner is clearly influenced by Feuerbach’s ruminations above:

[Speaking of his notion of the ideal poet, i.e., the music-dramatist, Wagner asserts that:] “[P. 338] He has … to show his characters at first in predicaments (Lebenslagen) having a recognisable likeness with such as we have found, or at least might have found, ourselves in; only from such a foundation, can he mount step by step to situations whose force and wondrousness remove us from the life of [P. 339] everyday, and show us Man in the highest fulness of his power.” [545W-{50-1/51} Opera and Drama: PW Vol. II, p. 338-339]

This is clearly what Wagner has done in musically presenting Alberich’s forging of his Ring of power as the foundation for the heavenly abode of the gods, Valhalla, namely, the transformation of the Ring Motif #19 (the Ring which only Alberich is willing to pay the price to forge) into the first segment of the Valhalla Motif, #20a. And of course, man’s unique gift of abstract, symbolic thought, the capacity to abbreviate experience with symbols which is the basis for learning, gave man a power over his environment and other life forms which was unique, so that we can well say, as Feuerbach did (emulating Bacon), that knowledge is power:

“In divine omnipotence, man merely fulfills his desire to be able to do everything, a desire that is related to, or a consequence of, the desire to know everything; for, as Bacon said, knowledge is power … .” [308F-LER: p. 274]

Thus the Rhinedaughters told Alberich that if he can forge a Ring from the Rhinegold he will control the world. And, as Feuerbach said, this capacity of the human mind to acquire power through the acquisition of knowledge is God’s [i.e., Wotan’s] first predicate:

“Power is the first predicate of the Godhead or rather, it is the first god. (…) The theists themselves expressly distinguish God’s power from His will and reason. But what is this power distinguished from will and reason if not the power of nature?” [220F-LER: p. 104-105]

Again, we see how, and why, Alberich’s Ring (#19) gives birth to the realm of the gods, Valhalla (#20a). The essential point here is that the mundane, the concrete, the physical, nature’s objective actuality, gives birth to man, who in turn – thanks to his imagination, itself a product of evolution – invents the supernatural.

[PH: See Quotation from, Pages 146-147, cited previously]

[PH: In the following two extracts from I describe how Alberich's Tarnhelm is Wagner's metaphor for the human imagination and its Wonder.]

[PH: Quotation from, Pages 192-193:]

As Alberich speaks to Mime of the Tarnhelm, and first demonstrates its power of transformation, we hear two new motifs, #42 and #43, which represent the Tarnhelm. Dunning has christened #42 the Tarnhelm Motif per se, and #43, which is essentially a continuation of #42, the Tarnhelm’s Transformations. Both motifs, Cooke demonstrated, are variants of Loge’s Motif #35, which will later become the basis for the Motif of the Magic Fire, #100, the protective ring of Loge’s fire with which Wotan surrounds the sleeping Bruennhilde to insure that only a fearless hero (Siegfried) wakes and wins her. Ultimately, #43 gives birth in turn to the motif which represents Hagen’s potion, #154, the means whereby Hagen makes Siegfried forget his true love Bruennhilde and fall in love with the Gibichung Gutrune instead. Dunning, differing with Cooke, considers that #48, the Dragon, or Serpent, Motif, also belongs in this family.

Since Loge represents mankind’s capacity for artistic self-deception, the two Tarnhelm motifs’ derivation from Loge’s motif #35 suggests that the Tarnhelm’s properties, its power to transform forms, represents the imagination. Initially, Alberich employs it to make himself invisible, but as we will see, it can also be used to alter one’s own form, or to travel in an instant to another place. It is an expression of the mobility of the human imagination, an aspect of the power of the human mind, or Ring. For through man’s imagination he can either segregate and organize various aspects of experience for analysis, or reconstruct experience according to his subjective desire. He can travel in time through memory of the past and imaginative anticipation of the future, or travel in space in an instant by imagining things which are not present to the senses. Currently, Alberich employs the Tarnhelm as the invisible spur to compel men to undertake hard labor in order to obtain a treasure from the bowels of the earth (Erda). We will soon discover that Wagner means by this something much more impressive than mere mining for gold.

[PH: Quotation from, Pages 225-226:]

But Alberich had not quite anticipated the wonders which man’s gift for self-deceit (another of the Ring’s powers) could perform. He had not foreseen that through the imagination (Tarnhelm), which is a product of man’s gift for abstraction, generalization, abbreviation, symbolism, and language in general, man can for the longest time delude himself, transforming illusion into truth, and consigning the objective truth to oblivion. For man comes to take his symbols for things, for the things themselves, and believes, wrongly, that the operations of his imagination upon these symbols which represent actual experience, are actual and real, when instead man in his imagination (under the sway of feeling) moves further and further away from the truth, the actual. And this is the wonder of which Loge speaks, that through the imagination man can will the miraculous, even if in reality the miraculous remains an impossibility. However, even if what the imagination at the behest of man’s feelings of fear and desire (Fafner and Fasolt) conceives, is unreal and impossible, nonetheless the feelings which gave birth to this false conception are very real indeed.

For the Tarnhelm, the imagination, serves not only Alberich’s objective scientific inquiry, i.e., to imagine forms or laws in nature as they are, objectively, but also to manipulate reality to create illusions under the sway of emotion. Thus Feuerbach noted that both abstraction (the Ring’s power) and the related imagination (the Tarnhelm) make man look beyond the sensual world of actuality for a non-sensual creator, i.e., a godhead autonomous from Mother Nature and her laws:

“ … it is the human faculty of abstraction and the related imagination (for it is only thanks to his imagination that man hypostatizes abstract, universal concepts and comes to conceive of them as entities, as Ideas) that lead him to look outside the sensuous world and to derive it from a non-sensuous, abstract being.” [258F-LER: p. 175]

Through the imagination (the Tarnhelm) man transforms objective natural phenomena into human forms who are believed to transcend nature, the gods, for, as Feuerbach says, faith, religious belief, is the product of imagination:

“But what is it that transforms a natural phenomenon into a human being? The imagination. (…)

Christians designate the theoretical religious faculty by the word faith or belief. (…) But on closer scrutiny the words mean nothing other than imagination.” [259F-LER: p. 177-178]


Though Wagner had several sources in Norse and Teutonic myth and legend for Wotan’s and Loge’s capture of Alberich and forcing him to pay a ransom of Ring, Tarnhelm, and Hoard to free himself, I believe his primary conceptual source was Feuerbach. For Feuerbach said that Christianity (keeping in mind that many aspects of the supposedly pagan gods of Valhalla as presented by Wagner in the Ring are drawn straight from Christian theology) overpowers human reason, taking the mind prisoner (as Wotan and Loge take Alberich prisoner), by making the articles of religious faith undoubted facts:

[Footnote:] “The denial of a fact is not a matter of indifference; it is something morally evil, - a disowning of what is known to be true. Christianity made its articles of faith objective, i.e., undeniable, unassailable facts, thus overpowering the reason, and taking the mind prisoner by the force of external reality … .” [120F-EOC: p. 205]

In other words, Wotan and Loge co-opt Alberich’s power by taking him prisoner and taking possession of his Ring, in order to insure the survival of the gods in Valhalla, i.e., the survival of man’s faith in them.

And Wagner provides the following striking paraphrase of Feuerbach, suggesting like Feuerbach that Judeo-Christian miracle (which Wagner calls “Wonder”) is predicated on faith which denies understanding, its dogma tyrannously subjugating the understanding despite its instinctive quest for explanation:

“The Judaeo-Christian Wonder tore the connexion of natural phenomena asunder, to allow the Divine Will to appear as standing over Nature. (…) A fundamental denial of the Understanding was therefore the thing hypothecated in advance … . (…)

… the characteristic of the Dogmatic Wonder consists just in this, that, through the obvious impossibility of explaining it, it tyrannously subjugates the Understanding despite the latter’s instinctive search for explanation … .” [522W-{50-1/51} Opera and Drama: PW Vol. II, p. 213-214]

And it is the Tarnhelm, as manipulated by the artistic cunning of Loge, redeemer of the gods from truth, that is the source of this “Wonder.”

[PH: In the two following extracts from I described how Feuerbach and Wagner distinguished religious faith's Wonder (Wotan and the Valhallan gods) from secular art's (Siegfried's unconscious artistic inspiration by his muse Bruennhilde) Wonder. The key, as Wagner learned from Feuerbach, is that unlike religious belief, inspired secular art doesn't proclaim itself to be truth (doesn't make a claim on the power of Alberich's Ring), but either confesses itself to be fiction or play, and therefore can't be refuted by science, or in music, as pure feeling, has no share in science's debate with religion over what is truth and what is illusion. It's for this reason that Wotan believed (as it turns out, incorrectly) that his heirs Siegfried and Bruennhilde would be freed from Alberich's Ring Curse of consciousness.]

[PH: Quotation from, Pages 376-378:]

The free, fearless hero Wotan seeks is the Feuerbachian hero of art, who, according to Feuerbach and Wagner, has the privilege of freedom of expression not bound to any particular, practical claim, such as religion’s offer of redemption in an eternal, painless bliss in heaven, a false promise which assuages man’s fear of death and satisfies his unnaturally excessive desire for eternal bliss. The artist can enjoy this privilege because, unlike the claims of the religiously faithful that their beliefs are truth, the artist stakes no claim on the truth and its power (i.e., Siegfried, unlike Wotan, will stake no claim on the power of Alberich’s Ring). For these reasons Feuerbach suggests that while religion’s basis is existential fear, the artist is freed from it. Hence we find in Feuerbach the origin of our free hero, the fearless Siegfried:

“ … a God is an imaginary being, a product of fantasy; and because fantasy is the essential form or organ of poetry, it may also be said that religion is poetry, that a God is a poetic being. If religion is taken as poetry, may it not be inferred that to abolish religion, to break it down into its basic components, is to do away with poetry and all art? (…) My adversaries throw up their hands in horror at the hideous desolation to which my doctrine would reduce human life, since in their opinion it would destroy poetry along with religion and so deprive mankind of all poetic drive. (…)

(…) Far from annulling art, poetry, imagination, I deny religion only insofar as it is not poetry [i.e., not Wotan’s ideal self, Siegfried], but common prose [i.e., Wotan’s prosaic, practical self, which he loathes, represented by Mime]. And this brings us to an essential limitation of the statement that religion is poetry. In a sense it is poetry, but with one important difference: poetry and art in general do not represent their creations as anything but what they are, namely products of art, whereas religion represents its imaginary beings as real beings.” [261F-LER: p. 180-181]

“… unless religion enters in, an artist merely expects his images to be faithful and beautiful; he does not claim that a semblance of reality is reality itself. Religion, on the other hand, deceives people, or rather people deceive themselves in religion; for it does claim that the semblance of reality is reality, that an image is a living being. But this being lives only in the imagination … .” [262F-LER: p. 183]

“ … the religious imagination is not the free imagination of the artist, but has a practical egoistic purpose, or in other words, … the religious imagination is rooted in the feeling of dependency and attaches chiefly to objects that arouse it. (…) This feeling of anxiety, of uncertainty, this fear of harm that always accompanies man, is the root of the religious imagination … .” [269F-LER: p. 196]

“The object of religion … is not the thauma, the wonder [which we experience in secular art, as described by Feuerbach in the previous extract, 269F], but the oneiar, the blessing, i.e., the god as an object not of astonishment, but of fear and hope; he is worshiped, he is the object of a cult, not because of those attributes that arouse astonishment and admiration, but because of those that establish and preserve human existence [Fafner, as man’s invulnerable instinct of self-preservation], that appeal to man’s sense of dependency.” [202F-LER: p. 47]

Wagner paraphrases this Feuerbachian argument point by point, and what is more remarkable, in writings completed many years after Wagner had proclaimed himself freed by Schopenhauer from adherence to Feuerbach’s optimistic, materialist philosophy, in 1854. Witness Wagner’s following stunningly revealing letter to King Ludwig II, which is essentially an elaboration of Feuerbach’s argument as presented in the four extracts quoted above:

“Yet an irrecusable yearning to turn his [“… the great, the truly noble man …”] back completely on this world [Wotan’s despairing expression of his desire to end it all which will be the climax of his confession to Bruennhilde] must necessarily surge up within his breast were there not for him – as for the common man who lives away a life of constant care [i.e., fear] – a certain distraction, a periodical turning-aside from that world’s-earnestness [existential fear] which else is ever present to his thoughts. What for the common man is entertainment and amusement, must be forthcoming for him as well, but in the noble form befitting him; and that which renders possible this turning aside, this noble illusion, must again be a work of that man-redeeming Wahn [illusion] which spreads its wonders wherever the individual’s normal mode of view can help itself no farther. But in this instance the Wahn must be entirely candid; it must confess itself in advance for an illusion, if it is to be willingly embraced by the man who really longs for distraction and illusion in the high and earnest sense I mean. The fancy-picture brought before him must never afford a loophole for re-summoning the earnestness of Life through any possible dispute about its actuality and provable foundation upon fact, as religious Dogma does: no, it must exercise its specific virtue through its very setting of the conscious Wahn in place of the reality. This office is fulfilled by Art; and in conclusion I therefore point my highly-loved young friend [King Ludwig II] to Art, as the kindly Life-saviour who does not really and wholly lead us out beyond this life [i.e., unlike religion, art does not promise man immortality or supernatural transcendence], but, within it, lifts us up above it and shows it as itself a game of play; a game that, take it ne’er so terrible and earnest an appearance [as in Wotan’s confession to Bruennhilde of all that he fears and abhors in his own life], yet here again is shown us as a mere Wahn-picture, as which it comforts us and wafts us from the common truth of our distress (Noth). The work of noblest Art will be given a glad admittance by my friend, the work that, treading on the footprints of Life’s earnestness [the existential fear which is the basis for religious faith and its fear of the truth], shall soothingly dissolve reality into that Wahn wherein itself in turn, this serious reality, at last seems nothing else to us but Wahn: and in his most rapt beholding of this wondrous Wahn-play (Wahnspiel) there will return to him the indicible dream-picture of the holiest revelation [in other words, secular art offers man a new religion unencumbered by the fatal flaws of religious faith], … that same divine dream-picture which the disputes of sects and churches had made ever more incognisable to him, and which, as wellnigh unintelligible Dogma, could only end in his dismay. The nothingness of the world, here it is harmless, frank, avowed as though in smiling [as Wotan will glory, in Erda’s presence, in his – religious faith’s - own downfall, since he lives on reborn in the art which Siegfried, the secular music-dramatist, and his muse of inspiration, Bruennhilde, will produce, which will redeem man from Alberich’s curse of consciousness]; for our willing purpose to deceive ourselves [which Wotan admitted to Bruennhilde in his confession] has led us on to recognise the world’s real state without a shadow of illusion [Wotan’s confession of the unbearable truth]. –

(…) Will my friend in sympathy understand me, when I confess that first upon this path have I regained full consciousness of Art’s serenity.” [708W-{64-2/65} On State and Religion: PW Vol. IV, p. 33-34]
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