Julian Young "The Philosophies of Richard Wagner" Part 4

General Discussion about Wagner and The Ring of the Nibelung

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Julian Young "The Philosophies of Richard Wagner" Part 4

Post by alberich00 » Wed Feb 23, 2022 12:35 pm

P. 121: “There is no escaping the fact that this life is ‘the great world tragedy’ because ‘however great may be the peace of mind resulting from this regeneration of the human race [through vegetarianism], ‘yet in the nature that surrounds us, the violence of Ur-elements, the unchanged emanations of the will beneath us and on either hand in sea or desert, indeed, even in the insect, in the worm we tread upon unheeding, we shall always feel the awful tragedy of this world-being.’ (RA, 246-47) (…) That man is a wolf to man can never be overcome.”

PH: Wotan’s final conclusion about man (all men and women) is that he can’t transcend himself, can’t escape his egoism, which is behind everything he undertakes, even behind his longing for redemption from it. As Feuerbach and Wagner put it, man’s longing to escape himself falls to the ground under the weight of gravity [man’s egoism (the Giants’ claims) and natural law (Erda and the Norns)]. This is the lesson Alberich and his Ring Curse taught Wotan. Alberich’s Ring Curse is the curse of consciousness, which in man’s earliest days automatically invented religion and its gods, but was predestined in time to overthrow its own self-deception as it gathered a hoard of worldly knowledge, including man’s knowledge of his true nature, identity, and origin in Nature.

P. 121: “… for the Schopenhauerian Wagner, redemption can never happen in this world but occurs only through world-transcendence: ‘peace, rest and happiness dwell there alone where there is no when, no where’ (WBK, 261)”

PH: But that “… no when, no where’ is deep within the human soul, in the unconscious, in feeling, rather than in some theoretically supernatural realm. It’s this that links the Rhinedaughters (Wagner’s metaphor for preconscious instinct, feeling) with Redemption.

P. 122: “… there can be only one answer: through the empathetic realization that suffering is common to all life at all times, love brings about one’s ‘transition from virtue to asceticism’ … . It brings one to a condition of complete ‘indifference’ (WR I:391) to all things worldly, to a complete abandonment of willing, not only the willing involved in the works of love, but, finally, even that minimal willing necessary to preserve one’s bodily existence.”

PH: Precisely why Nietzsche described religious world-denial, pessimism, as antithetical to life and health, as did Feuerbach and Wagner previously.

P. 122: “One candidate for being the redeemer referred to in Parsifal’s final line [‘Redemption for the Redeemer’] is … Jesus. A difficulty with this interpretation, however, is that it posits the heretical idea of the Christian God as in need of redemption and, moreover, as receiving his redemption from man, from Parsifal. / Another possible referent is the Grail, which clearly has been ‘redeemed,’ restored to full effectiveness, by Parsifal’s return of the holy spear.”

P. 123: “The third possibility is that the redeemer is Parsifal himself, the ‘redeemer’ of the Grail who at the end of the opera is himself redeemed.”


PH: In my interpretation, Parsifal the artist-hero is the latest and last of the culture heroes who gave birth to religious, political/social, and artistic revolutions in the quest for redemption from the cold hard truth. In this sense Christ, the Buddha, and other such icons of religious faith or metaphysical speculation are reborn in Parsifal, who in the end comes to see himself as having unwittingly and unconsciously (as the pure fool) perpetuated Wotan’s religious sin against all that was, is, and will be. So Parsifal in the end renounces man’s bid for transcendence, his former muse of unconscious artistic inspiration Kundry dies, since she no longer serves any purpose, and Amfortas (collective, historical man) no longer suffers from the un-healing wound inflicted by seeking redemption from reality and all the guilt that’s entailed in never being able to attain true spiritual autonomy from Nature. The Grail, once a symbol for man’s religious bid for transcendence, is exposed to view as what it truly is, Nature which has been obscured under a veil of illusion. Mother Nature thus is no longer trampled under by religious man, now that he’s accepted his own mortality and animality and even egoism and no longer seeks redemption in other worlds. Parsifal retroactively gives redemption to himself and all prior redeemers (Parsifal himself in his past lives) by renouncing man’s age-old bid for transcendent value. No wonder Wagner in ‘The Wibelungs’ of 1848 stated that the Nibelung Hoard was sublimated into the Holy Grail. In other words, man, a product of natural evolution, invented the concept of redemption from man’s natural and earthly coils, but this longing is itself a product of man’s physical impulses combined with his mental gift of abstraction (the Ring) and imagination (the Tarnhelm), as Feuerbach put it. As Feuerbach said, God tries to hide his true origin in Nature, and forbids questioning his true identity and origin (think here of Lohengrin’s forbidden question). Also, in the Ring Wotan the god does indeed seek redemption through mortal man.

P. 123: “… although Parsifal is not Christ - Christ does not have to learn compassion - by the end of the opera, as Kundry recognizes in washing his feet, he has reached a Christ-like condition. This tells us something about Wagner’s theology: that for Christ, too, the crucifixion was the ‘redemption of the redeemer.’ “

PH: Parsifal, the reincarnation of Christ and Buddha and all prior culture heroes of religious faith, social revolution, and inspired secular art, redeems himself and all prior ostensible redeemers from the sin of pessimism, from Wotan’s sin against all that was, is, and will be (denial of the real world), the false redemption they offered man through the illusion that man could attain transcendence. This is in my view the ultimate meaning of redemption to the redeemer. The redeemer no longer seeks redemption from the real world, because this quest is futile, the quest itself originating in the real world, in man’s bodily fears and desires.

P. 123: “If … we assume … that the art of the Parsifal period is consonant with its philosophy, it follows that Parsifal is the redeemer and that he is redeemed through having learned to love, and thereby learned the ‘error of existence.’ (…) In act II, Kundry … cunningly raises the issue of sex: ‘If you are the redeemer,’ she asks, ‘what evil stops you from uniting with me for my redemption?’ This seems precisely the suggestion made in Wagner’s letter to Schopenhauer and endorsed in Tristan, that suggestion that the love that redeems is, above all, sexual love … . (…) Parsifal’s victory over Kundry (a victory for which she, in fact, yearns) lies in his resisting the power of her kiss.”

PH: One key aspect of Parsifal’s becoming fully self-conscious, and conscious of the sin against Mother Nature he and all his spiritual ancestors have committed, is that he sees how he in his former lives and his own former muse of unconscious artistic inspiration Kundry have perpetuated that sin over time, so he renounces the ersatz and only temporary redemption loving union with Kundry would offer. Siegfried only became conscious of his sin at his last dying moment, and Tristan suffered through consciousness of it during the entire last act of Tristan. Both Siegfried and Tristan meditate on their having been born through their mothers’ deaths (Wagner’s figure for religious man’s sin of world-denial, the denial of man’s true mother, Nature), and Parsifal feels unbearable guilt at having killed his mother who died of a broken heart at the hands of his neglect. The hero’s being born through his mother’s death, or his having killed her through neglect (in Parsifal’s case), is linked with the muse-heroine whom the artist-hero thinks of as a surrogate mother. In other words, the artist-hero’s inspiration by his artistic muse is man’s substitute not only for dying religious faith but for man’s true mother, Nature. These are all metaphors for the cost of religious pessimism or world-denial, a sin described as such by both Feuerbach and Wagner. What’s described as sex here is really Wagner’s metaphor for the secular artist-hero’s unconscious artistic inspiration by his muse, which unwittingly perpetuated Wotan’s sin against Mother Nature and her knowledge of all that was, is, and will be. It’s Kundry’s kiss and Parsifal’s sudden intuition of the cause of Amfortas’s un-healing wound (man’s futile quest to transcend his own true nature, which inspired secular art perpetuated) which grants Parsifal the insight he needs to offer man (Amfortas) final redemption, i.e., redemption from seeking redemption. Parsifal feels responsible for all of this agony because he in his past incarnations perpetuated religious man’s sin of world-denial. Another aspect of this is that man, formerly viewing himself as of divine origin and therefore a stranger to Nature and to his own body, which man abhorred, now embraces his mortality and accepts his evolutionary status as one animal among others, and therefore as one with all of existence. This in my interpretation is the meaning of the Good Friday Spell in the last act of Parsifal, in which Nature regains her day of innocence, and man will no longer trample her as he did when he denied his true Mother, Nature, in favor of an illusory other world of Spirit. This is the true meaning, in my view, of Parsifal’s compassion for Amfortas: Parsifal realizes that he in all his past incarnations set man (Amfortas) up for failure by luring him into a futile quest for transcendent value, which was a sin against our true mother Nature, as both Feuerbach and Wagner put it.

P. 123-124: “What … seems decisively to distinguish Parsifal from Tristan is the rejection of sexuality. While Tristan love is entirely sexual, Parsifal love, like the ‘love in the exalted Christian sense’ extolled in the final philosophical writings, is asexual, indeed like Schopenhauer’s love, anti-sexual.”

PH: Parsifal’s apparent renunciation of sexual love with Kundry is Wagner’s metaphor for Parsifal’s recognition that by joining in loving union with his former muse of unconscious artistic inspiration he’d be perpetuating Wotan’s (religious man’s) sin against all that was, is, and will be, which Alberich designed his Ring Curse to punish. Alberich’s Ring Curse is identical with the wound that will never heal suffered by Tristan and Amfortas. By renouncing her he also retroactively renounces all prior religious belief, altruistic ethics (predicated on man’s belief in his transcendent spirit), and inspired secular art. Just because man philosophically accepts the fact of his mortality and his true place in Nature doesn’t mean that he transcends his egoism, which is inherent in all sentient life, or transcends his instinctive fear of death. Note that Klingsor castrated himself in his quest to attain spiritual purity. This is another of Wagner’s critiques of pessimism, of world-denial in man’s religious aspirations, man’s quest to transcend himself and escape his bodily limitations and impulses. Parsifal is not anti-sex.

P. 125: “In early Wagner, the ethical deed to be accomplished by the ‘artwork of the future’ is the ‘strengthening’ of community through its gathering into ethos. But after the Schopenhauerian turn this mode of thought is … entirely rejected. There is nothing to be done about the ‘unblessedness’ (SR, 23) of life on earth and so no point in attempting to promote the flourishing of community. Given this, the question arises as to what ethical purpose there remains for the artwork to fulfill. Wagner’s final writings provide a clear answer:

To people harassed by the arrogance of our chemists and physicists, and who begin to hold themselves for weak of brain if they shrink from accepting a resolution of the world into ‘force and matter’ - to them it would be an act of charity to show, from the works of our philosopher [Schopenhauer], what clumsy things are those same ‘molecules and atoms.’ (WBK, 260) “

PH: It’s long been my thesis that Alberich’s accumulation of a hoard of treasure in the bowels of the earth (Erde = Erda), and Wotan’s accumulation of a hoard of knowledge while descending into the earth to have union with Erda (whose product is their daughter Brünnhilde and the other Valkyries), and while wandering the earth (Erda) as the Wanderer, is Wagner’s metaphor for collective, historical man’s gradual accumulation of that hoard of objective, scientific knowledge of both man and his world which ultimately and inevitably overthrows man’s illusory religious beliefs. This is what Alberich meant when he warned Wotan and Loge that everyone will long for gold, and that the gods will, in effect, overthrow themselves. This is Alberich’s premonition that collective man, who invented the gods, will in the course of history acquire that knowledge which will overthrow religious belief. Though Wagner sometimes expresses satisfaction with Schopenhauer’s claim about the ideality of time, space, and causation, that these elements of a priori knowledge have nothing to do with the thing-in-itself, the world as it really is in itself, Schopenhauer’s identification of the thing-in-itself with the will-in-nature, another name for egoism and self-aggrandizement, precludes the possibility of finding any redemption from the real world and its evil except in the subjective sense that inspired art, particularly music, makes us feel “as if” we’ve transcended the limits of time, space, causation, and Nature’s coherence (the equivalent of Fate in the Ring). This commentary applies to the following passage from Young’s book as well.

P. 125: “Harassed by science and scientism, people fear that life is physical existence followed by complete extinction. And that means they no longer have any ‘antidote’ … to fear of death or hope of compensation for the misery of life. In the past it was Christianity that supplied the antidote, but its metaphysical dogmas no longer command belief. In their place we need to acquire a ‘vivid knowledge of the ideality of [the] world’ (ibid.), of the fact that life is a ‘dream’ and as such requires a dreamer outside the dream. That knowledge we can … acquire from reading Schopenhauer’s philosophy. But when it comes to describing what it is that awaits us once the dream of life is over, philosophy … must fall silent … . It therefore falls to the artist, to the ‘poet-priest’ (RA, 247), to provide ‘the experience of partaking in redemption in advance,’ an experience of the ‘transfigured’ existence that awaits us once the soul has been allowed to ‘soar’ away from the realm of ‘semblance’ (RA, 249). For we human beings, redemption can be experienced only ‘in an image, in the artwork, in the poem, in music.’ But since the great artwork provides such an image ‘one can surely derive the confidence that somewhere it exists in reality.’ (WBK, 261). (Emotional rather than logical confidence, of course, faith rather than knowledge).
If we ask how this is achieved by Parsifal the answer, I think, can only lie in the music, in the extraordinary, trance-like condition - the ‘Wagnerian sublime’ … - into which this five hour adagio transports the receptive listener. The effect - the sense of timelessness Wagner discovers in Palestrina … - seems to me almost entirely independent of the narrative, the drama. One can see in Wagner’s final thoughts about, and practice of, his art, I think, the drive toward the transcendence of opera, toward absolute music.”

P. 132: “ … in 1878, he [Nietzsche] published Human, All-too-Human, a work that effectively ended all personal contact between himself and Wagner. Discarding his own former Schopenhauerian idealism and affirming in its place scientific materialism, the work attacked everything later Wagner believed in: pessimism, the ethics of compassion, the cult of artistic genius, and art posing as religion. In the decade between 1878 and his descent into madness at the beginning of 1889, almost every work Nietzsche published contained ever more hostile criticisms of Wagner, culminating, in his final months of at least relative sanity, in an entire book of hostile criticism, The Case of Wagner.”

PH: Nietzsche either never grasped, or pretended not to have grasped, that Parsifal is the culmination of Wagner’s Feuerbachian critique of religious belief and world-denial, rather than the anti-life, pessimistic, nihilist work that Nietzsche claimed to believe it was. Nietzsche, so far as I know, never gave proper credit either to Feuerbach or Wagner for their influence on his own critique of religious world-denial and his skepticism about the West’s received wisdom in general.

P. 134: “That, in 1876, the fictional ‘higher’ self-attributed to Wagner [‘higher’ self - attributed to Wagner - (?)] is really Nietzsche’s actual self seems to say that, at least in 1876, it is really Nietzsche who believes in the great artwork as the ‘poetry of the people’ that will foster the ‘rebirth’ of a genuine community. (…) Wagner’s early theory, the theory Wagner himself has abandoned, is something Nietzsche affirms.”

PH: I believe that my research has demonstrated that Wagner remains a (sometimes reluctant) Feuerbachian throughout his mature period, whose products include his mature music-dramas the Ring, Tristan, Mastersingers, and Parsifal. Nietzsche evidently was deceived by Wagner’s ostensible rejection of Feuerbach’s world-affirmation in favor of Schopenhauer’s pessimism into believing that Wagner’s post-1854 music-dramas were all conceived under the shadow of Schopenhauer’s pessimism and are therefore sick and unhealthy. The fact is that Wagner pits Feuerbachian world-affirmation against world-denial in all of his mature works, and world-affirmation wins in Parsifal, his last will and testament.

P. 135: “In his notebooks of the same year, he [Nietzsche] writes that the task for himself and likeminded people is to ‘become better Wagnerians than Wagner’ (KSA 830 [82]), to remain … true to the ideal Wagner himself has betrayed. (In Beyond Good and Evil he calls such people ‘philosophers of the future,’ thereby expressing his affinity with Feuerbach and with the Feuerbachian Wagner.) ‘In the end,’ he writes Heinrich Köselitz [‘Peter Gast’] in 1883, ‘it was [not the revolutionary but] the aged [Schopenhauerian] Wagner against whom I had to protect myself’ (KGB III.1 381).”

P. 136: “… in The Gay Science, Nietzsche writes that ‘the greatest danger that hovers … over [Western] humanity’ is its loss of ‘the universal bindingness of a faith (GS 76) … . And in the famous section announcing that God is dead and that ‘we’ (we natural and human scientists) are his ‘murderers,’ Nietzsche immediately goes on to say that to be worthy of the ‘magnitude of the deed’ we must invent new ‘festivals of atonement’ and ‘sacred games’ (GS 125), updated versions of the Greek Gesamtkunstwerke.”

PH: I believe that in a certain sense Nietzsche never forgave Wagner for anticipating him. Nietzsche desperately longed to be an inspired artist but wasn’t. Thus Spake Zarathustra was his primary bid to create a legacy of poetic art which would convey his new philosophy. Professor Tom Seung of the University of Texas at Austin, Philosophy Department, has argued, in so many words, that Thus Spake Zarathustra is Nietzsche’s attempt to compete with Wagner’s Ring, and in a sense is written in response to it. The parallel to Nietzsche in Wagner’s Ring is Hagen, who devotes his life to discrediting the artist-hero Siegfried and replacing the ersatz redemption Siegfried offers with the will-to-power, based on objective understanding of the world, which Hagen keeps advertising to Gunther.

P. 136: “… in Ecce Homo he [Nietzsche] reaffirms not just the festival but the Bayreuth festival, hoping that ‘the idea of Bayreuth [will have] transformed itself into … that great noon … who knows? The vision of a festival that I will live to see someday (EH III BT 4).

P. 137: “Nietzsche’s fundamental objection to Wagner consists … in the charge of desertion, betrayal of the noble ideal of the ‘rebirth of Greek tragedy.’ This leaves Nietzsche himself as its remaining flag-bearer, which is why he calls himself Wagner’s (the ‘higher’ Wagner’s) heir … (KGB III.1 381). Wagner betrayed this life-affirming ideal by becoming, in his … dotage, a life-denying Schopenhauerian.”


PH: In the Ring, during Wotan’s confession to Brünnhilde, in his despair and self-loathing Wotan makes Alberich’s yet-to-be-born son Hagen his heir, but only later finds newfound hope of redemption in Brünnhilde’s rebellion against Wotan’s despair and in her love for Siegfried, Wotan’s preferred heir, the inspired secular artist-hero. Hagen is Wagner’s metaphor for the Feuerbachian hero of objective thought, scientific understanding, whose main purpose in life is to discredit purveyors of world-denial in religion, ethics, and art, so that those who grasp the world objectively (and therefore can access the world’s latent power) can inherit the earth.

P. 137: Referencing Nietzsche’s critique of Wagner, Young states: “Life-denying thought and art is therefore the pernicious purveyor of a false and action-inhibiting account of our existence. This, no doubt, is the reason why nearly all directors and interpreters of Wagner’s later operas ‘blink’ - in one way or another to evade the meaning that, so I have argued, he clearly intended them to have.

P. 137-139: Young argues that according to Nietzsche’s critique, the Wagner operas whose music he composed after he’d become acquainted with Schopenhauer are all decadent and life denying, that their sublime Wagnerian music, tied as it is to life-denying pessimism, a wish to escape the real world, which is what mainly attracts audiences to Wagner, is a narcotic that according to Nietzsche we should forsake. The only Wagner opera which according to Nietzsche’s aesthetic and ethic we should embrace is the only one which followed Wagner’s template for the revolutionary music-drama as spelled out in Wagner’s theoretical work Opera and Drama, The Rhinegold.


P. 140, Note 6: “The very subtitle of Beyond Good and Evil (1886), ‘Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future,’ is an evocation of the spirit of Feuerbach that is rarely commented on by Anglo-American Nietzsche scholars.

P. 140: Note 7: “As I have argued at length in Young 2006 and Young 2010, it is not that Nietzsche doubts that the exceptional individual has exceptional value. It is rather that this value (Walther von Stolzing’s value to the mastersingers, for instance) is derived from the individual’s value to the community, his value as, in Wagner’s language, the finder of ‘new pathways’ … . Partial cultural analogues of Darwin’s ‘random mutations,’ Nietzsche’s exceptional individuals - those ‘free spirits’ (of the ‘first rank’) who are ‘the seed-bearers of the future [and] the spiritual colonizers and shapers of new states and communities (GS 23) - represent a community’s ability to survive and thrive in an ever-changing environment.”


PH: Wagner has a very advanced (Hegel-and-Feuerbach-influenced) theory of cultural evolution, which is the role played by those comparatively few individuals with the independence of mind, and dissatisfaction with the world as they find it, to contribute the “new” to their societies, though often as not such revolutionary creativity is punished in more traditional societies (as with Siegmund). Wagner’s view is that only a very small number of humans have this capacity for making original contributions to the evolution of culture, be it in science, politics, art, religion, etc. He also noted that for him to be granted a place along that ‘well-hewn causeway’ of cultural evolution, he needed to disburse his original art as widely and deeply as possible so that there would be an increased statistical likelihood that the seeds he planted would grow and be carried forward by others. This is partly predicated on Feuerbach’s notion of man’s gradual accumulation of a hoard of knowledge, to which individual geniuses contribute in the course of world history.
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