Part One: Review of "Treacherous Bonds and Laughing Fire"

General Discussion about Wagner and The Ring of the Nibelung

Moderators: alberich00, Justin Jeffrey

Post Reply
Site Admin
Posts: 428
Joined: Tue Apr 19, 2011 11:03 am

Part One: Review of "Treacherous Bonds and Laughing Fire"

Post by alberich00 » Thu May 10, 2012 12:43 pm

Dear Wagnerians:

For the first time in six months, I am finally able to contribute new material to our discussion forum. It has been a long and difficult slog, but now that I'm back I wanted to post something of special interest prior to attempting to get back into a regular schedule of working a bit each day towards the completion of my publishable, accessible, and briefer version of my "Ring" book.

What follows is an edited version of my extensive and detailed critical review of Mark Berry's book on Wagner's "Ring," "Treacherous Bonds and Laughing Fire." This book is of special interest to me because Berry was, so far as I know, the first contemporary, published author to pursue the Feuerbachian path into Wagner's "Ring" in any real detail, a path which I have been treading since 1971. The curious thing is that my allegorical interpretation of the "Ring" was Feuerbachian long before I had read anything more of Feuerbach's works than a few paragraphs which had been quoted in books by other authors, such as Deryck Cooke. It was only after I acquired and read the four books by Feuerbach which clearly influenced Wagner in writing his "Ring" libretto (let me add that Feuerbach's influence can be found in Wagner's operas as early as "Tannhaeuser"), that I realized how extensive that influence was.

(1) [Mark Berry: i.e., MB - P. 11] Far from being the product of what Pierre Boulez once termed 'chance circumstances,' the 'Ring' affords an extraordinary opportunity to grasp the richness and complexity of nineteenth-century thought and its underlying historical forces. Wagner's autodidacticism leads both to naivete and to fresh, conventional insights.

[Paul Heise: i.e., PH] I have argued that the "Ring" can be grasped as a unified, conceptually coherent narrative, since I distributed my first self-published attempt to organize my thoughts in a comprehensive way re demonstrating the conceptual unity of Wagner's "Ring" and his other mature music-dramas, in "The Doctrine of the Ring" (Library of Congress Copyright 1983; Txu000140916), to the majority of scholars who presented lectures at WAGNER IN RETROSPECT, A Centennial Reappraisal, at Illinois Univ., Chicago, 11/9-12/83.

(2) [MB - P. 24] 'Is not the idea of the unity of divine and human natures real in a more profound sense,' asked [David] Strauss, 'if I regard the entire human race rather than a single man as its realisation?' In this sense, The Christian myth was still of great value - an imaginative symbolisation of man's hopes, an 'unconscious' work of the collective experience of a 'whole society'.
[MB - P. 30] Berry notes that in Ludwig Feuerbach's "principles [of the Philosophy of the Future]" " 'God' or 'Spirit' is detranscendentalised: transformed into consciousness of man's species being.:

[PH] The identification of Wotan with both the God of the Bible, and with collective, historical man, has been central to my allegorical reading of the "Ring" for decades.

(3) [MB - P. 29] Berry cites Wagner's remark in "Mein Leben" that: Feuerbach's insight that '... what we call "spirit" ... [lies] in our aesthetic perceptions of the tangible world, together with his verdict of the futility of philosophy [that is, metaphysics], was what afforded me such useful support in my conception of a work of art which would be all-embracing, while remaining comprehensible to the simplest, purely human power of discernment, that is, of the drama made perfect at the moment of its realisation of every artistic intention in 'the artwork of the future'.

[PH] Wagner's Feuerbach-inspired identification of what man has traditionally described as "spirit" with our aesthetic (subjective) grasp of the real, tangible (objective) world, and his testimony that this Feuerbachian notion was central to his conception of the artwork of the future, in which a wealth of matter (by its very nature too complex and multiplex to be grasped by a single mind, at least by average minds) would be made comprehensible to the simplest intellect (through the power of association of musical motifs, which disclose hidden unities), has been a pillar of my developing "Ring" interpretation for many a year. Berry omitted a key passage from this extract, in which Wagner tells us that while Feuerbach denied actual immortality and spiritual transcendence, he suggested that man's only real immortality can be found in great (moral) deeds and in the creation of (immortal) works of art. Long before I undertook my first systematic reading of Feuerbach and incorporation of his ideas into my interpretation (starting in 2001 and culminating in 2003 in my comprehensive chronological anthology of 351 extracts from Feuerbach's four major books, and also culminating in my 2003 first draft of "The Wound That Will Never Heal"), I copyrighted my observation that "The Rhinegold" depicts the evolution of man and his first form of knowledge, religious faith (indebted here, to some extent, to Deryck Cooke and Robert Donington), that "The Valkyrie" depicts the decline of religious faith (in, among other things, religion's promise of redemption in heaven, and immortality) and its replacement by individual, moral conscience (exemplified by Siegmund's heroic deeds of compassion), and that "Siegfried" depicts the development of the individual artist-hero whose art expresses in feeling what was dying out as a concept in declining religious faith.

Signing off temporarily on 5/10/12 at 1:39pm.

NOTE: I am now writing under the double disadvantage of having to respond 24/7 to my nearly 91 year old mother's needs (she turns 91 on 6/2/12), and a tendency for my trigeminal neuralgia to increase the pressure in my forehead the longer I try to focus and concentrate, so I will have to submit installments of my critique in smaller chunks for the time being.

Resuming on 5/16/12 at 6:51am:

(4) [MB - P. 50] The unstable chromaticism of Alberich's ring of power is ... clearly derived from the Rhine, whose gold he steals and converts into the ring.

[PH] Many years ago I proposed that music (not necessarily motival) to which the Rhinedaughters and their accompanying orchestra expressed their joy in the Rhinegold evolves into the Ring motif (Dunning #17 and #19). In 1996, I published my book on "Rhinegold" at my own expense and mailed copies of it to a number of Wagner scholars, including John Deathridge. To this day I've never received any critical response to it.

(5) [MB - P. 55-56] Alfred Lorenz remarked that, having 'mastered a [Wagnerian] work in all its detail,' the listener could sometimes thereby 'experience moments in which consciousness of time disappears, and the whole work becomes what one might call 'spatial', that is, with everything simultaneously and precisely present in the mind.

[PH] Berry notes here Lorenz's remark that there are moments in the "Ring" when one intuits the whole, as if time collapsed into a moment, now. This of course is Wagner's concept of the "Wonder," in which motifs of foreboding and reminiscence can make all time and space in the "Ring" feel present, here and now. I've employed Wagner's concept to solve a number of conundrums, and explicate many difficult passages. Though Berry elsewhere quoted Cosima's record of Wagner's remark that Siegfried is the finest gift of the will, and that Siegfried lives only in the present, he did not recall, at this point in his argument (though he employed the quote elsewhere) that Bruennhilde calls herself Wotan's will. Since at least 1990, when Jean-Jacques Nattiez' book "Wagner Androgyne" appeared in French (in 1993 Princeton Univ. Press published it in English translation by Stewart Spencer, who published my article "How Elsa Showed Wagner the Way to Siegfried" in the 5/95 issue of the scholarly journal of The Wagner Society [London], WAGNER), it's been common knowledge that Siegfried can be construed as a metaphor for the music-dramatist-and-poet (Wagner himself), and his lover Bruennhilde construed as music. I developed the thesis that Siegfried can be construed as the music-dramatist Wagner, and Bruennhilde construed as his unconscious mind and muse of artistic inspiration, in my 1983 'The Doctrine of the Ring.' Berry evidently did not realize that Siegfried lives in the present by virtue of his figurative mother Bruennhilde, the womb of Wotan's wishes, who figuratively gave birth to Siegfried (Siegfried does of course mistake his blood-mother Sieglinde for Bruennhilde in S.3.3, just as Tristan conflates memories of the mother who died giving him birth - as Siegfried's mother died giving him birth - with his muse and lover Isolde, and as Kundry poses as Parsifal's mother Herzeleide - recalling here that Parsifal holds himself responsible for his mother's death. Bruennhilde figuratively gave birth to Siegfried when when Wotan stored the unbearable knowledge of his true, loathsome identity and corrupt history in his Will Bruennhilde, Wotan's unconscious mind, by confessing it to her in V.2.2. Because Bruennhilde holds his knowledge of Siegfried's true identity (as Wotan, the other self Wotan longed for) and true history for Siegfried, Siegfried is the hero who does not know who he is (for, as Bruennhilde tells him in S.3.3, what he does not know she knows for him), and, unlike Wotan, Siegfried is therefore fearless and innocent, and can act spontaneously, freed from that fear which paralyzed Wotan into inaction. Bruennhilde, considered figuratively as Siegfried the poet-dramatist's redemptive music, (the language of the unconscious mind), can be construed as the mother of the musical motifs of the "Ring," which, as Wagner said, can create dramatic unity of time and space at all moments. This is the explanation for Siegfried's unusual remark to Bruennhilde during the finale of S.3.3 that "what, fearing, you were and will be, be to me now" (i.e., now that, thanks to loving union with Bruennhilde, Siegfried's unconscious and his music, he can forget the fear she taught him). Thus it is that Siegfried lives only in the present, and is the finest gift of the Will (i.e., the finest gift of Bruennhilde's - his figurative mother's - redemptive love).

(6) [MB - P. 57-58] Berry notes that for some of Hegel's successors: Nature was portrayed as the ultimate, concrete reality ... . Man's 'final superstition,' Wagner claimed, was the denial of Nature, a 'superstition that has taught him hitherto to view himself as a mere instrument to an end which lies without him.' "

[PH] Berry learned from Deryck Cooke and from Robert Donington (as did I) that "The Rhinegold" depicts man's origins, and the evolution of the first type of human thought, religious thought, in which man denies his true status as a product of Mother Nature, granting himself instead a divine, transcendent origin. However, in various studies I copyrighted in the 1990's, I noted that Donington and Cooke both missed the symbolism of Alberich's accusation that Wotan will be sinning against all that was, is, and will be (the objective world of time/space/matter, which Siegfried feels as if he transcends thanks to the loving protection of his artistic muse of inspiration, music, i.e. his lover Bruennhilde), if he forcibly steals Alberich's Ring. Since Erda, Mother Nature, tells Wotan she knows all that was, is, and will be, Alberich is accusing Wotan of sinning against Erda's objective knowledge of the real, phenomenal world (the realm of true power), i.e., of committing the sin of pessimism, of world-denial (for which Nietzsche never forgave Wagner), by substituting allegedly supernatural beings and their arbitrary, whimsical power (i.e., man's longing for transcendent value, which can only be satisfied through self-delusion, or Wahn) for Mother Nature's cold, hard truth. In my interpretation the heroes of Wagner's mature music-dramas, Siegfried, Tristan, Walther, and Parsifal, are Wagner's metaphors for the music-dramatist, the archetypal artist-hero, who perpetuates religious man's sin of world-denial by producing redemptive artworks (i.e., which redeem mortal man's sentiments, his feelings, his futile longing to transcend himself, from the bitter truth, through illusion/Wahn). I have argued that this may explain why three of Wagner's four mature-period artist-heroes come to regard themselves as in some sense responsible for their mothers' deaths (in Siegfried's and Tristan's case because their mothers die giving them birth, and in Parsifal's case through neglect in favor of his destiny to seek the Grail, i.e. a transcendent alternative to Mother Nature). Thus, the Wagnerian artist-hero perpetuates Wotan's (religious man's) sin of world-denial in the redemptive art which he creates, whose underlying purpose is to redeem man from the truth [to answer some questions I can anticipate: in Tristan's case he never actually creates the great work of art which would be the natural product of his loving union with his muse Isolde, because he exposes the very truth - the secret of unconscious artistic inspiration - which it was the purpose of art to hide, by exposing his loving union with Isolde - Wagner's metaphor for the artist-hero's unconscious artistic inspiration by man's forbidden hoard of knowledge - to the light of conscious day; similarly, Parsifal consciously chooses not to seek temporary redemption and healing of the unhealing wound through union with his former muse Kundry, and therefore doesn't create a work of art, but renounces art as a means of redemption, embracing mother nature and her truth instead. Siegfried's great artwork, in which, however, he exposes the formerly secret realm of unconscious artistic inspiration, his loving union with Bruennhilde, to the light of day, is the narrative he sings at the instance of Hagen about his early days, for the Gibichungs in T.3.2]. I put considerable emphasis on this extract which Berry has chosen in my explanation of Wotan's Nietzschean sin of world-denial/pessimism, and the artist-heroes' perpetuation of it in their redemptive art.

Signing off temporarily on 5/16/12 at 7:42am. I'll try to continue this installment later today.

Signing back on 5/16/12 at 3:52pm:

(7) [MB - P. 65-66] Wagner had previously noted that man, as he confronts Nature, is wilful [willkuerlich], and therefore unfree. All of his errors in religion and history had issued from his opposition to Nature and to 'the arbitrary [willkuerlich] gulf thereby created.' Only upon coming 'to understand the necessity in natural phenomena and his indissoluble connection with Nature, only when he achieves consciousness of her and obeys her laws,' would he become free.

[PH] Though Berry quotes Wagner to the effect that the conscious and willful man is unfree, that only through unconscious agency can man truly be free, so far as I can see he neglects throughout his book to grasp the sense in which Siegfried's unconsciousness of self is his virtue, and makes him free to act in Wotan's behalf instinctively and spontaneously, without being conceptually conscious of the contradictions which paralyzed Wotan into impotence. Siegfried is free from Wotan's paralyzing consciousness because Wotan repressed his self-consciousness by confessing all the thoughts which paralyze him to his Will, his unconscious mind Bruennhilde, who holds this fateful/fearful knowledge for Siegfried and thus protects him from it, leaving him to act on feeling rather than on fact. Thus Wotan is reborn as Siegfried, minus consciousness of his true identity, history, and fate. This explains why Siegfried is fearless and can do Wotan's will without being conscious of his ultimate underlying source of motivation. This fundamental mistake, I believe, mars all of Berry's attempts to grasp Siegfried's unique nature, which Berry only construes as Siegfried's greatest disadvantage. Had Berry grasped that Siegfried is Wagner's metaphor for the archetypal artist-hero (which he should have done, familiar as Berry is with Nattiez's "Wagner Androgyne") who falls heir to religious feeling (the longing for transcendent value, expressed in music) when religion as an assertion of the power of truth, as fact, could no longer be sustained, he could have solved this problem. Instead, Berry falls into the trap of seeing Siegfried only as another failed social revolutionary, like Siegmund, and misconstrues what makes Siegfried unique and fearless.

(8) [MB - P. 65-66] Abused by the injustice in the state of nature, he [Alberich] proceeds to abuse Nature's abundance, in order to win the 'measureless might' of which he has heard Wellgunde tell. In the Christian tradition, man erred when he would transgress the limits of his creaturely existence and attempt to become like unto God. So Alberich's pride, albeit born in this case of proto-Nietzschean ressentiment, leads him in Promethean fashion to transgress the limits of his creaturely existence, to blaspheme against Nature. Confronting for the first time the alterity of the objective world in consciousness, Alberich moves from what Hess called the 'wild animal world' to the 'social animal world'. He proceeds from 'unconscious egoism' to 'conscious egoism' ... . 'Spiritual no less than physical life ... stands opposed and foreign to him'.

[PH] In virtually all of my copyrighted writings on Wagner since 1983 I've noted that Alberich's intent to avenge himself against Nature for thwarting his desire leads inevitably not only to his quest for power in the real, phenomenal world (i.e., knowledge, which gives birth to science and technology, which force nature to satisfy our need), but also - where our knowledge of the world and thus our actual power can't force nature's hand - to positing an alternative world of transcendent spirit, the gods, (a process of transformation incarnate in the transformation of the Ring Motif #19 into the first segment of the Valhalla Motif, #20a). Thus Alberich's quest for power ultimately gives birth to religion, whose essence is world-renunciation, the ultimate crime against nature and its truth, and thus the frustration of Alberich's natural impulse gives birth to the gods of Valhalla, and therefore to Light-Alberich/Wotan. But Light-Alberich (Wotan) and Dark Alberich (Alberich per se) are opposed to each other because Alberich's bid to transcend his circumstances is solely based on what is possible for collective humanity to accomplish through the acquisition of objective knowledge of ourselves and our world (Mother Nature, Erda), whereas Wotan's bid is for actual transcendence, a reaching for what is impossible, a spiritual domain wholly autonomous from the laws of Nature, a longing which can never be satisfied because it is untrue, because it is predicated on self-delusion (Wahn).

Signing off again 5/16/12 at 4:18pm.

Signing back on 5/18/12 at 8:56pm

(9) [MB - P. 66] This crime [i.e., Alberich's theft of the Rhinegold] will have consequences, not least the despair of the music that ensues. Unfree labour will be introduced to the world, just as it had in the book of Genesis.

[PH] In my 1996 book on "The Rhinegold" I noted that Alberich's enslavement of his fellow Nibelungs in Nibelheim isn't merely Wagner's metaphor for the victimization of the laboring class by capitalism's agents, plutocratic factory owners (the conventional reading), but is in fact Wagner's scientific metaphor for the "Fall" itself, that man had to consciously learn how to make nature give him what he needed, with strenuous labor, after natural evolution produced, in him, the animal capable of symbolic, reflective thought, a species uniquely able to transcend dependence on instinct (as Alberich transcends his need for sexual love). And Wagner sees this scientifically understood, objective understanding of the "Fall" (the birth of human consciousness), as what lies behind religious man's imaginative reconstruction of this Fall, as found in "Genesis."

(10) [MB - P. 68-69] For the alternative 'original' sin of the "Ring," we turn to Wotan and the World-Ash tree. In the Introduction to his "Philosophy of History," Hegel claimed that to ask the purpose or destiny (Bestimmung) of reason was to seek the ultimate purpose of the world. (...) Wotan may be trying to grapple - sometimes cautiously, sometimes less so - with this same question throughout the "Ring," as he moves from the realm of worldly knowledge instituted by his primal acts towards a metaphysical, Schopenhauerian understanding of the radical evil of the world and its lack of purpose. His 'Fall' may thus be more of a felix culpa than that of his dialectical antithesis, Alberich. But a 'Fall,' as sin against Nature, it remains.
(...) The problem of knowledge represents a profound dilemma. Spirit's insatiable lust for knowledge, initially revealed in the act of world-creation, aims thereafter to divest the objective world of its alterity. All of man's endeavours aim 'to understand the world, to appropriate and subdue it to himself ... .' (...) Thirsting after knowledge, after the truth, perhaps even after the elusive - or reified - elixir of an eternal, universal, so-called 'natural' law, Wagner's god quenches his thirst from the well lying in the cooling shade beneath the World-ash. This craving for knowledge may be understood both as a requirement of Hegel's Spirit and an anthropologised Feuerbachian need (Not).
(...) The celebrated inscription in the sanctuary of the goddess Neith at Sais had read: 'I am that which is, was, and shall be: no one has lifted my shroud.' Wotan wishes to move towards the Delphic 'know thyself,' which, according to Hegel should not be understood in terms of any particular man, but of humanity in general. Wagner had told Roeckel that Wotan was the 'sum total of present-day intelligence,' not simply an individual.

[PH] Deryck Cooke noted that at least part of what Wagner presents in "Rhinegold" is a depiction of early man's evolutionary acquisition of various powers, including his capacity to tame nature through science and technology. Cooke attributed this tendency to Wotan exclusively, assuming as he did that Wotan's sin in breaking a branch from the World-Ash Tree to make his Spear of divine authority predated Alberich's sin in stealing the Rhinegold to make his Ring of power, and therefore failed to recognize that in the Dark-Alberich (Alberich proper)/Light-Alberich (Wotan) distinction Wagner was distinguishing objective (scientific and technological) man from subjective (spiritual and artistic) man. Though Cooke noted that scientific inquiry eventually harms religion, he dropped this subject after its initial introduction and failed to grasp how this becomes a key element in the developing plot of the "Ring." The conflict between Alberich and Wotan, as described in this paragraph, has been a pillar of my interpretation since my self-publication and distribution of my "Doctrine of the Ring" in 1983.

Signing off at 9:18am on 5/18/12.

Signing on at 10:11am on 5/19/12:

(11) [MB - P. 69] He [Wotan] acts in defiance of Fate and of Nature; he concentrates upon Spirit, assuming, in a more comprehensive sense than Alberich, the role of world-creator. Sacrificing one of his eyes symbolises the partial blindness that accompanies such a one-sided, instrumental view of Nature. Human essence has been bifurcated; one must either be homo noumenon or homo phainomenon, with a strong basis towards the former."

[PH] By distinguishing Wotan from Alberich on the basis that Wotan is homo Noumenon (i.e., oriented to the life of the spirit), while Alberich is homo Phainomenon (oriented to worldly knowledge), Berry echoes a distinction which has been central to my developing allegorical reading of the "Ring" since my first significant copyrighted study in 1983. However, having drawn this distinction, Berry in my view doesn't follow it up or draw out its implications for the plot of the "Ring." Berry evidently fails to grasp, for instance, that Alberich's accusation that Wotan, in stealing Alberich's Ring, will be sinning against all that was, is, and will be, is Alberich's accusation that Wotan will thereby be committing the sin of religious belief, the sin of self-delusion through repudiation of objective truth, against Nature (Erda, who knows all that was, is, and will be, and whom Wotan renounces as the mother of fear), and that Wotan is therefore committing the sin of pessimism/world-denial. Berry also fails to link Erda's description of herself as knowing all that was, is, and will be, with Alberich's accusation that if Wotan co-opts Alberich's Ring and its power, Wotan will be sinning against all that was, is, and will be, i.e., the truth.

(12) [MB - P. 70] As Adorno and Horkheimer point out, power and knowledge are synonymous in the modern world. Wotan claims to have 'won the world' for himself. If Alberich re-enacts the Fall of Christian theology, Wotan transforms Creation itself into an act of possession, into a prior Fall: 'And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over ... all the earth.

[PH] Berry here draws attention to a linkage which has been a centerpiece of my prior efforts at "Ring" exegesis since 1983, that Alberich's acquisition of Ring-power represents the power of knowledge (i.e., man's unique ability to exploit his knowledge of nature in order to dominate his environment and alter it to serve his needs and desires), and that it can be compared with the Genesis story of man's Fall and acquisition of forbidden knowledge. Both Cooke and Donington hinted intriguingly at this concept but failed to follow it up.

(13) [MB - P. 71-72] The rape of Nature appears to be purely Wagner's invention, with no warrant in the mythological sources. It derives from a child of Romanticism. Blake had famously declared: 'Art is the Tree of Life ... Science is the Tree of Death.' At the dawn of the Romantic revolt against the (French) Enlightenment, Hamann had levelled a charge yet closer to that of the "Ring." 'The Tree of Knowledge has robbed us of the Tree of Life.' (...) Modern man might imagine that knowledge would finally vanquish fear; he was wrong - as Faust had already demonstrated. Siegfried will be the only character in the "Ring" who knows not fear, yet no one would describe him as knowledgeable.
(...) His spear shattered in combat - by one who truly knew not fear, as opposed to one who vainly attempted to extinguish his fear through knowledge - Wotan has commanded his tamed heroes to cut down the withered boughs of the World-ash.

[PH] Berry notes, accurately, that one of the reasons Wotan in R.4 decides to visit Erda is to learn from her how to conquer the fear her prophecy of the gods' doom instilled in him, but Berry omits the other half of the equation, that Wotan first decided to learn from Erda the full truth (i.e., Alberich's objective knowledge) about why he and the gods must live in fear, and only after seeing Fafner (fear) kill Fasolt (love) decides instead to inquire of Erda only how to end his fear. In other words, Wotan finds the objective knowledge Erda imparts unbearable, so his second desire of her is that she teach him, in effect, how to forget the objective knowledge she teaches, so he can forget his fear of it. It is this very longing which, communicated by him to the womb of his wishes, Bruennhilde, figuratively becomes the seed which gives birth to Siegfried, the hero who feels no fear because he remains unconscious of its cause. It is Bruennhilde, Siegfried's unconscious mind, who protects him from the fear Wotan learned from her mother Erda. This distinction between Wotan's nihilistic longing to get it all over by learning the full, abhorrent truth about why he must live in fear (but also longing for knowledge of how to overcome and conquer the cause of this fear, if that is even an option), and his subsequent desire, prompted by his inability to face this knowledge, once conscious, to repress this knowledge into his unconscious so he can forget his fear, and virtually forget who he is, has been at the heart of my life's quest to demonstrate the conceptual unity of Wagner's "Ring" since 1983, and incipiently in 1981. This culminates in Siegfried's learning from Bruennhilde (Erda's and Wotan's daughter, the product of Wotan's quest both to learn the objective truth, and to learn how to forget this truth and his fear of it) both the meaning of fear, and how to forget his fear through her redemptive love (her unconscious inspiration of his redemptive art). Siegfried's fearlessness is in fact the product of the second kind of knowledge Wotan sought from Erda, which is aesthetic intuition, the knowledge of how one can transform the fearful into an object of aesthetic bliss, which the muse Bruennhilde teaches the artist Siegfried.

I have examined in my 1983 "The Doctrine of the Ring" and elsewhere the implications of Wagner's distinction in "The Mastersingers of Nuremberg" between the Tree of Knowledge and the Tree of Life, as expressed by both Sachs and Walther, with respect to Walther's redemptive mastersong, which offers troubled modern man, who is losing his religious faith, the consolations of secular art. The key here is that religious man feels fear of the objective truth, because religious faith stakes a claim to the truth which can't be supported in the face of objective knowledge. But art (following Feuerbach here, and Wagner's paraphrases of Feuerbach) has the advantage over religious faith that it is acknowledged to be a fiction, and therefore can't be contradicted by the truth. And in music, of course, though it stakes no claim to the truth and also (unlike other kinds of art) can't be accused of falsehood (because it's non-conceptual), we nonetheless feel as if we are in touch with the ultimate truth, as Wagner said so often. Siegfried the artist-hero doesn't feel Wotan's fear because, unlike Wotan (representative of religious man), he doesn't stake a claim to the truth (the Ring's power) which can be refuted, and lives only in feeling.

The Fall, i.e., the birth of human consciousness, was the precondition for our longing for redemption from it, which gives birth to religious faith, and art. Therefore, in this sense, Alberich logically precedes Wotan, and his Fall is more primal and the precondition for Wotan's Fall. Thus Alberich's Fall is the ultimate muse both of the gods (religion) and art. Thus the Tree of Knowledge is the muse for our longing for a restoration of the Tree of Life. And this is what is behind the symbolism of Walther's mastersong. Thus all of Wagner's mature-period heroines (and even prior heroines like Venus and Elsa) are figures for Eve, the ultimate muse of religion and art, who, in imparting fatal knowledge, gave birth to religion, philosophy, and art, as Feuerbach suggested.

Signing off at 10:51am on 5/19/12: I'll try to add more material before this day is out

Signing on at 12:11pm on 5/21/12:

(14) [MB - P. 72] Despite the very real injuries Nature has suffered, Wagner remains sensitive to her abiding strength. The studied, almost unreal, impression in the final scene of "Das Rheingold" from the thunder after Donner's royal command, contrasts strongly with the 'natural' rage of the storm with which "Die Walkuere" opens. The latter provides a real, indeed terrifying, breath of fresh air.

[PH] I believe Berry is wrong when he states the Donner's storm in R.4 is artificial, while the V.1.1 storm (#60) which drives Siegmund along to Hunding's hut is
is a natural breath of fresh air in comparison. Dunning pointed out that the second half of Donner's Motif, #32b, in conjunction with the Embryonic form of the Spear Motif #21, produces the essential figure of the V.1.1. storm, #60. #21's embryo also gives birth, significantly, to Siegmund's Motif #62. Thus Wagner's motival genealogy musically dramatizes Wotan's self-lacerating acknowledgement to Bruennhilde in V.2.2 that Fricka's accusation that Wotan virtually created the allegedly free hero Siegmund is true. Wotan of course created the storm of "Noth" which drove Siegmund to Hunding's hut.

(15) [MB - P. 75-76] When Siegfried is finally enabled to understand the Woodbird, her message proves more complex than we might have expected. Nature may be primal, but this does not render her simplistic; nor in itself does it even render her correct. Advising the young hero to awaken the sleeping Bruennhilde - whom Siegfried will initially take for his mother - is relatively uncomplicated. But what are we to make of the following, rather cryptic, words, from the ostensible Voice of Nature?

The Nibelung's hoard
now belongs to Siegfried:
o, might he now find
the hoard in the cave!
Should he wish to win the Tarnhelm,
it would aid him in wondrous deeds:
but were he to win the ring,
that would make him master of the world!

Wagner is a little obscure. This should not surprise, given the enormous difficulties so many thinkers have experienced in attempting to understand Nature. At a first glance, it might appear that we are being led beyond Nature. In Hegelian terms, true freedom can only be historical. Siegfried has after all tasted Fafner's blood and appears to have acquired some degree of self-consciousness. (...) ... in the [Hegel's] "Phenomenology [of Spirit]," having learned that self-consciousness lies behind appearance, man is thereby impelled to desire the objects in the world around him, to appropriate and to use them. But, to invoke Mahler, is this really 'what the animals in the woods tell me'? It seems very odd that they should advise acquisition of the fruits of Alberich's misdeeds. Or do the Woodbird's words represent a true siren voice, luring the noble savage away from civilisation? Nature, after all, has its darker side, as we witnessed during the Rhinemaidens' cruel teasing. The forest of the Brothers Grimm can be a dark and dangerous place. Writing of "Der Freischuetz " in 1841, the homesick Wagner, revolted by the superficiality of Meyerbeer's Paris, had declared: 'It seems to be the poem of those Bohemian Woods themselves, whose dark and solemn aspect permits us at once to grasp how the isolated man would believe himself, if not prey to a daemonic power of Nature, then at least in eternal submission thereto.' However, returning to the "Phenomenology," we learn also that man comes to realise that appropriation and utilisation of the objects of Nature can never satiate his state of desire ... . Alberich and Wotan have provided ample evidence of this. For 'self-consciousness,' Hegel writes, 'achieves its satisfaction only in another self-consciousness.' Man can fulfil his needs only through association with others, as Lohengrin had tragically, failed to learn.
For a student of Feuerbach, this tends to mean love, rather than the master-slave dialectic.

[PH] Here, in my view, Berry's allegorical reading fails. He asks why the Woodbird, an animal, which presumably represents nature and innocence, suggests to Siegfried that he take possession of the products of Alberich's crime against nature, the Ring, Tarnhelm, and Hoard which Alberich (or, in the Hoard's case, Alberich's fellow Nibelungs, and in the Tarnhelm's case, Mime) forged out of the Rhinegold Alberich stole. Berry's stretching and straining to make sense of this material without a coherent allegorical perspective is palpable: I don't believe he's grasped the allegorical logic at work here. I believe my reading can make sense of this material. In my view the Woodbird represents music (as Wagner said, ultimately a product of Nature, as the muse Bruennhilde is a product of her mother Erda, i.e., Mother Nature) as the means through which Siegfried can take aesthetic possession of the fearful products of Alberichs' crime against himself, to transform them into something of beauty and sublimity. In my interpretation, Siegfried, under the Woodbird's subliminal/musical inspiration, takes aesthetic possession of the hoard of worldly knowledge, (represented both by Alberich's Hoard of Treasure, obtained in the bowels of the earth, or Erda - Mother Nature, and by the Hoard of knowledge Wotan obtains from Erda figuratively through his union with her, which he undertook to obtain knowledge - of what he fears - from her, and through his wandering (as the Wanderer) over the earth - Erda - to obtain knowledge), the Tarnhelm of imagination, and the Ring which represents the power of human thought.

Signing off at 1:01pm on 5/21/12.

Signing back on 10:13pm on 5/22/12:

(16) [MB - P. 78] Alberich and Wotan did wrong, but the cruel, uncultured hedonism of the Rhine does not stand as an ideal for Wagner's audience. If 'Nature is the highest, then man has no or only the slightest worth.' [quote from Hegel's "Philosophy of History"] (...)
Thus, when some writers uncomprehendingly lament - as they still do - Chereau's violation of Wagner's text, it is they who stand unfaithful to Wagner's greater vision, their laments as sullied as the Rhinemaidens'. The Rhenish hydro-electric dam was not a mere provocation, but an integral component of a stimulating production, which rightly refused to take Wagner's apparent 'naturalism' at face value. To fetishise stage directions is to fall into the 'naturalistic' trap, which Wagner, in his portrayal of Nature, is so keen to avoid. As Boulez, Chereau, Nattiez, and many others have realised, true fidelity to Wagner will always involve dialectical 'infidelity'. Wagner was profoundly dissatisfied with the staging at Bayreuth and promised that the next production would be staged very differently. To progress from 1876, as to progress from the world of the Rhinemaidens, is part of the cultural imperative of the 'Ring.'

[PH] I feel that Berry's justification for Chereau's alteration of Wagner's stage directions in placing a hydro-electric dam on the Rhine, around which the Rhinedaughters can play, in place of the purely natural Rhine River (obviously Wagner's true intent), in order to dramatize the fact that Wagner portrays the Rhinedaughters and Nature as not innocent, is wrong-headed. Michael Tanner had acknowledged that Wagner portrays the golden age of innocence in "The Rhinegold" as in a sense fallen before the work begins (which is true), but the whole point of the Fall, and of Wagner's idiosyncratic depiction of it in the "Ring," is that only with man's acquisition of reflective consciousness and symbolic knowledge (Alberich's theft of the Rhinegold and forging from it a Ring of power, the power of human thought) did man become aware of the innocence he had lost, and construed his preconscious animal innocence as a mythical golden age. To smuggle in a late product of the power of conscious thought at the beginning is to wholly undermine the dramatic transition from nature (which of course is ultimately no more innocent than late culture) to culture, which Wagner depicts in the thwarting of Alberich's quest to satisfy his natural sexual instinct, his theft of the Rhinegold, and forging from it a Ring of power to compensate him from the difficulty he has in satisfying his natural, instinctive drives. It totally defeats Wagner's purpose in striving to make members of his audience think, during performance, about what he intended that we take in spontaneously and instinctively, without reflection, as in a dream. Critical thinking of this kind is for before and after the performance. Tanner is correct that Chereau repeatedly undermined many (but not all) of the dramatic points which Wagner was at such pains to produce. That is not to say that in other cases Chereau's staging was ineffective, because there are some things he did quite well.

(17) [MB - P. 80] Speaking of Wagner's 1849-1850 essay, "The Wibelungs," Berry states that: Wagner presents a Teutonised, mythologised and somewhat communistic version of Cieszkowski's historiosophy. A primordial age, represented historically by Frederick Barbarossa and mythologically by Siegfried, is followed by centuries of decline, signified by the transformation of the ancient Nibelung hoard into private property (Confusingly, both Barbarossa and Siegfried are categorised as 'Nibelungs', via an alleged etymological connection with Wagner's 'Wibelungs' and hence with the Ghibbeliness.)"

[PH] Berry says here that Wagner's description of Siegfried as a Nibelung in "The Wibelungs" is confusing. But it isn't confusing in my interpretation. Just as Wotan, Siegfried's grandfather, is Light-Alberich, and therefore Wotan is in a sense a Nibelung (though posing as something else, a god), so Siegfried is a Nibelung in the sense that the Nibelungs are Wagner's metaphor for prosaic human reality, while Siegfried represents the artist-hero who provides man with an idealized view of himself (or his potential self) in his gods and heroes. Wotan confessed to Bruennhilde his acknowledgment that deep down Wotan is no different from Alberich. In Siegfried Wotan hoped to purge from his identity the Nibelung, prosaic elements which Wotan loathed in himself, but Siegfried was as much heir to them as Wotan, which is why he is destroyed in the end. Witness also the derivation of the first segment of the Valhalla Motif, #20a, from Alberich's Ring Motif #17/#19, a point Berry makes (following Cooke) as well.

End of Part One: Edited/Revised by Paul Heise on 6/20/12
Post Reply