Part Eight: Review - "Treacherous Bonds and Laughing Fire"

General Discussion about Wagner and The Ring of the Nibelung

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Part Eight: Review - "Treacherous Bonds and Laughing Fire"

Post by alberich00 » Tue Jun 19, 2012 9:25 am

(84) [MB - P. 272] If sexual love has become embroiled in games of power-politics and shown to be a force more of destruction than of liberation, such dark intimations of Freud will be more fully explored in that great second-act confrontation between Kundry and Parsifal, next to which the awakening of Siegfried and Bruennhilde might stand in danger of appearing superficial or naive. Wagner's final drama will build upon the riddles adumbrated in the "Ring," and climax in the most oracular pronouncement of all: 'Redemption to the Redeemer'. Solution to Wagner's sphinx-like riddle of redemption will once again be postponed. Is the answer 'man'? At any rate, Feuerbach remains a tangible presence. We must continue to listen carefully to the final bars of the "Ring," which seem 'to be telling us that the ultimate form of asceticism is to renounce easy illusion and create in ourselves a void from which a new genesis may spring'. [Berry is quoting Boulez]

[PH] Berry suggests that if, in the "Ring," sexual love is enmeshed in power-political games as a destructive force, such dark Freudian intimations are more fully explored in the relationship between Parsifal and Kundry, next to which Siegfried's and Bruennhilde's awakening may appear superficial and naive. Again, my interpretation of "Parsifal"'s conceptual links with the "Ring" provides a solution to this problem. In a very real sense Berry is right to suggest that next to Parsifal's Act Two confrontation with Kundry Siegfried's and Bruennhilde's love may appear superficial and naive, because Parsifal is Wagner's metaphor for the artist-hero who finally wakes up and becomes fully conscious of who he is (thereby precluding the possibility that he can ever again draw unconscious artistic inspiration, and temporary redemption from the terrible truth, from his muse, his unconscious mind, Kundry, who up until now (in all her former incarnations) had kept the secret knowledge of who he is, even from him). Once Parsifal realizes that his formerly loving relationship with his muse Kundry, in their former lives, which had previously produced redemptive works of art which offered temporary healing (a temporary balm, or salve, for man's - i.e., Amfortas's - unhealing wound) of religious man's unhealing wound, had not only constituted an unwitting perpetuation of Wotan's original religious sin of world denial (sin against Erda's knowledge of all that was, is, or will be, i.e., figurative matricide, since Parsifal's neglect killed his mother Herzeleide, a figure for Mother Nature), and had therefore perpetuated man's (Amfortas's) unhealing wound (i.e., perpetuated man's futile quest to affirm his transcendent value, in the face of the inevitable rise to consciousness of the bitter truth that this is an illusion), Parsifal renounces his past lives retroactively, his prior incarnations as religious seers and inspired artists, and therefore also renounces his muse(s) of unconscious religious and artistic inspiration. So Kundry, his reincarnate muse, may now fully wake and die, as she must do once Parsifal's unconscious mind and its secrets have been exposed to the light of conscious day (as Siegfried woke his muse Bruennhilde to wake forever), for Parsifal has become fully conscious of his true identity as a figurative Mother-Killer, a perpetuator of Wotan's world(Mother-Nature)-denial, in his art. Religion and secular art had co-opted Alberich's power of mind, his Ring, in order to perpetuate the reign of the illusion that the gods exist, the gods as allegedly transcendent beings constituting man's insult and death to man's true source, Mother Nature (Erda). This unhealing wound, man's ineradicable longing for transcendent value, is the meaning of the holy Grail. Parsifal therefore intends to renounce his status as an artist-hero in order to embrace his status as a mere, mortal man, who has no need to seek value outside of real life, and who therefore restores to Mother Nature her day of innocence (religious faith having demonized nature, the transient world, as valueless and insubstantial). It is in this sense that Alberich, the teller of bitter truth and exposer to the light of day of man's illusions, is closer to Mother Nature (Erda) than Wotan, which is precisely why Wotan consigns her to oblivion in S.3.1, after describing her as mother of fear (Erda having foreseen the inevitable end of the gods at the hands of Alberich and his proxy Hagen).

How does Parsifal attain this self-knowledge? When Kundry (as Wagner said, a figure for Eve, the imparter of fatal knowledge) kisses Parsifal, posing as the mother who died through Parsifal's neglect of her in favor of a quest which would culminate in service to the Grail, the antithesis of Mother Nature, Parsifal in a flash of intuition, or revelation, sees that Amfortas's (Parsifal's audience's) existential wound had remained unhealed so long as religious seers and artist-heroes perpetuated the value-system predicated on the positing of transcendence, the Grail as a mystery, and thereby killed man's mother, Nature (in this case Herzeleide is a figure for Mother Nature). Each time Parsifal in past incarnations (like the knights of the holy Grail who succumbed to Klingsor's Flower Maidens, as muses) has succumbed to his former muses of unconscious religious revelation and artistic inspiration (Kundry in her former lives), Parsifal, in striving to heal man's unhealing wound, has actually made it worse, precisely because man's striving for transcendent value is predicated on an illusion and is therefore unassuageable. Note that Kundry has seen much, and knows for Parsifal what he doesn't know, about, among other things, how his mother died through his neglect of her, and also, Parsifal's true identity and name. Siegfried, Tristan, and Parsifal each, in one sense or another, come to regard themselves as responsible for their mothers' (Nature's) death. This stems from Feuerbach's remark that by positing transcendent gods man effectively killed life, killed his mother, Nature, and we see Feuerbach's influence in several paraphrases of this passage in Wagner's writings. This is, of course, also the basis for Alberich's charge that Wotan, in stealing the Ring from Alberich (i.e., taking the right to possess conscious mind away from objective thought, and giving it instead to imaginary thought predicated on sustaining consoling illusions), Wotan will be sinning against all that was, is, and will be, i.e., the world, Nature, Erda (her knowledge of all that was, is, and will be). We also find this concept in the Dutchman's insistence on rounding the Cape of Good Hope against the elements, and at all costs: it represents mankind's propensity to will the impossible, to seek to transcend the world into which man is born, and of which he is a part, and its limits. And the Dutchman, like Wotan, is taken at his word by the Devil (the equivalent in the "Ring" being Loge), and cursed to sail the seas forever accumulating a hoard of treasure - a figure for the hoard of knowledge obtained through historical experience, which pushes the Dutchman further and further away from the redemption he seeks.

Of course, another element which went into Wagner's concept that his artist-hero is a matricide is, of course, Orestes' murder of his mother in the "Oresteia." That Wagner's concept that his hero is a matricide (with respect to Mother Nature) is linked by him with his artist-heroes' confusion of their mother with their muse of inspiration and lover, results from the artist-hero's falling heir to religious man's longing for transcendent value, the original sin against the objective world. Thus, Parsifal sees in a flash that his own ignorance of who he has been through the generations (his unconscious mind Kundry, Eva, Bruennhilde, Isolde, Elsa, Venus, and Senta having held this knowledge for him in his past lives), his figurative murder of his mother, his seeking temporary redemption through his muse of inspiration, and the increasing suffering of his audience, mankind (Amfortas, Marke, Gunther), from the unhealing wound, its suffering increasing through man's very efforts to alleviate it, all stem from the same source. Parsifal must break the cycle of rebirth by renouncing religion-art, i.e., man's futile bid for transcendence, by waking up wholly, and thereby totally exposing the Grail (its alleged secrets) to the light of day. For this reason it is inevitable that Kundry, Parsifal's unconscious mind, will cease to be. Klinsgor's magic garden on this view is simply Wagner's representation of how he himself had come to regard his own art, in the end, as a sin. And this wasn't kitsch art: Klingsor's magic garden and its devotees, i.e., Grail knights and their muses of inspiration, the Flower maidens, represent the highest, inspired art of the past and present. Klingsor is how Parsifal comes to see himself, in his prior role as artist, i.e., as a criminal. Indeed, the Dutchman, according to Wagner himself, came to see himself as criminal in his wish to implicate his potential muses in his futile quest for redemption from the real world.

That Klingsor was no longer able to have loving union with his potential muse of inspiration, Kundry, is due to the fact that Wagner's artist-heroes had been growing so conscious of the formerly hidden source of their inspiration, that they were figuratively giving their muse of inspiration (Bruennhilde, Isolde) and her secrets away to their audience (Gunther, Marke). Thus the artist-hero had become, by virtue of his too-great-consciousness, a castrato, unable any longer to mate with his muse, his unconscious mind. Note also that Kundry's kiss has a function in this respect similar to that of Tristan's alte Weise (old tune), and Siegfried's Woodbird song. In each case the hero is able to employ his own music to trace his way back into his own unconscious mind to learn who he is, music being the link between unconscious feeling and the unconscious thought which is the music's true but hidden source of inspiration, its true programme, so to speak. One can see in Siegfried's case and Tristan's case how these tunes link the mother who died giving them birth, with their lover and muse of inspiration. Note also that Kundry says that she has seen and witnessed much and travels the world in a flash for the knights of the Grail. This is another way Wagner has of expressing his concept of the Wonder of his musical motifs, which, being associated with all the essential elements of his poetic-dramas, allow him to give us, his audience, the privilege of experiencing in a flash of intuition the entire scope of his dramas, unifying all experience in time and space in a single flash of intuition.

Note the link with Tristan: he experiences at once the old tune which reminds him how his mother died giving him birth, while lying suffering from his unhealing wound on the Irish Sea in a coracle, a wound which only the heroine-muse Isolde could heal through her loving union (of unconscious artistic inspiration) with him, and how she could only do this by protecting the secret of Tristan's identity. Tristan throughout his music-drama is of course already becoming too conscious of his true identity, which is why he, like Siegfried, is giving his muse, his unconscious mind's secrets, away to his audience, Marke.
Note the Shepherd's tune in "Tannhaeuser," a sort of progenitor of Tristan's "alte Weise" and Siegfried's "Woodbird Song," a link between Venusberg (which the artist-hero Tannhaeuser forgets each time he has awoken from another session of unconscious artistic inspiration in union with his secret muse Venus) and the waking world, the Wartburg.

I was on a bit of a role (I'm preparing myself psychologically to returning at last, after around two years' hiatus, to completing a briefer, publishable version of "The Wound That Will Never Heal"), but now let's return to our critique's conclusion.

Berry adds that "Parsifal" builds on the "Ring"'s riddles. In fact, in my interpretation, virtually all of Wagner's prior heroes and heroines are reincarnated in Parsifal and Kundry, just as Amfortas finds his parallel, in a sense, in Wotan, Marke, and Sachs. Berry notes that "Parsifal" climaxes with the most oracular proclamation of all, "Redemption to the Redeemer," and poses the question whether the identity of the redeemer is man. He adds that in this way the question of redemption is postponed again, and that Feuerbach still remains a presence in "Parsifal." I recall Millington said this about Feuerbach years ago in his book on Wagner, though, if memory serves, he didn't do much (at least in that book) to illustrate his point. But my interpretation steps in again to provide a good solution. Since Wagner regarded his artist-heroes as heirs to Christ in the sense that secular art fell heir to the Christian longing for redemption as a feeling when religious faith could no longer be sustained as a concept (Wagner of course was quite explicit about this in the case of Walther in "Mastersingers"), and regarded Eve in Paradise, whose insistence on obtaining forbidden knowledge exiled man from paradise, as his archetypal muse for inspired art (the inspired secular artist having fallen heir to religious man's quest to restore lost innocence and redeem man from the terrible world, i.e, from Nature herself), it's not surprising that all of Wagner's artist-heroes are potential redeemers, and that the final redeemer Parsifal resonates with Christ the savior in many ways (and also with the Buddha, as pointed out by Derrick Everett some years ago). But Parsifal ultimately renounces that last refuge of religion, of God, unconsciously inspired secular art, by refusing to seek redemption through loving union with his former muse Kundry, and therefore retroactively renounces all of man's religio-artistic crimes against Mother Nature, i.e., against all that was, is, and will be. Parsifal, the latest example of a potential "redeemer" of the old religio-artistic school, grants redemption for himself, the former redeemer, and retroactive redemption to his former selves, all prior redeemers such as Christ (who are, figuratively, reborn in Parsifal), who perpetuated through the millennia the religious sin of world-renunciation, through the illusion predicated on belief in transcendence, and therefore perpetuated Alberich's curse on his Ring, the unhealing wound. Parsifal, in other words, redeems himself from redemption, from seeking redemption in other worlds, and thus restores Mother Nature's innocence, bringing the mother he killed back to life. Witness the meadow's spring blooms, their innocence, in comparison to the artificial Flower Maidens (muses) of unconsciously inspired art, in which the hero's mother-surrogate, the muse for his art which offers an artificial substitute for Mother Nature, is replaced by Mother Nature herself.

As for Berry's remark that Feuerbach remains a presence in "Parsifal," I've dealt with that at some length in my essay-length elaboration of my lecture on Feuerbach's influence on the libretto of "Parsifal," which can be found at, under "Resources" and "Texts on Wagner."

(85) [MB - P. 273] Adorno was quite justified to claim that serious consideration of Beethoven's "Missa Solemnis - perhaps the most enduringly enigmatic musical work yet written - could only result in its Brechtian alienation, in rupturing 'the aura of unfocused veneration protectively surrounding it'. One of the greatest problems with respect to the "Ring" is that such rupture has become well-nigh impossible. To be aware of this is only a beginning, but better than nothing. We should remain grateful that the enigma of the "Ring" pales besides that of Beethoven's work. If we could understand why Beethoven set the Mass, we should, Adorno claimed, understand the Missa Solemnis. Understanding why Wagner wrote the "Ring" and beginning to understand the work itself suddenly seem less forbidding prospects.

[PH] I must confess that I haven't the remotest idea what Berry is saying here. Berry states that Beethoven's "Missa Solemnis" [one of my favorite works of music] is perhaps our most enigmatic musical work. Why? He quotes Adorno to the effect that a serious critique of the "Missa Solemnis" could only result in rupturing the aura of veneration which protects it (an opinion with which Berry states he concurs), adding that one of the "Ring"'s greatest problems is that such a rupture has become well-nigh impossible. Is Berry saying here that whatever mystery lies behind the "Missa" is penetrable, while Wagner's "Ring" isn't vulnerable to such explication? He then states that we should be grateful that the "Ring" enigma pales in comparison beside Beethoven's work. What on earth does Berry mean? I'm not sure whether Berry is saying that having grasped the "Missa Solemnis," we would be that much more confident of being able to grasp the "Ring," or that the "Missa Solemnis" is enigmatic in a way the "Ring" could never be, because the "Ring" enigma pales beside that of the "Missa." I suppose one might ask, what has the "Missa" got that the "Ring" ain't got, or vice versa.

Whatever Berry means, all that I can add is that as great and profound as the "Missa" is, it would be absurd to proclaim it the "Ring"'s superior in this respect, and to be fair to "Beethoven," I suppose to claim the opposite would be unfair too.

But Berry has introduced the topic of reducing art's spell through analysis. I've been accused of this over and over. I can only confess that I remain forever be-spelled by Wagner's best work, and that my lifetime quest to grasp what can be grasped of its conceptual super-structure has only enhanced its status and aura of mystery. Let me say that if something's aura of magic and mystery can be destroyed by virtue of knowing it better, it never really partook of magic or mystery in the first place. The "Ring" and Wagner's other works grow richer by the day. Those who fear coming to know them better had best avoid my attempts at interpretation altogether.

Let me sum up my review of Berry's book by saying that it is one of the best studies of the "Ring" we have, in spite of my numerous disputes with aspects of Berry's interpretation, not least because my own copyrighted research anticipated Berry on virtually every point with which I agree with him. In other words, his 2006 book, based, he says, on a 2004 dissertation, introduced very little that was new to me. His main contribution to my knowledge was his inclusion of quite a number of interesting suggestions about possible influences on Wagner by various writers with whose writings I was not very familiar, or not familiar at all. I am glad that Berry published his book both for the valuable insights it contains, and because it will help to lay the groundwork for the publication of my own book on the "Ring" in a form more accessible than the huge book I've published on this website.

End of Part Eight, the final part, of my review of Mark Berry's "Treacherous Bonds and Laughing Fire"; Edited/Revised by Paul Heise on 6/23/12. I will now move on to reaching my ultimate goal, the revision of "The Wound That Will Never Heal" for publication in hard-copy, in a much briefer, more accessible version, by sometime during 2013, the bicentennial of Wagner's birth on 5/22/13. I look forward to reading critical reviews of my own research on Wagner's "Ring" and his other canonical artworks, and also invite Mark Berry (and anybody else who wishes) to critique my critique of his book.
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