JD P. 162: "One of the main problems with "Parsifal" is that woven inside its relatively simple outer edifice is not only a skein of memory leading back to a single catastrophic event - Amfortas's serious injury by the spear stolen by his evil rival Klingsor - but also several allegorical threads that are still hard to disentangle. Even the plot is hard to grasp." JD notes that King Ludwig II wondered why Parsifal was converted by Kundry's kiss, and asked why this made his divine mission clear to him.
PH: I've given what I think is a plausible and I hope persuasive explanation above. I'll add here what has probably been obvious to quite a number of Wagnerians, that there is an underlying conceptual link between Wotan's spear of divine authority and law, and Longinus's Spear, the holy relic which Klingsor stole from Amfortas (Perhaps in a sense like Siegfried's inheriting Wotan's Spear Motif #21 during the oath he swears with Gunther, as Hagen looks on: recall that Hagen, who influenced Siegfried to give the secrets formerly kept by his muse of unconscious artistic inspiration, Bruennhilde, away to his audience, Gunther, will stab Siegfried in the back with a spear that, though it is Hagen's own, stands in fact for Wotan's spear). For Wotan too suffers the unhealing wound which was self-inflicted when man predicated his life's value on the illusion of transcendence, and the entire "Ring" consists of Wotan's futile efforts to heal it.
JD: "Wagner's reply [to King Ludwig II] - a rare attempt to interpret "Parsifal" with more than just riddles - looks evasive at first, though its cautious elucidation of the story's peculiar logic is clear enough:
'That is a terrible secret, my beloved! You know, of course, the serpent of Paradise and its tempting promise: 'Ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.' Adam and Eve became 'knowing.' They became 'conscious of sin.' The human race had to atone for that consciousness by suffering shame and misery until redeemed by Christ, who took upon himself the sin of mankind. My dearest friend, how can I speak of such profound matters except in comparative terms, by means of a parable? Only someone who is clairvoyant can perceive its inner meaning. Adam -- Eve: Christ. -- How would it be if we were to add to them: -- 'Amfortas -- Kundry: Parzival?' But with considerable caution!' "
PH: Again, the explanations I've offered above make good sense of Wagner's equation of Kundry with Eve. And Wagner's artist-hero Parsifal is equated with Christ (as Walther is openly, and Siegfried is somewhat more obscurely in the "Ring," but again literally by Wagner in some things he wrote about Siegfried) because Wagner conceived of his secular artist-heroes as falling heir to religion's former role of offering man the feeling of being redeemed. So in this sense the artist-heroes are reincarnations of both Buddha and Christ.
JD P. 162-164: JD provides examples of Wagner's repugnant efforts to get King Ludwig II (who expressed his view that all humans, of whatever persuasion, are ultimately brothers), to subscribe to his notion that the Jews were somehow a cause of the decline of European civilization, efforts made during the years Wagner was completing his last artwork "Parsifal." JD reproduces one of Wagner's most shocking statements of this type: 'My relations with several of these people [Jews] are friendly, solicitous, and full of compassion; but this is only because I regard the Jewish race as the born enemy of pure humanity and everything noble about it. They will be the ruin of us Germans, that is for sure. Perhaps I am the last German who as an artist knows how to survive the Judaism that's already dominating everything.' " JD also quotes one of Wagner's remarks in which he blamed the Jews for bringing about this decline of pure humanity through mixing of blood with cannibalistic meat-eaters, i.e., according to Wagner, the Jews.
PH: Wagner, following Schopenhauer, had often spoken of the universal human abhorrence of egoism in noble human beings, of a need to purge that tendency in all of us. Somehow or other Wagner attached that self-abhorrence to the Jews, almost as if, by doing so, he could imaginatively construct a race of men who, so purged, would be free of egoism. One of the reasons Siegfried is so comparatively lacking in what many critics regard as a fully developed human profile (something seems to be missing) is that he's been artificially purged in this way of elements of his humanity, by virtue of Wotan having repressed his abhorrent self-knowledge of his true, loathsome Mime-motives into Bruennhilde during his confession to her. But Wagner thereby ascribes this somewhat inhuman quality to inspired artists, who differ from the common run of men in a variety of respects. As Feuerbach pointed out, nothing that humans do, think, say, or feel, is without egoism, even those sentiments geared towards the elimination of the ego. But Wagner himself admitted that with respect to the Germans, they were a mixed race, and that there were no pure races. In fact, Wagner believed that the closest example to a pure race the earth had produced was the Jews. Needless to say, there is no such thing as a pure race. All so-called races are merely defined as such for convenience of differentiation, and all grade into each other. The mere fact that all human groups can mate with each other is the salient point, that we are all the same species.
JD P. 164-167: JD traces Wagner's obsession with purity of racial blood and the degeneration of allegedly noble races by mixture of blood with other races to Wagner's essay of 1848-1849, "The Wibelungen." He then describes Count Gobineau's subsequent contributions to Wagner's racist ideas. In this regard it is surprising to learn, from JD, that Gobineau was not himself an anti-Semite and regarded the Jews as Caucasians and as a subset of the Germanic race.
Here is where JD introduces "Parsifal" into the discussion via some of Wagner's writings which have an unmistakable link with its libretto. "Wagner ... refused to accept his [Gobineau's] view that the decline of the Aryan race was unstoppable. The 'absolute purity' of the Aryan race can indeed be aspired to, Wagner thought, by the intervention of a divine hero, who, although himself a product of racial impurity, is capable of compassion and hence able to resist any further adulteration of blood through an intuitive understanding of human suffering. Indeed, the idea of a superior race no longer in possession of its purity but hoping for salvation is already to be found in embryonic form in the last two sections of 'Die Wibelungen,' in which the fallen master race, torn from 'its natural racial origin ...,' is left to await its redeemer.
(...) Like Gobineau, Wagner believed early on that the original purity of the Aryan race is to be located in the realm of the gods. And he did not hesitate, either, to align the pagan and Christian worlds alongside each other: thus the 'abstract highest god of the Germans, Wuotan,' is 'completely identified with the Christian God,' and the Grail is the relic of humanity containing the hero blood of the slain sun God Siegfried. In this bizarre scenario, Christ is therefore a reincarnation of Siegfried, and the quest for the Grail replaces 'the struggle for the Nibelungs' Hoard."
PH: I've already discussed elsewhere in this forum the implications of Wagner's association of the Nibelungs' Hoard (and thus by extension, Alberich's Ring, and even Alberich's curse on his Ring) with the holy Grail. Feuerbach tells us that all the most sublime concepts in religion, such as the notions of redemption, Godhead, immortality, free will, altruistic love, etc., are all unconscious sublimations of egoism, of earthly ideas and bodily impulses, converted by the human imagination into something allegedly autonomous from its natural origin. Hence, Feuerbach's accusation that religious man has murdered Mother Nature. This explains why the motif of Alberich's Ring (earthly power, the power of the conscious human mind) is transformed during the transition R.1-2 into the first segment of the Valhalla Motif #21a, Valhalla here being construed as a pagan parallel to the Christian heaven (in which selected warriors will live on, and fight on, forever) and also why Wotan is Light-Alberich. It is also noteworthy that on several occasions in the late 40's Wagner wrote that Siegfried himself became a Nibelung by virtue of winning for himself the Nibelung Hoard.
PH: The question of the significance of "blood" in "Parsifal," the notion that the Grail exudes the blood of the redeemer, in its possible relation to Wagner's racial and anti-Semitic ruminations, is a subject which needs to be dealt with at greater length than I can do easily in the discussion forum, but it will be dealt with in detail in the "Parsifal" chapter I'll be including in my hardcopy version of "The Wound That Will Never Heal." Suffice it to say at this point that in spite of several of Wagner's written remarks which lend themselves to a racial interpretation of Amfortas's downfall through miscegenation with Kundry (note their love-making doesn't produce a child), I believe my thesis re Parsifal as reincarnate artist-hero, Kundry as his reincarnate muse, and Amfortas as the audience for the art they would produce if they truly enjoyed loving union (as of old), offers a far more persuasive explanation of this appeal to blood in "Parsifal" than Wagner's racial thinking, though I do agree with JD that in his writings Wagner seems to have set up Parsifal as the pure hero through whom Christ's blood would re-purify the now degenerate blood of Amfortas. This is not to say that "Parsifal" is incapable of embracing more than one satisfactory reading at a time.
JD P. 167: "Robert Young has analyzed with considerable skill some of Gobineau's adroit maneuvers in circumventing the difficulty of justifying the biblical notion of monogenesis (the descent of the different human races from a single source) in a treatise predicated on the decidedly un-Christian idea of polygenesis (the descent of inherently distinct races from different sources). The implication in the "Essai" [on the inequality of races] is that the Fall itself caused the everlasting separation of species ... ."
PH: In at least one of his late essays Wagner's former reasonably objective quest for understanding of his world had declined so much that he reached a new low with his presumably Gobineau-inspired formulation that since we can't possibly affirm a common descent of the higher white race with the yellow races or other races, the noble white race owes its descent to gods [as JD noted above], while the yellow must be descended from monkeys. Though I would never concur with those who assert that Wagner's "Parsifal," taken as one of Wagner's canonical music-dramas, displays a decline in Wagner's former powers (this claim is unutterable nonsense), I can't say the same of Wagner's writings, many of which began to sound more and more like the work of a crank in his last 7 years or so. This sort of thing is shocking even for those fully immersed in Wagner's writings and recorded remarks from all periods. The point of Wagner's remark seems to be to try to get the so-called Aryans (a race even he regarded as merely theoretical, not actual) off the hook of being products of Darwinian evolution, and in this way to purify them of any conceivable link with Jewry, even though in Wagner's "Ring" pretty much all the characters, in the end, can be identified with Nibelungs, in the Feuerbachian sense that all seemingly higher, spiritual things have a mundane, earthly origin. It is precisely because Wotan finally comes to see himself as no higher, no more evolved, than Alberich, that he wishes to discard his old, discredited, Nibelung-self for a new self entirely purged of corrupt elements.
JD P. 167-168: "As Wagner himself believed in a lost purity of racial division long before he read Gobineau -- 'everything is according to its kind' ... the Wanderer confides to Alberich in "Siegfried" - it is perhaps not entirely a coincidence that in his reply to King Ludwig II's question about Kundry's kiss cited above he makes his heroine a notional participant in the fall. 'But with considerable caution!' Wagner adds, almost as if he were warning that the symbolism of Eve/Kundry's sexual allure is by no means restricted to this biblical imagery, but rather represents a multitude of non-Christian ideas as well, including ... the splitting of the racial atom. He describes Kundry to Ludwig not only as a figure who experiences 'constantly changing reincarnations brought about by a primeval curse,' which, 'similar to the "Wandering Jew",' condemns her to life for all time, but also as someone marked by radical difference. She is 'as old as time' ... , yet 'without visible signs of aging.' " JD goes on to record how various descriptions Wagner gave of Kundry's changeable appearance lend themselves to identifying her as a symbol of "essential racial difference."
PH: In my "Ring" interpretation I don't construe Wotan's (the Wanderer's) remark to Alberich in S.2.1 "everything according to its kind" as representing Wotan's description of racial division. Readers can consult my chapter on S.2.1 for details, but I'll just say here that the primary distinctions between characters in the "Ring" tend to represent distinctions between types of human beings (say, Siegfried as the artist-hero vs. Hagen as the objective and cold man of science, who expects to inherit the world once both religion and its protegee, secular art, have been discredited) or aspects of nature or the human psyche. Yes, it has been asserted that Siegmund's and Sieglinde's glorification of their incest is the hallmark of the Waelsungs' instinctive compulsion toward racial purity, but in my interpretation this seeming problem is solved by virtue of the fact that the hero and heroine are two sides of the human mind, the conscious and unconscious. Wagner described his own unconscious artistic inspiration as a "marriage of myself to myself." On the other hand, it is clear that Wagner was also referencing Oedipus's incest with his mother. One will often find that with respect to Wagner's conceptual density, each of his moves (as in a game of chess) serves two, three, or four purpose's in advancing the plot, simultaneously, but these are always harmonious moves which, though seemingly disparate, display a conceptual counterpoint, a series of distinct threads of meaning which collectively constitute a unity.
PH: Interestingly, while Wotan is telling Alberich "each according to its kind" or "everything follows its own way," we hear #3, recalling the Rhine and Erda's Ur-Law which is woven into the rope of fate by the Norns. This corresponds with Wotan's other remark to Alberich that one can alter nothing. When, in S.3.1, Wotan confronted the authoress of Ur-Law (fate), Erda, Mother Nature herself (whose knowledge is natural law), Wotan told her he wished to learn from her how to stop a turning wheel, the turning wheel of fate, and, when Erda suggested he ask her daughters the Norns to answer his questions, he complained that all that they do is according to the world, and that they can alter nothing. But here, in Alberich's presence, and before he confronts Erda, Wotan acknowledges that nothing can be altered, that fate is fixed. I have therefore argued that Wotan's request of Erda that she tell him how to stop the turning wheel of fate is rhetorical: he has already accepted the inevitability of the destruction of the gods, but he believes that his heir, the artist-hero Siegfried, can somehow escape the gods' fate (and Alberich's curse on his Ring is an instrument of that fate, i.e., Erda's prediction in R.4 that a day of darkness dawns for the gods), and it turns out that Siegfried can only escape that fate by ceasing to be conscious of it and therefore ceasing to fear it. Siegfried the artist-hero is freer than Wotan the god because, unlike religious man, the artist and his audience don't stake a claim to the power of the truth (the Ring). But Wotan has granted that Alberich (the advocate of objective knowledge of Erda's world, of all that was, is, and will be) will inevitably be victorious where it is a contest over objective truth, but while granting Alberich (later incarnated as Hagen, Wagner's symbol for the scientific and cynical tendency of the modern world, in which no mystery is left unexplored, and everything man has valued or in which he found spiritual exaltation is explained away), granting science, this victory over religion, Wotan presumes, following Feuerbach's advice, that he can live on safe from scientific reduction in feeling, in the music-dramas which his heir the artist-hero Siegfried and his muse of inspiration Bruennhilde will produce.
JD P. 168-169: "... she [Kundry] is a potent symbol not just of racial mixture, but also of a supposed sexual attraction between the races, to which her failed seduction of Parsifal and her successful seduction of Amfortas in the past both attest.
In the "Essai" Gobineau views the libidinal drive of history almost solely in terms of the attraction of so-called strong masculine races for weaker feminine ones. (...)" JD says that Gobineau suggests that "the Germanic races have ... become strong and 'civilized' precisely because they have mixed their blood with others.
At the same time, in terms of pure racial division, by which Gobineau and Wagner set great store, the mixing of bloods can only lead to an enfeeblement of racial and cultural vitality. This in turns presents a contradiction that greatly appealed to Wagner: the more a civilization gains power through racial mixture, as a result of the sexual attraction of one race for another, the more it becomes vulnerable to decline and decay. The reason for the civilized strength of the Aryan races, the erotic force that has led to the mixing of blood and the dominance of the strong over the weak, is at the same time its fatal weakness and the source of its inevitable degradation. Indeed, with that contradiction in mind, Kundry's baptism and subsequent death at the end of "Parsifal" can be construed as an allegory of the long-awaited conclusion of this process: the end of racial mixture that caused the whole problem in the first place -- the welcome death of hybridity itself."
PH: As JD strongly suggests, there are elements within the "Parsifal" libretto (and music) and also within the associated documentary evidence, such as Wagner's writings and recorded remarks, that lend themselves to such an interpretation, and I confess this makes very interesting reading and should be explored further. My primary objection to it, at this point, is that given the entire context of Wagner's prior canonical operas and music-dramas, and the entirety of the relevant documentary evidence, I can offer a reading of "Parsifal" which accounts not only for all the factors JD laid out in his book, but for virtually all the other seeming conundrums and difficulties in "Parsifal" which JD hasn't referenced, without having to invoke Wagner's racism. Let me say at this point that in some of Wagner's late writings he invoked the notion of the "purely-human," i.e., what is universal to all human beings, and even suggested that Judaism wasn't purely-human in this sense because it was founded on the notion of race. In other words, Wagner's anti-Semitism ultimately took the bizarre form of an indictment of Judaism based upon the racial notion of a chosen people, a concept which Wagner claimed he considered to be parochial and egoistic. Needless to say Wagner wrote in dozens of other places things which wholly contradict what seems at first glance a perhaps more enlightened view of race. And in some of his late writings Wagner suggested that the blood of the saviour (in this instance we can read Parsifal as the saviour) would, mixed with all other bloods, obviate their racial distinctions, because this holy blood was the purely-human incarnate.
JD P. 169: "The music [of the finale in Act III] accounts for the perverse sense of inclusiveness in "Parsifal." Amfortas and his eroticized wound, Kundry with her fraught existence in radically different types of character, and finally Parsifal, who to gain consciousness of the Divine Code must possess no Enlightenment knowledge and renounce carnal desire as if it were the cause of fractured humanity in the first place: through the music the whole imbroglio is finally blended together beneath the slogan 'Redemption to the Redeemer' ... . What does it mean? Probably that the redeemer of mankind is compromised by corrupted blood and is therefore himself in need of redemption by the divine hero, though in the general feel-good wash of sound that ends the work the significance of the phrase may not count for much."
PH: Those who have read deeply in my "The Wound That Will Never Heal" will know that since I read Parsifal's relationship with Kundry in the light of Wagner's metaphor of the artist-and-his-muse, carnality or Eros isn't even an issue in my interpretation, though needless to say Wagner saw sexual union and artistic inspiration as far more deeply linked than a superficial analogy. Feuerbach, for instance, seems to have construed human sexual love as the cutting edge of the cosmos's creative principle, and this concept is definitely intrinsic to Wagner's world-view as expressed in his music-drama. But the main point I am making is that within my interpretation Parsifal is not renouncing sexual love when he renounces Kundry's quest for sexual union at all, since her offer to redeem Parsifal through love is Wagner's way of telling us that the artist's muse is seeking to inspire him to create another redemptive work of art, and Parsifal refuses because he has now seen that a creative act which formerly had temporarily assuaged man's unhealing wound can no longer do so, and therefore it must be renounced. And this is not at all the same thing as Alberich's renunciation of love.
PH: I concur with JD that one could certainly construe some of the more problematical passages in "Parsifal" to suggest that the redeemer, Christ, begs "Parsifal" to redeem him from the taint of corrupted blood with which his servant Amfortas has besmirched the Grail service, by virtue of succumbing to Kundry's temptation, but again, I affirm that there is far more here than meets the eye at first glance. This is a problem I will be tackling in both my prospective chapter on "Parsifal" (to be included in the briefer version of my book "The Wound That Will Never Heal"), and eventually in a revised version of my book-length "Parsifal" study, with which I will eventually conclude my life's work on Wagner. The main point I wish to make here is that in my interpretation Parsifal, as an artist-hero who, like Walther and Siegfried and Tristan, has fallen heir to religion's function in providing mankind with the feeling that man has transcendent value, is in a figurative sense the reincarnation of all prior heroes of religion (Christ, Buddha, etc.) and art who have perpetuated, consciously or unconsciously, the illusion of transcendent value. Since Parsifal the music-dramatist is the last redeemer in this long line of redeemers, it is he who must redeem himself from the false redemption, the sinful perpetuation of religion's and art's denial of Mother Nature, by exposing it (Klingsor's Magic Garden) for what it is, and renouncing religion and art (renouncing man's historical bid for transcendence) in favor of an objective relation to man and nature, even though it goes without saying that in doing so all humane values which had been predicated on the assumption that man has transcendent value, might fall by the wayside. This is the risk. This makes "Parsifal" virtually Nietzschean, which casts a whole different light on Wagner's relationship with Nietzsche and especially upon Nietzsche's diatribes against Wagner in general and "Parsifal" in particular. One thing "Parsifal" most certainly is not is an expression of Wagner throwing himself before the cross in abject Kitschean sentimentality.
PH: Speaking of contradictions, one of the strangest consequences which comes as a matter of course with the world-view Wagner presents in "Parsifal" is that the Schopenhauerian basis for compassion for all things living, predicated as it is not only on the abstruse metaphysics of the "Will," but more especially on Schopenhauer's recognition that all life is an expression of the will in nature, and that therefore man is not distinct from other living things but continuous with them, is also a basis for the counter-proposal that, in view of the fact that man is an animal like all others and like them a product of natural evolution, all of man's instincts are grounded primarily in the instinct for self-preservation, i.e., fear of the stronger and self-aggrandizement with respect to the weaker. And this remains true even with respect to the tenderer emotions displayed by animal mothers and their children, emotions which, as Wagner himself said he feared, scientists could explain in biological/chemical terms, not in terms of soul or spirit. In other words, so what if if moves us to see a mother sacrifice herself in love for her child if a scientist could remove that instinct and change it into its opposite by surgical or chemical manipulation! Wagner was virtually obsessed with the fear that scientific inquiry would eventually demolish all that according to Wagner made life worth living. Wotan, contemplating this eventuality, wishes only to end it all, but temporarily finds an outlet for further expression of his longing for transcendent value in the art which his daughter, the muse Bruennhilde, will inspire Siegfried to create. But it is curious, is it not, that the scientific basis for Schopenhauer's notion of man's compassion for all things living, i.e., the recognition that man, animal, plant, and stone are a continuum, and that man does not have a divine origin, is also the basis for the assumption that anything goes, since among our animal relatives it is clear that the only rule is survival and perpetuation of the blood line, at the expense of competitors. This is one of the reasons that Wagner rejected Feuerbach's optimism, even though he more or less agreed that Feuerbach had gotten his facts right.
JD P. 175-176: Kudos to JD for saying the following: "Taking his cue from, among other things, Wagner's description of Kundry's baptism and 'annihilation' in Cosima Wagner's diaries ('annihilation' here referring specifically to a quasi-Schopenhauerian negation of self, and not to genocide), [Hartmut] Zelinsky suggested that Kundry is 'the representative of everything that Wagner associated with Judaism,' including the wish for its destruction.. There is no evidence for this whatsoever, and indeed no one, not even Hitler, has ever made quite such an absurd claim. (...) He [Wagner] did compare Kundry with the 'Wandering Jew,' ... but only in the sense that she, too, is the victim of a 'primeval curse' that condemns her to wander forever in constantly different guises, never able to die. That does not necessarily turn her into an allegory of Judaism." [As JD, Paul Lawrence Rose, and others have noted, Wagner also saw the Dutchman and Wotan in the light of the Wandering Jew, who can never find redemption (one can see Tannhaeuser in this light also), and Wagner on another occasion described Wotan as the god of the Aryans, so there you are!]
PH: Of course, in "Parsifal," Kundry's curse is the consequence of her having mocked Christ the savior on his way to the Cross, and on this basis one can see how some would construe her curse as a symbol for the Christian anti-Semitic notion that the Jews will wander unredeemed until they accept Christ, which it could be said Kundry does when she accepts baptism from Parsifal, except for the fact that Parsifal is not identical, not even metaphorically, with Christ. But this just goes back to Eve, whom Feuerbach praised for having saved Adam from succumbing to an unthinking faith, and forcing him to leave the paradise of naive faith. And Wagner praised Elsa, a figure for Eve, for having breached the faith Lohengrin required of her, as it was this act which inaugurated, according to Wagner's own account in "A Communication To My Friends," his transition from an author/composer of traditional romantic operas, to a revolutionary creator of music-dramas. Eve is the muse of Wagnerian art because it is she who first compelled man to become an artist in creating religion as a way of compensating for the anguish which the gift of consciousness brought, and it is she in her Wagnerian guise who brings about the 2nd Fall, the end of religious faith, so that Wagnerian art can step forward as its heir and substitute. Kundry mocks Christ because, as his muse, she knows who he really is, just as Kundry, who has lived in all times and places and seen everything (the "Wonder" of Wagner's musical motifs), knows who Parsifal really is.
JD P. 177: JD concludes his "Parsifal" chapter with the following: "It has to be stressed that there is no evidence at all that Wagner considered genocide to be the logical conclusion of his ideas. (...) ... a more exact insight into the relationship between "Parsifal" and race is perhaps unlikely to diminish audiences' love for its sublime music [PH: I would have preferred it if JD had said: its sublime music-drama]. On one level far from trivial for Wagner, however, its final unity and intensity of utterance is a conciliatory resolution of often-misunderstood ideas about racial identity and decay that are equally unlikely to persuade us to stop worrying entirely."
PH: It is my hope and expectation that my forthcoming chapter and ultimately my prospective book on "Parsifal" will resolve many if not all of these questions. There is much in "Parsifal" which, if one sees it as a whole, and sees how the parts constitute that whole, will alleviate these worries about its meaning, and I believe also will re-cast it in a more sympathetic light. Or not!
General Discussion about Wagner and The Ring of the Nibelung
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