Julian Young "The Philosophies of Richard Wagner" Part 2

General Discussion about Wagner and The Ring of the Nibelung

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Julian Young "The Philosophies of Richard Wagner" Part 2

Post by alberich00 » Wed Feb 23, 2022 12:40 pm

P. 61, Note 18: “Nietzsche observes … that the Ring … is a ‘great system of [ethical] thought.’ He adds, however, that it is a system that ‘thinks mythologically’ as ‘the people have always done (WB 9).”

PH: Discussed previously.

P. 71: Speaking of possible inconsistencies in Schopenhauer’s thought and Christian theology, Young says: “… eternal existence might turn out to be a curse rather than a blessing. In … Christian mythology, the damned suffer eternal torment. So the question remains: why should we think of death as redemption? (…) Nature is a place of horror: life must feed on life in order to survive. Given Schopenhauer’s early metaphysics with its claim that the will is the thing in itself … , this leads to the nightmare conclusion that the will, that is, the thing in itself, is ‘not divine but rather demonic’ (WR II:349-50). As the only genuinely real entity, the world-will must be responsible for this morally repulsive world. So it is essentially evil.”

PH: This is another way of stating Wotan’s conclusion, that he finds with loathing only himself (i.e., his egoism) in everything that he undertakes, even in his longing for redemption. The un-healing wound that Tristan and Amfortas suffer is that they become conscious of the futility of their longing for transcendence. The un-healing wound is man’s metaphysical drive to posit his transcendence and to base all his values, the meaning and happiness of his life, on an impossibility, an impossibility that only becomes fully conscious in modern times with scientific thought’s replacement of dying religious faith, but which lurks menacingly as a subliminal undercurrent throughout all prior history, and is in fact the basis for the fear of knowledge which is the true but hidden basis of religious faith. The fact that Amfortas, in service to the Grail, can’t accept the fact of man’s mortality, of man’s inevitable death, yet longs for death (i.e., longs to relieve himself from the necessity of serving this illusion of transcendence) is the source of all his unbearable anguish. His dad Titurel, who lives in his own grave unable to die, is a particularly harsh symbol for this. Amfortas’s torturing himself for his inability to be a pure, spiritual being freed from temptation is another form of this torture. Kundry’s self-flagellation, in which she alternates between a seductress who undermines the Grail knights’ belief in their own transcendent value, and a penitent who attempts to atone for this sin by serving the Grail as messenger and inspirer (messenger like musical motifs), is another form again.

Parsifal in the end comes to blame himself for (in his past lives) having perpetuated man’s religious sin of pessimism, as either Christ, Buddha, or an artist-hero, which in modern times becomes unbearable. Note that the muse Kundry’s balms (her inspiration of redemptive works of art) no longer offer even the impression of healing. Wagner’s early symbol for this was the Dutchman, condemned to sail the seven seas, unable to die, because he once strove to defy natural law, swearing he’d never give up trying to round the Cape of Hope against the wind, and Satan took him at his word. Satan in the Dutchman is a prefiguration of both Alberich and Loge, for it’s Loge (Wagner’s metaphor for man’s artistic gift of self-deception) who lures Wotan into doing what makes him subject to Alberich’s Ring Curse.

P. 72: “… for his [Schopenhauer’s] philosophy to make room for redemption he must cancel the identification between will and thing in itself. (…) / … at the point at which all philosophy, including his own, must withdraw into silence, mysticism, Schopenhauer observes, proceeds ‘positively.’ “

PH: Wagner, echoing Feuerbach, stated that music is essentially religious philosophy, i.e., all that language must keep silent (the object of faith, its mystery) is spoken aloud in music. Wagner’s musical motifs and his music in general are his substitute for mysticism.

P. 75: “To will … is to suffer. Hence ordinary consciousness is suffering consciousness. The most constant form of suffering (especially in a world where ‘man is a wolf to man’) is a grinding anxiety. (…) Aesthetic consciousness comes about on those rare occasions when we are suddenly ‘taken out of ourselves’ by the breathtakingly beautiful … .”

PH: Following Feuerbach, Wagner noted that man’s essential motive is fear, fear of the end (think of Wotan), the self-preservation instinct. Feuerbach described this fear as the origin of religion. Wagner felt that his art, transfigured by music, could be freed from this fear (including freedom from religious man’s longing for immortal life, which is inspired by fear of death). Siegfried is fearless, while Wotan is paralyzed into impotence by fear of the end.

P. 76-77: “In experiencing the sublime, he [Schopenhauer] says, we inhabit a ‘twofold‘ (WR I:204), a ‘mingled and divided,’ state of consciousness (WR I:250). Consciousness is divided between the two referents of the ‘equivocal “I” ‘ … . On the one hand the subject ‘feels himself, as individual … a vanishing nothingness’ threatened with ‘annihilation.’ But on the other, he ‘feels himself the eternal serene subject of knowing’ … (WR I:204-5).” Since the latter is the dominant feeling the ‘exaltation’ that belongs to the feeling of the sublime is an intimation of immortality … .”

PH: This corresponds with Scruton’s discussion of Kant’s notion that man is at once both an object in nature, and a subject who in some mysterious way can observe things as an outsider, neutrally. Wagner stated that the authentic artist, even in the midst of the world’s frights and struggles, preserves the serene capacity to observe. Once Wotan is assured his ideals will live on in his heirs Siegfried and Brünnhilde, he tells Alberich at Neidhöhle (where Wotan has come in his role as the Wanderer) that Wotan hasn’t come to act but to observe. 


P. 78: “Music, Schopenhauer claims, is universally recognized as a ‘language,’ as saying something … of ‘inexpressible depth’ (WR I;264). It follows that music must … be about something. (…) … music must be about the thing in itself, … the will. (…) The assumption in all Schopenhauer’s discussions of music … is that will and thing in itself are one … .”

PH: Wagner believed that music moves us so deeply because in some sense it’s the essence or distillate of some inner drama which becomes conscious for us only as feeling, not thought or act, but whose original source remains unconscious. Siegfried betrays his muse of unconscious artistic inspiration Brünnhilde in two ways which are closely related. He gives her (and thus the secrets, hidden even from him, of his unconscious artistic inspiration) away to another man, Gunther, who is Wagner’s metaphor for his own audience, and thereby dooms himself. This corresponds with Tristan giving away his true love Isolde to another man, King Marke, and thereby dooming himself. Wagner himself stated in 'Epilogue to The Nibelung’s Ring’ that the plots of Twilight and of Tristan are in this sense identical, and represent the same myth. Wagner stated that through his musical motifs he made his audience fellow-knowers of the artist’s profoundest secret, and he stated elsewhere that for the authentic artist his art remains a mystery to himself. And Siegfried conceptually interprets (at Hagen’s behest, Hagen being Wagner’s metaphor for the secular spirit of objective thought which pops the bubble of man’s illusions in modern, scientific times) the meaning of the Woodbird’s song (another symbol for Wagner’s musical motifs of reminiscence and foreboding) for his audience of Gibichungs, including Gunther and Hagen.

Siegfried actually inadvertently foresees he’ll betray his muse of unconscious artistic inspiration Brünnhilde, and her secrets, in this way, when in T.P.B, after she’s told him: “(H161:) What gods [she means Wotan] have taught me I gave to you: a bountiful hoard of hallowed runes … [i.e., Wotan’s unspoken secret, his confession],” Siegfried responds: “You gave me more, o wondrous woman, (H161:) than I know how to cherish [i.e., keep, or guard]: (H161) (H160:) Chide me not if your (H161:) teaching left me untaught!” In other words, Siegfried unwittingly and involuntarily foresees that he won’t be a good guardian of the unspoken secret of his unconscious artistic inspiration, Wotan’s confession to Brünnhilde, which Brünnhilde has imparted to Siegfried subliminally and unconsciously, thereby leaving Siegfried [his conscious mind] untaught. Through her, he possesses knowledge unconsciously, which later he’ll betray to consciousness by giving her, his muse and her secrets, away to another man Gunther (Wagner’s metaphor for his own audience), and by interpreting the Woodbird’s music conceptually in the song Siegfried sings, at Hagen’s behest, narrating the story of his heroic life and how he came to grasp the meaning of birdsong.

P. 81: “… music has an inevitable tendency to, in Nietzsche’s phrase, ‘give birth’ to a text that stands to universal emotion ‘in the relation of an example’ (WR I:263). (…) / Although this line of thought allows opera to be a legitimate enterprise Schopenhauer insists that music must always be the primary element since, as the ‘secret history of the will,’ it gives ‘the innermost soul of events and occurrences’ while words give their ‘mere cloak and body’ (WR II:448). (…) … what the happy combination of music and words achieves is an account of ‘the world as [both] will and representation … .”

PH: This provides an excellent explanation of how Wagner’s music-dramas are aesthetically and conceptually justified: they capture our experience from all angles, conscious and unconscious, thinking and feeling.

P. 82-83: Young says that since Schopenhauer sees the world, and the will, as a source of suffering, he wonders how music, which embodies the will, can be beautiful or redemptive, and he asks why we like listening to the secret history of the will.

PH: Wagner stated in a variety of ways (echoed by Donington in his book Wagner’s ‘Ring’ and its Symbols) that music, being a sort of distillate of our experience, is freed from all that we fear and loathe, the materialism of the world, yet captures its essence, so that we can play with it without fear of harm. Wotan confessed to Brünnhilde thoughts so unbearable that he said he dare not speak them aloud (i.e., consciously), and that in speaking to her (she called herself his “will”) he’d be speaking to himself something unspoken in words. Yet it might be spoken aloud in music. In S.3.3. Brünnhilde tells Siegfried that what Wotan thought (i.e., what he confessed to her), she felt, and that what she felt was just her love for Siegfried (accompanied at this point by Motif H143, the so-called World Inheritance Motif which Wotan introduced while informing Erda in S.3.1 that he now willed the end of the gods she’d foretold and which previously paralyzed him with fear of the end, because his hope of redemption from Alberich’s Ring Curse - of consciousness - lives on in his heirs Siegfried and Brünnhilde). In other words, dying religious faith, which depends on a conceptual claim to truth, lives on as feeling, in the love Siegfried and Brünnhilde share, Wagner’s metaphor for his unconscious artistic inspiration. The unspoken secret of Siegfried’s unconscious inspiration is Wotan’s confession of his hoard of unbearable knowledge to Brünnhilde, a hoard of knowledge Siegfried inherits (but only subliminally) by winning the love of Brünnhilde, Wotan’s safe repository of his unspoken secret, his hoard of knowledge. As Brünnhilde tells Siegfried in T.P.B, what the gods gave her (she means Wotan’s confession to her of his divine “Noth”), a hoard of runes, she’s given to Siegfried.

P. 83: “At the highest moments of musical experience, Schopenhauer should be saying, we identify with the self in itself, the real self that is beyond appearance and and so beyond the will. We empathize with the empirical self and so feel its pain, but our primary identification is with the pain-transcending self … . (…) … if the will is the thing in itself then there is nothing ‘beyond the will’ and no redemption from the misery of life.”

PH: Yes, it’s always been a problem with Schopenhauer’s notion of redemption that if the Will underlies all things, it underlies even man’s longing for redemption from its suffering. I think Michael Tanner asked: how can the will, in man, redeem itself from itself. Feuerbach answered that man can’t transcend himself. But he can feel as if he can, especially in art which doesn’t make a falsifiable claim to truth that science can contradict. Wagner himself said that this world is our only world beyond which there is only nothingness.

P. 88: According to early Wagner: “… by inventing a supernatural world as the only locus of true happiness Christianity turned this world - the only world - into a ‘loathsome dungeon’ and thereby undermined the revolutionary impetus (AF, 37).
After 1854 all this changes. Wagner’s writings become thick with descriptions of the natural, material world in the language of romantic Kantianism. It is a ‘dream’ world, a world of ‘delusion’ and ‘fancy’ (Wahn).”


PH: Perhaps one of the most surprising developments of my Wagner research has been that one can interpret not only the Ring but Wagner’s other mature music-dramas, Tristan, Mastersingers, and even Parsifal in a Feuerbachian framework, and this is also true of Tannhäuser and Lohengrin. Dutchman fits also, but I have little evidence that RW knew Feuerbach’s works prior to working on Tannhäuser. It is true that in his later writings Wagner posits a vaguely supernatural redemption which somehow arises from one of Nature’s mysteries, and simultaneously construes music as the source of drama rather than the other way around. But the music-drama librettos tell another story. I don’t believe Wagner ever emancipates himself from Feuerbach’s thesis that there’s only one real world, and it’s the physical one we know, and that this real world is the ultimate (but often unconscious) source of inspiration for not only music but previously for man’s illusions of redemption in heaven. Man defined heaven as containing all that granted him felicity in this life, while artificially banning from his conception of it all in this life which he deplored, even though what grants us bliss can’t be separated from the pain and anguish that accompanies life, as Feuerbach put it.

P. 89: “The idea that this world is one that ‘ought not to exist’ and that it is the only world is a combination of ideas too horrible to be sustained by the human mind.”

PH: It’s precisely such an irresolvable existential dilemma that Wotan faces which compels him to repress knowledge of it into his unconscious mind Brünnhilde in his confession to her. As Nietzsche put it speaking of religious nihilism in general, he can no longer believe in the consoling illusions which have sustained him, nor live with the only other world, the real world (which man assigned to Satan) he’s forced to acknowledge, so he plunges inward into his unconscious mind where he involuntarily buries and represses this abhorrent self-knowledge. The reason Siegfried feels fear for the first time just prior to waking Brünnhilde is because he intuits she’s the repository for Wotan’s unbearable self-knowledge, which he inherits once he wins her love. This isn’t just speculation: it’s proved by the musical motifs in play which express his fear, and her fear of consummating their union, in S.3.3.

P. 90: “… he [Wagner] writes that he has found his deepest intuitions articulated by Schopenhauer beside whom ‘all these Hegels’ (optimistic world-improvers such as Marx and Bakunin) are nothing but ‘charlatans’ … . He has decided … with Schopenhauer, that history (in the Hegelian sense) does not exist, that the causes of the misery of the present are eternal and unalterable. The grounds of the misery of life lie not in economics or politics but in the metaphysical, ‘a priori’ structure of nature and of human nature.”


PH: This is another way of stating Wotan’s desperate conclusion in V.2.2, as expressed in his confession to Brünnhilde, that all that he undertakes is loathsome because he finds only himself, his inherently and inescapably egoistic self, in all that he undertakes, even in his efforts to redeem himself from his egoism. Feuerbach and Nietzsche accept man’s egoism as his primary motive, but Wagner (and Wotan) can’t.

P. 90-91: “… Wagner himself insists that the turn to pessimism had already occurred before he discovered The World as Will and Representation.”

PH: This fact can be construed from Wagner’s Ring, since he made very few alterations to its libretto after he read Schopenhauer. The gods’ destruction and Siegfried’s destruction were already part of it. The entire trajectory of Wotan and his proxies is their futile quest to redeem themselves from Alberich’s Ring Curse, which in the end brings them all down. Wotan (Wagner) finds this unbearable, so he wishes to renounce the world, but can’t find a believable alternative. This thought would drive him mad were he to contemplate it consciously, so he represses it by confessing it to his other self, his unconscious mind Brünnhilde. Schopenhauer himself described madness as what occurs when a human mind can’t accept an unbearable thought and therefore represses it, replacing it with a consoling fantasy. This is really an apt description of how religious beliefs came into being through a sort of collective dreaming, as described by Feuerbach.

P. 93: Young notes that Isolde confronts Tristan with the “and” problem in response to his hope for death and transfiguration, i.e., the enjoyment of some kind of post-death bliss in eternity [the “and” problem being her recognition that the value of their love consists in its being a relationship of two distinct beings, Tristan “and” Isolde, not their loss of individuality by becoming one being].

PH: Just as Brünnhilde knows for Siegfried what he doesn’t know, that his true identity and origin lies in Wotan’s confession to her of his futile hope for a redeemer, so Isolde possesses the knowledge, fatal to Tristan’s mental health, that transcendence doesn’t inhere in the world or man. It’s the artist-hero’s muse who knows for the hero what he can’t afford to know, his true identity and origin.

P. 94: Young quotes Wagner: “ ‘since this world is the source of our unhappiness, that other world, the world of redemption from it, must be just as different from the present world as the mode of cognition whereby we are to perceive it must be a different mode which shows us nothing but this present world of suffering and illusion.’ “

PH: Yes, Wagner on several occasions stated that the other world of redemption from this one must exist because we long for it so much, a concept which Feuerbach had debunked long ago, as Wagner well knew. In fact, man’s inability to bear the real world and longing for redemption from it is a very good reason not to believe in the reality of that other world of which man dreams. It recalls the notion that every man becomes religious in a fox hole. This only proves that people in desperation look for any means to alleviate their fear, including especially self-deception.

P. 94-95: For Schopenhauer, “Religion is … a meditation on death and its function is to provide an ‘antidote’ to our deepest fear … .”

P. 95: For Wagner, “True religion’s ‘sole true dwelling place [is] within the deepest, holiest inner chamber of the individual. Away from the cheating daytime [i.e., social] world it shines in the night of man’s innermost heart.’ “

PH: Wagner is echoing a passage in Feuerbach in which he described how God can no longer live in the modern, scientific world so he retreats into feeling, which Feuerbach elsewhere identifies with music, man’s heart. Wagner is obliquely referring here to music as the language of man’s innermost heart, away from the cheating show of day (concepts, relations, words, history, drama). In many instances Wagner identified religious longing for transcendence with music, and with the religious mysteries, the mysteries of faith. This is echoed in the Rhinedaughters’ lament at the end of The Rhinegold, in which they state that truth lies alone in the depths, that false and fated is what rejoices [i.e. the gods about to enter Valhalla] above. It’s of course Woglinde’s lullaby H4 which gives birth to the Woodbird’s second tune, H138ab, which guides Siegfried to his muse of unconscious artistic inspiration and redemption, Brünnhilde.

P. 95-96: “For Schopenhauer, … virtue is sympathetic altruism, love in the sense of agape. But through universal love the saint comes to the realization of the universality of suffering, the realization that pessimism is a metaphysical truth. And this … awareness of the futility of the works of love … brings about the ‘transition from virtue to asceticism’ a withdrawal from all action including the acts of love.”

PH: Wotan’s paralysis in the face of his recognition that all of his actions, even those intended to redeem him from Alberich’s Ring Curse, are motivated by Wotan’s (and therefore man’s) egoism and fear, compels him to resign himself to the gods’ doom. But of course after he’s confessed his impotence to Brünnhilde he finds a temporary saving grace in Brünnhilde’s insistence in fighting for a cause Wotan has renounced as illusory and futile, as indeed it turns out to be when Siegfried and Brünnhilde betray each other. Her ultimate fight for Wotan’s cause is her unconscious artistic inspiration of Siegfried’s art, which Wagner expounded on in detail in Mastersingers, but only dramatizes in its final, tragic conclusion in Twilight of the Gods, in Siegfried’s performance of his song narrating his heroic history and how he learned the meaning of birdsong (i.e., how Siegfried the artist-hero inherited Wotan’s hoard of unbearable knowledge and attempted to transfigure and redeem it through Brünnhilde’s inspiration aesthetically). What Wagner is saying is that he’d discovered the hidden meaning of man’s resort to music as an alternative to dying religious faith. Siegfried’s sung narrative is, in my interpretation, Wagner’s metaphor for a performance of his Ring, in which his musical motifs (the Woodbirdsong) revealed to his audience the secret of his unconscious artistic inspiration, i.e., its origin and true identity in Wotan’s (religious faith’s) failure.

P. 96: “But, Wagner asks, how, having realized the truth of pessimism, is it possible for the king to bear this world of pain … ? (…) The answer is that he is to apprehend life as Wahn, as a kind of ‘show’ which, as such, one never takes seriously. And here art comes to his aid:

‘Art, as the kindly life-savior who does not really and wholly lead us out beyond this life … , but, within it, lifts us up above it and shows it as itself, as a game: a game that, assume it never so earnest and terrible an appearance, yet is shown to us as merely an illusory figment [Wahngebilde], which, as such, comforts us and transports … us above the common truth of our distress [“Noth”].’ “


PH: This passage has been central to my interpretation of Wagner’s Ring for some time. When Wotan can no longer sustain religious illusion, and has given up hope that social revolution can redeem man (Wotan finds only his own egoism in his hope that Siegmund the social revolutionary can redeem religious man’s longing for transcendence and redemption, and renounces it), the last refuge of man’s longing for transcendent value is inspired secular art, which as a fiction stakes no claim to the truth which could be refuted, and as music is freed from religion’s debate with science over what is true and false. Redemptive art is what Wagner really means when he’s speaking of Wahn as a means to salvation, which of course he also associates with Schopenhauer’s description of the phenomenal world of our experience in time and space and causation as illusory, the product of a priori knowledge. The point Wagner is making is that inspired art makes us feel as if it’s more real, more true, more fundamental than the objective world, so that, at least while we’re experience the ecstasy of art, we can imagine the real world is an illusion.

P. 98: “As Wagner tries to suggest that his earlier optimistic theorizing is inconsistent with his artistic pessimism … , so one might plausibly suggest that his later pessimistic theorizing is inconsistent, at least during the creation of Meistersinger, with his artistic optimism. (…) In fact, however, this does not correspond with Wagner’s own understanding of the matter. Contrary to one’s expectations, he wishes to assimilate Meistersinger to his Schopenhauerian outlook.”

PH: Part of the problem assessing Mastersingers in the trajectory of Wagner’s artistic development is that it’s Wagner’s metaphor for what he would describe as the golden age of inspired secular art, freed from its dependence on religious faith, but prior to science’s decimation of man’s illusions about his transcendent value. In Mastersingers Walther’s mastersong really does offer temporary, post-faith redemption to Wagner’s audience, the Folk. And of course throughout Mastersingers its main characters are metaphors for key characters in the Bible, including of course Walther in the role of the redeemer Jesus, Eva in the role of Eve in Paradise (whose original sin Christ atoned), and Hans Sachs as John the Baptist. Wagner borrowed from Feuerbach the notion that all of Wagner’s heroines who for him are metaphors for the artist-hero’s muse of unconscious artistic inspiration, are figures for Eve in paradise, whose breach of God’s demand for unthinking faith and absolute obedience exiled man from paradise, but was the precondition necessary for Christ to be able to offer man restoration of the paradise he’d lost. Wagner identifies this with Eva whose duty, according to Sachs in his cobbling song in Act Two, is to inspire Walther to create that secular mastersong which will offer secular man a substitute for dying religious faith, as compensation for having given Adam the fruit of forbidden, divine knowledge, which exiled Adam and Eve from paradise. Kundry likewise has to compensate the knights of the Grail for giving Amfortas carnal knowledge, so to speak. But the point is that in Mastersingers as in the Ring the secular artist-hero has fallen heir to Christ’s promise to man of redemption. The same is true in Parsifal and Tristan. But in Siegfried’s, Tristan’s, and Parsifal’s case, the artist-hero has become too conscious of who he really is, and can no longer function, having betrayed his muse of unconscious artistic inspiration (Brünnhilde, whom Siegfried gives away to Gunther, and Isolde, whom Tristan gives away to King Marke), and in Parsifal’s case grasps that the temporary redemption he used to obtain from his muse of unconscious artistic inspiration Kundry no longer salves man’s un-healing wound but rips it wide open, which is why he renounces her entirely. This in my interpretation has nothing to do with asceticism or renunciation of sexuality, since the love the hero and heroine share is Wagner’s metaphor for his own unconscious artistic inspiration, which he described to Mathilde Wesendonck as a “marriage of myself to myself.”

P. 98-99: Young, discussing Hans Sachs’s “Wahn” monologue in Meistersinger, cites Sachs’s Schopenhauerian reflection on the riot which erupted the night before, describing it as the result of that Wahn which deludes each individual person into believing themselves distinct from, and having interests distinct from, every other person, and therefore engaged in the war of all against all, when in fact this is an illusion, since we’re all ultimately one. According to Young Sachs, though resigned to this state of affairs, remains cheerful since he regards it all ultimately as a game, an illusion.

PH: But it becomes a game or illusion, redemptive Wahn, only through the art which Walther’s muse of unconscious artistic inspiration Eva, repository of Hans Sachs’s confession of his secret “Noth” during his cobbling song (the true cause of the riot), inspires Walther to create as the muse of his dream. Hans Sachs’s confession to Eva of her need to compensate man for his exile from paradise by inspiring Walther’s art in which Walther’s audience feels as if paradise has been regained, is based on Wotan’s confession to Brünnhilde of his need of a hero who can redeem dying religious faith by granting it rebirth in secular art. This is what Sachs means at the end of his Wahn monologue when he says he’ll put this Wahn of the phenomenal world to good use.
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