Shapiro Consolations Critique Part 2

General Discussion about Wagner and The Ring of the Nibelung

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Shapiro Consolations Critique Part 2

Post by alberich00 » Wed Oct 07, 2020 12:17 pm

That pessimism which nihilistically seeks to nullify the world because it gives us no pretext to sustain our consoling religious illusions, is presumably Wotan’s frame of mind as the Ring reaches its climax, and Bruennhilde’s judgment against him falls on Wotan’s ears.

[P. xvi] 15 "Corse is the only commentator to date to attempt a thorough-going explication of the work in terms of Hegel’s 'Phenomenology.' Corse identifies the Hegelian notion of dialectical progress as central to the 'Ring,' but her attention is principally directed to the development of individual psychology through love, rather than the progress of the species in historical time. In Hegelian terms, Corse focuses on the development of consciousness in the individual ('shapes of consciousness') as opposed to the growth of Spirit which is a world-historical phenomenon ('shapes of a world')."

[PH: Quotation from the Introduction to, Page 101:]

Donington’s fatal mistake, it seems to me, was his failure to grasp that the Ring is an allegory of human history. Donington instead construed the Ring as an allegory of the maturation of the “self” from a psychological standpoint only. This gave him entre into some of the Ring’s secrets - such as the fact that Wotan, as a symbol for humanity itself, the “self” which is maturing in the course of the drama [Donington, P. 67], subsumes all the other protagonists of the Ring - but blinded him to many others.

[P. 1] "1 Siegfried as historical anomaly"

[P. 1] "As a result of [PH: George Bernard] Shaw, and no less Wagner’s own instinct for broad dramatic gestures, the conception of Siegfried as a force of nature has been routinely wedded to a vision of the revolutionary man of action;(2) but these two modalities of Siegfried’s character are not logically compatible."

[PH: My interpretation resolves this apparent contradiction, because Siegfried as Wagner's metaphor for the unconsciously inspired, revolutionary, secular artist-hero, falls heir to man's religious faith when it is dying due to man's advancement in objective knowledge in the course of history. Man's dying religious faith, and man's advancement in knowledge which undermines faith, is represented respectively by the god Wotan's withdrawal from direct involvement in the world, and by his accumulation of a hoard of knowledge in the course of his world-wanderings. The secular artist-hero Siegfried falls heir to religious man's impulse to restore man's lost innocence when Wotan in S.3.1 makes Siegfried and Bruennhilde (Siegfried's muse of unconscious artistic inspiration) his heirs. So Siegfried is both a world-historical figure, the product of and contributor to history and an exponent of high-culture, and also an unconsciously inspired artist-hero who in seeking instinctively to restore lost innocence seems to be a spontaneous and instinctive man of nature. I elaborated this thesis in the following passages from]

[PH: See Quotation from, Page 183]

[PH: Quotation from, Page 190:]

But, as I can’t emphasize often enough, Alberich’s renunciation of love (dependence on animal instinct) for the sake of power (the power of the conscious human mind, which rises above dependence on animal instinct) was the precondition and underlying motive for man’s invention of the gods and involvement in all other forms of artistic self-deception, for this is nothing more than man’s artificial and futile attempt to restore lost innocence. As Wagner said:

“(The state of Innocence could not come to men’s consciousness until they had lost it. This yearning back thereto, the struggle for its re-attainment, is the soul of the whole movement of civilisation since ever we learnt to know the men of legend and of history. It is the impulse to depart from a generality that seems hostile to us, to arrive at egoistic satisfaction in ourselves …).” [393W-{1-2/49} Jesus of Nazareth: PW Vol. VIII. p. 320]

[PH: Quotation from, Pages 318-319:]

Thanks to this brief consideration of the symbolism of Siegmund’s sword Nothung as the embodiment of Feuerbach’s natural necessity and Wotan’s grand idea for the restoration of lost innocence, we can now grasp Siegmund’s special function in the Ring as one of the two Waelsung heroes (his son Siegfried being the other) who wield Wotan’s sword. Siegmund represents Wotan’s hope (ultimately futile) to restore man’s (alleged) pre-fallen innocence through nobility of action, as Wotan’s moral hero, and Siegfried, after Siegmund’s death falling heir to Nothung, will represent Wotan’s hope in the form of the artist-hero. Both equally represent what Feuerbach described as natural necessity. Wagner acknowledged his debt to Feuerbach on this score in the following tribute from Wagner’s autobiography:

“[Speaking specifically of Feuerbach’s 1830 book Thoughts on Death and Immortality, Wagner states that:] “I found it elevating and consoling to be assured that the sole authentic immortality [thus disqualifying the divine immortality granted by Freia in Valhalla] adheres only to sublime deeds [such as Siegmund’s compassionate interventions in the lives of two suffering women, including his own sister Sieglinde] and inspired works of art. (…) … Feuerbach became for me the proponent of the ruthlessly radical liberation of the individual from the bondage of conceptions associated with the belief in traditional authority, and the initiated will therefore understand why I prefaced my book The Artwork of the Future with a dedication and an introduction addressed to him.” [387W-{?/49 ML: p. 430]

[PH: Quotation from, Pages 458-459:]

So Wotan, by leaving Bruennhilde asleep on a mountaintop protected by Loge’s veil of self-deception, has left as a legacy for Siegfried what Feuerbach described as the essence of religion, its feeling or music, when Wotan as a God, as a concept, has had to pass away in the face of the rise of objective, secular thought and scientific knowledge. This is the ever increasing hoard of knowledge which Wotan, while wandering the earth (Wagner’s metaphor for historical man’s collective experience of the earth, i.e., Erda), has accumulated ... (...).

[P. 1] "The fundamental dilemma has always been: If Siegfried was to be the heroic progenitor of a new age, why did Wagner subject him to such a crushing demise in 'Goetterdaemmerung'? (3) (...) Recent commentators have more directly confronted the paradox that the supposed harbinger of the future is not capable of bringing about that future. (5) (...) The result has been a thorough-going indictment of Siegfried’s character in an attempt to account for this failure. (6) (...) But it is hard to square these critical appraisals of Siegfried with, among other things, the praise heaped on him by none other than Bruennhilde and the nobility accorded him in Wagner’s powerful funeral march." (9)

[PH: My interpretation at of Siegfried as Wagner's world-historical artist-hero and of Bruennhilde as his muse of unconscious artistic inspiration resolves this apparent contradiction. Siegfried's and Bruennilde's love (Wagner's metaphor for inspired secular art as a substitute for dying religious faith) fails, they both betray their love, because of the inevitable rise to consciousness in man of what has been unconscious or repressed, the objective truth which destroys man's consoling illusions, illusions which, according to Wagner's Feuerbachian view of history, culminate in Wagner's revolutionary music-dramas embodied metaphorically in Siegfried's and Bruennhilde's loving union. Siegfried's inspired secular art was predestined to destruction by Alberich's Ring Curse of consciousness for the same reason Wotan and the gods of Valhalla (man's religious beliefs) were: according to Wagner's "Ring" allegory both religious faith (the gods in Valhalla) and inspired secular art (the artist-hero Siegfried's loving union with his muse Bruennhilde) are complicit in Wotan's original religious sin of world-renunciation, his sin against Erda's (Mother Nature's) knowledge of all that was, is, and will be, which Alberich designed his Ring Curse of consciousness to punish.]

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

[P. 1-2] "Another challenge to comprehending Siegfried as revolutionary is his obvious lack of self-consciousness, which is not at all consistent with the role of a political firebrand. Berry attempts to shoehorn this inconvenient truth into the Shavian heroic framework by explaining it as the 'fatal weakness of the charismatic revolutionary.' (10) But how can the charismatic revolutionary be so blind? (...) Berry ... observes, I think quite rightly, that Siegmund 'might even be regarded as a greater hero than Siegfried, for he is not unaware of the laws and customs he is transgressing, nor of the price he might pay.' (11)"

[PH: At I explained that, where Siegmund is Wagner's metaphor for the social revolutionary, or moral hero, his son (and Wotan's grandson) Siegfried is distinguished from his father as a revolutionary artist-hero.]

[Shapiro's Footnote #10 from Chapter 1, Pages 25-26, highlighted by me in 14 pt font:]

"10 Berry, Treacherous Bonds, 231–2. One recent commentator on the 'Ring,' Paul Heise, attempts to reconcile Siegfried’s heroism with his lack of consciousness through an intriguing interpretation of the tetralogy as an allegory of Wagner’s aesthetics and creative process. Heise’s study reads the 'Ring' in light of Wagner’s later thesis for 'Religion and Art' of 1880 that 'where Religion becomes artificial, it is reserved for Art to save the spirit of religion.' According to the allegory, Siegfried is the artist hero who is inspired by the muse of unconscious artistic inspiration, represented by Bruennhilde. In this way, Heise turns on its head the Hegelian approach to the 'Ring,' reading the advance of consciousness in human evolution as a malign influence which degrades the unconscious existential sources of inspiration for true art. Thus Alberich and the ring represent the curse of consciousness, while Siegfried is the hero who struggles to redeem man’s religious impulses through the intuitive power of secular art. While Heise purports to ground his thesis in Feuerbach’s philosophical program, he at the same time asserts that 'there was little Wagner found in Schopenhauer that was not already implicit in the "Ring" drama.' And indeed the final message of bleak futility which Heise identifies in the 'Ring' reflects a reading that is more consistent with the Schopenhauerian agenda than with the Young Hegelian. Paul Brian Heise, 'The Wound That Will Never Heal,'"

[PH: Though I am grateful that Shapiro cited my website in this footnote, I must correct three errors. (1) I'm not a recent commentator, but have been actively pursuing my original allegorical interpretation of Wagner's art in papers copyrighted at the Library of Congress, and sometimes presented in lectures or published as articles or essays, either online or in print, since 1981. (2) Though I've cited Wagner's essay "Religion and Art" to support my allegorical interpretation, it was initially based simply on a close reading of Wagner's "Ring" and subsequently on Feuerbach's books (which Wagner paraphrased), all of which predate Wagner's writing of his "Ring" libretto. (3) My interpretation owes nothing to Schopenhauer, but is based squarely on Feuerbach's Hegel-inspired philosophy and Wagner's creative output prior to his first known acquaintance with Schopenhauer in 1854.]

[P. 2] "In further defense of Siegfried as the revolutionary, many commentators argue that Siegfried is an example of Hegel’s world-historical figure. (12) But in light of Siegfried’s conceptual limitations, such a view hangs solely on the premise that the world-historical individual has 'no consciousness of the Idea at all.' (13) That is indeed what Hegel said in his lectures at the University of Berlin, but it is not the whole story."

[PH: My interpretation, as found particularly at, has been based squarely on the thesis that Siegfried is a largely unconscious and unwitting participant in religious faith's (Wotan's) desperate bid to live on in the face of our modern, scientific, secular world, until Siegfried becomes fully conscious of his true world-historical identity and fate just before his death, by virtue of having betrayed his muse of unconscious artistic inspiration and Wotan's unspoken secret, his hoard of forbidden knowledge, which she had kept, to the light of day.]

[P. 3] "Rousseau’s radical thesis – which turned the Christian doctrine of original sin and salvation through faith on its head – was that man’s natural goodness and strength has been corrupted over time and that centuries of civilization had alienated him from his true self."

[P. 4] "These philosophes’ compelling vision of the natural goodness of man and the dangerous impact of civilization resonated with many thinkers in the early nineteenth century, inspiring a program of reform that set its goal on clearing out the Augean stables of contemporary belief systems and disposing of the ancient traditions, laws, and customs that had outlasted their relevance and continued to weigh on man’s freedom. By destroying the illusions and falsehoods of the past that hampered man’s potential, these thinkers sought to retrieve a measure of his original strength and happiness. Feuerbach, for example, in 1841 decried the burden of ancient modes of thought: 'World-old usages, laws, and institutions continue to drag out their existence long after they have lost their true meaning…. [W]hat was once good, claims to be good for all times.' (22)"

[PH: Quotation from, Pages 331-332:]

Feuerbach devoted much of his writing to examining the manner in which unexamined customs, laws, institutions, and religious beliefs, and in general the fear of the new, established in the earliest period of human culture, often stifled change and innovation through long stretches of history. In Feuerbach’s following comments we find a basis for Fricka’s fear of the new and also for Wotan’s praise of innovation. Here, he speaks of man’s mistake in concluding that what once was good must be good for all time:

“ … precisely because man made sacraments of the first medicines, of the first elements of human civilization and well-being, religion always became, in the course of development, the antithesis of true civilization, an obstacle to progress; for it opposed every innovation, every change in the old traditional ways.” [279F-LER: p. 211-212]

“World-old usages, laws, and institutions continue to drag out their existence long after they have lost their true meaning. … what was once good, claims to be good for all times.” [85F-EOC: p. 117]

Wagner appropriated much of Feuerbach’s stance, adding however his own idiosyncratic twist which clearly influenced his conception of Wotan’s relationship with Fricka, namely, that society’s dependence on fear and coercion to establish and sustain society is what must be changed and expiated, not the individual expression of feeling which traditional society considers its enemy:

“The life-bent of the Individual utters itself forever newly and directly, but the essence of Society is use and wont and its ‘view’ a mediated one. Wherefore the ‘view’ of Society, so long as it does not fully comprehend the essence of the Individual and its own genesis therefrom, is a hindering and shackling one; and it becomes ever more tyrannical, in exact degree as the quickening and innovating essence of the Individual brings its instinctive thrust to battle against habit. [P. 180] (…) … Society appears as the conscious, the capricious (Willkuerliche), the true thing to be explained and exculpated.” [500W-{50-1/51} Opera and Drama: PW Vol. II, p. 179-180]

And Wagner could scarcely have penned a better description of Fricka’s conservatism and fear of the new than the following:

“… the State, which had imperceptibly waxed from out the Society, had fed itself on the latter’s habit of view, and had so far become the attorney (Vertreter) of this habit, that now it represented abstract Wont alone, whose core is fear and abhorrence of the thing unwonted.” [503W-{50-1/51} Opera and Drama: PW Vol. II, p. 184]

And in another passage already cited, Wagner describes public opinion’s “kernel” as “… nothing but Wont, Care, and dislike of innovation,” and described “absolute Wont” as the “strongest social interest, … ,” that of “joint self-seeking,” i.e., of egoism. [See 504W]

[P. 4-5] "Consistent with Mill and Feuerbach, Carlyle found society constrained and confounded by inherited norms and traditions, and called on men to liberate themselves by casting off these strictures as just so many outmoded and ill-fitting tweeds: '[T]here is something great in the moment when a man first strips himself of adventitious wrappages; and sees indeed that he is naked.' (24)"

[PH: I've reserved for a subsequent portion of this critical review quotations from my examination in of how Wagner was influenced by Feuerbach's version of Carlyle's thesis, as recorded here by Shapiro, in Wagner's creation of Siegfried as a history-and-contextless "Naked Man," which Wagner actually attributed to Elsa when he stated that she taught him to unearth his Siegfried in his essay "A Communication to My Friends." I explained this at length in my essay "How Elsa Showed Wagner the Way to Siegfried," published in the May 1995 issue of Wagner, the scholarly publication of The Wagner Society (London), by Stewart Spencer.]

[P. 5] "The principal inherited burden that many nineteenth-century thinkers sought to jettison was Christianity. (...) The Young Hegelians led the charge with David Friedrich Strauss’s 'Das Leben Jesu, kritisch bearbeitet' ('The Life of Jesus, Critically Examined'), published in 1835–36, (27) which sought to prove that the Gospels were myth, not true history. Ludwig Feuerbach was the next to recklessly take up the cause of demystifying and secularizing religious beliefs. (...) In his highly influential study 'Das Wesen des Christentums' ('The Essence of Christianity'; 1841) Feuerbach argued in exhaustive detail ... that the time-honored tenets of the Christian faith were riddled with internal contradictions and that God was simply the objectification of man’s best and highest capabilities. 'God as a morally perfect being is nothing else than the realized idea, the fulfilled law of morality, the moral nature of man posited as the absolute being' (EC 49). Correcting for centuries of excessive focus on man’s spiritual nature, Feuerbach called for a return to man’s sensual being.


The contemporary aspirations to reconcile body and soul and to restore man to his natural wholeness and integrity were challenges that Wagner himself took seriously, and his post-Dresden writings fully embrace the reformist Rousseauvian agenda as articulated by the Young Hegelian and the Young Germany movements – the need to eradicate the artificial constructs of civilization in order to liberate the true inner core of human strength."

[PH: Quotation from, Page 142:]

Wagner evidently was deeply impressed with Feuerbach’s analysis of Godhead into light and dark, good and evil, spiritual and earthly principles, in order to bridge the gap between an immaterial god and a material creation incorporating evil and imperfection. Accordingly, in Wagner’s following remarks he draws the inevitable moral conclusion from this, that spirit and nature are only antitheses for the religious imagination, and that the primal being is neither good nor evil, and is therefore amoral:

“ ‘But, alas, how is culture possible when religion has such defective roots, and even terminology is so little defined that one can talk of spirit and Nature as if they were antitheses?’ ” [828W-{6/29/72} CD Vol. I, p. 505]

“R. spoke recently of the heresy of the Marcionites, which consisted in recognizing a primal being who was neither completely good nor completely evil; admiration for this sensible form of cognition.” [854W-{7/1/74} CD Vol. I, p. 770]

[P. 6] "Rather than start fresh from first principles of man’s natural goodness, political scientists had accepted man’s historically corrupted character as the real thing and had built elaborate but tenuous political structures designed not to foster man’s inner goodness but simply to cabin and control his selfish instincts."

[PH: Quotation from, Pages 160-161:]

Wotan’s Spear, taken from the World-Ash’s “holiest bough,” and engraved with the runes spelling out the dubious contract Wotan (under Loge’s influence) made with the Giants to build Valhalla in exchange for Freia, is Wagner’s metaphor for the social contract itself. Wotan’s contract with the Giants, i.e., with man’s egoistic tendency toward selfishness rather than social cooperation, is the archetype for all specific contracts and laws which govern society, including of course what is regarded as divinely ordained law (man’s first kind of law). This is the first fruit of consciousness. Feuerbach said (figuratively, of course) that the state, human history, and language originated by contract:

“… the state, and thus world-history – for the origin of the state is the origin of world-history – … language, and thus reason, originated by contract … .” [10F-TDI: p. 79]

Feuerbach also noted that egoism (the Giants) is the underlying motive which guarantees all contracts, all reckoning of good and evil, all morality, even in the absence of divine sanction:

“ … nothing is more groundless than the fear that the distinction between right and wrong, good and evil, must vanish with the gods. The distinction exists and will continue to exist as long as there is a difference between me and thee, for this is the source of ethics and law. My egoism may permit me to steal, but my fellow man’s egoism will sternly forbid me; left to myself I may know nothing of unselfishness, but the selfishness of others will teach me the virtue of unselfishness.” [327F-LER: p. 303]

It is, he says, human egoism that insures that others’ egoism will not impinge on our own, or vice versa. In the social contract we all agree to restrain the satisfaction of our egoistic impulses (the Giants make peace) for the sake of the satisfaction of our egoism on a tolerable scale which is not socially disruptive, as Wagner put it in his paraphrase of Feuerbach below:

“To the fear of violence from … [ … the violent, … passionate individual …], as also to a modicum of knowledge thus acquired of basic human nature, we owe the State. In it the Need is expressed as the human Will’s necessity of establishing some workable agreement among the myriad blindly-grasping individuals into which it is divided. It is a contract whereby the units seek to save themselves from mutual violence, through a little mutual practice of restraint. … in the State the unit offered up just so much of his egoism as appeared necessary to ensure for himself the contentment of its major bulk.” [695W-{64-2/65} On State and Religion: PW Vol. IV, p. 11]

The essence of society, according to Wagner, is stasis, security, quiet based upon wont, custom, care, fear of the new and dislike of innovation, that is to say, security and quiet at the cost of individual freedom of expression:

“The crafty Creon [King of Thebes in Sophocles’s Greek tragedy Antigone] … recognized … the essence of Public Opinion; seeing its kernel to be nothing but Wont, Care, and dislike of Innovation. … the strongest social interest … [is] that of absolute Wont, i.e. of joint self-seeking. Wherever this ethical conscience fell into conflict with the practice of society, it severed from the latter and established itself apart, as Religion; whereas practical society shaped itself into the State.” [504W-{50-1/51} Opera and Drama: PW Vol. II, p. 186] [See also 1126W]

In other words, society, as Feuerbach suggests, is held together not so much by love, as by egoistic fear of harm from others. This insight will be a basis for my subsequent interpretation of Fafner, newly transformed into a serpent, as the embodiment of fear in this social sense, i.e., fear of anything which might call into question the sanctity, and therefore the immutability, of a supposedly divinely ordained social order. This we will subsequently recognize as the basis of religious faith, which fears self-examination and intellectual inquiry.

[P. 6-7] "Following the lead of the Young Hegelian philosophers, Wagner principally condemned the 'halo of Christian hypocrisy' and 'Christian dogma' which had 'set man’s goal entirely outside his earthly being,' focusing it instead on 'an absolute and superhuman God' (AR 42, 49). (...) Christianity was also responsible for the critical flaw in civilized society, namely 'that egoism which has been the cause of such immeasurable sorrow in the world and of such deplorable mutilation and inauthenticity in art' (AF 28). (...) For Wagner, the way to enlightenment was to eradicate cultural artifice – Carlyle’s 'adventitious wrappages' – and thereby free mankind 'from doubt of its own worth to consciousness of its highest godlike might' (AR 65). With a nudge from Feuerbach, then, Rousseau’s simple savage had become the focal point of a new religion of man."

[PH: Quotation from, Page 181:]

Wagner identified this acknowledgment of the earthly origin of man’s purportedly spiritual aspirations, and Judaism’s alleged rejection of the notion of a supernatural immortality for more abundant life on earth, with Christianity’s debt to Judaism, a notion he borrowed, as so often, from Feuerbach, who described Jewish morality as love of the temporal and earthly life:

“ … to say that morality is based, or must be based, on religion is merely to say that morality must be based on egoism, self-love, and the striving for happiness, that otherwise it has no foundation. The only difference between Judaism and Christianity is that in Judaism morality is based on the love of temporal, earthly life, and in Christianity on the love of eternal, heavenly life. If it is not generally recognized that egoism alone is the secret of faith as distinct from love, the secret of religion as distinct from ethics, it is only because religious egoism does not have the appearance of egoism; in religion man affirms his self in the form of self-abnegation … .” [324F-LER: p. 300]

[PH: Quotation from, Page 199:]

“ … religion has essentially a practical aim and foundation; the drive that gives rise to religion, its ultimate foundation, is the striving for happiness, and if this is an egoistic drive, it follows that the ultimate foundation of religion is egoism.” [271F-LER: p. 200]

“ … the religious imagination [say, the Tarnhelm] is not the free imagination of the artist, but has a practical egoistic purpose … .” [269F-LER: p. 196]

[PH: Quotation from, Page 203:]

“The Jews have maintained their peculiarity to this day. Their principle, their God, is the most practical principle in the world, - namely, egoism; and moreover egoism in the form of religion.” [84F-EOC: p. 114]

[PH: Quotation from, Page 215:]

“ … for the sake of comprehending the religious significance of bread and wine, place thyself in a position where the daily act [i.e., of eating and drinking per se] is unnaturally, violently interrupted. Hunger and thirst destroy not only the physical, but also the mental and moral powers of man; they rob him of his humanity – of understanding, of consciousness. (…) It needs only that the natural course of things be interrupted in order to vindicate to common things an uncommon significance, to life, as such, a religious import.” [143F-EOC: p. 277-278]

[P. 7] "Wagner wrote 'Siegfried’s Tod' while wedded to this Weltanschauung, and the work emerged out of his attempt to dramatize these truths about the incompatibility of the natural inner core of humanity with the superficial encrustations of civilization. In 'Eine Mittheilung an meine Freunde' ('A Communication to My Friends'; 1851) Wagner explained the process by which he arrived at Siegfried as the choice for his new opera. He 'drove step by step into the deeper regions of antiquity, where at last to my delight, and truly in the utmost reaches of old time, I was to light upon the fair young form of Man, in all the freshness of his force.' (33) Wagner’s process, therefore, paralleled that of Rousseau and other Enlightenment thinkers to delve deep into human history in order to discern the characteristics of original man. Once again Wagner employed the metaphor of clothing to highlight his theoretical approach of stripping away man’s customs and habits, defined by centuries of historical precedent, to find the true character of a human being. 'What here I saw, was no longer the Figure of conventional history, whose garment claims our interest more than does the actual shape inside; but the real naked man ... ' (CF 358)."
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