Epilogue Part 5: Critique of Scruton's 'The Ring of Truth

General Discussion about Wagner and The Ring of the Nibelung

Moderators: alberich00, Justin Jeffrey

Post Reply
Site Admin
Posts: 537
Joined: Tue Apr 19, 2011 11:03 am

Epilogue Part 5: Critique of Scruton's 'The Ring of Truth

Post by alberich00 » Fri Aug 06, 2021 11:32 am

Who’d have noticed these musico-dramatic resonances who hadn’t been drawn to look deeply into them? And yet these passages, words and music, are clearly part of what Wagner’s audience experiences in the theater, if only subliminally, feelingly, unless one's driven, as I was, and Siegfried was, to attempt to make what was felt become thought? And note, Wagner also employs his so-called World Inheritance Motif (Wotan’s Second Bequest Motif) H143 = #134 again to express this redemptive artistic “Wonder,” secular man’s substitute for dying religious faith, which was predicated on fear (Fafner), not love (Brünnhilde). Siegfried is fearless precisely because Brünnhilde knows for him what he doesn’t know, Wotan’s fearful confession, and forgets the fear Brünnhilde (not Fafner) taught him, through her love (her inspiration of his wondrous art).

But Scruton’s critique that my allegorical reading is too far removed from an audience’s aesthetic experience of the Ring in the theater raises an interesting question: assuming my allegorical reading is more or less accurate, does Wagner’s audience register during a Ring performance only Wagner’s sublimation of the deeper meanings I’ve attributed to the Ring, i.e. Wagner’s felt, subjective, musical response to them, or do they (or can they) rise to consciousness in the audience as the conceptual core of the drama? Wagner addressed this question early in his career by asking to what extent the original source of musical inspiration in life’s experiences, which perhaps the composer has forgotten, actually become part of an inspired musical composition, since Wagner suggests these outward life experiences are already transmuted into “musical sensation” before the composer is inspired to set to work:

"... grand, passionate, and lasting emotions, dominating all our feelings and ideas for months and often half a year, these drive the musician to those vaster, more intense conceptions to which we owe, among others, the origin of a Sinfonia Eroica. These greater moods, as deep suffering of soul or potent exaltation, may date from outer causes, for we all are men and our fate is ruled by outward circumstances; but when they force the musician to production, these greater moods have already turned to music in him, so that at the moment of creative inspiration it is no longer the outer event that governs the composer, but the musical sensation which it has begotten in him." [355W - {10/41} A Happy Evening, PW Vol. VII, p. 79-80]

But Wagner also said:

"I would gladly have called my dramas deeds of Music brought to sight (ersichtlich gewordene Thaten der Musik)." [838W-{10/72} 'On the Name "Music Drama",' PW Vol. V, p. 303]

And Wagner stated in several of his essays that the dramas in his operas and music-dramas are his answer to the question that abstract music always poses, why?; in other words, the human mind automatically seeks to know what’s behind its profoundest emotions, especially those generated in us by moving music. So Wagner conceived of his music-dramas as making what is musical, felt, or unconscious, conscious. In his dramas, in other words, he retraced the forgotten or unconscious steps back from his music to its original source of inspiration. And that's precisely what not only Siegfried did in translating the Woodbird’s tune, its music, into words for his audience, the Gibichungs (under Hagen’s, bitter consciousness’s, influence), but what I’m doing in attempting, in my allegorical reading, to reveal the hidden source underlying Wagner’s inspiration in creating his Ring, by interpreting innumerable thematically linked clues in the libretto and music, and disclosing an allegorical coherence underlying them. I suppose it’s implicit that one might “kill“ Wagner’s Ring as a subject, an aesthetic experience, by disclosing its innermost secrets and thereby transforming it into an object of study, just as the artist-hero Siegfried betrayed his muse of unconscious artistic inspiration Brünnhilde and virtually committed suicide by interpreting the Woodbird’s tune for his audience, but if that’s the case my allegorical interpretation is as necessary to grasping Wagner’s Ring in its ultimate meaning as Wagner’s need to explain Siegfried’s unwitting suicide (Siegfried's Tod) by tracing its first cause to its roots in the dawn of human history was the seed from which his Ring tetralogy grew. My act of interpretation, in other words, is an integral part of the Ring’s plot, and was actually written into it. On this view I’ve become Hagen to Wagner’s Siegfried. My only objection to my self-indulgent thesis is that Wagner’s Ring remains for me, in spite of what seems to be my reductive tendency, the most magical and numinous of experiences, the experience closest to divine revelation or mystical reunion with the one I can conceive.

However, just as Kitcher and Schacht expressed some after-the-fact reservations about their demotion of Siegfried, Scruton seems to have had some reservations about his critique of my allegorical reading in his following acknowledgment that my conception of the Ring allegory is “more plausible” than that of George Bernard Shaw, and in his outlining several of my key insights which make sense of the Ring as a whole:

“From the artistic point of view allegory presents a … danger: … the allegorical meaning risks breaking away entirely from the dramatic vehicle, so as to become irrelevant to the aesthetic experience, a mere intellectual commentary which has no status in our emotional response. (…) That observation warns us, I think, against giving a straightforwardly allegorical interpretation of the Ring cycle. Nevertheless several such interpretations have been ably defended, including one in Marxist terms by George Bernard Shaw, besides the Feuerbachian one by Paul Heise.” [P. 189]

“Heise’s Feuerbachian allegory is more plausible [than than of George Bernard Shaw in his The Perfect Wagnerite]. It is surely true that, at one level, the tetralogy concerns the eruption of consciousness into the world and the departure from the natural order that ensued from this. It concerns the birth of the gods out of fear and aggression, and dramatizes the illusions of religion on which we depend for the rule of law and political order. It concerns the erosion of those illusions by thought, and our need for some other source of hope in the face of the bleak vision offered by scientific knowledge. And in some way Siegfried was to embody that hope as well as inviting all the things that conspire to defeat it. All those ideas are developed in Heise’s narrative, which repays detailed study.” [P. 191]

But Scruton rises to the occasion again and launches the following salvo:

“… illuminating though Heise’s account is, the allegorical method frequently leads to the eclipse of the characters by the ideas that Heise pins to them. Here, for example, is a passage describing aspects of Siegfried’s encounter with the dragon:

‘Brünnhilde, representing the unconscious mind and its special
language, music, (in which the music-dramatist Siegfried - i.e.
Wagner - will instinctively attempt to repress dangerous knowledge
which is rising to consciousness within us, and particularly within
him), will be the secular artist’s substitute for lost religious faith. As
such, it will be the artist’s substitute for the fear of knowledge, the
basis of faith, which protected the faithful from examining the
religious mysteries which, as Feuerbach expressed so well, they had
involuntarily and unconsciously invented in the first place. Since the
music-dramatist Siegfried is going to unwittingly deliver the death
blow to religious faith (Fafner), in taking responsibility for guarding
the Ring, Tarnhelm, and Hoard which Siegfried will soon inherit, he
must also take responsibility for keeping Wotan’s unspoken secret.’

There is truth in that account, which decodes some of the hidden messages that have been buried in the drama. But it prompts the response that Siegfried is not a music-dramatist, but an orphaned hero, that Fafner is something more, and also something less, than a symbol of religious faith, being a relict of an ancient deal that went wrong, a resume of all the accumulated obstacles that lie in any hero’s path and a symbol of the inertia that lies at the heart of human affairs. It reminds us too that Brünnhilde, even if she was, for Wagner, an epitome of the spirit of music, is also a Valkyrie, one who has surrendered her godhead out of pity for a mortal, and who has arranged her own future with breathtaking intelligence before sleeping on the plan. To put the point in a somewhat Leavisite way, Heise’s reading of the cycle, full of insights though it is, puts cabbalistic decipherment in place of a critical response.” [P. 191-192]

Again, the problem with Scruton’s critique is that he assumes that seeing Wagner’s characters as both realistic characters in a drama, and as allegorical figures carrying a universal meaning, is contradictory, as if these distinct visions are mutually exclusive. My interpretation constantly treats Wagner’s protagonists on both levels of analysis, much like Scruton’s own Kantian notion that we can understand ourselves both as transcendent subjects, or “I”, and as contingent objects (it) subject to natural law. For instance, my allegorical interpretation subsumes Scruton’s description of Fafner as being not only a “… symbol of religious faith …,” but also “… a relict of an ancient deal that went wrong, a resume of all the accumulated obstacles that lie in any hero’s path and a symbol of the inertia that lies at the heart of human affairs.” My allegorical interpretation of Fafner doesn’t contradict or omit these characterizations, but embraces them. Scruton’s misconstruction of the scope and explanatory power of my allegory is particularly evident in his choice of an excerpt drawn from the heart of my online Ring book to illustrate how far removed my allegorical reading is from an audience’s common-sense understanding of Wagner’s protagonists. What he doesn’t relay here is not only how my book gradually introduces the allegedly burdensome allegorical overlay which he finds in the passage he chose, ripped out of context from the middle of my book, and works its way up from simplicity to complexity, but he also neglects to quote any of the numerous passages in which I discuss Wagner’s characters in their self-evident personas as lovers, fathers, mothers, siblings, sons, daughters, friends, enemies, etc. And frankly, when he summarizes his critique of my interpretation by declaring “… Heise’s reading of the cycle, full of insights though it is, puts cabbalistic decipherment in place of a critical response,” I haven’t the remotest idea what he means when he states my allegorical reading isn’t a critical response. How could I be in a position to decipher any of the Ring’s authentic meaning if I hadn’t approached it critically? Or does Scruton mean to imply that my “insights” aren’t authentic?

In the culminating gesture of his critique of my allegorical interpretation, he concludes, without having justified these drastic declarations, that “… it is not through allegory that we understand such deep features of the human condition,” and that “… no interpretation of The Ring can illuminate the work if it doesn’t acknowledge that the cycle is … not an allegory or a mystery but a drama”:

“The Ring is not simply about power or money or even love; it is also about original sin, what Schopenhauer called ‘the crime of existence itself’. Heise grasps this point, and tries to embed it in his complex allegorical reading of the drama. But it is not through allegory that we understand such deep features of the human condition. We understand them through the symbolism inherent in the drama, and not by looking behind the characters and actions to the abstract ideas and arguments that they supposedly represent.” [P. 193-194]

“… no interpretation of The Ring can illuminate the work if it does not acknowledge that the cycle is, in the first instance, not an allegory or a mystery but a drama.” [P. 198]

These categorical, a priori disqualifications of allegory in general, and my allegorical reading in particular, not only as a way of understanding Wagner’s Ring, but as a means to understand deep features of the human condition, comes as a shock and surprise from someone who a mere five years earlier, in 2011, wrote that much of Wagner’s Ring remained incomprehensible to him until he’d read my comprehensive allegorical interpretation, and that my interpretation is necessary to the debate about how Wagner’s Ring allows us to grasp our unique modern predicament as human beings in a way like no other modern work of art. But I also fiercely resist Scruton’s argument that my allegorical reading can’t illuminate the Ring because, he suggests, it doesn’t acknowledge that the Ring is first and foremost “… not an allegory or a mystery but a drama.” I can’t conceive of anything in the grand scope of world-drama more dramatic, more tragic, than the Ring as understood allegorically in my interpretation, in which Wotan is “us,” facing our human predicament from the beginning to the end of our history. Can you conceive of any dramatic plot more classically tragic than my reading that Wotan, representing not only collective humanity (during man’s mytho-poetic, or religious, phase), but also a single personality with his own idiosyncratic characteristics, under the shadow of a fate he not only can’t control but which he fulfills even in his efforts to escape it, lives his entire life under the illusion, his own self-deception (man’s tragic flaw), that he can find redemption from his fate, but brings his fate to pass unwittingly through his heir Siegfried? Well, that is in essence what my allegorical reading of Wagner’s Ring amounts to. That Wagner conceived its protagonists both as living, breathing, realistic personalities, and also as mythological beings of universal import (Wagner’s protagonists being particularized examples, with their own idiosyncratic features, from which in the aggregate we've drawn our universal archetypes), is something Scruton previously celebrated as being made possible through Wagner’s musical motifs’ analysis of the drama, and now he holds this virtue against me. The whole point of Wagner’s web of motival cross-references is to constantly remind us of the wider, historical, even cosmic context which heightens the meaning of all the characters’ specific dramatic gestures, making them seem larger than life and making them numinous beings. It’s not a weakness of my interpretation that Wagner saw himself as a world-historical artist unlike any other before him, who’d inherited man’s (Wotan’s) legacy of futile religious longing for transcendent value in a secular, scientific age, and dramatized the tragedy of his position in Siegfried’s relationship to Wotan via Brünnhilde, but its glory.

But having in my view gone much too far in his attempt to discredit my allegorical reading, Scruton seems to have had, like Kitcher and Schacht before him, some doubts about the probity of his own symbolical interpretation which he fears might, like mine, burden Wagner’s vivid, breathing characters with too much abstract meaning:

“The problem that Wagner confronts at this point of the drama [Siegfried Act Three Scene Three], and not only at this point, is how to make Brünnhilde credible in her symbolic meaning. The brilliant artifice, whereby he has isolated Siegfried and Brünnhilde on a mountaintop, dramatized the moment of sexual awakening in both of them, and condensed into that first kiss an entire philosophy of sexual desire and its significance in the life of self-conscious beings, prompts the thought that these two characters are merely ciphers, cartoon representations of purely philosophical ideas. And if that is so, … the drama falls apart at the most important point in the cycle, the point when the world of mortals awakens to its own sacred character, and inherits the redemptive task of the gods.” [P. 225]

In my allegorical interpretation, what Scruton describes as “The brilliant artifice, whereby he [Wagner] has isolated Siegfried and Brünnhilde on a mountaintop … ,” is a reflection of Wagner having conceived their love-duet in Siegfried Act Three, Scene Three in the first place as his metaphor for his own unconscious artistic inspiration by his muse which, it goes without saying, would isolate the couple, since they’re construed as the conscious and unconscious of one human being. However, I contest Scruton’s contention that because (in his view) the love-duet of Siegfried and Brünnhilde in Siegfried Act Three, Scene Three carries the weight of “… an entire philosophy of sexual desire and its significance in the life of self-conscious beings … ,” that Siegfried and Brünnhilde may somehow be reducible to “… merely ciphers, cartoon representations of purely philosophical ideas,” or that in this case “… the drama falls apart at the most important point in the cycle … .“ I contest this because I can't think of any dramatic writing and music more vivid, immediate, urgent, than that which Wagner authored and composed for the final scene of Siegfried. As Wagner's metaphor for the most exalted state of being he ever experienced or could imagine, his own unconscious artistic inspiration which gave birth to his Ring of the Nibelung, it’s a consummate musico-dramatic embodiment of that otherwise indescribable experience of doubt overcome by exaltation.

Be that as it may, as Scruton notes below, the problem that Wagner’s characters, including Brünnhilde as she presents herself in the final scene of Siegfried, may be carrying too great a burden of symbolic or allegorical significance, ultimately culminates with Siegfried, whom Scruton here confesses is “… so manifestly conceived as a symbol that no other interpretation seems to make sense of him.”:

“My description of Brünnhilde naturally leads to the question of Siegfried, a character so manifestly conceived as a symbol that no other interpretation seems to make sense of him. … Siegfried is … a problem, and indeed for some people an insuperable obstacle to any sympathetic approach to Wagner’s drama … .” [P. 231]

“Siegfried was the subject of the drama as Wagner originally conceived it, when he sought to rewrite the old Nibelungenlied as an allegory of the modern world. Siegfried was to represent the free individual, who overthrows the old and corrupt order of society, but falls victim to the machinations of power.” [P. 276]

Having already effectively conceded that my allegorical approach makes considerable sense of the gods and other non-human protagonists in the Ring, introduced primarily in the first part of the four-part cycle, Scruton now seems to have thrown in the towel by acknowledging that Siegfried, a mortal human being, one of the two primary characters who dominate the last two parts of the four part Ring, may also only be comprehensible as an allegorical, or symbolical, being. As we’ve seen, Scruton has attempted to obviate the “problem” of Siegfried by consigning him to the status of a virtual ghost, a residuum from Wagner’s alleged original conception of the Ring drama as a Feuerbachian allegory which Wagner outgrew. But I’ve already debunked his proposition in my critique of the similar position taken by Kitcher and Schacht, who were oblivious to the fact that Wagner continued to experiment with variations on the allegedly defunct Siegfried in Tristan, Walther, and Parsifal.

That Scruton also seems unaware of the implications of Siegfried’s allegorical links with Wagner’s prior opera heroes and subsequent music-drama heroes can be seen in his remark that his following critique of Siegfried makes him (whom we’re supposed to acknowledge as Wagner’s archetypal hero) problematic:

“Worst of all … is his [Siegfried’s] enthusiastic agreement to the plot to capture Brünnhilde and to force her into a situation from which his father would have rushed to rescue her.” [P. 276]

As I pointed out previously in my discussion of Kitcher’s and Schacht’s Finding an Ending, Wagner stated in his 'Epilogue to The Nibelung’s Ring’ that in this respect the plots of Twilight of the Gods and Tristan and Isolde are identical. If Siegfried is problematic in this respect then so is Tristan, who under apparently (but not actually) outside influence agrees, like Siegfried, to abduct his own true love Isolde to force her into marriage with another man (in Tristan’s case after having killed her fiancé Morold - Siegfried’s equivalent being his killing of Fafner, who had to be killed in order to access Brünnhilde). What Scruton evidently lacks is an understanding of the allegorical meaning of this action in Wagner’s entire oeuvre: it’s Wagner’s metaphor for the formerly unconsciously inspired artist-hero unwittingly and involuntarily exposing the secret of his unconscious artistic inspiration to the light of day, in what should have been a redemptive work of art which would have concealed its secret. This is the natural consequence of Alberich’s Ring Curse, the curse of historical man’s inevitably increasing consciousness, which over time necessarily acquires such a hoard of objective knowledge of man and Nature that all self-deceptive forms of consolation in religious faith, altruistic morality, and inspired secular art can’t sustain themselves in the face of it. As I pointed out previously, this plot scenario has its origin in Tannhäuser, an artist-hero who’s unconsciously inspired by his muse Venus but involuntarily (Wagner says he does it as if under a spell) exposes this dangerous secret to his audience in the contest song he sings at the Wartburg to win Elizabeth’s hand, thereby also betraying his conscious muse of inspiration Elizabeth. Wagner’s metaphor reflects Feuerbach’s conception of historical necessity, that what was once unconscious will become conscious, and that powers once conceived as those of transcendent, spiritual beings will be traced back to their true source in Mother Nature and her impersonal, involuntary laws.

My allegorical reading also explains why Siegfried becomes so Alberich-like or Hunding-like in his brutal treatment of his true love Brünnhilde in abducting her to force her into marriage with the unworthy Gunther, once he falls under the sway of Hagen’s potion of love-and-forgetting. Alberich had foreseen that through the power of his Ring Curse of consciousness he'd someday suborn Wotan’s heroes and turn them against him. Siegfried, the inspired modern artist (a metaphor for Wagner himself) par excellence, necessarily becomes too conscious over time to be capable of accessing his unconscious mind, his muse, for inspiration, any longer. And because of this rising consciousness Siegfried unwittingly and involuntarily exposes the formerly hidden secret of his unconscious artistic inspiration to the light of day, thereby destroying his former role as a secular redeemer. Thus Wagner couldn’t help dramatizing the analogy between Siegfried’s and Tristan’s situations, as modern artist-heroes who’ve become so conscious of themselves that they must of necessity betray the secrets of their formerly unconscious artistic inspiration, their muse, to conscious thought (symbolized by their lovelessly keeping themselves apart from their true love while abducting her for another man), and Alberich’s archetypal rape of the Rhinegold by renouncing love and forging the Ring of conscious thought out of our formerly preconscious feelings (the Rhinedaughters). This is the authentic meaning behind Siegfried’s and Tristan’s forceful abduction of their true loves Brünnhilde and Isolde to give them away to another man. This other man is Wagner’s metaphor for his own audience, with whom he shared those innermost secrets of his inspiration which had been hidden even from him, through his musical motifs, in Tristan’s case represented by the alte Weise, “old tune,” which he interprets, and in Siegfried’s case by the Woodbird’s tune which he translates into words Tristan's alte Weise and Siegfried's Woodbird tunes are paralleled in Tannhäuser by the Shepherd's tune to which he wakes from his sojourn with Venus (i.e., wakes from his unconscious artistic inspiration by his muse). It’s noteworthy in this respect that Tristan takes responsibility for having brewed the potion of love and death which is the symbol for his relationship with his muse Isolde, whom he’s betrayed, and having become conscious of his role in brewing it curses it, in light of the fact that the two potions Hagen administers to Siegfried (the first via Gutrune), which taken together make Siegfried conscious of the fact that he betrayed his muse of inspiration Brünnhilde, symbolize a rise to consciousness within Siegfried of repressed self-knowledge which was a necessary consequence of Alberich’s Ring Curse of consciousness, i.e., human nature as realized through history.

Wagner’s Walther Von Stolzing from Mastersingers represents, in contrast, Wagner’s conception of the golden age of unconsciously inspired art prior to Siegfried’s and Tristan’s [modern artists’] betrayals of their muses, prior to the modern age of science, since he manages to produce for his audience a redemptive work of art inspired unconsciously (during his dream on midsummer night’s eve) by his muse Eva, or Eve in Paradise. It was Eve whose gift of divine (but divinely forbidden) knowledge, a model for both Wotan’s and Hans Sachs’s confessions to the muses Brünnhilde and Eva, respectively, exiled us from paradise, to which we can only return in our modern, secular, scientific age in the musical feeling produced in us by the Wonder of art which the muses inspire artist-heroes to create. For this reason Walther never abducts his muse to force her into marriage with another, unworthy, man (his audience), and never becomes conscious of his true identity as a matricide, i.e., a formerly unwitting perpetuator of Wotan’s sin against Erda’s, Mother Nature’s, knowledge of all that was, is, and will be, religious man’s sin of world-renunciation.

And of course Parsifal, finally becoming fully conscious of who he is, a formerly unconsciously inspired artist-hero who’d unwittingly perpetuated man’s religious sin of world-renunciation (Wotan’s sin against all that was, is, and will be, which Alberich’s Ring Curse was intended to punish) in that art inspired in his former lives by his muse Kundry, and understanding that Kundry’s balms no longer heal man’s (Amfortas’s) wounds of consciousness but actually rip those wounds open, renounces any further implication in this sin and embraces the objective world, Mother Nature, instead. In Parsifal it is in fact Klingsor, who like Siegfried and Tristan has effectively castrated himself insofar as love for Kundry is concerned, who gives the muse of unconscious artistic inspiration Kundry and her dangerous secrets away to another man, Amfortas (again, a metaphor for Wagner’s audience). Amfortas therefore can’t even temporarily enjoy the feeling of having healed his un-healing wound of consciousness in Kundry’s balms, and therefore suffers unbearable guilt until Parsifal reveals the religious mysteries formerly hidden in the Grail (Wagner’s symbol for man’s age-old bid for transcendent value), and reconciles man to his status as a product of, and part of, Mother Nature. Parsifal redeems man and world from man’s futile bid for transcendence, from man’s unending quest to redeem himself from Alberich’s Ring Curse of consciousness, by ceasing to strive for transcendent meaning any longer. Kundry, Parsifal’s unconscious mind, ceases her existence, loses her raison d’être, once her secrets have attained full consciousness, having fully awoken in Parsifal and his audience. Siegfried similarly says of Brünnhilde that her eyes are now open (she wakes) forever.

It’s only because Scruton doesn’t grasp these points (which he was unlikely to grasp in any case since he didn’t have access to my research on any of Wagner’s other operas or music-dramas besides the Ring when he wrote The Ring of Truth) that he can also say the following:

“Siegfried is rescued from judgment, if at all, only in the deep unconsciousness that sets him apart from the human world, and which is only incompletely explained by Hagen’s drug.” [P. 276]

“Those who find the character of Siegfried unsatisfactory are rightly troubled by the unconsciousness that obliterates such vast areas of his psyche … .” [P. 285]

What’s obscure and mysterious for Scruton in Siegfried’s unconsciousness becomes transparently logical in my allegorical reading: Siegfried is unconscious of who he is because, as Brünnhilde tells him in Siegfried Act Three, Scene Three, she knows for him what he doesn’t know. And Brünnhilde knows this because her father Wotan, by imparting his unbearable hoard of knowledge of the guilt and self-deception at the bottom of all human history to her in his confession, including his foresight of the historical inevitability of the twilight of the gods (the death of religious faith), and also including Wotan’s evidently futile longing for a hero, freed from all that Wotan loathes in himself, who could redeem man from this collective guilt, repressed this hoard of world-and-self-knowledge into his unconscious mind Brünnhilde. In this way Brünnhilde, the womb of Wotan’s wishes, metaphysically gave rebirth to Wotan as Siegfried, who is Wotan minus consciousness of who he is and of all that Wotan loathed in his own nature, minus consciousness also of Wotan’s fearful foresight of the god’s doom, knowledge which Brünnhilde holds for Siegfried and from whose potential wounds she protects him (at the front, from Wotan’s paralyzing foresight of the end). This not only explains Siegfried’s unconsciousness and fearlessness but also explains what Kitcher and Schacht and Scruton find so troubling about Siegfried not only in his treatment of Brünnhilde, but in his ruthless treatment of Mime, since Mime incarnates all that Wotan found so abhorrent in his own nature, and Siegfried is Wotan reborn. Siegfried’s contempt for Mime is therefore Wotan’s instinctive repulsion for his own corrupt nature.

Since Wagner informed King Ludwig II of Bavaria that Wotan is reborn in Siegfried in the same manner that the artist’s original intent is reborn in his work of art but remains hidden within it [693W - {11/6/64} Letter to King Ludwig II of Bavaria, SLRW, p. 626-627], and also stated that part of the wonder of his musical motifs of reminiscence and foreboding was that they were particularly suitable for a music-drama involving reincarnation because they would inform the audience of the past lives of his protagonists where the protagonists themselves remained unconscious of their past lives [640W - {5/16/56?} ML, p. 528-529], and since, finally, Wagner construed Brünnhilde as, among other things, a symbol for his musical motifs’ wonder, my allegorical reading wholly justifies Scruton’s following observation:

“But … [Siegfried’s] missing consciousness is supplied at another level by the music, which shows a person realizing himself as a free individual by his own efforts alone (which is after all what Wotan required of him) while entirely at the mercy of forces that are hidden from his gaze.” [P. 285]

As Brünnhilde told Siegfried in Siegfried Act Three, Scene Three, what Wotan thought (the fearful fore-knowledge of the gods’ inevitable doom which Wotan imparted to her in his confession, and his longing to either avert it or at least cease to be conscious of it), she felt, and what she felt was her love for Siegfried. In other words, Brünnhilde, embodiment of the wonder of Wagner’s musical motifs, has transfigured and redeemed the guilt in Wotan’s confession of world-history by sublimating what Wotan thought into feeling in Wagner’s motifs of remembrance and foreboding, and it’s this seeming miracle which grants metaphysical birth to the fearless artist-hero Siegfried, born of music (man’s aesthetic sense), who doesn’t know who he is (is freed from Wotan’s conundrums) because Brünnhilde knows this for him. What’s hidden from Siegfried’s conscious gaze, thanks to his unconscious mind Brünnhilde, is his implication in Alberich’s Ring Curse of consciousness, the curse that destroyed Wotan. And yet Alberich’s Ring Curse and Wotan’s desperation to redeem himself from it is the hidden source of Siegfried’s unconscious artistic inspiration, via his muse Brünnhilde.

Scruton, asking himself (like Kitcher and Schacht) if perhaps he’s missed something of Siegfried’s true significance and therefore expressing a sort of after-the-fact impulse to rehabilitate Siegfried’s status that he’s been hard at work demolishing, offers up a new conception of Siegfried as the “Everyman,” whose heroism consists in having experienced man’s universal rites of passage. But even here Scruton suspects something isn’t quite right with his strained attempt to grant Siegfried heroic or at worst sympathetic status. Here’s a selection of passages in which Scruton makes his best case to rehabilitate Siegfried as worthy of heroic status, or at least to explain what Scruton meant when he suggested Siegfried can only be understood as a symbol:

“Certain moments, objects and events are endowed for us with a meaning that could be called ‘transcendental’. … they have a significance that cannot be clearly spelled out in ordinary empirical terms. (…) These moments correspond to the ‘rites of passage’ that anthropologists have documented in the life of the tribe … .” [P. 269]

“… [Siegfried’s] supreme moments of transition - such as the forest murmurs, the encounter with the wood-bird, the waking of Brünnhilde and the passage from fear to desire and from desire to love - … are consummate musical explorations of deep and shared states of mind.” [P. 278]

”There is another person beneath his [Siegfried’s] impetuous activity, and this other person is less an individual than a universal, composed from the critical moments of transition in the life of Everyman.” [P. 278-279]

And, echoing Kitcher and Schacht, Scruton proffers the possibility that Siegfried is redeemed and has his purity restored in his final moment of self-consciousness just before and after Hagen spears him fatally in his back, finally dying after Hagen’s antidote to his potion of love-and-forgetting grants Siegfried remembrance of his formerly loving relationship with Brünnhilde:

”By regaining his purity at the moment of death, Siegfried shows the triumph of love over machination, of the ideal over the real, and therefore our values over the calculations that constantly erode and replace them. His life then ceases to be his private possession, and becomes an offering on the altar of all our loves and fears.” [P. 283-284]

How interesting that Hagen’s potion of remembrance, intended to bring about Siegfried’s death, and the product of Siegfried’s betrayal of Brünnhilde’s love, should have made Siegfried’s restoration of lost innocence possible! Somehow this doesn’t convince, in view of the self-evident fact that both Siegfried and Brünnhilde, under whatever construction we wish to interpret their motives, have betrayed their mutual love under Hagen’s (in my interpretation, the Ring Curse of consciousness’s) influence. Siegfried in his final moment of remembrance has as much cause to become aware for the first time of his full historical guilt, as the heir to Wotan and Alberich's Ring Curse, as to regain whatever purity he’s supposed to have possessed. In my allegorical reading Siegfried, thanks to his artistic muse and unconscious mind Brünnhilde, has remained only ostensibly innocent because Brünnhilde held knowledge for Siegfried of Wotan’s guilt and fear, which unconsciously prompted Siegfried to do all that he has done in the course of the Ring. On waking to full consciousness of himself as Wotan’s heir Siegfried if anything would become conscious that he, as an artist-hero, had perpetuated Wotan’s original sin against all that was, is, and will be (against the truth), religious man’s sin of pessimism (world-renunciation) which Alberich’s Ring Curse was predestined to punish. Since, in my reading, Brünnhilde is Siegfried’s unconscious mind, which in betraying her Siegfried has now awoken to full consciousness, Brünnhilde’s final words are actually Siegfried’s final words (or even, ultimately, Wotan’s final words), Siegfried having become fully conscious of who he is. Siegfried has now succumbed to Alberich’s Ring Curse of consciousness which also destroyed Wotan, a point Brünnhilde makes in her final apostrophe to Siegfried.

This also is the whole import of Wagner’s last music-drama Parsifal, in which Siegfried, in his final incarnation as the pure fool Parsifal, for the first time wakes up to his full guilt in having (as a formerly unconsciously inspired artist-hero) unwittingly perpetuated religious man’s sin against all that was, is, and will be, renunciation of Mother Nature. Parsifal’s guilt at having caused his mother Herzeleide's death (symbolic of religious man’s denial of his true mother, Nature) through neglect has overwhelmed him, just as Siegfried and Tristan become conscious that their mothers died giving them birth. Parsifal therefore rebuffs the overtures of his former muse of unconscious artistic inspiration Kundry, his surrogate, artificial mother (the artificiality of art as a substitute for Mother Nature symbolized in Klingsor’s Magic Garden and the seductive Flower Maidens), in favor of his true Mother, Nature, whom man now embraces.
Post Reply