PH: What surprised and shocked me when I finally read Wagner’s prose works and letters and other Wagner source material in the late 80’s, and finally the four key books by Feuerbach (which demonstrably influenced Wagner) as late as 2000, was how closely the worldview which I had independently discovered through my close attention to the details and the conundrums of the "Ring," resembled that which one can glean from Wagner's writings and recorded remarks, and from Feuerbach’s four fundamental books, with which Wagner himself said he was familiar. With a thorough familiarity with Wagner’s own writings and recorded remarks, I systematically compared the most pregnant passages from them with my anthology of key extracts from Feuerbach’s books, and was even more startled to discover how often Wagner had paraphrased Feuerbach in his writings and recorded remarks. This research demonstrated beyond a doubt that I had discovered a conceptual frame of reference in the "Ring" which resonates deeply and in detail with Wagner’s own writings and recorded remarks, and especially those which clearly show Feuerbach’s influence. This is not to say that the "Ring" is Feuerbach translated into an opera, for Wagner also wrote his strong disagreements with Feuerbach into the libretto of the "Ring," prior to Wagner’s first acquaintance with Schopenhauer.
P. 25-33 CHAPTER TWO - AUTHORITY AND JUDGMENT IN DON GIOVANNI
PH: K&S inform the reader that the intention of this chapter is to prepare the way for their quest to grasp Wagner’s "Ring" philosophically. I find the arguments of this chapter neither persuasive nor likely to offer any insights into Wagner’s "Ring." K&S’s primary argument is that Mozart’s Don Giovanni, more by virtue of his strength of character (a sort of superman) than by his social status as a privileged noble, has what they call a directive authority (capable of doing, and also persuading others to do) which outweighs what they call the epistemic or cognitive authority of the other characters who oppose the immorality of the Don, an authority which is based on knowledge of received tradition and conventions of society. K&S describe their authority and judgments as unconvincing and ineffective against the Don, who goes to his death retaining his glamour. The only other character sharing at least some of the Don’s directive authority is the Commendatore, who has both directive and epistemic/cognitive authority and judgment.
PH: As far as I am concerned, if Don Giovanni is a superman this is due solely to Mozart’s music. Otherwise, with respect to character, what achievement besides self-indulgence and having a way with women can one point to? Did the Don found a religion or a state, overthrow an older order through revolution, create any great work of art, make any discoveries in science, invent anything of note, or sacrifice himself for love or some other high cause except his right to self-indulgence? The sole source of his glamour is his transfiguration through Mozart’s music. I imagine that the appeal of the Don Juan character in the 18th and 19th centuries was akin to the appeal of novels, movies, and tv shows about mobsters. This is the audience’s fascination with human beings, generally unlike themselves, who act outside the rules and often get away with it.
PH: Therefore I don’t buy into their argument at all. While it is true that the Don’s antagonists act in the name of society as much as they act for themselves, and don’t appear to have anything like the Don’s gravitas as a strong personality, the Don acts solely in the name of his own self-indulgence, and he has directive authority (whether he has natural, persuasive charisma, or not) merely as the consequence of his social position, which he didn’t earn but inherited. I see no relevance of this entire chapter to anything which I find of interest or value in Wagner’s "Ring," yet K&S proclaim it as a useful foundation upon which to launch into a deep study of the "Ring":
P. 32: K&S: “Our interest here … has been to prepare the way for an exploration of the "Ring"; and we have used our discussion of Don Giovanni to provide an introduction to some concepts and questions that concern us, in a context in which they can more readily be discerned. More specifically, we think the notions of authority and judgment we have outlined prove useful in entering the world of Wagner’s complex drama.”
P. 34-42 CHAPTER THREE - ALBERICH AND FRICKA
P. 36-37: PH: K&S recount in brief the key events in "Rhinegold" and "Valkyrie," particularly Wotan’s theft of Alberich’s Ring and loss of it to the Giants, as the context for their following statement:
K&S: “Without the Ring … Wotan’s rule is unstable, for it is the key to ultimate worldly power; and even if the Valkyries were to fill Valhalla with mighty post-mortem warriors, that would be insufficient protection from someone (Alberich, for example) who might use the Ring against Wotan, and thereby defeat him.
K&S: Wotan’s ‘great idea’ is to come up with a hero who would seize the Ring in his stead, thereby solving his problem of obtaining it without undermining the basis of his rule by flouting his own law (in the form of his contract). The hero-to-be … is Siegmund, whom Wotan (in disguise) grooms for the job and for whose mission he carefully sets the stage. The next phase of the plan is for Siegmund - with the help of Bruennhilde, the Valkyrie most dear to Wotan, and using the mighty sword Wotan has so thoughtfully provided - to dispose of the threat posed by Hunding and his kin. That will clear the way for Siegmund to wield his sword yet again to kill the dragon Fafner and obtain the Ring. Wotan seems to be assuming that Siegmund, as a good and noble son, would then return the Ring to his father, thereby rendering Wotan’s rule secure at last. (Or so he would like to think.) It does not appear to have been part of his plan for Siegmund and Sieglinde to become instant lovers (even though he is initially rather charmed by that turn of events) and expectant parents (a fact that he does not learn until very late in "Walkuere"). Sieglinde’s assigned role, if there was one, was simply to provide Siegmund with the occasion to launch his heroic career and to galvanize him into heroic action.”
PH: Having launched into their analysis of the actual libretto text and music of the "Ring," K&S betray a fundamental ignorance of the Ring’s plot which does not bode well for their enterprise, especially coming as it does so early in the game. Wotan yielded Alberich’s Ring to the giants in the first place because Erda warned him that the consequence of possessing it is destruction of the gods. That twilight of the gods, Erda’s words suggest, is coming in any case at some point, since, as she says, all things that are, end, and a day of darkness is dawning for the gods. But it is implicit that for Wotan to possess the Ring now will bring this fate to fruition now.
PH: My interpretation solves the evident ambiguity of Erda’s warning, because in my view the Ring represents consciousness, specifically objective consciousness, and therefore to be conscious of the truth is to acknowledge that the gods are mankind’s own invention (here we see Feuerbach’s influence on Wagner, which K&S spoke of earlier), illusions which will die so soon as we become conscious that they are illusions. In other words, to be in possession of the Ring in the sense in which Alberich would exploit its power if he possessed it, is for the twilight of the gods to become an established fact. Wotan, in possessing the Ring briefly in R.4, has a flash of intuition, a premonition, of what possession of the Ring of consciousness, per se, brings in its wake, and therefore he releases it to the giants, never wishing to take possession of it again for his own use in securing his rule.
PH: Where K&S go wrong, then, is in their assumption that Wotan wants to regain the Ring for himself in order to secure his power. It is clear from the libretto that Wotan doesn’t want to win back the Ring for his own use, because, as he knows from Erda’s warning, to win it back is to end the gods’ rule. What Wotan wants instead is for a free hero to win the Ring from Fafner solely in order that Alberich can’t regain possession of it himself. So Wotan cannot afford either to possess the Ring himself, or to let Alberich regain possession of it. In fact, since Wotan calls himself Light-Alberich and calls Alberich Dark-Alberich in S.1.2, perhaps Wotan’s possessing the Ring is tantamount to Alberich regaining possession of it. This colossal mistake at the outset means that K&S have a faulty sense of the entire trajectory of the "Ring" plot, assuming Wotan’s primary motive is one which the libretto text can’t support.
PH: Furthermore, there is no hint in the "Ring" libretto whatsoever that, as K&S say, Wotan wishes for Siegmund to dispose of any threat by Hunding and his men in order to clear the way for Siegmund to kill Fafner and take possession of Alberich’s Ring. This is sheer invention on their part. Hunding’s way of life, according to Wotan’s wife Fricka in Valkyrie Act Two Scene One, is representative of the very establishment of Wotan’s laws of order for the sake of quiet and the security of society as a whole (in spite of the damage this does to the rights of certain individuals like Sieglinde), as otherwise Fricka would not defend Hunding’s rights and deny those of Siegmund and Sieglinde, Wotan’s children and chosen revolutionaries whom Wotan hopes will help redeem him from the trap of his laws. Rather, were Siegmund to succeed in saving Sieglinde from Hunding (which doesn't necessarily require killing Hunding and his constituency) and killing Fafner, so as to gain possession of Alberich's Ring, this breaching of Wotan's own social contract with the giants (who in my interpretation represent man's two fundamental instincts, of desire, represented by Fasolt, and self-preservation, fear of death, represented by Fafner, instincts which taken together constitute the preconscious animal drives which, attaining consciousness in man, gave birth to our human civilization predicated on belief in the promises of our gods, namely, Valhalla) would of itself presumably alter society, freeing it from the constraints of Wotan's law.
P. 39-40: PH: In the following passages, in contrast to K&S’s misinterpretation of Wotan’s motive in wishing for his hero to gain possession of Alberich’s Ring from Fafner, K&S offer true insight into Fricka:
K&S: “… Fricka’s limitations are made very clear. Her conventional moral judgments lack authority, since she has no sense of the dangers to the social order in which they are set; and she appears completely clueless about the broader perspective informing Wotan’s plans. (…) But as an attentive listener to "Rhinegold" may notice, she recognizes something that Wotan … has missed. In the first part of the drama, even before Wotan loses his confidence, she grasps that the contract with the giants is problematic. She worries about the cost of Valhalla, while he airily supposes that some way of fobbing off the giants will be found (Loge will find something that Fasolt and Fafner will accept in place of Freia). By the end of "Rhinegold" the roles are reversed, and while Fricka now prattles about the attractiveness of their new home, Wotan realizes that he has paid for it with an ‘evil wage.’ (…)
K&S: (…) The moral structure of Wotan’s reasoning seems very clear: the precepts on which Fricka harps presuppose a stable social order, grounded on laws and contracts. That social order is endangered by the existence of the Ring (and more specifically by the possibility that Alberich will regain the Ring and employ it in the way he threatened in "Rhinegold," exceeding Fricka’s worst nightmares). As guardians of laws and contracts, the gods are unable to retrieve the Ring. Hence the need for Project Siegmund - the creation of a free hero who will be able to obtain the Ring and remove the threat.”
PH: K&S’s interpretation of Fricka’s relations with Wotan above do not differ materially with that presented in my own interpretation, though I offer a rather different interpretation of the motives at work, and a wider context.
P. 40-41: PH: K&S describe how Fricka attains not only epistemic authority, but directive authority, as she wins the argument with Wotan over the question whether Wotan’s son and hero Siegmund is truly a free agent, or merely Wotan’s proxy; Fricka shows how at every turn Wotan has intervened in his son’s behalf, so that Wotan can’t call him a free agent:
K&S: “Wotan has no alternative but to cede Fricka epistemic authority, and in bringing it to bear with undeniable force upon his central plan, she gains directive authority to terminate Project Siegmund. Her diagnosis of Siegmund’s dependence on his father (‘ … [in him I find only you]’) is echoed in Wotan’s bitter lament to Bruennhilde in the scene that follows Fricka’s departure ‘ … [to my disgust I always find only myself in all that I bring about!].’ "
P. 42: PH: K&S sum up this chapter with the following remarks about the inadequacy of Fricka’s judgment of Wotan’s plans:
K&S: “To take the conventional moral status of the relationship between Siegmund and Sieglinde as an appropriate focus for a disapproving judgment would be to misinterpret the "Ring" in a grotesque fashion. There are more encompassing perspectives from which other characters - including, most obviously, Wotan - evaluate various options for themselves and future possibilities for the world, perspectives that strive to go beyond good and evil as Fricka understands these notions. These more perceptive characters arrive at judgments that are more worthy of human allegiance.”
PH: This last extract is an invocation of K&S’s remarks earlier that Don Giovanni, by virtue of the directive authority which K&S assume he possesses, is somehow justified in going beyond good and evil in a Nietzschean sense, transvaluing all values, but there is no comparison between Wotan’s aspiration initially toward divine rule and the rule of law, and later to redemption through love which depends upon breaching Wotan's law, and the Don’s self-indulgence.
P. 43-48: CHAPTER FOUR - WOTAN’S CHALLENGE
P. 44: PH: Near the beginning of this chapter K&S offer their justification for the title of their book, and obviously their primary interpretive gambit, in response to Wotan’s confession to Bruennhilde in Act Two, Scene Two of "Valkyrie" that he wishes now to end it all, give up all he has fought for, and to leave Alberich’s son (Hagen) heir to all that now disgusts Wotan:
K&S: “In 'Walkuere,' Wotan’s immediate goal has been to promote the success of Siegmund. He appears to have pursued that goal as a means to regaining the Ring. In its turn, regaining the Ring would enable him to consolidate his power, and that would allow him not only to establish but also to secure a new kind of order in the world. But there is a different way of placing Project Siegmund within a hierarchy of goals. We might view Wotan as having recognized already in "Rheingold" that his overt larger end - the consolidation and perpetuation of his system of law and order, which would make the world an enduringly better and more admirable place - is beyond even his power and contrivance, and thus that what he has striven for from a time in the distant past (well before the opening of the "Ring") is unattainable. His revised task, therefore, from late in "Rheingold" on, has been that of finding an ending. Knowing that his fledgling order must pass, he wants a conclusion that does not simply make a mockery of all he has stood for.”
PH: I find little basis for K&S’s assumption that while confessing his despair to Bruennhilde during his confession to her in Valkyrie Act 2 Scene 2, Wotan has hope of finding an ending that will in some way redeem what Wotan has stood for, even if it must pass away. Wotan clearly tells Bruennhilde he has resigned himself to Alberich’s inevitable victory over the gods (and therefore Alberich’s son Hagen’s victory, which Bruennhilde’s mother Erda foresaw and communicated to Wotan) because he has renounced his hope of redemption through Siegmund. Wotan doesn’t see a way to an alternative to his nihilistic, despairing desire for the end until Bruennhilde persuades him in Act Three, Scene Three of "Valkyrie" that there is hope to be found in the Waelsung race (specifically Siegmund’s and Sieglinde’s as yet unborn son Siegfried), and in Bruennhilde’s rebellion against Wotan’s divine law, for something valuable to be salvaged from Wotan’s implication in Alberich’s curse on his Ring. And Wotan most certainly doesn't draw this conclusion in the last scene of "Rhinegold," though he does intuit his as yet inchoate great idea then, which eventually becomes incarnate in the sword (#57) he leaves for Siegmund buried in the central house support (an ash tree) of Hunding's hut. This great idea was of course that a hero freed from Wotan's divine law would breach it (saving Wotan from the necessity of doing so) and would win possession of Alberich' s Ring solely to insure that Alberich doesn't win it back and overthrow the gods' rule.
PH: There is another point I brought up in my own "Ring" interpretation about something which adds somewhat to the confusion. I posed the question: why, if Wotan tells Bruennhilde that he’s prepared to accept Alberich’s ultimate victory and the destruction of the gods and all that Wotan has fought for, does Wotan still insist that Bruennhilde must obey divine law and not intervene to help Wotan’s hero Siegmund in his upcoming battle with Fricka’s hero Hunding, but instead, actually kill Siegmund in Hunding’s and Fricka’s behalf? One argument, in my interpretation, is that Wotan only acknowledges the inevitability of Alberich’s victory, and his hope for a free hero who could redeem the gods from their fate, a hope he acknowledges is futile, unconsciously, since there are strong arguments for construing Bruennhilde as Wotan’s own unconscious mind. On this reading Wotan’s conscious mind retains its adherence to Fricka’s undoubting loyalty to the gods’ rule of law. Another possible reading of Wotan’s apparent contradiction in both acknowledging the inevitability of the destruction of the gods, yet asking Bruennhilde to help preserve their rule, is that Wotan knows that Fricka’s insistence on making all mortal men and women acknowledge the immutability of divine law will actually help bring about this end which Erda foresaw, because Wotan has seen what Fricka hasn’t seen, that only through a hero freed from the gods’ protection, laws, and religious faith in them, could Wotan have salvaged something of what he has stood for, a hope Wotan has now lost. So, in Wotan's confession to Bruennhilde he acknowledges that this hope for redemption through a free hero is futile. Actually, Wotan's insistence that Bruennhilde support Fricka’s cause is merely following through the logical consequences which follow from the very nature of divine law, for which Fricka acts as a sort of conscience, that it can’t be altered and can’t be susceptible to exceptions, or else mortal humans will no longer believe in the gods. Wotan, in leaving Hagen heir to all that Wotan now despises during his confession to Bruennhilde, has accepted the demise of the gods but with no hope that he can salvage anything of worth. In my interpretation Wotan’s alternative to a nihilistic resignation to the gods' doom is offered by secular art (figuratively the mutual love of Siegfried the artist-hero and Bruennhilde his muse of inspiration), in which religious feeling, mankind’s longing for transcendent value, can live on as feeling, when religious faith as a mode of thought must die. But, so far as we can see in Wotan’s confession to Bruennhilde, he hasn’t yet conceived of this alternative, not even unconsciously.
PH: But there is a hint, for, having acknowledged Bruennhilde’s statement that she is Wotan’s will, he later in his confession asks: “… what use would my own will be to me? I cannot will a free man - for Fricka’s slaves now fight.” My interpretation offers the solution. Bruennhilde’s (i.e., his will’s) use to Wotan is that, having heard his confession of all that he finds loathsome in his own nature, identity, history, and fearful in his fate, and being Wotan’s other half (as she will describe herself to Wotan in Valkyrie Act Three Scene Three, and as he himself acknowledged during his confession to Bruennhilde when he said that in speaking to her he was merely speaking to himself, and therefore whatever he told her would remain forever unspoken), Bruennhilde, the womb of Wotan’s wishes, acts for him as his own unconscious mind, into whom he plants the seed of his futile desire for a free hero. Wotan in effect submerges consciousness of all that in his own identity which he loathes, and which inspires fear in him, in Bruennhilde, through his confession to her, as if he is repressing thoughts which are too intolerable for his conscious mind to bear. She therefore figuratively gives birth to the free hero Siegfried (though of course Sieglinde is his literal birth mother), the hero freed from all that Wotan loathes in himself, and freed from Wotan's fear of the end. Since Siegfried is, in effect, Wotan reborn minus consciousness of his true identity and history, Siegfried will tell Fafner “I still don’t know who I am,” and Bruennhilde will later tell Siegfried (since she holds, for him, the knowledge of himself which he lacks) that she is his own self if he loves her in her bliss, and that what he doesn’t know, she knows for him. We hear the Fate Motif #87 while Bruennhilde is telling Siegfried this, informing us subliminally that Bruennhilde keeps secret even from Siegfried his implication in Wotan’s fate and guilt, and thus protects Siegfried from feeling the fear inspired in Wotan by his foresight of the end Erda predicted. This frees Siegfried to be the naive, free, fearless hero that he is.
P. 45: PH: K&S add the following:
K&S: “The temporary change in Wotan’s attitude at the nadir of his despondency consists in his coming to despair of being able to bring about a meaningful ending; for a moment he flirts with extreme pessimism and allows that his own passing can be the triumph of Alberich. That, of course, would make a mockery of all that he has struggled to achieve, and, as we shall see, Wotan does not continue to believe that nothing better is possible. (…) This, however, is not his final verdict. He is groping toward a positive achievement: that of a tragic ending.”
PH: This I think ultimately is true of Wotan, but again, Wotan, so far as we know from his confession to Bruennhilde, has not given voice to this hope yet. Wagner himself captured the distinction which K&S describe as foundational to their book when he posed the question: are we to go to ground as gods, or as beasts?
PH: However, in light of my own solution to this conundrum, as found in brief in my remarks above about the content of K&S’s page 44, and in detail in my online book at http://www.wagnerheim.com, this casts a special light on K&S’s following invocation of the apparent strangeness of their position:
K&S: “We readily concede that our proposal about Wotan’s deepest aspirations is puzzling, and we shall want to heighten the sense of its strangeness.”
PH: It’s certainly not puzzling for me, since I have addressed, and I believe solved, this problem in my own interpretation. For Wagner, in my interpretation, the death of religion (of the gods) is the birth of redemptive secular art, specifically Wagner’s own art of the future, the music-drama. It is in this sense, in my interpretation, that Wotan simultaneously wills the necessity of the gods’ tragic twilight, yet holds out hope for his highest aspirations to be met in the unconsciously inspired secular art which will fall heir to religious feeling when religious thought can no longer be sustained, something he doesn't even contemplate until he acquiesces in Bruennhilde's desperate desire only to be given as wife to a fearless hero in V.3.3. As Wagner himself put it, when the god had to leave us, he left us, in remembrance of him, music. Or, in another formulation, Wagner posed the question, why isn’t it possible for us to sacrifice god the creator, Jehovah, to science, in order that we can preserve in his purity the savior Jesus. Though Wagner was speaking here of the distinction between the Old and New Testament (and thus, for him, the distinction between Judaism and Christianity), this is one of his metaphors for the distinction between religion per se (which must fall before science since religious faith, unlike secular art, insists that it is the truth, when in fact it depends on self-deception which can be exposed by science), and art.
P. 45-46: PH: Now K&S get into the thick of the problem, following a trajectory of inquiry which I also followed years ago when I first started committing my developing interpretation of the 'Ring" to print in the late 70’s and early 1980’s:
K&S: “… Erda gives [to Wotan] what seems to be her main message: ‘ … [All that is, ends. A dark day dawns for the gods: I counsel you, shun the Ring!].’ (…)
K&S: There is a familiar puzzle about this pronouncement, first raised by Wagner’s friend Roeckel: Why, if Wotan gives up the Ring, do the gods have to be consumed? In fact, of course, Erda’s declaration that the day of the gods (like everything else) is to end is not at all hypothetical. She is not saying that the ending of the gods will come if Wotan keeps the Ring (and thereby hinting that the ending could be averted if he gives it up). She leaves no doubt about it: ‘All that is, ends ‘ - and the gods are no exception. And, she implies, their time is up. The musical gravity of the scene is extraordinary - we the audience, and Wotan too, know that she expresses the world’s destiny. She cannot be argued with, or dismissed, and the only appropriate response, even for a ‘dauntless god,’ is care and fear. Her counsel to Wotan, to shun the ring, is obviously given in connection with the prospects of his ending; but its purpose cannot be to try to persuade him to come to his senses before it is too late. Her lines are only heard in the way that generates Roeckel’s puzzle if one supposes that Wotan could have no motivation to let the Ring go unless, by doing so, he could avoid the end of his order. But, from our perspective, the point is not that he has a way out if he is clever or resourceful enough to take it. Rather, it is that there are endings and endings. Erda is reminding Wotan of something he knows, if not fully explicitly: he, too, must pass. The task for him, in view of the inescapability of his approaching ending, is to find the right kind of ending - and retaining the Ring would preclude that.
K&S: And Wotan responds. First, of course, he does give up the Ring. Then, after Fafner has felled Fasolt, he is left - as Erda warned he would be - in care and fear … . His anxiety gives way to a resolution about how to end his doubts: ‘… [Erda will teach me how to end them].’ … Erda will teach him how to end his care and fear by teaching him how to end his aspirations, his projects, everything. So he decides to go to her.”
PH: K&S are right to say that Erda is not suggesting to Wotan that if he yields the Ring to the giants that the gods will be spared the day of darkness she has foreseen. If that were the case Wotan, after relinquishing the Ring to the giants, would not be obsessed, first, with having his Valkyrie daughters collect a horde of martyred heroes to fight for the Valhallan gods against Alberich’s threat, which is the instrument of Erda’s prophecy of the inevitable twilight of the gods, nor would he later seek a singular, free hero to win back the Ring from Fafner so that Alberich can’t regain possession of it, for fear that if Alberich regains the Ring, Alberich will bring about the end of the gods. I might add that since Wotan does involve himself in these two distinct plans to protect the gods of Valhalla from succumbing to Alberich’s curse on the Ring, Wotan clearly hasn’t, while still engaging in these plans, subscribed to K&S’s notion that since he’s going to pass away anyway, he ought to find some means to do it honorably, and in a way that his life won’t have been in vain. Wotan’s care and fear don’t end until he believes he has secured a means for the essence of divinity, Wotan’s legacy, to be salvaged in the love of Siegfried and Bruennhilde, which in my interpretation is a metaphor for Wagner’s own redemptive art of the future, the music-drama, in which man’s religious longing lives on purged of all of religion’s dogmatic claims to the power of truth (the Ring).
PH: But it is also clear that by virtue of possessing the Ring Wotan in some sense brings about the twilight of the gods. To clarify, the twilight of the gods is fated to happen, whether or not Wotan retains possession of the Ring. The gods are already fated to destruction by Alberich’s curse on his Ring, but for a time they have a lease on life if Wotan doesn’t retain possession of the Ring. This is because possessing the Ring means possessing objective consciousness of the bitter truth that the gods are not gods, are not immortal. I might also add that Bruennhilde confirms in the last moments of the "Ring" that both Wotan and Siegfried succumbed to Alberich’s curse on it, so at no time does Wotan truly escape his fate or even end his life well (this is also proved by his gloom with which he meets his end, as described by Waltraute in "Twilight of the Gods" Act One).
PH: The solution to this problem, I have found, is that possessing the Ring, for Wotan, means that Wotan becomes conscious of the inevitability of the destruction of the gods. By yielding the Ring to the giants (in my interpretation man’s primary animal instincts of sexual desire - Fasolt - and self-preservation - Fafner, which are the very ground of conscious man’s feelings), Wotan can cease, at least for a time, to be conscious of this inevitable fate. Since Wotan and Alberich are, in effect, alter egos, since Wotan (as he himself tells Mime in Siegfried Act One Scene Two) is Light-Alberich, and Alberich is Dark-Alberich, and also, since Alberich’s Ring Motif #19 gives musical birth to the first segment of the Valhalla Motif #20a during the transition from Rhinegold Scene One to Scene Two, for Wotan to possess the Ring is tantamount to Alberich regaining possession of it. To possess the Ring is, in a sense, for Light-Alberich to become Dark-Alberich.
PH: Also, for this reason, Erda seems to be suggesting to Wotan that if he took the long view he wouldn’t draw the benefit from Alberich’s Ring which he already has drawn, subliminally, by being the beneficiary of #19>#20a. In other words, he wouldn’t retain nature’s gift of human consciousness itself. But it is an accomplished fact, and was a natural necessity, so Erda must be implying something more, something different. In other words, Wotan is going to pay a high price for already having co-opted the power of Alberich’s Ring unwittingly and involuntarily, and trying to employ its objective power instead to sustain subjective illusions. Perhaps Wotan can find some artificial means to escape from consciousness of the bitter truth that the gods (and, presumably, all the value Wotan wishes to salvage from their destruction) are doomed, since he can’t escape it in the end, but these expedients (Siegmund, and then Siegfried) may turn out, in the event, to have been Alberich’s curse on his Ring incarnate, since man in the end will pay a high price for his hubris in seeking to free himself in religion (Valhalla), morality (Siegmund and Sieglinde), and art (Siegfried and Bruennhilde), from his natural limits (Erda’s “All that is, ends!”).
PH: So, in flat contradiction to the thesis K&S have been presenting, that Wotan wants at first to have his hero secure Alberich’s Ring in order to give it back to Wotan so he can secure his dominion, Wotan actually must avoid ever taking possession of the Ring again, and yet, somehow, he must depend upon a hero who will do, of his own free volition, uninfluenced by Wotan’s fear, what Wotan needs for him to do, win the Ring from Fafner (presumably by killing him), in order to keep it out of Alberich’s hands. Therefore Wotan must assume that his longed-for hero will possess the Ring himself, keep it out of Alberich’s hands, and either take on the burden of its curse or, perhaps, free himself from Alberich’s curse so he can retain possession of the Ring safely.
PH: K&S have failed, at least here, to note a distinction Wagner makes in his libretto which is crucial for understanding the subsequent plot of the "Ring.' This is the distinction Wotan makes between acquiring knowledge from Erda, at all costs, about the nature of the fearful fate she prophesied, and Wotan’s quite different desire to learn from her how to end the care and fear she taught him. In "Rhinegold" Scene Four, after Erda has issued her prophecy of doom to the gods, Wotan first states: “If care and fear must consume me, then I must seize you and find out everything.” Wotan’s initial concern here is that he assumes he is going to feel care and fear, but that if that is the case, at least he wants to know why, in detail. We can also assume that he wishes to know if his fate is inevitable, or if it can be altered. But shortly thereafter Fafner kills Fasolt in order to win Alberich’s Ring for himself, thus enacting the first fruits of Alberich’s curse on his Ring. Having witnessed this, Wotan changes his tune. He now states: “And yet how a sense of unease binds me fast! Care and fear fetter my thoughts - how I may end them Erda shall teach me: to her I must descend.” In other words, Wotan at first wants objective knowledge of the worst implications of Erda’s prophecy of the gods’ doom, the why and wherefore and how of it, so to speak. He presumably wants to learn also if there is any way to escape the fate she prophesied. But, having seen Fafner kill Fasolt (i.e., the giant dedicated to love of Freia, killed by the giant dedicated more to self-preservation and self-aggrandizement, the objective power of the Ring), Wotan says instead that he now only wants to end his care and fear. Of course he could end his care and fear of the bitter end Erda prophesied if he could change his fate, but we must presume that Wotan has an intimation in Fafner’s victory over Fasolt that he can’t change his fate (the inevitability of the victory of power over love, reflecting Alberich’s renunciation of love for power), and therefore his only recourse is to cease to be conscious of it (as by yielding the Ring of consciousness to the giants, man's fundamental instincts, or feelings), and in this subjective (rather than objective) way, end his care and fear.
PH: That this distinction is important can be seen in Wotan’s last confrontation with Erda in Siegfried Act Three Scene One. Here, Wotan wakes Erda, to gain knowledge: “That I may now gain knowledge, I wake you from your sleep.” Erda assumes at first that Wotan seeks her objective knowledge of past, present, and future, spun by her daughters the Norns, the knowledge which includes her statement of the nature of the world, that all things that are, end, and that a day of darkness dawns for the gods: “… when I sleep, the Norns keep watch: they weave the rope and bravely spin whatever I know: - why don’t you ask the Norns?” To this Wotan responds: “In thrall to the world (#19 Ring Motif) those wise women weave: (#37 Loveless Motif, derived from #18, the so-called Renunciation of Love Motif): naught can they make or mend; (#19) but I’d thank the store of your wisdom (#133: the motif which represents Wotan’s loving union with Erda which gave birth to their daughter Bruennhilde) to be told how to hold back a rolling wheel.” Note here that Alberich’s Ring and his renunciation of love are woven into the Norns’ rope of fate. Since Wotan is clearly not prepared, not even by the third act of "Siegfried," to entirely accept the fate which Erda has prophesied for the gods, since he rejects the Norns’ knowledge of the real world, Erda offers Wotan an alternative kind of knowledge, aesthetic intuition, which can only be offered by their daughter Bruennhilde: “… wise though I am, (#37) a ruler (#19) once tamed me. (#20a) A Wish-Maid I bore to Wotan: … . (#98) She is brave and wise withal: (#87 Fate Motif) why waken me and not (#87) seek knowledge from Erda’s and Wotan’s child?”
General Discussion about Wagner and The Ring of the Nibelung
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