Shapiro Consolations Critique Part 5

General Discussion about Wagner and The Ring of the Nibelung

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Shapiro Consolations Critique Part 5

Post by alberich00 » Wed Oct 07, 2020 12:09 pm

[PH: Quotation from, Page 375:]

Wotan’s self-loathing offers us an entre into the inner motive of Wagner’s highly idiosyncratic version of anti-Semitism. For it appears that Wagner, like Wotan, could not tolerate the idea that all human beings, including the Germans or semi-mythical Aryans, are ultimately motivated only by egoism (even in their striving to transcend it). This thought apparently became so intolerable that it appears that Wagner, perhaps subliminally, tried to project this universal egoism on to the Jews in order to purge his ideal German, or Aryan, of all taint. This is precisely what Wotan tries to do in creating a hero, Siegfried, whose heroism can’t be traced back to Wotan’s self-admitted egoism, and who therefore presumably will be freed from Wotan’s debts to Alberich and his Ring, Erda, the Giants, and even Loge. The point here is that this purgation is impossible, because what Wagner sometimes described as inherent Jewish egoism is evidently the basis for all the feelings, thoughts, and actions of the human race per se.

What follows are some of Wagner’s thoughts on this subject, which provide evidence both for my case that Wagner’s anti-Semitism was a cover for our universal religious longing to redeem ourselves from our inherent egoism (an egoism stemming from the fear of death, and therefore founded on man’s natural mortality), and for my suggestion that Wotan’s self-loathing and longing to escape his own true nature, by conceiving a hero freed from all that Wotan loathes in his own nature, is a metaphor for this universal yet futile religious ideal. In the initial passages below Wagner links what he describes as the German’s involuntary repugnance for the Jewish nature, with that loathing of egoism which is the fount of all systems of morality, all notions of human nobility of character, which are predicated on religious belief:

“… with all our speaking and writing in favour of the Jews’ emancipation, we always felt instinctively repelled by any actual, operative contact with them. Here, then, we touch the point that brings us closer to our main inquiry: we have to explain to ourselves the involuntary repellence possessed for us by the nature and personality of the Jews, so as to vindicate that instinctive dislike which we plainly recognise as stronger and more overpowering than our conscious zeal to rid ourselves thereof. Even today we only purposely belie ourselves in this regard, when we think necessary to hold immoral and taboo all open proclamation of our natural repugnance against the Jewish nature.” [456W-{8/50} Judaism In Music: PW Vol. III, p. 80-81]

We can see in the following extract that through Wotan’s confession to Bruennhilde, Wagner’s metaphor for Wotan’s repression of intolerable self-knowledge into his unconscious mind, Wotan’s figurative Jewishness (i.e., the egoism he loathes in himself) goes under, so that Wotan can be reborn as Siegfried minus consciousness of his true, craven identity and corrupt history. This forbidden hoard of knowledge which Wotan imparted to Bruennhilde, she holds for Siegfried in order to protect him from the suffering caused by Wotan’s hyper-consciousness of the unbearable truth. And note, Wagner invites the Jews to join himself and the Germans in this alleged regeneration:

“[Addressing the Jews, Wagner states:] To become Man at once with us, … means firstly for the Jew [Wotan] as much as ceasing to be Jew [Wotan reborn minus consciousness of his true identity, as Siegfried]. (…) Without once looking back, take ye your part in this regenerative work of deliverance through self-annulment (selbstvernictenden); then are we one and Un-dissevered! But bethink ye, that only one thing can redeem you from the burden of your curse Wagner alludes here to the curse represented by man’s irrevocable subjection to egoism, which ultimately makes a truly supernatural redemption impossible]: the redemption of Ahasuerus – Going under!” [461W-{8/50} Judaism In Music: PW Vol. III, p. 100]

[PH: Quotation from, Pages 391-393:]

Wotan seems to be involved in a major contradiction here. If, as he just told Bruennhilde, he now wills the “end,” why then does he care whether Bruennhilde fights for Fricka, or for Siegmund, or just does nothing? It is because Wotan both wills the end of the gods, and does not. He is not involved in a contradiction once one understands that though he wills the end of religious belief as a concept, as an affirmation of fact, religious feeling, the longing for transcendent value, will live on in art, which, as we’ll see, is represented by the loving union of Siegfried the artist-hero with his muse of inspiration, his unconscious mind Bruennhilde. (...)

In the following enlightening extracts Wagner describes the kind of redemption that Bruennhilde is offering Wotan and the gods. It basically consists in trading bitter consciousness of the irresolvable contradiction between what is, and what man feels ought to be, for the bliss of unconscious feeling, or music. This is achieved through a repression of unconscious thought into the unconscious, what Wagner describes as the “going-under” of the state, egoism, Judaism, and the objective spirit of scientific inquiry, and its sublimation into blissful feeling in art, and particularly the art of music which, being non-conceptual, has no involvement in science’s debate with religion over truth and falsehood:


The actual Art-work, i.e., its immediate physical portrayal, in the moment of its liveliest embodiment, is therefore the only true redemption of the artist [Wotan redeemed by Siegfried]; the uprootal of the final trace of busy, purposed choice [Wotan’s consciousness]; the confident determination of what was hitherto a mere imagining; the enfranchisement of thought in sense [i.e., the conversion of Wotan’s thought into Bruennhilde’s feeling, embodied in Wagner’s musical motifs] … . (...)” [418W-{9-12/49} The Artwork of the Future: PW Vol. I, p. 72-73]

And Wagner says additionally that:

“ … Intellect, with all its arrogant divorce from Life, can see at last no other refuge from actual insanity [recalling that Wotan is losing his mind when he seeks refuge through his confession to Bruennhilde], than in the unconditional acknowledgment of this only definite and visible force. And this vital force is – the Folk (das Volk) [recalling that Wagner described Elsa in “A Communication To My Friends” as the Folk, and also as Lohengrin’s unconscious mind, what Wagner means here is that the Folk is humanity’s collective unconscious, i.e., Bruennhilde]. The ‘Folk’ is the epitome of all those men who feel a common and collective Want (‘gemeinschaftliche Noth’) [i.e., Wotan’s need for redemption from science’s abhorrent truths, in religious belief or secular art].” [419W-{9-12/49} The Artwork of the Future: PW Vol. I, p. 73-75]

Siegfried’s and Bruennhilde’s art, in other words, will redeem man from the unbearable truth by taking possession of it aesthetically, to transmute the horrific history of the world (Wotan’s confession of virtually the entire plot of the Ring) into redemptive art.

[PH: Quotation from, Pages 448-449:]

Wagner praised Elsa’s breach of faith, her betrayal of her promise not to ask Lohengrin to share with her the unspoken secret of his true identity and origin, in the context of her longing to love Lohengrin and receive love from him, instead of worship him:

“I grew to find her [Elsa] so justified in the final outburst of her jealousy [i.e., her insistence on asking Lohengrin the question he forbade, to learn the secret of his true identity and origin, since she could not wholly trust him without full disclosure] that from this very outburst I learnt first to thoroughly understand the purely-human element of love … . … this woman, who … by the very outburst of her jealousy, wakes first from out the thrill of worship into the full reality of love … .” [573W]-{6-8/51} A Communication To My Friends: PW Vol. I, p. 347]

Thus Wagner’s praise of Elsa for doing what is normally regarded as a crime, breaching faith, and thus renouncing worship of God (or the gods), for the sake of love (feeling), tallies perfectly with his notion, borrowed from Feuerbach, that religious faith as a set of beliefs had to end in order to free the artist from staking a claim on the truth which is indefensible, since the artist offers man the feeling of having transcended the world, without staking a factual claim that the world has actually been transcended. Only in this way could the artist emancipate himself from the contradictions which undermine religious faith, and only in this way can Bruennhilde redeem Wotan (religious faith) by freeing his chosen hero Siegfried from his overt influence. In other words, both Elsa’s breach of Lohengrin’s demand for unquestioning faith, and Bruennhilde’s breach of Wotan’s demand that she keep his unspoken secret without acting upon it in the objective world, are steps towards religious faith’s only means of redemption, of salvaging the essence of religion, the longing for transcendent value, when religious belief (the gods) must pass away in the face of man’s inevitable advancement in knowledge of himself and nature. [See my chapter on Lohengrin for a detailed discussion of Elsa’s breach of Lohengrin’s requirement of faith as the basis for Wagner’s transformation from a composer of traditional romantic operas into the revolutionary creator of the music-drama.]

Just as Lohengrin separates himself from Elsa, so that she can now offer her restored brother (and Lohengrin’s heir) Godfrey inspiration by giving him Lohengrin’s horn, sword, and ring (models for Siegfried’s horn, sword, and ring, as John Deathridge noted in an essay published in a programme not currently available to me), so Wotan now severs all contact between himself – the divine world – and the newly mortal Bruennhilde, so that she can freely offer her services as muse to the artist-hero Siegfried, who will soon wake and win her. Wagner expressed this need for art - as feeling - to sever itself from the church, which offers man a set of beliefs considered to be true which are actually false, in the following passage:

“… the music of the Church was sung to the words of the abstract dogma; in its effect however, it dissolved those words and the ideas they fixed, to the point of their vanishing out of sight; and hence it rendered nothing to the enraptured Feeling save their pure emotional content. (…) This lofty property of Music’s enabled her at last to … divorce herself from the reasoned word; and the noblest music completed this divorce in measure as religious Dogma became the toy of Jesuitic casuistry or rationalistic pettifogging. (…) Only her final severance from the decaying Church could enable the art of Tone to save the noblest heritage of the Christian idea in its purity of over-worldly reformation … .” [1026W-{6-8/80}Religion and Art: PW Vol. VI, p. 223-224]

[PH: Quotation from, Page 624:]

Because objective nature sometimes satisfies man’s physical needs, but ultimately can’t satisfy his longing for transcendent meaning, Feuerbach described how - there being no place in nature for man’s musical (or aesthetic) longings - man renounces objective nature (the fate the Norns spin) and turns within (as Wotan seeks redemption in his unconscious mind, Bruennhilde) to confess his oppressive secrets:

“… nature [Erda] listens not to the plaints of man [as expressed in music and song], it is callous to his sorrows [Wotan’s confession to Bruennhilde]. Hence man turns away from Nature, from all visible objects [Wotan does not seek knowledge from the Norns, because they spin their rope of fate according to the world, and can alter nothing]. He turns within [to his unconscious mind, Bruennhilde], that here, sheltered and hidden from the inexorable powers, he may find audience for his griefs. Here he utters his oppressive secrets; here he gives vent to his stilled sighs. This open air of the heart, this outspoken secret, this uttered sorrow of the soul, is God.” [93F-EOC: p. 122]

This could well be a description of Wotan’s confession to Bruennhilde in V.2.2.

[P. 17] "The historical challenge for Rousseau and his followers had always been to determine whether the innocent state of nature could be restored to humanity, whether man’s original unblemished character could be retrieved. Even Rousseau did not believe it possible. Indeed, as he himself recognized, man’s true natural gift, the 'faculty of self-improvement,' carried the seeds of his alienation:

'It would be sad for us to be forced to admit that this distinguishing and almost unlimited faculty of man is the source of all his misfortunes; that it is this faculty which, by the action of time, drags man out of that original condition in which he would pass peaceful and innocent days; that it is this faculty, which, bringing to fruition over the centuries his insights and his errors, his vices and his virtues, makes man in the end a tyrant over himself and over nature.' (113)"

[PH: My study of Wagner's "Ring" at explored how Feuerbach's Hegel-inspired version of what Shapiro records above as Rousseau's thesis, that man's unique faculty of learning from experience, and accumulating a hoard of knowledge to increase his power over himself and his environment, gave birth to Wagner's metaphor for man's historical advancement in knowledge and the power it brings in Alberich's accumulation of his hoard of treasure and Wotan's accumulation of his hoard of knowledge in the course of his world-wanderings. And it is this increase in conscious knowledge of the objective world which ultimately undermines man's consoling illusions in religion, ethics, and art.]

[P. 17-18] "Hegel had no illusions that history as experienced on the quotidian level was anything but a 'slaughter bench.' But he saw the sufferings of humanity as tending towards a higher purpose. Refusing to dwell in the gory details of daily human misery, Hegel took the long view, seeing history as a glorious process through which the World Spirit becomes increasingly manifest in the form of freedom and reason. (117) (...) Thus, for Hegel, the utopia of unfettered freedom which Rousseau had posited in the aboriginal forest was not the beginning of human existence but rather the end goal of human society. (118)"

[PH: My allegorical interpretation of Wagner's "Ring" at explores in great depth that Siegfried the unconsciously inspired artist-hero, whose most authentic artistic impulse is to restore lost innocence, and who therefore seems a man of nature, is actually Wagner's metaphor for that product of the highest culture, the secular artist who has fallen heir to dying religious faith's conflict with the scientific worldview which construes man as a natural, not a spiritual phenomenon. The following extracts from explore Wagner's Feuerbach-inspired notion that man's religio-artistic quest to restore lost innocence is the end result of a natural and historical process.]

[PH: Quotation from, Pages 109-110:]

Why is the notion that a god created the world absurd? One reason, Feuerbach suggests, is that pre-existence of a perfect god makes an imperfect creation, supposedly emanating from him, superfluous:

“It has often been said that the world is inexplicable without a God; but the exact opposite is true; if there is a God, the existence of a world becomes inexplicable; for then the world is utterly superfluous.” [238F-LER: p. 143]

And here is Wagner’s paraphrase:

“If Mind has manufactured Nature, if Thought has made the Actual, … then Nature, Actuality and Man are no more necessary, and their existence is not only superfluous but even harmful; for the greatest superfluity of all is the lagging of the Incomplete when once the Complete has come to being. [428W-{9-12/49} The Artwork of the Future: PW Vol. I, p. 83]

[PH: Quotation from, Page 183:]

And both Feuerbach and Wagner note how ironic it is that the human mind, which is after all the product of a natural evolution of species, i.e., a product of Mother Nature, invented the gods, and therefore religious man disavows his true dependence on, and origin in, Mother Nature, and his subjection to the needs of his body:

“The mind, to be sure, is the highest part of man; it is man’s badge of nobility, which distinguishes him from the animals; but first in man is not first in nature. On the contrary, what is highest and most perfect is the last and latest. Thus to make mind or spirit into the beginning, the origin, is to reverse the order of nature. But it pleases men, in their vanity, self-love, and ignorance, to believe that what is qualitatively first preceded everything else also in time.” [243F-LER: p. 155]

Wagner echoes Feuerbach’s opinion obliquely in his observation below that, because our most conditioned faculty, the mind, hubristically exalts itself, in its arrogance it thinks it can employ its preconditions as the handmaids of its own caprice:

“But the most conditioned faculty [the mind, Alberich’s Ring: #19] is at like time the most exalted [Wotan and the other denizens of Valhalla, #20a, imagine themselves gods]; and the joy in his own self, engendered by the knowledge of his higher, unsurpassable attributes, betrays the intellectual-man [Wotan] into the arrogant imagining that he may use those attributes which are really his foundation-props [the Giants, upon whom Wotan and the gods are entirely dependent] as the handmaids of his own caprice [Wotan deludes himself into thinking the gods can escape their debt to the Giants].” [432W-{9-12/49} The Artwork of the Future: PW Vol. I, p. 94]

[PH: See Quotation from, Page 190, previously cited]

[P. 18-19] "What Hegel taught was that a perfect society and government could not simply be constructed from first principles and imposed by logical fiat. Rather, human freedom and civil morality could only be advanced through a continual process of change and accommodation that transpired over centuries of human history and human self-reflection. (119) Hegel’s unique insight was to ground his faith in progress in the basic predicate of human nature – self-consciousness. (120) (...) In the course of history man’s collective thinking becomes more refined, and as a result, manifestations of freedom become more apparent in the lived experiences of individual humans. (...) As the nineteenth century unfolded, therefore, the philosophes’ mechanistic vision of a clockwork universe, and their prescriptive approach to social structure, gave way to a more organic time-mediated understanding of cultural and political development. (...) Thus Bancroft grounded his faith in progress on the guiding principles of scientific proof. '[The human mind] proceeds from observation to hypothesis, and from hypothesis to observation, progressively gaining clearer perceptions, and more perfectly mastering its stores of accumulated knowledge by generalizations which approximate nearer and nearer to absolute truth.' (131)"

[P. 20] "Hegel’s historical change was an entirely cultural and political phenomenon and had no origin in nature. (134) (...) In spite of Hegel’s view, however, many thinkers of the nineteenth century continued to locate the engine of progress in nature’s own inherent capacity for development."

[P. 21] "Criticizing in 'Opera and Drama' the 'artistic and scientific barrenness' of the view that a 'Necessity' soars above 'historic personages' 'using them as tools of its transcendent wisdom' (OD 174), Wagner favored instead the contemporary belief in nature and its constant state of restless change as the fundamental impetus for historical progress. For Wagner, nature was a 'living Organism'; not 'an aimfully constructed Mechanism' as the philosophes had envisioned in the clockwork universe, but rather, like Hegel’s World Spirit, 'the forever becom-ing' (OD 217). (...) Consistent with contemporary mindsets, Wagner clearly trusted in the purposefulness of natural evolution. (...) The ultimate goal of the orderly flow of this 'mighty stream' of history was to free man 'from his last heresy, the denial of Nature, – that heresy which has taught him hitherto to look upon himself as a mere instrument to an end which lay outside himself' (AR 57)."

[PH: Quotation from, Pages 234-235:]

And now Alberich makes an accusation against Wotan, an imputation of almost metaphysical guilt, which seems to have been misunderstood by all the commentators known to me who have noticed it at all, but which is actually a key to grasping the Ring allegory as a coherent whole. Alberich suggests to Wotan that if Alberich sinned in renouncing love for the sake of the Ring’s power, Alberich sinned only against himself, but that if Wotan co-opts Alberich’s Ring power for the sake of the gods, he will be sinning against all that was, is, or shall be:


The true significance of Alberich’s accusation can only be grasped by looking ahead a bit to Erda's (Mother Nature’s) appearance after Alberich’s exit. Once Wotan has stolen Alberich’s Ring and placed it on his finger, refusing to give it to the Giants in order to redeem Freia, Erda will rise from the earth (as if, by taking possession of the Ring, the very essence of the world rises to consciousness in Wotan) to tell Wotan that she possesses knowledge of all that was, is, or shall be. Erda’s knowledge is the knowledge of nature, the real world which exhibits itself to us in time, space, matter, and energy, and under the laws of causation (or other laws not yet fully understood by the scientific community), which in the Ring can be construed as the scientific equivalent of fate. Alberich’s telling Wotan that Alberich, by possessing the Ring, does not sin against the real world (but only against himself), while if Wotan co-opts Alberich’s Ring he will be sinning against the actual world, is a metaphor for the distinction between Alberich’s relationship with the truth, and Wotan’s relationship with it. Where Alberich has the courage to accept nature’s truth, because only objective knowledge of the real world grants us the means to acquire concrete power, Wotan, the representative of man’s religious or metaphysical impulse, has a false relationship to reality, inventing an “other world” of the imagination conceived as antithetical to the real world. Alberich, in other words, is an optimist in the sense that he affirms the world, while Wotan is what Nietzsche would regard as a romantic pessimist and religious nihilist because he denies the real world, finding it abhorrent, and substitutes for it a consoling, imaginary reality, in which, for instance, men can enjoy sorrowless youth eternal. Figuratively speaking, Wotan’s denial of nature’s truth is a sort of matricide: Wotan, as the embodiment of man’s illusion that gods exist, effectively kills man’s mother, Nature, by repudiating the real world which is ephemeral, existing in the past, present, and future, precisely because it is ephemeral.

[PH: Quotation from, Page 236:]

And we see in our following comparison of Feuerbach’s and Wagner’s hypotheses about the mental process through which man reified the nature of his mind and reason (the Ring), the product of evolution, and called it god (i.e., the Ring was transformed into Valhalla), that it was inevitable that the power our natural mind gave us we would misconstrue as in some sense our original cause, our lord and master, our god, and therefore our dependence upon and origin in nature, i.e., our debt to Mother Nature, we would to that degree deny:

“The understanding … inquires for the cause of all things … . (…) The understanding is thus the original, primitive being. (…) The understanding derives all things from god as the first cause; it finds the world, without an intelligent cause, given over to senseless, aimless chance; that is, it finds only in itself, in its own nature, the efficient and final cause of the world … . (…) And thus, the understanding posits its own nature as the causal, first, premundane existence – i.e., being in rank the first but in time the last, it makes itself the first in time also.” [51F-EOC: p. 37]

“[Speaking of] … the physical reality of Nature, [Wagner says that] where thought casts aside this linking cable; where … it fain would look upon itself as its original cause; where Mind (‘Geist’) instead of as the last and most conditioned, would conceive itself as the first and least conditioned energy (‘Thatigkeit’), and therefore as the ground and cause of Nature, -- there also is the fly-wheel of Necessity upheaved, and blind Caprice runs headlong …, and hurls herself, a raging stream of madness, upon the world of actuality.” [427W-{9-12/49} The Artwork of the Future: PW Vol. I, p. 83]

[PH: Quotation from, Page 237:]

“Reason is the truth of Nature, the heart is the truth of man. To speak popularly, reason is the God of Nature, the heart the God of man … .” [148F-EOC: p. 285]

And Wagner echoes Feuerbach to the extent that he acknowledges reason affirms nature:

“Reason (vernunft) is man’s knowledge of nature, as it were the faithful mirror of nature in the human brain: reason can know naught else than nature: a knowledge beyond nature were madness.” [477W-{49-51 (?)} Notes for ‘Artisthood of the Future’ (unfinished); Sketches and Fragments: PW Vol. VIII, p. 368]

And note, Wagner describes any knowledge which claims to transcend nature (such as religious belief) as madness. And this madness, this hubristic quest to transcend the limits of the world and our nature, is the essence of Wotan’s sin against all that was, is, and will be.

[PH: Quotation from, Pages 240-241:]

We find a metaphorical basis for Alberich’s accusation that Wotan sins against Mother Nature (Erda) if he co-opts Alberich’s Ring to preserve religious illusion from the truth, in Feuerbach’s suggestion that by positing the existence of the supernatural, a ground for nature outside nature’s self, man figuratively kills life, betrays, sins against and therefore murders Mother Nature:

“… if you imagine that natural life … has its ground outside of itself, … you strike life dead.” [11F-TDI: p. 86]

 “How untrue we Germans have become to our source, our mother, and how unlike her, thanks to Christianity which taught us that heaven is our home.” [211F-LER: p. 85]

 “Nature has terminated and ended, and with its death, there arises over it a new world, the spirit.” [8F-TDI: p. 73] [See also 336F]

And here Wagner paraphrases Feuerbach, suggesting the day will come when man will free himself from his last heresy, which taught him to see himself as a mere instrument to an end (God) which lay outside himself:

“Let us glance … for a moment at this future state of Man, when he shall have freed himself from his last heresy, the denial of Nature, -- that heresy which has taught him hitherto to look upon himself as a mere instrument to an end which lay outside himself. When Mankind knows, at last, that itself is the one and only object of its existence, and that only in the community of all men can this purpose be fulfilled … . (…) This Heavenly Father will then be no other than the social wisdom of mankind, taking Nature and her fulness for the common weal of all.” [410W-{6-8/49} Art and Revolution: PW Vol. I, p. 57]

And Wagner also echoes Feuerbach in describing the heavenly father (or Wotan) as collective man’s social wisdom. Wagner is effectively saying that Wotan will be redeemed from his sin against Mother Nature only after we humans have acknowledged nature as our Mother, our true source, and have recognized that we, collective humanity, having invented God, are god.

The radical importance of this metaphor - which expresses the fact that by positing the existence of the supernatural man not only figuratively sins against his true mother, Nature, but kills her - lies in the fact not only that it is the basis for Alberich’s accusation against Wotan, but it is perhaps the basis for something quite striking which characterizes three of the four heroes of Wagner’s mature music-dramas. For not only will Wotan’s heir (the heir not only to Wotan’s desire for redemption, but also the heir to Wotan’s sins) Siegfried hold himself responsible for his mother’s death, since in giving him birth she (literally his blood-mother Sieglinde – but figuratively, Erda) died, but Tristan also blames himself for having been born through his mother’s death. Furthermore, Parsifal holds himself responsible for his mother’s death because, after he neglected her and never returned home to her, she died of a broken heart. There are many good reasons for suggesting that in each of these cases we are confronting Wagner’s metaphor for religious man’s sin against mother nature, religious man’s pessimistic denial of the world, and that this is based on Wotan’s sin against all that was, is, and shall be, a metaphor which I believe was inspired by Wagner’s reading of Feuerbach. These will be detailed in my chapters covering the music-dramas devoted to the lives of these heroes.
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