P. 292-293: DB: "She [Erda} tells him [Wotan as the Wanderer] harshly, 'You are not what you say of yourself. Why do you come so disturbingly to plague my dreams? He counters, 'You are not as you think yourself. Primordial wisdom, rooted in the eternal feminine, is coming to an end. Your wisdom must bow before my will! Do you know what Wotan does will? I will call it straight into your ear, you unwise one, so that you can sleep on throughout eternity, forever free from care. My distress over the end of the gods has ceased to overwhelm me since I willed it. What I once conceived in a state of conflict, anguish and despair I shall now conclude in joy as freely willed. I once vowed the world to the Nibelung in a state of rage and self-loathing, but now I bequeath it in elation to the Waelsung. This mettlesome lad has never known me, and has never had my help. He does not know the meaning of envy. His loving nature and his freedom from fear make him truly free, and even the Ring and Alberich's curse of the Ring can have no power over him.' (Wotan is wrong). 'Bruennhilde, the daughter whom you once bore me, will awaken to this hero, and she will achieve the deed which redeems the world. So return to your sleep! Close your eyes again! Observe my downfall in your dreams, knowing that the god gives way in a state of joy.' The theme of 'Sleep' sounds again, now infinitely sad and noble, but resolves in the theme, dignified and bounteous ... ['Wotan's bequest of Power to Siegfried'], of his abdicating his power in favor of Siegfried. Wagner said that this motive must sound like the founding of a new religion. 'Descend then, Erda, feminine spirit of dread, spirit of primal anxiety. Descend, return to eternal sleep.' "
PH: DB has missed the significance of Wotan's words to Erda. When Wotan says that Erda's wisdom is coming to an end, and that it wanes before his will, since Bruennhilde has described herself as Wotan's will, and since Wotan has already repressed the fearful, fateful knowledge of the gods' inevitable end which Erda taught him, by confessing it to his unconscious mind Bruennhilde, who can keep its secret, Wagner is telling us that Erda's fearful knowledge wanes before Bruennhilde, in whom Wotan deposited Erda's hoard of fateful knowledge for safekeeping. This is also the knowledge of Siegfried's true identity as a reincarnation of Wotan, and as the heir to Wotan's hoard of unbearable knowledge, but Siegfried will be protected from the paralyzing effect of this knowledge because Bruennhilde will hold it for him, so he need not suffer from it.
PH: Wotan is no longer distressed by Erda's prophecy of the end of the gods because the gods (i.e., man's religious longing for transcendent value) will live on in the redemptive art which the muse Bruennhilde unconsciously inspires the artist-hero Siegfried to create. This is the reason why Wotan tells Erda that he need no longer consider Alberich (or actually, Alberich's son Hagen, Wagner's metaphor for the modern, skeptical, scientific spirit which has no room for poetry) the heir to the world, since, even though Wotan and the gods (religious belief) can no longer be sustained in the face of mankind's rising consciousness of the truth about man's own origin and nature, man's religious feeling can live on in art, just as both Feuerbach and Wagner suggested. And art, unlike religious faith, doesn't stake a claim to the power of truth (i.e., the power of the Ring). Siegfried the artist-hero is free from fear (the fear embodied in religious faith's taboo on intellectual inquiry into the true nature of man and the world) because he stakes no such religious claim to truth, a claim which because it is false can be contradicted. Yet he must be in possession of the Ring because it is the ultimate source of his inspiration (the Ring understood here as representing man's entire hoard of knowledge which heretofore has been considered off-limits by the religious establishment, and thus guarded by Fafner so no one can put its power to use).
PH: DB noted that Wotan is wrong when he tells Erda that Siegfried, feeling neither fear nor envy, having no dependence on, or knowledge of, the gods, is freed also from Alberich's curse on the Ring. This is correct. Siegfried's freedom from the curse of consciousness, Alberich's curse on the Ring, is only temporary, and depends entirely on his maintaining unconsciousness of the bitter truth and of the true source of his unconscious artistic inspiration. However, if Siegfried should ever break faith with his muse of unconscious artistic inspiration Bruennhilde, he will do this by becoming too conscious of who he is to be able to draw benefit any longer from the magic of Bruennhilde's (his unconscious mind's) protection. This will be the subject of 'Twilight of the Gods.'
PH: The deed which Bruennhilde will perform which will redeem the world (temporarily) when she awakes to Siegfried's kiss will be her inspiration of Siegfried's deeds of art, which in T.P.B Bruennhilde describes metaphorically as Siegfried's deeds of adventure. This is the only redemption Wotan, Siegfried, and Bruennhilde can hope for, the temporary assuagement of the wound that will never heal, through various works of inspired art which for a time allow mankind's age-old religious longings to be satisfied as feeling, if not as fact. It is often thought that Wotan alludes here to Bruennhilde's ultimate act of redemption in returning Alberich's Ring to the Rhinedaughters who, in dissolving it in the waters of the Rhine, can finally end Alberich's curse on the Ring, but that is not what Wotan here contemplates. He believes that Siegfried's and Bruennhilde's loving union (their creation of redemptive works of art, like Wagner's "Ring") can achieve this redemption. In fact, Wagner told Roeckel that Wotan didn't contemplate the prospect that Bruennhilde would return the Ring to the Rhinedaughters until after he realized that his bid for redemption through Siegfried's and Bruennhilde's love would fail, i.e, that secular art would fail to redeem man's religious longings from the reductive destruction of scientific analysis, i.e., too much consciousness, too much light peering into the womb of night.
PH: Wotan asks Erda to contemplate his downfall in her dreams. Mankind's collective dreams were once man's religious myths, but in the modern artist his own private dreamlife, embodied in his works of art, offers man a substitute for the old collective religious faith.
PH: DB notes, as I did long before his 2013 book was published, that Wagner said the motif (#134) identified with Wotan's bequest of inheritance to Siegfried as his heir, should sound like the founding of a new religion. In my interpretation, that new religion is the secular art in which man's religious longings for transcendent value live on, temporarily.
P. 293-294: PH: I transcribe below DB's assessment of the true import of Wotan's final confrontation and dialogue with Erda as proof that he has little or no idea what is at stake in this scene. It is not that what he has to say is downright wrong, but simply that, given all the rich evidence Wagner has offered us with which to parse the meaning of his plot, DB has simply missed the boat. Wagner is speaking a language that in my view he doesn't understand, though in no way am I suggesting that DB hasn't had a totally authentic experience of Wagner's "Ring" on an emotional level. I believe in fact that DB has had a profound experience of Wagner as an artist. After all, if what I am suggesting by way of interpretation were remotely self-evident all these years, it wouldn't have taken until now to come to a head in (I have reason to believe) my own original interpretation. Here's DB's commentary:
DB: "The scene, the centre of the world tragedy as Wagner called it, is momentous in effect, and there are deep reasons why. In one sense Erda has done nothing for Wotan, having failed to answer his questions, but in a deeper sense, she has helped him to describe his situation and shape it in a form that enables him to make sense of it and determine it. People sometimes make fun of Wagner's characters for going back over previous events, but his sessions with Erda are anything but superfluous. At the very least they fill in some important history, while at a deeper level Wotan's descriptions enable him to make sense both of what has happened, what is happening now, what is still to come. It allows him to sort out the welter of confusion, and gain a new understanding, an inner order and a new balance. He has come to terms with the impossibility of resolving the past and shaping the future, but in the course of the scene, Wotan remodels his own narrative decisively. Erda's presence has enabled him not to reach answers but to render the questions transparent, and through her he arrives at a serenity which she did not possess herself. In retrospect the need to work towards a narrative is partly what drove Wotan to visit Mime and encounter Alberich at Neidhoehle [Fafner's cave/lair]. That Wagner presented these things in 'Siegfried' is, as so often, extraordinary. He has effectively set out Wotan working his own way through the practices and therapeutic methods which the best counseling services, such as the Samaritans, now practise with such lifesaving effect. It is a matter of going over the chaos and describing it again and again, until it gradually coalesces into a narrative with order to it. After this a release and a new freedom begin to be possible. But how did Wagner know? Did he instinctively understand? It is interesting that he himself often practiced something like this in his huge repetitive essays, his letters, and above all in his visions for society and in his dramas, where the same narratives are repeated and reconfigured in each repetition. Even Wagner's different autobiographies were virtual reassessments of his life. [PH: And so on and so on ... ].
PH: DB clearly doesn't really know what to make of Wotan's interview with Erda (though at least he believes it is important, which is more than I can say for Nietzsche, who claimed - surely he was joking! - that Wotan's entire final confrontation with Erda was merely Wagner's pretext to reintroduce a female voice back into the "Ring"), so he offers us what, frankly, is tripe instead.
P. 294-295: DB: "There is a strange discrepancy between this encouraging picture of Wotan and the very gloomy one of his total misery and hopelessness, soon painted by the Norns and Waltraute, in 'Goetterdaemmerung.' I have never seen or worked out a convincing explanation why Wotan should change heart so pessimistically, and Wagner never explains. Perhaps the best that can be said is that his scene with Siegfried [S.3.2] which now follows brings him up sharply to the realization that this really is his downfall, that his end is happening right now: but is this really enough reason why this immense, titanic figure with such will and such a mighty ego should collapse so abjectly and in such misery?"
PH: I have already noted that Wagner in his rather famous letter to August Roeckel explaining certain peculiarities of the "Ring" plot and philosophy which had troubled Roeckel (you'll find this letter in my anthology of Wagner's writings and recorded remarks posted here at wagnerheim.com) said that Wotan only decides the Ring should be returned to the Rhinedaughters once he realizes that Siegfried will fail, i.e., that ultimately Siegfried can't redeem the gods. It is only for this reason that Wotan gloomily muses aloud, in Waltraute's hearing, that the Ring must be returned to the Rhinedaughters, inspiring Waltraute to seek out her sister Bruennhilde to persuade her to restore the Ring to them in order to end the Ring curse and the gods' misery. But both Siegfried and Bruennhilde will refuse to do this initially, and Bruennhilde will only acquiesce once she realizes that the love she and Siegfried shared was predestined to failure. The point here is that Wotan's hope for redemption through his free hero was a hope for the redemption of religious faith from its inevitable destruction at the hands of the secular, scientific, skeptical modern spirit, through secular art, which, in Wagner's metaphor, is the product of Siegfried's loving union with his muse of unconscious artistic inspiration Bruennhilde, who holds for Siegfried the fatal knowledge embodied initially in the Nibelung Hoard and and subsequently in the hoard of knowledge Wotan acquired through his experience of Erda (Mother Nature), and latterly just in the Ring itself. This art depends upon the Ring for its very existence, because Siegfried must unconsciously confront the bitter truth in order to gain from it the inspiration to sublimate it into beauty through his art. This is why Siegfried and Bruennhilde (initially, when Waltraute futilely tries to persuade her) refuse to give the Ring back to the Rhinedaughters. The Rhinedaughters are the last recourse when all hope of the kind of redemption Wotan had hoped for, which would in some sense preserve what was best in the gods' rule, was lost.
P. 296: DB here recounts a portion of Wotan's confrontation with Siegfried in S.3.2: "Wanderer is pained but tries to reason; 'Lad, if you think me old, then perhaps give me a little respect.' 'Respect for the old!' answers Siegfried; 'That is all I want to hear! All my life has been spoilt by having someone old in the way; and at last I have got rid of him [Mime]. You take care that the same does not happen to you.' "
PH: This is one of numerous instances in which Wagner's libretto draws attention to Mime as a sort of double to Wotan. As I have said, Mime comes to represent all that is prosaic rather than poetic and ideal in Wotan. If Wotan represents all men, collectively and historically (as I believe he does), Mime represents the common man, the average man.
P. 296: DB: "Wanderer comments, still equable, that Siegfried seems to know how to get his way, and then offers one of the more obscure observations of 'The Ring,' that with the eye that is missing, Siegfried himself is now looking at the one which is still left. Siegfried comments, as well he might, 'That stuff is at least good for a laugh, but listen, I am not taking any more; so hurry up.' "
PH: There is nothing whatsoever obscure about it. Wotan is reincarnate in Siegfried, as Wagner himself once said, and he is reincarnate as religious faith is reborn in inspired secular art after the formula described first by Feuerbach and reiterated by Wagner, that religious longing could live on in feeling, as expressed in art which stakes no religious claim to represent the truth, when religion as a body of ideas and claims to actuality cannot live on in the face of science. If memory serves, Donington noted that Siegfried as Wotan's missing eye is the eye which looks inward instead of outward, and this makes sense if we recognize that Siegfried looks inward to Wotan's unconscious mind when Siegfried wakes, wins, and makes love to Bruennhilde, who is Wotan's unconscious mind and repository for Wotan's secret hoard of knowledge, his confession to her.
P. 298: Here DB describes Siegfried's approach to the sleeping Bruennhilde: "Siegfried is overwhelmed with the intimations of the feminine which well up within him. (...) The unease, the racing pulse and palpitation, the desperate yearning for - he knows not what - all these things fill him with something he identifies with fear. He feels pathetic, unmanned, and yet thrilled and joyous, and his gaze now falls upon the beautiful mouth. ... he determines that he will place his lips on hers and draw life from them even if he dies in the doing of it."
PH: DB doesn't offer the usual nonsense that Siegfried fears Bruennhilde as the teenage male fears his first sexual encounter with a woman, but he doesn't get down to cases either. In my interpretation Siegfried fears to wake the sleeping Bruennhilde because she is the repository of Wotan's secret, forbidden hoard of knowledge of the end of the gods, which Wotan so feared that he couldn't bear to contemplate it consciously, and therefore repressed it into his unconscious mind Bruennhilde in his confession to her. Siegfried fears it as Wotan feared it. For Siegfried it is a premonition of his own fate, for Siegfried will unwittingly and involuntarily betray Wotan's hope for redemption in the very place Wotan had hoped to find it, Siegfried's art (i.e., the narrative of how he learned the meaning of birdsong which Siegfried sings for Gunther, Hagen, and the Gibichungs at Hagen's behest). Siegfried's fear that he might die in seeking to draw life from the sleeping Bruennhilde's lips is Siegfried's intimation that the artist-hero, during unconscious confrontation with the true, hidden source of his artistic inspiration, the dragon of fear (note that Bruennhilde inherits Alberich's and Fafner's Dragon or Serpent Motif at the absolute height of their passionate union in S.3.3.), embodied by the Ring and the Nibelung Hoard, must in a sense die in order to be reborn, i.e., must confront unconsciously that forbidden knowledge which, if conscious, would destroy him, but which, if it remains unconscious, can inspire the artist-hero to create a great, redemptive work of art in which he and his audience feel reborn.
P. 299-300: DB: "Bruennhilde breaks their mutual, rapt contemplation by pouring out to Siegfried how she had always loved him; even in his mother's womb, she had shielded and protected him. Siegfried misunderstands; 'Does that mean my mother did not die, but was only sleeping?' His misunderstanding enchants Bruennhilde; 'Oh, Siegfried, you darling child!' she says, stretching out her hand to him, 'I am not your mother come back; you will never see her again, but I am your own very self, for you beatify me with your love. I act for you and I know for you all that you do not know; but all that I know myself comes only through your love for me.' She even expounds Wotan's deepest secret, which she says she alone sensed and nurtured, and which was his unacknowledged love for Siegfried; but Siegfried, as he tells her, cannot make head or tail of this. He can only think of the brightness of her eyes, the warmth of her breath, the sweetness of her voice. He cannot concentrate and take in anything as remote and obscure as what she is saying when he has the intoxicating reality of her so near. In a state of rising excitement and agitation he tells her she has bound him in fetters of that fear which she alone could teach him; with looks of yearning he begs her, he implores her to give him back his freedom."
PH: Siegfried, like Tristan and Parsifal, confuses his mother, who died giving him birth (or in Parsifal's case died due to his neglect, a variation on the same theme) with his muse-lover (in Parsifal's case, his potential muse-lover Kundry). Bruennhilde is the figurative mother of Siegfried because it was Wotan's confession of the god's need for a free hero, planted by Wotan in her, the womb of Wotan's wishes, which effectively gives birth to Siegfried, the hero who doesn't know who he is, and is fearless, because Bruennhilde holds for him the knowledge of what he doesn't know, his true identity as the reincarnation of Wotan, and the true source of Wotan's fear. But Siegfried will feel Wotan's fear after waking his muse Bruennhilde until, through her loving union with him, her unconscious inspiration of his art to come, he is able to forget the fear she taught, just as Siegfried once learned from the Woodbird the use he could make of Alberich's Hoard, Tarnhelm, and Ring, and then forgot this knowledge upon emerging with the Ring and Tarnhelm from Fafner's cave. Wagner also makes it clear here that the knowledge Bruennhilde holds for Siegfried, Wotan's confession, remains unconscious for him, as he tells her that what she speaks of is remote, and that all he can do is feel her presence. In this, Siegfried is similar to Walther Von Stolzing who listened to Hans Sachs's confession to Eva in his Cobbling Song, but without understanding it, whereas Eva grasped it personally.
P. 300: DB notes that Bruennhilde similarly fears to have union with Siegfried.
PH: This is because Bruennhilde is the repository for Wotan's secret knowledge and instinctively fears that anyone to whom she imparts it, even subliminally (and even if she imparts it to her chosen, fearless hero Siegfried), might expose this secret, and this does indeed come to pass when Siegfried falls under the sway of Hagen (i.e., under the sway of the skeptical, secular, scientific spirit of the modern age).
P. 300-301: DB: "Siegfried ... tells her she is still asleep; he has not yet broken the spell which holds her in thrall. 'Awaken!' he says, 'Become a woman.' She begins unwittingly to respond; 'My senses are swimming; is all my wisdom dissolving?' Siegfried reminds her that it was her claim that his love bestowed her wisdom upon her, but she describes herself sinking into chaos. A welter of dark feelings and fears seize her, and Wagner borrowed the music for this from 'Die Walkuere' Act II where it symbolizes Wotan's existential turmoil. The cross-reference now is slightly confusing; to be sure, there is turmoil for both, but is Bruennhilde's turmoil also related to the 'Curse of the Ring' as the music implies, and as Wotan's was? It seems to stretch parallels a long way; and the parallels work better when Wagner presses this music into service a third time, as he does in 'Goetterdaemmerung,' in the Waltraute scene. At least in 'Siegfried' it shows Bruennhilde as shaken to the fundaments of her being, and she covers her eyes instinctively with her hands."
PH: Again DB is entirely at sea with Wagner's allegorical logic. The conjuncture of motifs which accompanied Wotan's original explosion of existential angst and misery just before Bruennhilde begged him to confide in her, and he made his confession to her, in V.2.2, is the virtual motivic symbol for his confession, and therefore for his repression of his hoard of unbearable knowledge of the inevitable end of the gods, which will be brought about by Alberich's curse on his Ring, at the hands of both the unwitting Siegfried and the ultra-conscious Hagen, in "Twilight of the Gods." It is heard here because Bruennhilde is the guardian of Wotan's secret knowledge and is about to impart it to Siegfried, who, as this music foretells, will ultimately betray this secret to consciousness, thereby fulfilling the Ring curse, and fulfilling Alberich's prediction to Wotan and Loge that his Hoard will rise up from the night and overthrow the gods, and his other prediction that eventually Wotan's own heroes will serve Alberich. It occurs again in 'Twilight' during Waltraute's warning to Bruennhilde to give the Ring back to the Rhinedaughters, because Bruennhilde will refuse, and shortly thereafter Siegfried, disguised by the Tarnhelm as Gunther, will give Bruennhilde (and therefore her secret knowledge) away to Gunther, i.e., away to Wagner's own audience. DB quite simply has no idea, at all, what is at stake in scene after scene of the "Ring."
P. 301: DB: [Siegfried:] 'Awaken Bruennhilde! Be happy and alive, you utter joy! Be mine! Be mine! Be mine!' She responds seriously that she has always been his; and he tells her passionately to be his again now. He says it is when he holds her in his arms, with their hearts beating as one, with them breathing as one, eye to eye, mouth to mouth, that he can then feel certain that she truly belongs to him. That alone will end his anxiety whether Bruennhilde is really his."
PH: I reproduce below Stewart Spencer's translation of Wagner's original text which DB referenced above, to illustrate one example in which DB's casual paraphrases miss, again and again, the significant allegorical content of Wagner's original text:
"Bruennhilde: O Siegfried! Yours was I aye [ever]!
Siegfried: If you were once, then be so now!
Bruennhilde: Yours shall I be for ever!
Siegfried: What you will be, be today!
As my arm enfolds you,
I hold you fast;
As my heart beats wildly
against your own;
as our glances ignite
and breath feeds on breath,
eye to eye and
mouth on mouth,
then, to me, you must be
what, fearful, you were and will be!
Then gone were the burning doubt
that Bruennhilde might not now be mine."
DB has missed the main point, which is that Siegfried demands of Bruennhilde, who is the repository of her mother Erda's knowledge of all that was, is, and will be, that knowledge of the gods' end which Wotan found so fearful and confessed privately to her, that in having loving union with him now, her love will allow him to forget the very fear she has taught him. The inspired art this loving couple will give birth to can offer man redemption from this existential fear, linked with doubt about the past and fear of the future, by sublimating it into beauty. Wagner speaks here also of the Wagnerian "Wonder," through which all time and space, however distant and remote, can be compressed into the "now" and "present" by Wagner's musical motifs of foreshadowing and reminiscence. This is the gift Bruennhilde, his unconscious mind, can give, which Siegfried is waiting for. Recall here that for Wagner the heroine-lover-muse is the metaphor for music, and the hero is the metaphor for the conscious artist, in this case poetic-dramatist, who redeems himself from existential angst through his loving union with his muse of inspiration, the forbidden knowledge deposited in his unconscious. That is why, in just a moment, Bruennhilde will ask Siegfried joyously if she fears him, as we hear Alberich's and Fafner's "Dragon Motif" #48, which DB doesn't mention:
P. 302: DB: [Bruennhilde:] " 'Siegfried, Siegfried. When my gaze sears through you, are you not burnt? When my arms hold you close, are you not set ablaze? Are you not afraid of this mountain woman's furious wild fire?' Siegfried finds that her abandon restores his confidence. He announces that with her growing passion his terrors and uncertainties have already disappeared like a dream which he can barely recall."
PH: Not only does DB fail to mention that the Dragon/Serpent Motif #48 accompanies Bruennhilde's ecstatic question to Siegfried whether he fears this mountain woman, but he also fails to note that when Siegfried tells Bruennhilde joyously that the fear she scarcely taught him, fool that he is, he has now forgotten, we hear the Woodbird's tune, reminding us that Siegfried both learned from the Woodbird the use that he could make of Alberich's Hoard, Tarnhelm, and Ring, and also forgot what the Woodbird had said when he emerged from Fafner's cave in possession of Alberich's Ring and Tarnhelm. There is a close parallel then, between the Woodbird and Bruennhilde (and therefore with Wotan). Bruennhilde can redeem Siegfried from existential fear, and from forbidden knowledge, through music, into which that knowledge and its fear have been sublimated and rendered safe. Thus Siegfried for a time is freed from Alberich's curse of consciousness, his curse on his Ring, and from the wound that will never heal, thanks to Bruennhilde's protection.
P. 302-303: PH: But DB ends this chapter on a high note, and well, and I am in general sympathy with his following concluding remarks:
DB: "They are now so intoxicated with joy that they break into laughter of the purest exhilaration, and their intoxication and laughter galvanizes the finale. As they state, nothing else matters, and Bruennhilde reverts to 'The Ring's' roots in Feuerbach as she tells the gods that they can rejoice as Valhalla goes down in the dust, knowing that the world has been transformed and uplifted by the power of such human love. She and Siegfried are the pattern of a new order where humanity has come of age and transcends the gods and religion.
THIS CONCLUDES MY REVIEW OF CHAPTER SIXTEEN ON "SIEGFRIED" FROM "THE WAGNER EXPERIENCE" BY PAUL DAWSON-BOWLING. (EDITED ON 5/8/2015)
General Discussion about Wagner and The Ring of the Nibelung
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