Here is my review of Chapter sixteen (on "Siegfried") from Paul Dawson-Bowling's 2013 book "The Wagner Experience."
P. 268-269: PH: DB makes the case that the plot of Wagner's "Siegfried," part 3 of the "Ring" tetralogy, is a striking example of the universal hero myth, concerning the coming of age of a hero. DB: "The striking similarities in hero myths go some way towards supporting not only Jung's belief that these myths are inherited but also his theories of inherited archetypes and the collective unconscious."
PH: I am sympathetic to this view. In my interpretation, in fact, Bruennhilde is understood to be Wagner's metaphor for the Collective Unconscious. If we construe Wotan as Wagner's metaphor for collective, historical man, and that Wagner's great mentor Ludwig Feuerbach saw collective, historical man as the reality behind mankind's projection of his own higher nature into illusory Godhead, we can also see why Bruennhilde, as Wotan's daughter (in whom he represses thoughts too horrible for his conscious mind to contemplate, and who also acts as Siegfried's muse of unconscious artistic inspiration, through whose inspiration Siegfried can sublimate Wotan's divine "Noth" (anguish) into exalted art), ought to be considered Wagner's metaphor for the Collective Unconscious. He had already provided a model for this in his Elsa from "Lohengrin" and in his commentary on her in his "A Communication to My Friends," in which Wagner describes her as Lohengrin's other half, the involuntary and unconscious part of his own mind.
P. 270: DB: "Mime is fully aware of the whole history of events so far, and as Siegfried's origins predestine him to be an invincible hero, Mime's plan is to raise him in ignorance, so that he can somehow be induced to murder Fafner and enable Mime to seize the Ring for himself."
PH: In my interpretation Mime in "Siegfried" represents the reality behind the facade of Wotan's ideal motives. There is no surprise in this: after all, Wotan calls himself, at one moment of lucidity, "Light-Alberich" (referencing Mime's Nibelung brother), and Wotan, in seeking to purge himself of his own nature (in order to be reborn as his ideal self), splits in effect into two beings who interact throughout the first two thirds of "Siegfried," Mime (the real) and Siegfried (the ideal). Siegfried's contempt for Mime can therefore be construed as Wotan's own self-contempt, as Wotan expressed it to Bruennhilde during his painful confession to her in V.2.2, in which he told her that he found, with loathing, only himself in all that he desired to bring about, and needed a hero who would be in effect purged of all that Wotan loathes in his own nature. For this reason I have little sympathy for DB's following remarks which suggest that Siegfried's contempt for Mime can be explained by unresolved issues from Wagner's childhood (though no one, least of all myself, can truly make any definitive statements about the influence of Wagner's early childhood traumas on his art):
P. 270: DB: "... Wagner invested Siegfried's particular struggles against Mime, his carer, with considerable harshness which gave the story a chequered complexion. This harshness reflected the scars from Wagner's own childhood, and mottled his carefree youth which knows no fear. In Act I he behaves more like a particularly vicious adolescent than the flawless, irresistible young man which Wagner by his own account intended."
P. 271: DB: "Mime muses on the one sword that Siegfried could never break, but alas he has not the strength or the skill to weld its fragments together. (...) Mime knows that if Siegfried had Nothung reforged, he could kill Fafner."
PH: In my interpretation Mime, like Beckmesser in "Mastersingers," is too conscious, too calculating, to be able to access authentic unconscious inspiration, and is therefore unable to reforge Nothung. Since I have interpreted Mime as the reality behind Wotan's ostensible ideal, Mime's difficulty is a figure for Wotan's difficulty, i.e., that he can't forge the sword for his hero (as he did for Siegmund, unless we take the view suggested by some of Wagner's commentary on his evolving "Ring" plot that it may have been originally part of Alberich's Nibelung Hoard), but the hero must forge it for himself. Wotan like Mime is too conscious, except that for Wotan, the idealist, he can't abide this consciousness because it contradicts his consoling illusions, whereas Mime, the realist, is, like his brother Alberich, perfectly able to gain strength from his conscious acceptance of himself as an egoist.
P. 272: DB: "If Mime is as clever as he is always claiming, then let him explain why in spite of loathing him, Siegfried always comes back. Mime says it is because of the natural love of every child for its parent, but Siegfried denies this possibility."
PH: In my interpretation, just as Wotan is forced ultimately to see himself not only as no more exalted than his enemy Alberich (who openly embraces his selfish motives, unlike Wotan, who, though equally selfish, has formed an idealistic view of his own nature which is contradicted by the truth, and is therefore Wotan's weak spot), though he is desperate to wholly deny any link between Alberich and himself (in spite of having called himself "LIght-Alberich," and in spite of Alberich's Ring Motif haven given musical birth to Wotan's Valhalla Motif in the transition from Scene 1 to Scene 2 in "Rhinegold"), so Siegfried, in unconsciously inheriting Wotan's desperation to deny his true nature, holds Mime (the reality behind Wotan's ideality) in contempt. Siegfried always comes back to Mime because he can no more escape his Mime-nature than Wotan can reverse the history which made himself and the other gods a product of Alberich's forging of his Ring, the Ring of human consciousness. In my interpretation, the gods themselves, and their Valhalla, are ultimately a product of Alberich's forging of the Ring of consciousness, which in reality was the inevitable product of evolution, but in the "Ring" myth is presented as a conscious act, leading to a "Fall," as in the Bible.
PH: I said that Mime represents the reality behind Wotan, who I have construed as both Godhead and as a metaphor for collective, historical man. Among that collective, historical mankind, the great majority are people who tend (in comparison with more self-conscious and reflective members of the human species) to live in the moment, with ambitions which don't transcend their immediate place and time. Mime is a figure for this majority, among whom, in Wagner's thinking, the much more rare man and woman of genius is brought up, and which provides the higher man's or woman's social context. Mime may relate to others for his own advantage, but in essence all of his interactions are self-involved and in the deepest sense lonely, which is at least part, I think, of what Wagner intended in having Mime bring Siegfried up alone in a forest. Siegfried's rediscovery of his own true roots in geniuses of the past, represented here metaphorically by his father Siegmund and his legacy, the broken sword Nothung, in my interpretation, is what Wagner presents to us in Siegfried's forcing Mime to produce proof of Siegfried's true heritage and parentage, as Siegfried knows instinctively that he is inherently unlike Mime. Those who wish to impute a racial, anti-Semitic meaning to Siegfried's contempt for Mime (allegedly Wagner's caricature of Jews, on this reading) can do so, but I believe a more explanatory reading is that Mime represents Wagner's idea of the cultural philistine, and as Wagner well knew, they can be found in abundance in all races and other kinds of human groupings.
P. 272: DB: "It now occurs to Siegfried that this must be why he comes back, to learn who his father and mother really are. Mime is evasive and will not tell him until Siegfried half throttles him and threatens worse unless he tells the truth. This makes Mime tell how he found his mother, Sieglinde, in the forest, and how she died in childbirth there in his smithy. Siegfried is much moved and disturbed at the idea that his mother died to give him life ... ."
PH: In my interpretation I make much of this. Siegfried, like Tristan and in a certain way like Parsifal, is disturbed that his mother died giving him birth. In Parsifal's case in particular he feels guilt that he himself willingly caused Herzeleide to die of a broken heart when he neglected, forgot, and ran away from her, something which only dawns on Parsifal when Kundry (who like Bruennhilde knows for the hero what he doesn't know) informs him of it. The meaning, for me, is that this matricide is a trope which originates in the sin which Alberich says Wotan (mankind) committed against all that was, is, or will be, namely, Mother Nature (Erda) and her knowledge, by depriving Alberich (the truth-teller at all costs) of the Ring of consciousness, in order to distort humans' potentiality for objective consciousness and knowledge for the sake of a consoling illusion, for consoling self-deceit, in religion, and later, in secular art. The artist-hero in whom religious man's metaphysical longing for transcendent value lives on after religious belief begins to lose its hold on mankind, inherits this original sin against the Mother, Mother Nature. The particular mothers of the heroes who either die giving them birth (Siegfried, Tristan), or die through their neglect (Parsifal), are a figure for this concept. The only exception, Walther von Stolzing in "Mastersingers," never becomes conscious of this sin because he, unlike the other three heroes of Wagner's mature music-dramas, remains unconscious of his true identity, so much so that he remains fully capable of creating an unconsciously inspired work of art, his redemptive master song. This is what distinguishes "Mastersingers" as a comedy from the three other music-dramas, which are tragedies.
P. 272-273: DB: "He [Siegfried] storms off in high excitement, leaving Mime agonizing over his conundrums; how can he stop Siegfried leaving; how can he bring him to Fafner's cave; and above all how can he refashion the broken sword, which alone would be strong enough to strike down Fafner. At this point a visitor appears. It is Wotan in his guise of 'Wanderer' ... ."
PH: Again, in my interpretation Mime's conundrums are precisely Wotan's conundrums, i.e., how to inspire Siegfried to do what Mime wants, win for him the Ring, when Siegfried has now proclaimed his independence (as Wotan's free hero who will, in fighting against Wotan, actually be Wotan's friend) and Mime can't control or influence his actions. Actually, since Wotan proclaimed to Bruennhilde during his confession that Wotan now finds with loathing ("Ekel") only himself in all that he brings about, Wotan wants Siegfried to destroy that part of himself which Wotan loathes, his prosaic rather than poetic self, and that other self is Mime. Feuerbach distinguished in religious belief its prose (those aspects of religious faith which are predicated on fear and egoism) from its poetry, the artistic aspects of religious mythology which could live on as secular art purified of the egoism which is the basis of religious faith. This makes Wotan's visit to Mime in disguise as the Wanderer, and their contest of knowledge, all the more poignant. Wotan is confronting his lower self. In a sense, Mime is Wotan's calculating, fearful head, and Siegfried is Wotan's heart. Therefore, it is only natural that Wotan should stake his "head' on the knowledge contest with Mime, and the head he stakes is his own head, represented by Mime. Thus:
P. 273-274: DB: "... the stranger [Wotan as Wanderer] sits himself authoritatively by the hearth, and tells Mime to question him; he stakes his head that he can offer valuable advice on any three questions that Mime may put."
PH: Mime, as Wotan himself declares, asks only questions about things he already knows, but not what he needed to know. What Mime needed to know was how to obtain redemption from his head in his heart, but Mime is unequal to this. It is precisely the road to redemption which Wotan asks Mime to address in his 3 questions, concerning the race of Waelsungs whom Wotan treated badly yet loved best, the name of the sword Siegfried will need in order to win the Ring for the wily dwarf Mime, and, finally, the question of who will re-forge the broken sword which alone can kill Fafner and win the Ring, the answer to which Mime can't produce, any more than Wotan could create a free hero by direct action. Mime's (Wotan's) head is forfeit, because it is being sacrificed to Wotan's heart, his ideal self Siegfried. The sword Nothung which will kill Mime and eliminate this dead weight on Siegfried is of course represented musically by a motif which is almost identical to the opening notes of the "Ring," and represents the paradise of preconscious life to which Siegfried's inspired art will give artificial restoration. Mime is unable precisely because he is, as he says, too wise, i.e. too conscious. Another example of this allegorical reasoning is found in S.3.1, when Wotan informs Erda that all her wisdom (her knowledge of all that was, is, and will be, i.e., the real world, which Wotan sins against) will wane before his will, i.e., will wane before his daughter and unconscious mind, Bruennhilde, who is a sort of surrogate Rhine, in that Bruennhilde as Siegfried's unconscious mind can temporarily make him feel as if the wound that will never heal, Alberich's curse, is healed and can't threaten him. This makes the healing Bruennhilde as Siegfried's muse of unconscious artistic inspiration can offer Siegfried analogous to restoring the Ring to the Rhinedaughters.
P. 274-275: "... he [Wotan as Wanderer] goes off laughing as he announces that only one who has never learned fear will reforge the sword, and that he leaves Mime's head forfeit to that one. What this scene also usefully achieves is a motive, a reason why Mime needs to instil fear into Siegfried; it is to prevent any possibility that Wanderer's prophecy could be fulfilled. Wanderer's departure plunges Mime into a state bordering on frenzy, the feeling of terror which was familiar to Wagner from his own childhood, and which he now etched into music with lacerating precision. Mime imagines Fafner thundering through the dark forest to get him ... . (...) He will lead Siegfried to the dragon to teach him fear, so that he ceases to be a threat and kills the dragon, allowing Mime to seize the Ring.'
PH: DB has omitted the main point: In my interpretation, the point of Mime's two-faced conundrum (only a part of which DB delineated here) is that, while Siegfried can presumably only re-forge the sword Nothung and kill Fafner if Siegfried doesn't feel fear, Mime's head is forfeit to he who hasn't learned to fear, which means that Mime must somehow both teach Siegfried the meaning of fear, and also, contradictorily, insure that Siegfried doesn't know fear, if Mime is to succeed both in exploiting Siegfried to win Alberich's Ring for Mime, yet also in escaping from the prospect of being killed by he who doesn't know fear. Wotan has already solved this conundrum in being divided into both a conscious half, Siegfried, and an unconscious half, Bruennhilde. It is through Siegfried's own unconscious mind, Bruennhilde, that Siegfried can act upon Wotan's motive of fear of the end of the gods, without however being paralyzed by consciousness of Wotan's fear as his true motive. Siegfried both possesses Wotan's hoard of knowledge from his confession to Bruennhilde, and doesn't, because Siegfried remains unconscious of it. This solves many of the conundrums of the "Ring," and explains many otherwise seemingly confused passages in the libretto text.
PH: I have no doubt that in a general way DB is right when he suggests Wagner may have tapped some of his own memories of childhood fears when he wrote music to describe Mime's baseless fear, but the more proximate source is Feuerbach's description of that existential fear, known presumably only to human beings, who have the gift of reflective consciousness and foresight of death, which, according to Feuerbach, is an existential fear in general, a universal angst. That I think is what Wagner is getting at here. Feuerbach said this fear, which is ultimately a manifestation of man's instinctive egoism and selfishness (very Nibelungenlike in this regard), was also the foundation of religious faith.
P. 276-277: PH: Describing the Prelude to S.2.1, DB says: "The contrabass tuba stalks the depths with the theme of the dragon, which now has none of the rearing energy of the dragon into which Alberich transformed himself in 'Das Rheingold,' but still registers as powerful, even in inertia. The being who has taken on dragon form in 'Siegfried' is not Alberich, but Fafner; and yet this dragon is still created by the Tarnhelm, and this may be why both dragons have the same music."
PH: In my interpretation Alberich and Fafner share the Tarnhelm-inspired transformation into the dragon of fear because that is precisely what, in Feuerbach's worldview, the religious man feels in the face of those truths which, if exposed to the conscious light of day, would overthrow religious man's consoling illusions (such as a promise of immortal life), and leave man exposed to the unleavened fear of death, his natural lot. Fafner (man's faith in religious illusions, and man's fear not only of death, the origin of man's religious illusions, but also of any knowledge which might subvert and undermine faith in man's future redemption and immortality in paradise), the guardian over Wotan's knowledge which was so fearful to him he couldn't bear to be conscious of it, is then the guardian over Alberich's Nibelung Hoard, which is identical with Wotan's hoard of fearful knowledge of nature which he learned over time through mankind's intercourse with Erda, Mother Nature. Note also that Siegfried, though unable to learn fear from Fafner because he is already protected from the anguish of Wotan's knowledge by virtue of Bruennhilde holding it for him, will suddenly feel that fear, that premonition of existential danger, when he is about to wake and win Bruennhilde, the repository for that knowledge.
P. 277: DB: "Wotan tells him [Alberich] he has come only to watch events, not to perform them."
PH: In my interpretation this means that Wotan no longer, as religious man, stakes a claim to reality, the power of truth, the world of action, but now merely observes, i.e., now merely will content himself with an aesthetic response to the world, i.e., with art. The basis for this is Feuerbach's distinction between religious belief and poetry, that the poetic artist stakes no claim to factuality, the power of truth, the Ring, but rests content with illusion, and in music has no truck either with truth or illusion, but merely with feeling. Wotan, formerly religious mankind, will experience the world aesthetically, as an antidote to the prosaic understanding of the world which science (represented here by Hagen) introduces into the world as a substitute for the explanations formerly offered by religion.
P. 277: DB: "Alberich reminds Wotan that if it [Alberich's Ring] comes back to Alberich, he will use it very differently from the foolish giants. Wotan replies calmly that he neither knows nor cares what Alberich plans; the Ring shall belong to whoever can win it."
PH: In my interpretation the reason why Fafner doesn't use the Ring, Tarnhelm, or Nibelung Hoard to further aggrandize himself is that he actually represents Wotan's fear of death, firstly, and secondly, the religious faith which is the product of man's fear of death, a faith which takes man's mind (the Ring) prisoner (deprives the objective thinker Alberich of the Ring) in order to sustain consoling illusions. It would not make sense for Fafner, Wotan's fear, to use the Ring's authentic power. Fafner's purpose is to insure that no one of an objective mindset has access to, and can disburse, prohibited knowledge, and to warn away from it all those who depend upon religious faith for their happiness. Fafner sitting on the Ring, Tarnhelm, and Hoard, represents the long period of religious belief during which the advancement of knowledge was retarded by the stranglehold of religious man's fear. This of course has nothing to do with the Shavian notion that Fafner sitting on the Hoard represents mere miserliness.
PH: Wotan no longer directly contests Alberich's/Hagen's ability to affirm nature's truths once Wotan has resigned himself to the necessity that Siegfried win the Ring for him (to keep it out of Alberich's hands), because the secular art Siegfried will produce only comes into being once religion as a belief system, with its stranglehold on the advancement of knowledge, is dying. Siegfried's possession of Alberich's Ring is Wagner's metaphor for his statement that art, unlike religion (in this following Feuerbach's lead), must make us feel redeemed from the world from within the world, without renouncing the world. Siegfried is to win the world's redemption from Alberich's curse of consciousness by aesthetically taking possession of the terrible world and sublimating its horror into beauty, very much like Aristotle's notion of purgation through tragic drama in which the most terrible things are contemplated, but in which we find redemptive beauty. This is why Siegfried must possess Alberich's Ring, because it is the ultimate source of Siegfried's artistic inspiration. However, Siegfried will, once he has obtained Alberich's Ring, leave it in Bruennhilde's safekeeping, just as Wotan left his secret confession of his hoard of dangerous knowledge in Bruennhilde's safekeeping. Siegfried can only safely draw inspiration from this horror, to transform and sublimate it aesthetically into beauty, if he remains unconscious of it.
P. 277-278: DB: "... for Wotan's part Alberich can do what he likes. Alberich asks desperately, does that mean Wotan will not try and lay hands on the hoard (and the Ring)? Wotan replies obliquely but tenderly that he must allow the one whom he loves to fend for himself; he must stand or fall on his own."
PH: In my interpretation I note the parallel between Wotan's current attitude towards Alberich, that Wotan will not directly try to interfere with Alberich's quest to regain his Ring and its power, and Sachs's attitude toward Beckmesser when Beckmesser (having found the song that Sachs wrote out as Walther dictated it to him in song) accuses Sachs of planning to compete for Eva's hand in marriage, and of having deliberately sabotaged Beckmesser's wooing song. Sachs does not compete but his proxy Walther will compete, and Sachs intends that only the authentically unconsciously inspired artist-hero Walther woo and win the muse of unconscious artistic inspiration (Walther's dream in which Eva/Eva in Paradise appears as his muse). Similarly, Wotan doesn't directly interfere but intends that Siegfried will win the Ring and also the muse. Wotan's remark that Siegfried must stand or fall on his own is taken almost verbatim from some remarks by Feuerbach about the need for modern man to disenthrall himself with his dependence on belief in God and stand on his own two feet.
P. 279-280: PH: DB speaks here of Siegfried's spellbinding moment in the forest, after he has dismissed Mime, during which he hears/feels the Forest Murmurs, the birds of the forest, and eventually the Woodbird who seems to be speaking to him in music (which seems to possess a potentially conceptual import): "Through Wagner's music, the whole forest thrums increasingly with rapturous life. Siegfried goes on to reflect how his mother might have been, and the music begins to develop the leitmotiv of 'Siegfried's longing for Love'. But his mother? 'That is something I cannot imagine. But why did she have to die when I was born? It would be terrible if all human mothers had to die because of their sons. Oh how I would love to see my mother ... .' He falls into a reverie until his ear is caught by the sound of a wood bird singing in the branches above. Its main song ... is a refashioning of that other unspoilt voice of nature, the song of the Rhinemaidens, the first words of 'Das Rheingold.' "
PH: Readers of the intro to my online book posted here at wagnerheim.com will know that it was the orchestral excerpt of Siegfried's Forest Murmurs which first led me to explore Wagner's "Ring." In my study I note, following Deryck Cooke's lead, that Wagner hints at a deep underlying link between the mother who died giving Siegfried birth, the Waelsung Sieglinde (twin to Siegmund's father Siegmund), and the Mother of all things, Mother Nature, Erda, whose music is hinted at in the Forest Murmur music. The key to this link is Feuerbach's remarks that in positing transcendent godhead mankind figuratively murdered mother nature. Siegfried the artist-hero is the heir to Wotan's original sin against all that was, is, and will be, Erda, in taking the Ring of human consciousness from its objective owner Alberich in order to sustain faith in the gods. Siegfried like Wotan perpetuates this original sin by taking possession of Alberich's Ring and by keeping Alberich from regaining possession of it.
PH: It was Deryck Cooke who pointed out that part of the Woodbird's song is a variation on Motif #4, Woglinde's Lullaby, which was indeed the first speech in the "Ring," and which was Wagner's metaphor for the evolution from feeling to thought, from preconscious animal life to human life, which culminates in the forging of the Ring out of the Rhinedaughters' Rhinegold. It will be Siegfried the artist-hero's duty, not to restore the Ring to the actual Rhinedaughters, actual preconscious animal life, but rather, to deposit the Ring in mankind's artificial substitute for preconscious innocence, the collective unconscious, Bruennhilde. DB doesn't mention it here but another motif which is heard prominently during Siegfried's interaction with the Woodbird is a motif associated with the Waelsungs' tragic fate, and it has been suggested, based partly on a couple of Wagner's own remarks, that the Woodbird is the ghost of Sieglinde. However, as I have pointed out, the Woodbird's music, once Siegfried has become conscious of the conceptual content hidden within it, instructs Siegfried (presumably subliminally) to win Alberich's Ring, Tarnhelm, and Hoard (and describes to him their meaning and value), to protect himself from the treacherous and hypocritical Mime (Siegfried will be able to grasp what Mime tries to hide), and finally, to win Bruennhilde. As it is unlikely that Sieglinde would have any information on Alberich's Ring, Tarnhelm, or Hoard, which she would pass on to her son, this must come from Wotan himself via his confession to Bruennhilde of the gods' Need ("Noth"), the confession which Bruennhilde can pass on to Siegfried subliminally. Remember also that Bruennhilde is herself Siegfried's figurative mother, as Siegfried in S.3.3 will confuse Bruennhilde with the mother who died giving him birth. This trope is highly significant because it is found again in a slightly different form in both "Tristan" and "Parsifal." It turns out that, also, that the Woodbird's music is a metaphor for music itself, but especially the peculiar sort of music Wagner employed in the "Ring," and when we consider that Wagner also described the heroine of his music-dramas as being a metaphor for music, we can see here the special relationship of Bruennhilde, as the repository of Wotan's hidden intent, and the Woodbird.
P. 281: PH: DB's paraphrase of the libretto of "Siegfried" goes awry in the following: DB: "Siegfried is surprised that the dragon [Fafner] can speak, and asks the same question as he put to the Woodbird: can it teach him what he has come there to learn, the nature of fear?"
PH: No where does Siegfried ask the Woodbird whether it can teach him the meaning of fear.
P. 282: DB: "Fafner now lies dying, and asks Siegfried who he is, and who it was who stirred him to such a murderous deed. Siegfried says he does not know who he is ... ."
PH: DB makes little of this, except in the general sense that he sees Siegfried as an exemplar of the Hero-Myth in which the hero comes over time to know himself. However, in my interpretation, Siegfried doesn't know who he is because this knowledge is held for him by his unconscious mind Bruennhilde who, in S.3.3, will tell Siegfried that what he doesn't know, she knows for him, while we hear the "Fate Motif," and Fate for Wagner (as for Feuerbach) is also one's identity. Siegfried, as Wagner himself once suggested, is Wotan's reincarnation, in the sense that dying religious faith lives on in inspired secular art.
P. 282: PH: DB tells us that Siegfried has stabbed Fafner to death with his sword Nothung. DB: "Siegfried can only comment with rueful nonchalance that the dead can tell him nothing, and that aided by the sword, he must embrace life. As he draws forth the sword, some of the dragon's blood splashes out on his hand, causing a burning sensation, and unthinkingly he puts his fingers to his mouth, and sucks them. Immediately the wood bird's song takes on meaning and Siegfried realizes that it must be due to tasting the dragon's blood."
PH: Besides myself, evidently only Jean-Jacques Nattiez has had an intimation of the significance of this moment in the "Ring," which is that Wagner is telling us something about his own unique art of music-drama. Wagner once stated that he in effect knew art from both sides by virtue of being at once the author and the composer of his music-dramas, i.e., both the conscious and unconscious sides. In this dramatic moment Siegfried, having fearlessly destroyed the last vestige of religious faith (any dependence on the gods) by killing the fear of death and the fear of knowledge which is the foundation of that faith, represented by Fafner, suddenly has an entré into the unconscious substrate for music, which is evidently a sublimation of something deeper and hidden. It gives him an entré, for instance, into the part of Mime's thinking which he is keeping hidden from Siegfried, and ultimately it leads him to penetrate deep into his own unconscious mind, Bruennhilde, where Siegfried will deposit Alberich's Ring (which by this point in the story serves as a metaphor for the Nibelung Hoard itself, which Siegfried leaves conveniently unused in Fafner's cave). Wagner always felt there was something else behind the beauty or sublimity of music, some deep but hidden connection with life itself, as otherwise it wouldn't have the power it obviously possesses.
PH: Note that the Woodbird here tells Siegfried clearly what use he can make of Alberich's Hoard, Tarnhelm, and Ring, but upon emerging from Fafner's cave with only the Tarnhelm and Ring, Siegfried will say aloud that he doesn't know their use. Clearly, Wagner is telling us that Siegfried knows their use subliminally:
P. 283-284: DB: "The woodbird tells him [Siegfried] that the Nibelungs' hoard in Fafner's cave is now his own. If he finds the Tarnhelm, it will help him do great deeds. If he finds the Ring, it will make him master of the world. (...) ... Siegfried appears, bearing not the trinkets and toys which the dwarves [Alberich and Mime] tell each other he will choose, but the Tarnhelm and Ring. They slip back into hiding. Siegfried tells himself that he has no idea what use these new possessions can be. Apparently he has not taken in the wood bird's description of their extraordinary powers, and is happy with them for their own sake and because of his affection for the woodbird. They will also make a memento of his defeating Fafner, even if he still has no success in learning fear."
PH: DB evidently has no idea why Siegfried has forgotten their use. Of course we could say that Siegfried simply doesn't care about their potential use, but why then take them at all and not leave them with the Hoard, which later Siegfried will tell Hagen and Gunther he left in Fafner's cave because it was useless to him. Siegfried has forgotten what the Woodbird told him because he possesses this knowledge unconsciously, subliminally. We find a parallel to this case in T.P.B when Siegfried tells Bruennhilde, his unconscious mind, that her teaching has left him untaught. She has given him the hoard of divine knowledge Wotan gave her in his confession, but Siegfried never becomes conscious of that knowledge. However, he is unconsciously inspired by it to act in accordance with Wotan's wishes, as he has done now through the Woodbird proxy.
P. 284: DB: "As Siegfried emerges from Fafner's lair with the Tarnhelm and the Ring, the woodbird sings again and tells him not to trust Mime, but that because of the dragon's blood he will be able to hear the murderous intentions behind Mime's ingratiating words. The woodbird's words turn out true about Mime, but it is one of the inconsistencies of 'The Ring' that Mime's nephew, Hagen, soon lies and dissembles far worse, and yet Siegfried never hears his murderous intentions."
PH: In my interpretation Mime's motives are Wagner's metaphor for the prosaic and terrible reality behind Wotan's pretensions to idealism. In fact Wotan was willing to put proxies' lives at stake for the sake of the gods' redemption, namely, Siegmund and Siegfried, a redemption which Wotan ultimately has come to see as unreal and futile. In other words, Wotan's motives, though ostensibly expressing a higher, exalted, noble purpose, ultimately are as egoistic as those of Alberich and Mime. This stems from Feuerbach's accusation that religious faith is nothing more than existential fear and egoism posing as exalted and noble. Siegfried, as a modern secular artist-hero, having instinctively overcome the dread of knowledge enjoined by religious faith, now has dangerous entré into man's secret motives, for it is from this bitter knowledge that he draws his unconscious artistic inspiration, so that he can sublimate it by creating an antidote to it which, however, still reflects its original but hidden source of inspiration. Wotan confessed this knowledge to Bruennhilde, in whom Siegfried can access it safely.
PH: But "Twilight of the Gods," in which Alberich's son Hagen first appears (who I construe as the cynical, scientific spirit of the modern age, which overthrows all the sources of traditional value, like religion), is the story of how the archetypal artist-hero unwittingly and involuntarily exposed the dangerous secrets his art was supposed to sublimate, to consciousness. This is why Siegfried has no forewarning of Hagen's intent: Siegfried is himself naturally and automatically, through historical time, becoming too self conscious to produce unconsciously inspired art any longer. This is what is meant by the fact that the primary plot of "Twilight" is that the artist-hero Siegfried unwittingly gives his true love Bruennhilde, his muse of inspiration and repository of Wotan's terrible secret, away to another man (Gunther) who represents Wagner's own audience. Hagen's influence here is the influence of the modern age upon consciousness, leaving no stone unturned in making everything clear which used to be obscure, exposing all ideals as terrible realities.
P. 285-286: DB: "The Woodbird does indeed sing again. 'Now that Siegfried has destroyed the awful dwarf, he must awaken the glorious bride. She sleeps high on the mountain summit, surrounded by fire. If he passes through the fire and awakens the bride, Bruennhilde will be his!' (...) He asks it to say more, and it turns enigmatic; 'Joyful in grief, I sing of love. I weave a happy song from sorrow; only those who know the yearnings of love can understand. (...) [Siegfried:] Will I break through the fire; will I be able to awaken the bride?' The bird sings a reassurance; 'The bride can ... never be woken by the timid, but only by one who knows no fear.' Siegfried laughs happily. 'The stupid boy, who does not know fear; why, dear woodbird, that is me! Today I tried to learn it from Fafner, but my heart burns at the idea of learning it from Bruennhilde instead.' "
PH: It seems to be DB's pattern in his study of Wagner's "Ring" to mostly paraphrase Wagner's own work, and to add comparatively little personal commentary. Again and again and again, he makes little or nothing of passages from the "Ring" which are virtually exploding with meaning and resonances, which link each part of the artwork to every other part of the artwork, and outwardly also to Wagner's other canonical operas and music-dramas, as I have tried to demonstrate. Here, for example, DB describes the libretto as having become enigmatic, and I agree with him, but it is possible to explore these enigmas and often make sense of them. One possible meaning of the Woodbird's remarks is that they echo Bruennhilde's comments to and about Sieglinde and Siegmund that their love, which brought Siegfried to birth, is one which celebrates both sorrow and joy, but that is a general meaning. To be more specific, I think it likely that since the Woodbird is virtually a proxy for Wotan, and also for Wotan's unconscious mind Bruennhilde, and that Siegfried is Wagner's metaphor for the unconsciously inspired artist-hero who obtains his inspiration from an unconscious confrontation with things so terrible that mankind can't bear to contemplate them consciously, and sublimates this terror aesthetically into beauty, that this is the meaning of the Woodbird's enigmatic words: 'Joyful in grief, I sing of love. I weave a happy song from sorrow; only those who know the yearnings of love can understand.' But Wagner isn't talking here of conventional love. He is speaking about the nature of his own unconscious artistic inspiration, the loving union of his conscious artistic mind with his unconscious inspiration, which draws beauty from woe, i.e., from Wotan's secret "Noth."
P. 286-287: PH: Here DB attempts to sum up what can be said about Siegfried's character based on the first two acts of "Siegfried," and what we know is in store for him: DB: " 'The Ring' does not model a better version of society. Its answer for society's problems turns out simply to be Siegfried, and Siegfried is the future towards which the mythological past was pointing. Wagner proclaimed his belief in Siegfried as the utopian future in the words of Wanderer, and Siegfried is also set up for this role by all that has happened so far. The entire course of the 'Ring' story and the promise of 'Die Walkuere' and its music, above all in those great statements of the hero theme near the opera's end, have added to the anticipation of a sublime and extraordinary being. (...) It does not work. The idea that Siegfried could be both this perfect human being and a universal solution to the problems of mankind is fantastical. Siegfried has many positive qualities, more than his detractors allow, but the distance between expectations and reality simply emphasizes the contrast between them. As happened with the original Dresden Venus in 'Tannhaeuser,' Wagner had created a character who failed to express all that was in his imagination. 'The Ring' also fails to present convincingly what matters most about the utopian future that Wagner was promoting, what it would be like, and how it would work. 'The Ring' is so great that its stature is barely affected by these shortcomings, and Wagner did actually go on to create two works, 'Die Meistersinger' and 'Parsifal,' where he did model theories for better forms of society and better human beings. However, he never revisited the character of Siegfried. What might have happened if Wagner had achieved the same critical distance with this hero as he had with Venus?"
PH: I find two major problems with DB's critique of Siegfried. One is that DB presumes to have knowledge of some overarching social program reputed to be the main point of the "Ring," for which Siegfried fails to come up to scratch as an exemplar. If one accepts my own interpretation that Siegfried is Wagner's metaphor for the secular artist-hero, it is much, much easier to grasp Siegfried's nature. Since evidence for my assertion is found throughout my entire online interpretation of the "Ring" posted here at wagnerheim.com, I won't repeat any of it here. DB's problem is that he is so totally sold on G.B. Shaw's interpretation, which in point of fact leaves much to be desired, and only attempts a partial account of only a portion of the "Ring." The other major problem is one for which DB actually hints here at a solution. He says that though the "Ring" doesn't incorporate a Utopian future, "Mastersingers" and "Parsifal" does. And here is the solution, as found in my interpretation of these two music-dramas: It is in "Mastersingers" that Wagner actually depicts the creation and production of a completely redemptive work of art, whereas in the "Ring" Wagner only depicts the creation and production of the final work of art, Siegfried's narrative for the Gibichungs of how he came to grasp the meaning of the Woodbird's song, which is no longer redemptive but instead betrays the secret of its own unconscious artistic inspiration (the muse Bruennhilde and the secret knowledge she guards) to consciousness. In "Parsifal," Wagner depicts the final stage of revelation, in which the artist-hero Parsifal becomes fully conscious of who he is (thereby eliminating the need for the muse of unconscious artistic inspiration, Kundry), and no longer seeks redemption from Nature's bitter truths through the artificial expedients of religion and/or art, but affirms Mother Nature instead, restoring the innocence she lost when mankind posited transcendent but illusory beings, gods, who are imputed to be autonomous from nature, or even the creators of nature. In other words, DB needed to look beyond the "Ring" (as indeed he himself intuits) for his solution. As I have shown, Wagner's four mature music-dramas are systematically conceptually related to and dependent on each other, and in a sense can be construed as one single work of art. Aside from myself, so far as I know, only Jean-Jacques Nattiez has suggested such a reading, in the sense that he construed Wagner's revolutionary writings of the 1850's as in essence one single work which can explain much of the conceptual structure of Wagner's music-dramas.
P. 287-288: DB: "Homer was not the only supreme genius who sometimes nodded. Perhaps Wagner nodded again when he fashioned
Mime, because Mime by contrast turned out too sympathetic. Wagner made repeated efforts to make him more sinister and detestable. ... Wagner blackened him progressively as he developed the drama, sensing somehow that Siegfried would put people off unless Mime did more to justify his unpleasantness towards him. Mime's plans to gain the Ring had always entailed the murder of Siegfried, but when Wagner came to write the text, he made Mime more openly nasty, a snivelling hypocrite, a coward, and an insidious, compulsive liar with homicidal longings. Wagner filled in his unpleasantness still more vividly in the music, but Mime still did not become detestable enough for the balance of the drama. His stunted, pathetic, vicious personality seems so inevitably the consequence of his awful life that he mainly arouses pity and compassion. This risks making a tangle of the lessons which Wagner planned for 'Siegfried' to present, but perhaps the drama is richer for it. (...) Fortunately, Wagner was Wagner, and it was quite within his power to create a compelling, mesmerizing music drama out of unpromising ingredients, partly because of his interesting plot and the amazing music, and partly because of his extraordinary way of putting them together, his power of synthesis."
PH: In my interpretation, an at least partial solution to the alleged problem which DB describes re Wagner's characterization of Mime, in relation to Siegfried, can be found in my surmise that Mime actually represents all that Wotan has come to loathe in his own nature, the antidote to which is the creation of a new, ideal self, namely, Siegfried, who will lack all that Wotan loathes in himself. We find the origin of this impulse toward self-hatred in Wotan's confession to Bruennhilde when he tells her that he finds, with loathing, always only himself in all that he undertakes to do. Siegfried, Wotan's ideal self, expresses this self-loathing when he expresses his contempt for Mime, and particularly his contempt for Mime's attempts to emphasize Siegfried's dependence on Mime, and on all that Siegfried owes Mime. Alberich's threat, and Wotan's inability to counter it, had demonstrated to Wotan that ultimately his motives are no higher than Alberich's, though Alberich, unlike Wotan, is willing to admit that he is motivated solely by egoism. Wotan can't abide this and seeks something higher. Siegfried always seems to lack something, and that lack is in fact made up by Mime, the craven part of Wotan's character. When Siegfried complains that no matter what he always seems to come back to Mime, in spite of his contempt for him, this is because Mime is in some sense the repository for Siegfried's whole identity (and not merely in the obvious sense that Mime keeps the secret of Siegfried's true parentage). In any case, these are not unpromising ingredients. One has to know and grasp the ingredients before one can claim whether or not they are unpromising.
P. 288: DB: " 'Tristan and Isolde' and 'Die Meistersinger' intervened between Acts II and III of 'Siegfried,' and it is received wisdom that there is a gulf between their musical styles. This seems based on hindsight. The Prelude to Act III of ['Siegfried'] is one of Wagner's great achievements but it is not a sudden jolt forward after Acts I and II. Wagner wanted the third acts of all his last six masterpieces to be culminations, and the heightened focus of the Act III Prelude is an impressive feature which 'Siegfried' shares in common with 'Die Walkuere' and 'Goetterdaemmerung.' But taken as a whole Act III of 'Die Walkuere' has a sweep that the final act of 'Siegfried' does not quite equal."
PH: Without musical training, and a total inability to read music, I am in no position to speak authoritatively on this subject, but for what it's worth I agree that Wagner's musical apparatus was greatly enhanced by his composition of both 'Tristan' and 'Mastersingers' before Wagner embarked on 'Siegfried' Act Three. However, not only (as DB says) did Wagner not display a discordant break in style when returning to the "Ring" after 12 years away, but also, as the "Ring" progresses dramatically it is wholly natural that Wagner accumulates more and more musico-dramatic material as he goes along, which inevitably leads to a greater enrichment of musical material towards the final third of the "Ring." How much of that enrichment is purely the result of Wagner's compositional experience gained in the interim, and how much it is the result merely of the naturally evolving momentum of the "Ring," I cannot say. I do however disagree with DB when he says S.3.3 has less sweep than V.3.3, but that I suppose is merely a question of taste.
P. 289-290: PH: Speaking of the Prelude to 'Siegfried' Act Three, DB says: "The arcs of sound rise higher and higher, increasing to the mightiest, most elemental climax in 'The Ring' so far, perhaps of the whole cycle. It is derived from the climax in 'Das Rheingold' where the Nibelungen bring up the gold, and Wagner now creates from it a blast, a crisis and an intensity that are cataclysmic. Great rolls of thunder sound as the crisis falls away in music which combines features of 'Magic Sleep' and 'Twilight of the Gods' ... .They herald the scene which plays out Wotan's final encounter with Erda, and their strange harmonies subside into 'Fate' set in contrast [...] with 'the Spear' motive, Wotan's will. This is the key opposition in the scene, between destiny and free will."
PH: DB seems to have slipped here. Previously he had pointed out that Wotan regarded himself as a slave to his own law, which is represented by his Spear of divine authority and law, but now he construes the spear motif as a symbol of Wotan's free will, in contrast to the Fate embodied in Erda and her knowledge. Wotan's will is Bruennhilde, and she is free only in the sense that she is Wagner's metaphor for Wotan's own unconscious mind, where he can consign Erda's knowledge of his fate to the oblivion of unconsciousness, at least temporarily, and therefore feel free from his fate and from fear of it. It is this very thing which gives birth to Siegfried, the hero who is fearless because he doesn't know who he is and doesn't have to contemplate his fate, since Bruennhilde holds his knowledge of his identity and fate for him, protecting him from the wound that will never heal, the wound of foresight of the end.
P. 291-292: DB tells us that Wotan announces he has awoken Erda in order to acquire knowledge from her: DB: "Erda replies that her sleep is an endless dreaming, her dreaming is thinking, and her sleeping thoughts are the source of her wisdom. On the other hand, her daughters, the Norns, are always awake, awake even as they weave their cord and spin into it all that she knows in her sleep. They can better provide the answers that Wotan wants. Wotan counters that they are still in thrall to the world's events as they spin them in. They can change nothing, but Erda's wisdom is more fundamental. He needs her counsel and her wisdom on a burning question which reveals to us just how much he does still hope to change the course of events. He asks 'How is it possible to stop the rolling wheel?' She does not answer him directly, but states in oracular terms that the deep pools of her all-womanly wisdom had been stirred and muddied forever by the one who prevailed over her, Wotan himself, but that from his conquest she had borne him a daughter who is valiant and wise. He would do better to ask her. Wotan gives Erda a brief account of Bruennhilde's disobedience over Siegmund and the punishment of her magic sleep, and asks Erda: could any questions now addressed to Bruennhilde produce any satisfaction, any useful result? Erda tells him obliquely that these were exactly the unnatural events which led to the dimming of her wisdom such as she describes, and that this dimming was furthered by his intrusion in the depths of her being. How without such dimming could it have happened that Bruennhilde was punished by him while her all-knowing mother slept on unknowing? How can Erda be wise about the nature of things when people and things are so false to their nature; when the one who taught defiance condemns it; when the one who spurred on the deed punishes it; when the guardian of right and truth rules through injustice and betrayal? Let her descend again, and let her forever set the seal on her wisdom."
PH: Where DB is content mostly to paraphrase Wagner's complex libretto, with little additional commentary, my interpretation makes sense of this dialogue in the following way: Erda is basically telling Wotan there are two ways to experience the world, one being the truth, which is the content of her knowledge of all that was, is, and will be (which, according to Alberich, Wotan sinned against in taking Alberich's Ring from him to use it for Wotan's own ends), and the other the aesthetic or feeling way of knowing the world, the subjective way, Wotan could enjoy by seeking knowledge from their daughter Bruennhilde. Either one can grasp the world objectively, as truth, as the Norns present it, a world fated by natural law, the world which the modern scientific spirit would attempt to make its own, the objective world which can offer to those who are able to renounce illusory value that knowledge which can be exploited for power. This is what Erda means when she suggests that Wotan consult her daughters the Norns who weave her knowledge into reality, time/space/energy/matter. Or, Wotan can obfuscate the truth in order to live in a subjective world of consoling illusion. If Wotan can't handle the bitter truth the Norns would offer him, he can consult instead his daughter via Erda, Bruennhilde, his unconscious mind, the source for a religio-artistic reconstruction of the world according to ought, or value, or longing, instead of is, or truth. This is precisely what Erda offers Wotan as an alternative when Wotan asks of Erda how to stop the rolling wheel of fate, for Wotan can't stand the truth and rejects the Norns' knowledge because they weave according to the world, i.e., the real, objective world which Wotan can't abide.
PH: Wotan, by the way, is being rhetorical when he asks Erda how to stop the rolling wheel of fate, because Wotan had already informed Alberich that he now knows that everything goes its own way and one can do nothing to change anything. Wotan has already renounced the religious agenda of trying to stake a claim on the power of truth, and is now content to obtain his value solely through unconsciousness and illusion, which is why he would no longer contest with Alberich for possession of the Ring and its power. But Wotan leaves that job to his heir and new incarnation, Siegfried, the secular artist-hero.
PH: When Wotan asks Erda what possible use it could be to consult Bruennhilde, who has defied him and been punished by him with eternal separation from him, Wotan is again being rhetorical. Wotan had asked himself, during his confession to Bruennhilde, what use his will could be to him, since he can't create a truly free hero who doesn't reflect what Wotan loathes in his own self. Well, the use he made of his will, Bruennhilde, was that she, his unconscious mind, in whom he repressed all the knowledge which he confessed to her (which otherwise would have become conscious and paralyzed him into inaction), the very womb of his wishes, could give figurative birth to the hero of his desires, the free hero who will do what what Wotan needs, without being conscious that he is serving Wotan. Bruennhilde becomes Siegfried's muse of unconscious artistic inspiration, his lover.
PH: When Erda, Mother Nature, complains that humankind (Wotan) brought about the dimming or muddying of her knowledge, this of course is the consequence of man's divided mind, which can at once consult the objective truth, and lie to himself about it. Religion and art distort what might otherwise be an objective consciousness of mother nature, such as Alberich's Ring power can provide. It is because Wotan has such a divided mind that he has resorted to all the hypocritical and self-contradictory shenanigans of which Erda accuses him.
P. 292: DB: "Wotan is not ready to let her go. He now accepts the implication that she cannot help him to change the course of events, which is what he would dearly like, bending them to his will; but his very acceptance makes him follow his first question with a different one. Referring to them both in the third person, he tells her, 'It was Erda who long ago drove the thorn of anxiety into Wotan's dauntless heart; it was she who filled him with fear of ending his existence in shame and catastrophe. If he now accepts his powerlessness to stop the rolling wheel, then can Erda at least tell him: how can he lessen his distress over it? How can he cope with the inevitable? How can she help him endure his destiny?' "
PH: I could almost have said this myself. In fact, in all my previous copyrighted writings on the "Ring" from the past several decades which deal with S.3.1, and also with Erda's prediction of the twilight of the gods in R.4, I have said repeatedly that Wotan ultimately acknowledges he can't change fate, so all that is left to him is to learn how to end his fear and distress over it, and the answer I have provided is that Wotan first accomplished this through religious faith, and then, when faith was dying, through secular art, but only temporarily, because the truth will eventually rise to the surface of consciousness. It is in "Parsifal" that Wagner's archetypal artist-hero finally renounces any further seeking for salvation through illusion, and faces nature's truth head on, without qualification. Bruennhilde will tell Gunther and Hagen in "Twilight" that her magic only protected Siegfried at the front, not the back, and we might surmise that Bruennhilde, being the repository of Erda's knowledge, imparted to Wotan, that the gods are predestined to destruction in the end, protects Siegfried from Wotan's fearful foresight of the end, which is why Siegfried is fearless, and why Wotan, in contrast, is paralyzed by fear of the end.
PH: We find a basis for Wotan's demand of, first, knowledge of how to eliminate the cause of his fear, and second, to merely end his fear itself (without necessarily eliminating its cause), in R.4, when Wotan, having just heard Erda's suggestion that he relinquish possession of Alberich's Ring, says first that if he must live in fear he wishes to learn all from her (presumably so he can find a remedy), and second (after having seen Fafner kill his brother Fasolt, the first fruit of Alberich's curse on his Ring), that he must go down to her to learn how to end the care and fear which fetter his thoughts. This is the basis for Wotan's rhetorical questions to Erda now, namely, whether she can offer him knowledge (presumably of how to stop the rolling wheel of fate), and also (in view of his acceptance of his own fate), how he can end his fear of the end, rhetorical because Wotan has found in the prospective loving union of Siegfried with Bruennhilde a potential solution to his problems.
(EDITED ON 5/7/2015)
General Discussion about Wagner and The Ring of the Nibelung
1 post • Page 1 of 1