Epilogue Part 4: 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: 518
Joined: Tue Apr 19, 2011 11:03 am

Epilogue Part 4: Critique of Scruton's 'The Ring of Truth

Post by alberich00 » Fri Aug 06, 2021 11:36 am

However, in spite of Scruton’s skepticism towards my notion that the Ring can best be grasped allegorically, throughout his book he’s often unable to make sense of this or that aspect or incident of the Ring without referencing my allegorical insights or even proposing his own allegorical readings. The following passages from his book are testimony to - though not always a precise reflection of - the influence of my allegorical reading on Scruton:

“In Wagner’s remarkable mind the scientific and the poetic outlooks converged. (…) But it is not usual for a work of art to anticipate the results of science, or to present them in poetic form in full consciousness of what they mean.” [P. 36]

“… The Ring displays in temporal order a timeless truth about society, displaying relations of contemporaneous dependence as though they arose from crucial moments of decision. We could never understand Alberich’s theft of the gold in its philosophical meaning if we believed it to be an event that occurred only once … .” [P. 262]

“The gods, demi-gods, and goblins portrayed in The Ring are personifications of our unconscious needs and strivings … . They therefore bear the marks of a deeper nature - a nature that is pre-conscious, pre-moral and un-free. Examine them too closely and their credentials dissolve.” [P. 7]

“Unlike Alberich, Wotan has power from the outset, so that we do not ask about his origins [However, my allegorical reading is premised on seeking Wotan’s - Light-Alberich’s - origin in Dark-Alberich’s forging of the Ring of consciousness: this explains why Alberich’s Ring Motif H17ab transforms into the first two segments of Wotan’s Valhalla Motif H18ab before the gods wake to find Valhalla has been built while they slept, and dreamed.]. It is only as taken apart by the narrative that we understand this power as a thing acquired, rather than self-created. The narrative parallels the ‘peeling away’ of divine attributes that is the inevitable result of scientific knowledge.” [P. 202]

[Scruton even references my understanding of] “… the beautiful allegory that Wagner concocts in the story of the Giants and Freia … .” [P. 270]

Indeed, in Scruton’s opening gambit, his Introduction, his description of Wagner’s Ring is allegorical in the fullest sense, since it’s not self-evident that Wagner’s Ring: “… tells the story of civilization beginning at the beginning and ending at the end” [P. 5]. Our imagination must be put to work to construe what some have described as a drama about a multi-generational dysfunctional family as an allegory of world history.

And in the following extract Scruton acknowledges the value in the notion (which fully supports my allegorical reading) that through his musical motifs of reminiscence and foreboding Wagner is able to remind us continuously that Wagner’s truer-than-life characters are simultaneously allegorical embodiments of ideas of which, for the most part, his characters remain unaware. In fact, it’s thanks to Wagner’s musical motifs that his characters can, without strain (without forcing us to consciously philosophize instead of absorbing a performance naturally as it should be, as if we're involuntarily experiencing a dream which neutralizes our reflective mind), behave as credible individuals and yet carry a hoard of allegorical meaning borne by Wagner’s musical motifs which accompany them in life:

“Wagner’s works are … more than mere dramas: they are revelations, attempts to penetrate to the mysterious core of human existence. (…) Wagner worked in another medium [music], which enabled him to present the conscious and individual passions of his characters simultaneously with their universal and unconscious archetypes.” [P. 34]

One gets the impression from these quoted passages that Scruton concedes that my allegorical understanding of Wagner’s Ring is applicable at least to the gods and the other non-human characters, since he so readily applies my allegorical reasoning to them. But is there not also a hint in his last extract that my allegorical reading, when explicated by examining Wagner’s cross-referencing of his libretto with his musical motifs, grounds “… the conscious and individual passions of his characters … “ [perhaps all of his characters, including Siegfried and Brünnhilde?] in “… their universal and unconscious archetypes”?

Another instance in which Scruton underestimates my allegorical reading of the Ring while nonetheless drawing on aspects of it to make his case, is in his admission in the following extracts that Wagner’s Ring achieves, as an inspired secular work of art, the redemption of dying religious faith (which could no longer be sustained in the face of our advancement in scientific knowledge), as religion’s heir, which restores the “feeling” of the sacred, while ignoring the fact that I’ve demonstrated that this is the Ring’s plot. In my interpretation, Wagner dramatizes his Ring’s historical status as the secular heir to lost religious faith in Wotan’s (as ruler of the gods, the representative of religious belief) making Siegfried the artist-hero his heir in Siegfried Act Three Scene One:

”That is the real question that troubled Wagner, the question of life in a post-religious world.” [P. 211]

“… Wagner … recognized that modern people, having lost their faith in the divine order, need another route to meaning than that once offered by religion. This is what The Ring aims to provide: a vision of the ideal, achieved with no help from the gods, a vision in which art takes the place of religion in expressing and fulfilling our deepest spiritual impulses.” [P. 8]

“This highly personal idea of the sacred is Wagner’s great contribution to the understanding of the human condition. He saw the experience of the sacred as fundamental to consciousness, more basic than the religious ideas that are built from it, and destined to survive the extinction of all religion. We self-conscious beings have learned to understand the world scientifically, to grasp the laws of nature and to see that the explanations offered by religion are as empty as its promises. Our gods have died, and the story of their death is one of the many sub-plots of The Ring. The gods are killed by the very thing that created them: the world’s consciousness that erupted in us, and whose implacable demands are displayed in the encounter between the Rhine-daughters and Alberich.” [P. 270-271]

“From the perspective granted by self-consciousness, Kant argued, I see myself as the free originator of my own actions. But I also see myself from the outside, as one object among others, a part of nature, bound by the law of cause and effect. I am both a free subject and a determined object, and this defines the deep paradox of the human condition.” [P. 16]

“But the consciousness that killed the gods did not remove the sacred dimension from our experience. As well as the scientific view of things, consciousness brings into being the self and its freedom. And these in turn bring about another way of seeing the world than the way of science. (…) The moment of free commitment, the moment when I am fully myself in an act of self-giving - this has no place in the temporal order as science conceives it. And yet it is the moment that justifies my life … .” [P. 271]

“… nobody has matched Wagner in the attempt to vindicate this experience, to show that it is not illusory, even if it is the origin of illusions, and to present our ventures in love and sacrifice as the true goal to which the experience trends. Grasping this is the most important step in understanding The Ring.” [P. 271]

In Scruton’s description of “… another way of seeing the world than the way of science,” and in his celebration of “The moment of free commitment, … when I am fully myself in an act of self-giving … “ as “… the moment that justifies my life … ,” he’s justifiably conflating (though Scruton only intends here to celebrate Siegmund’s and Brünnhilde’s loving acts of self-sacrifice, not Siegfried) the individual act of compassionate self-sacrifice of a Siegmund or Brünnhilde with Siegfried the artist-hero’s inspiration by his muse Brünnhilde, through her love. This is because Wagner posits both Siegmund’s moral heroism and Siegfried’s unconscious artistic inspiration by Brünnhilde as two distinct means to redemption from the prosaic and bleak outlook on man championed by modern science in a post-religious world. These are both “… another way of seeing the world than the way of science.” But that doesn’t mean necessarily that they can’t be understood scientifically. Scruton’s resistance to this reductive, materialist viewpoint, as an insult to the dignity of Man, not only in his The Ring of Truth but in many of his other writings on a variety of topics (I regard it as the key to Scruton’s life’s work in many respects), is perhaps at least a partial reason for his resistance to my allegorical reading of the Ring, in which our ideal identity, the theoretically transcendent being of man, is at stake, and placed very much in doubt.

Scruton and I agree that Wagner’s operas and music-dramas, particularly his Ring, represent Wagner’s attempt to save the essence of religion, its feeling of sanctity, sans belief, in a secular, scientific age, in which man’s older religious view of himself as having a transcendent and free soul competes with the modern scientific view of man as one among many objects in Nature, determined by natural law. Where we differ is that in my allegorical interpretation this is the basis of the Ring’s plot. This is true not only in Wagner’s positing the redemptive, compassionate love of Siegmund and Sieglinde, or Brünnhilde, as the antidote to Feuerbach’s science-based materialist philosophy, but equally in Siegfried the artist-hero’s falling heir to Wotan’s (religious man’s) legacy of longing for transcendent value, Wotan’s feeling, when religion as a mode of thought, a faith, can no longer be sustained in the face of the rise of scientific, secular thought. Wagner dramatizes this allegorically in Wotan’s leaving Siegfried heir to his daughter Brünnhilde, who feels what Wotan thinks, and represents Wagner’s music generally, and his musical motifs specifically. Wotan’s fearful confession to Brünnhilde (in which he acknowledged that the gods - i.e., religion - are predestined to destruction by Alberich’s Ring Curse) has, in other words, been transfigured and redeemed by being sublimated into Wagner’s musical motifs. The Woodbird’s songs, particularly those derived from the Rhinedaughter Woglinde’s Lullaby H4 = #4, namely H138ab = #129ab, are Wagner’s symbol for the Ring’s musical motifs.

In my allegorical reading scientific, secular thought is represented both by Alberich’s Ring Curse (embodied ultimately in Alberich’s son Hagen, whose actions will fulfill the Ring Curse, the twilight of the gods), and by Alberich’s and Wotan’s gradual accumulation of a hoard of objective knowledge of the earth (Erda), which represents Alberich's Ring Curse being manifested gradually over historical time, our inevitable acquisition of objective consciousness of our world and ourselves which will irrevocably correct and undermine the self-deception of religious belief and all the values which stem from it. It’s this inexorable rise to consciousness of what was unconscious, the essence of Alberich’s Ring Curse, which destroys Wotan, the gods, and all of Wotan’s proxies, including his children Siegmund and Sieglinde, his daughter Brünnhilde and the artist-hero she inspires, Siegfried, which is the soul of the Ring tragedy. Because he doesn’t acknowledge that this is the self-referential essence of the Ring’s plot, Scruton seems blind to, or at least neglects, a large proportion of the Ring’s musico-dramatic substance, which is the basis for my allegorical reading. As I’ve shown, Wagner devotes an inordinate proportion of his Ring to registering his doubt about the ideals celebrated in it, not only his doubt that such ideals will thrive, but his doubt that they, under close analysis, can even be understood to be ideals grounded in truth rather than expressions of self-delusion.

In another dramatic instance in which Scruton underestimated the explanatory power of my allegorical reading, he lauds Robin Holloway’s profound interpretation of Siegfried’s sung narrative of how he came to understand the meaning of birdsong in Twilight of the Gods Act Three, Scene Two (a performance prompted, ironically, by Siegfried’s nemesis Hagen) as “ ‘the farthest-flung arc of memory-architecture ever achieved in music’,” without, however, acknowledging that in my online Ring book I described Siegfried’s sung narrative of how he came to understand the Woodbird’s song as Wagner’s play-within-the-play, Wagner’s metaphor for the performance of his own Ring before an audience (Gunther and the Gibichungs standing for Wagner’s audience):

“In a remarkable essay, Robin Holloway has summarized the musical and psychological effect of this passage [Siegfried’s sung narrative in Götterdämmerung of how he came to understand the meaning of the Woodbird’s song] … . (…)

Holloway goes on to show how this episode does not merely redeem Siegfried, by restoring his real and continuous identity, but also ties the whole tetralogy together, in ‘the farthest-flung arc of memory-architecture ever achieved in music’.” [P. 281-282]

In my allegorical reading, both Siegfried the secular artist-hero’s original role as Wotan’s hoped-for redeemer from Alberich’s Ring Curse, who, freed from the gods’ laws (from religious faith), could freely win Alberich’s Ring back from Fafner to keep Alberich from regaining its power and fulfilling his Curse (by taking possession of it aesthetically), and Siegfried’s subsequent betrayal of his muse Brünnhilde, and of Wotan’s hope for redemption, through their love, from Alberich’s Ring Curse, stem naturally from Siegfried’s true identity and fate as a modern artist-hero. Siegfried is a formerly unconsciously inspired artist-hero who in the modern world is predestined to become so self-conscious that he can no longer obtain unconscious artistic inspiration from his muse Brünnhilde. Wagner dramatized Siegfried’s inevitable betrayal of his role as artist-redeemer allegorically in two ways in Twilight of the Gods: (1) first, by Siegfried unwittingly and involuntarily betraying his muse of unconscious artistic inspiration Brünnhilde by giving her (and thus the secret of Siegfried’s inspiration she’d kept, Wotan’s confession) away to another man, Gunther (Wagner’s metaphor for his audience), under the influence of Hagen’s potion of love-and-forgetting (Hagen being Wagner’s metaphor for the modern scientific spirit which explodes our consoling illusions); and (2) second, by Siegfried, again under Hagen’s influence (including both his prompting Siegfried to tell the Gibichungs how he gained the power to understand birdsong, and his giving Siegfried the antidote to Hagen’s original potion of love-and-forgetting which made Siegfried forget Brünnhilde), singing the story of his heroic life and how he came to grasp the meaning of the Woodbird’s song, including exposing his true relationship to his muse Brünnhilde to his audience. Both Siegfried’s hoped-for role as redeemer and his subsequent betrayal of that hope of redemption were part of Wagner’s original conception, just as Wotan’s initial hope in Siegfried’s father Siegmund, and Wotan’s subsequent disillusionment regarding that hope, were also. Although Wagner’s conception of the ultimate meaning of his Ring he amended several times as he tried to decide just how he’d end it, in order to make this ending consistent with all that had gone before, Wagner’s plotting of the tragic destiny of the two Wälsung heroes remained central to his ultimate conception of the Ring’s meaning. Wagner’s four-part Ring began its life, after all, in what eventually became the last of its four parts, originally called Siegfried’s Death but only later called Twilight of the Gods. Therefore, Scruton’s following argument that Wagner’s original conception of Siegfried’s role as the prospective emancipator contradicts what Scruton incorrectly describes as Wagner’s subsequent, “incompatible vision” of Siegfried’s transgression in betraying this hoped-for redemption, strikes me as inaccurate:

“Wagner’s initial conception, which saw Siegfried as the emancipating hero who was to break the bonds of an old and moribund authority, gave way to another and quite incompatible vision, in which Siegfried is the true transgressor, the one who, by failing to understand the meaning of promises, contracts and laws, brings about his own and others’ destruction. (…) … in destroying the gods, we destroy a large part of ourselves.” [P. 193]

I don’t think that Siegfried’s allegedly “… failing to understand the meaning of promises, contracts and laws … “ has anything to do with the case. Just as Kitcher and Schacht proved themselves unaware of the Ring’s wider conceptual context in Wagner’s other canonical operas and music-dramas (which I’ve shown are allegorically linked to the Ring in a multitude of ways which have a bearing not only on how we should understand it but how we should understand them in light of the Ring and each other), so Scruton is also missing this key to interpret Wagner’s allegorical language. Had he surveyed the character Siegfried in a wider Wagnerian context he’d have recognized, as I did, that the artist-hero Tannhäuser in his involuntary betrayal (as Wagner said, as if under a spell) of the secret of his formerly unconscious artistic inspiration (his secret sojourn with his muse Venus in the Venusberg, which he’d forget on waking to create a work of art) to his audience in the Wartburg, is the basis not only for Siegfried’s unwitting and involuntary betrayal of Brünnhilde by giving her, his own predestined love, away to another man (Gunther, Wagner’s metaphor for Siegfried’s audience), but also for Tristan’s betrayal of Isolde by giving her away to another man, his uncle King Marke. In other words, when Scruton’s description of Siegfried’s transgression as being incompatible with Wagner’s original vision of Siegfried as the emancipating hero is translated into the terms of my allegorical reading, it would be correct to say, as Scruton does, that Siegfried’s original role as artist-redeemer is incompatible with Siegfried’s later role in which he betrays Wotan’s hope for redemption, but it would be incorrect to say that Siegfried’s two antithetical roles are incompatible with Wagner’s wider historical conception of an inevitable progression or evolution in consciousness or self-awareness, or with Siegfried’s nature as an artist-hero in modern times. Scruton simply hasn’t grasped the conceptual coherence behind Siegfried’s seemingly antithetical roles, which are entirely compatible in my allegorical interpretation when seen in historical context.

In my allegorical interpretation the formerly unconsciously inspired artist-hero (the condition in which he remains so long as he stays true to his muse-lover, the heroine Brünnhilde) is predestined (under the sway of Alberich’s Ring Curse of consciousness, through which man gradually grows more and more self-conscious while accumulating a hoard of knowledge of man and Nature) to eventually betray the secret of his unconscious artistic inspiration to the light of day, specifically by presenting his greatest work of art (Wagner’s Ring) to his audience. This was what Alberich meant when he told Wotan that his hoard of Nibelung treasure would eventually rise from the silent night to the light of day and overthrow the gods, and that Alberich would suborn Wotan’s heroes to help bring this twilight of the gods to pass. Alberich’s accumulating a hoard of treasure, laboriously dug from the bowels of the earth (Erda), was Wagner’s initial metaphor for man’s accumulation of a hoard of worldly knowledge, which is identical with the hoard of knowledge Wotan - Light-Alberich - gathers as he visits Erda in quest of knowledge, or wanders over the earth - Erda - in quest of knowledge. It’s this hoard of knowledge Wotan imparted to Brünnhilde, Siegfried’s true source of unconscious artistic inspiration, which Siegfried betrayed to consciousness by giving her, his muse (and her secrets), away to Gunther (his audience), and interpreting for his audience of Gibichungs the hidden meaning of the Woodbird’s song. This is the sense in which, as Brünnhilde said in the end, Siegfried succumbed to the same Ring Curse (of consciousness) which doomed Wotan.

Three critical keys to this allegorical reading are the following: Wagner said, (1) first, that as a music-dramatist he had unique access to the unconscious [665W - {12/8/58} Letter to Mathilde Wesendonck, RMLMW, p. 78]; (2) second, that for the authentic artist his artwork may remain as much a mystery to him as to his audience [641W - {8/23/56} Letter to August Röckel, SLRW, p. 357]; and (3) third, that nonetheless, through his musical motifs Wagner granted his audience a clairvoyant insight into the innermost secret of his unconscious artistic inspiration [547W - {50-1/51} Opera and Drama, PW Vol. II, p. 346]. This is precisely what Wagner dramatized in (1) Siegfried’s having sole access to his muse Brünnhilde, (2) in Siegfried being unconscious of who he is and of the true source of his inspiration [he tells Fafner “I don’t yet know who I am"], thanks to Brünnhilde who tells Siegfried “What you don’t know I know for you … “; and (3) in Siegfried’s betraying the secret of his unconscious artistic inspiration to his audience and to himself by translating the Woodbird’s tune (Wagner’s musical motifs) into words for the Gibichungs, respectively. Since Siegfried’s lover Brünnhilde is Wotan’s repository for the unspoken secret contained in his confession, Brünnhilde knows for Siegfried what he doesn’t know about his prehistory, his true identity, the ultimate source of his inspiration, and his fate. Siegfried’s betrayal of Wotan’s secret, which Brünnhilde had formerly kept for him, Wagner dramatized in Siegfried revealing that hidden knowledge of his true source of artistic inspiration to his audience, the Gibichungs, by interpreting the Woodbird’s song in words. Since Brünnhilde told Siegfried that what Wotan thought (his confession), she felt, and what she felt was her love for Siegfried, by giving his muse Brünnhilde and her secrets to his audience (Gunther and the Gibichungs), thus revealing the esoteric conceptual meaning or hidden programme of the Woodbird’s song (interpreting the ultimate meaning of the Ring’s musical motifs and their most far-reaching cross references with the drama in words), Siegfried translated what Brünnhilde felt back into what Wotan thought. Siegfried’s (Wagner’s self-confessed) transgression was in making music think. But this is implicit in Wagner’s dramatization, and powerfully highlighted subliminally by Wagner’s musical motifs, not spelled out literally and concretely as in a conventional drama.

Perhaps Scruton’s severest critique of my allegorical interpretation of Wagner’s Ring, besides his incorrect assumption that it applies only to an earlier vision of Siegfried which Wagner outgrew, is his contention that my allegorical reading is so abstract and far removed from what audiences experience of the Ring in the theater that it has no bearing on their aesthetic response. I’ve reproduced below his detailed argument because it’s the core of his critique of my allegorical Ring interpretation, and raises serious issues that deserve an equally detailed response :

“Wagner’s original conception constantly appears beneath the surface of the story, and has been meticulously spelled out by Paul Heise, who assumes that individual characters, objects and actions represent other, more general features of the human condition - motives, interests and processes which are of broadly cosmic or political significance. Sometimes this allegorical interpretation seems plausible, at other times less so. In a truly allegorical work of art the allegorical meaning is embodied in the primary action and characters. That is to say, it becomes part of what you respond to, in responding to the primary story. Thus both Heise and Nattiez tell us that, in the union of Siegfried and Brünnhilde, the first represents poetry and the second music. But do we hear things in that way? Are we responding to Siegfried as the voice of poetry, when he starts away from the sleeping Brünnhilde whose armour he has opened? Do we hear Brünnhilde’s declaration of love as the voice of music, as well as the voice of an individual woman awoken by her lover? It seems to me that this particular ‘allegory’ adds nothing to our experience of the drama, and is more like an academic curiosity, inspired, of course, by Wagner’s own theory of the art-work of the future, but for all that not much more than a theory that lies dormant alongside the work of art without becoming a part of it. A character can mean something other than himself only when the meaning enhances his presence in the drama and gives a richer content to his motivation.” [P. 187-188]

As I stated in my Prologue, had my allegorical reading of the Ring been self-evident, there’d be no need for my allegorical study. What I’ve disclosed is a level of meaning linked inextricably not only with a fresh reading of virtually all of the conceptual content of the Ring's libretto but especially with numerous otherwise often mysterious passages from the libretto which have formerly defied analysis, and also based on the most far-reaching cross-references contained in Wagner’s employment of his web of musical motifs of foreboding and reminiscence in relation to the libretto, of which audiences for the most part have remained unconscious since the Ring’s premiere in 1876, and which therefore had to be unearthed through careful research over a period of many years. Assuming I’ve discovered a level of meaning in Wagner’s Ring which is objectively part of it and isn’t merely being falsely imputed to it by me, and which presumably wasn’t only a key but forgotten source of his inspiration but also explains significant aspects of the plot and characterization, specific passages in the libretto, and numerous instances of Wagner’s employment of musical motifs to enhance his drama’s meaning, which had previously gone unremarked or defied understanding, the question Scruton poses is, to what extent is the audience’s aesthetic response to the Ring as described in my analysis either a conscious, conceptual response to this level of meaning, or at least an emotional response? Or does it even engage us at the emotional level? The answer to this last question is that it does engage us emotionally because it clearly engaged Wagner emotionally, being an original impetus to his artistic creation. Through his words and music Wagner’s subjective emotional response to his original sources of inspiration becomes our response, since the Ring we experience today in performance is at least an indirect or mediated transcript of his original sources of inspiration. A large proportion of Wagner’s libretto and music is bound up inextricably with the allegorical elements I’ve discovered there. Those otherwise mysterious or seemingly inexplicable musico-dramatic passages to which I've drawn attention when most other commentators haven't, are there for a reason, and become part of our aesthetic experience even if we don’t consciously contemplate their cause.

Numerous scholars, and innumerable fans and students of Wagner’s Ring, have always felt that the Ring feels as if it means much, much more than what’s self-evident to a member of Wagner’s audience after experiencing a single or even a multitude of performances in the theater. Audience members universally claim they're always discovering something new in it, or seeing it from a different perspective. This is the underlying reason why so many directors and producers of Ring productions drastically stretch credulity nowadays with highly idiosyncratic and provocative interpretations which strive to highlight what they speculate are topical meanings implicit in the Ring but which, in practice, generally sabotage Wagner’s infinite mythological, musical, dreamlike suggestiveness by collapsing what’s actually a wave of potentiality into a single point, a one-sided perspective, forcing the audience to experience the Ring within an impoverished, narrow, topical framework. They know that the Ring means infinitely more than any given reading or theatrical production can assimilate, but having only the vaguest ideas suggested by this or that aspect of the Ring taken in isolation, catch at straws for the sake of experimentation and originality to impress their own signature on Wagner’s Ring. I can safely venture that most fans of Wagner’s Ring, even those with frequent exposure to live performances, rarely if ever deliberate over the implications of a surprisingly large proportion of the Ring’s libretto, the ultimate motives behind much of its action, or the most far-reaching consequences which follow from innumerable cross-references between the libretto and musical motifs. In other words, much of the deeper meaning of Wagner’s Ring which my study brings to light for conscious contemplation could only be felt, but not thought, previously, though Scruton would presumably deny it was even felt, since he argues it isn’t part of the audience’s aesthetic experience.

But that's the whole point of Wagner’s Ring plot. Wagner opined that his music-dramas were a mystery to him which could confuse him as easily as a member of his audience, but he noted that through his musical motifs he granted his audience a clairvoyance like that of the artist himself, through which they could share the artist’s profoundest secret of inspiration. Wagner’s unconsciousness of the true source of his artistic inspiration he dramatized in Siegfried not knowing who he is. But Siegfried's muse Brünnhilde, his unconscious mind, knows for him what he doesn’t know, just as Wagner’s musical motifs and their cross-references with his libretto reveal meanings which presumably were unconscious even for Wagner himself. It’s no accident that Wagner once stated that the meaning of his Ring only began to dawn on him as he composed its music [646W - {12/6/56} Letter to Franz Liszt, SLRW, p. 361]. His music not only has non-conceptual meaning (if “meaning” is the right word for musical expression per se), but also subliminally and organically interweaves a huge array of conceptual elements of Wagner’s libretto together in unexpected ways which aren’t self-evident, and don’t generally rise to consciousness, but which can ultimately be construed through intensely attentive study over a long period of time, especially in our time in which those of us unable to read musical notation can contemplate performances of the Ring at will, in our home, rather than having to wait to attend rare performances. As Wagner said, his artworks exist not only as performances but as works of art to be studied [951W - {12/1/78} CD Vol II, p. 216]. It’s also no accident that Wagner offers us in Brünnhilde not only a persuasive bigger-than-life character but also confessed in private remarks made to Cosima [933W - {8/2/78} CD Vol. II, p. 128] that Brünnhilde is the embodiment of his own special kind of music, out of which his musical motifs were generated.

When Scruton faults the allegorical meaning imputed to the Ring (or discovered in it) by both myself and Dr. Nattiez as presenting an understanding of Siegfried and Brünnhilde which audience members uninstructed would be unlikely to ever experience on their own, Scruton neglects the obvious fact that not one, but two members of Wagner’s audience, with profound experience of the Ring, did in fact independently construe the Ring as a self-referential music-drama whose allegorical subject is Wagner’s art and its place in history. Dr. Nattiez, like me, independently grasped Wagner’s Ring as the story - among other stories - of the loving relationship of the poetic-dramatist Siegfried with Brünnhilde, Siegfried’s music, which would bring to birth the music-drama, though unlike Dr. Nattiez I initially placed more emphasis on Brünnhilde as Siegfried's unconscious mind and muse of artistic inspiration than on her allegorical status as a symbol for music. Both Dr. Nattiez and myself also recognized Siegfried’s sung narrative (which he performs for the Gibichungs at Hagen’s request) of how he came to understand the meaning of the Woodbird’s song, as Wagner’s metaphor for an operatic performance, though Dr. Nattiez and I differ on what that metaphor for an operatic performance represents. I take it to be Wagner’s metaphor for the performance of his own Ring. Nattiez doesn’t.

But Scruton is correct to suggest that most members of Wagner’s audience would be unlikely to construe the relationship of Siegfried with Brünnhilde as a metaphor of the relationship of drama/words to music in Wagner’s music-dramas. I'd go further and argue that most members of Wagner’s audience for the Ring experience it in performance in the dreamlike and semi-conscious, naive way that Wagner intended, in which their reflective minds aren’t brought into play, just as I do when I lose myself in it. The allegorical meanings I claim to have discovered in the Ring are experienced subliminally in much the same way that the music is, and our nighttime dreams are, for whose meanings or origins we generally can’t account. My interpretation is in large part based on a deep-reading of libretto passages and motival cross-references which most members of Wagner’s audience evidently don’t consciously notice and couldn’t parse if they did. My allegorical interpretation began with the experience I share with all others profoundly stirred by Wagner’s Ring in performance, a sort of drunken plunging into Wagner’s ecstatic sea, but which, precisely because it was the profoundest experience of my life, left me with an undying impulse to understand what I’d felt, to launch a deep exploration and reflection after the fact, so to speak, not drunk with an immediate experience of the Ring in performance (when we shouldn’t be consciously considering questions of meaning in any case, as so many modern productions fatally attempt to force us to do), but sobered up for the sake of objective understanding, much like that state in which Siegfried found himself under the influence of Hagen’s antidote to his potion of love-and-forgetting, which granted Siegfried the ability to remember what the Woodbird had imparted to him subliminally, musically, in words.

If one were to survey a representative sample of diehard Ring fans and ask each of them to summarize the Ring and describe what it all means, this survey would produce a range of responses so disparate that it might seem audience members are each experiencing radically distinct works of art. The plain fact is that, just as with Siegfried’s incapacity to grasp conceptually what Brünnhilde means when she tells him that what Wotan thought (the confession he made to her in The Valkyrie Act Two Scene Two), she felt, and what she felt was her love for Siegfried (accompanied by the so-called World-Inheritance, or Wotan's Second Bequest Motif, H143 = #134), Wagner’s audience mostly feels the Ring but generally doesn’t think it. Wotan made Brünnhilde the repository for his confession, which he told her would remain forever unspoken in words, but that’s because, in my allegorical reading, Brünnhilde’s love, her sympathetic feeling, transmuted Wotan’s confession of his corrupt nature and guilty history into redemptive musical motifs, so Wotan could be reborn as the ahistorical, mythic Siegfried purified through music of all that Wotan loathed in his own nature. This is music through which Brünnhilde can know for Siegfried what he doesn’t know, Wotan’s confession, but impart it to Siegfried feelingly through her love. How many audience members consciously register the profound musico-dramatic fact, on which a significant aspect of the allegorical meaning I’ve discovered in Wagner’s Ring turns, that Wotan introduced this same Motif H143 = #134 when describing to Erda how he’d made Siegfried his heir, and that through Siegfried’s and Brünnhilde’s love the world would be redeemed from Alberich’s Ring Curse? My point is, the transcendent “feeling” we experience during performances of the Ring, of being lifted above ourselves and the world, and also the profound threat to that feeling those who're sufficiently attentive can’t help registering, which haunts Wagner’s drama even in its most ecstatic moments, depend on thousands of interlinked details of the kind I just described, which rarely reach consciousness, but which, once teased out and grasped in their ultimate significance, reveal an astonishingly sophisticated, stirring, and poignant allegorical master-blueprint for the Ring which my interpretation has brought to view for contemplation for the first time.

I’ve given one example of a motival cross-reference, among hundreds, which Wagner’s audience generally overlooks or at least never attempts to grasp conceptually, though a large part of the Ring’s power and charm surely derives from the overall impact of hundreds of such examples in the aggregate. A few other examples of this kind taken from some brief libretto passages (some with associated motifs), which are generally overlooked in spite of their crucial importance, will also illustrate my point. How many members of Wagner’s audience ever consciously note the following equation Wagner made between Alberich’s accusation against Wotan in The Rhinegold, Scene Four, in which Alberich tells him “If ever I sinned, I sinned freely against myself: but you, you immortal, will sin against all that was, is and shall be - if you brazenly wrest the ring from me now!,” and Erda’s declaration to Wotan, also in The Rhinegold, Scene Four, “How all things were - I know; how all things are, how all things will be, I see as well … ”? How many members of Wagner’s audience ever ask themselves what implications follow from this verbal parallel? And by the same token, who ever notices Wagner’s distant echo of these two passages (which together convey the concept that Wotan renounces Erda’s objective world which exists in time and space, and strives to forget the fear of the end Erda taught him) in Siegfried’s following challenge to Brünnhilde in Siegfried Act Three Scene Three: “What you will be, be today! As my arm enfolds you, I hold you fast; as my heart beats wildly against your own, as our glances ignite and breath feeds on breath, eye to eye and mouth to mouth, (H143 = #134:) then, to me, you must be what, fearful, you were and will be!”? The concept expressed here, as construed allegorically in my interpretation, is that in Siegfried’s ecstatic unconscious artistic inspiration by his muse and lover Brünnhilde, the fear Wotan, religious man, experienced in the face of the objective world’s finitude, its limitation by time, space, and inevitable death (including the twilight of the gods Erda foresees, which expresses her ur-law that all things that are, end), is overcome through Wagner’s redemptive artwork of the future. This artwork is the product of Siegfried’s loving union with Brünnhilde, in which the “Wonder” of Wagner’s musical motifs of reminiscence and foreboding allow us, his audience, to feel as if we’ve transcended the limits of time, space, and fearful death, and even fate itself, making all that's distant in space and time present to us, here and now. Is it any wonder that Wagner said the following of both Siegfried and Brünnhilde?: "Siegfried lives entirely in the present, he is the hero, the finest gift of the will." [820W - {3/12/72} CD Vol. I, p. 466]. We need only remember that Brünnhilde called herself Wotan’s “Will” in order to grasp that it’s only by virtue of Brünnhilde knowing for Siegfried what he doesn’t know, Wotan’s confession of all that he feared and loathed in time and space, that Siegfried is able to live solely in the present. This is the finest gift given by Brünnhilde, Wotan’s Will, to Siegfried. What else does Wotan mean when he tells Brünnhilde’s mother Erda that (thanks to the love Siegfried and Brünnhilde share, which Wotan hopes will redeem the world from Alberich’s Ring Curse of consciousness) “… your knowledge wanes before my will” [i.e. Brünnhilde]?
Post Reply