Critique: 'Finding an Ending' Part 19

General Discussion about Wagner and The Ring of the Nibelung

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Critique: 'Finding an Ending' Part 19

Post by alberich00 » Thu Jul 21, 2016 10:36 am

PH: Now K&S, in apparent embarrassment at having dismissed the whole raison d’etre of Wagner’s "Ring" as an early miscalculation which Wagner later hadn’t the wherewithal to alter to assimilate to his more mature consideration of the meaning of the "Ring," now try, after the fact, to rehabilitate Siegfried’s significance to the music-drama as a whole, without, however, offering any new insights to help them grasp how this might be done. So now, instead, they try to upgrade Siegfried’s heroism, but the result is if anything more vague than their original formulation.

P. 191: K&S: “The obvious way of achieving a more sympathetic evaluation of Siegfried is to celebrate the heroic, to suggest that dismissal of the qualities he manifests is the expression of Bourgeois prejudice, and to emphasize Wagner’s desire to epater les bourgeois. There surely is a contrast between the free heroic spirits of the "Ring" and conventional moral standards, a contrast made easy by Fricka’s myopic judgments. Yet just as it would be ludicrous to approach the work as a vindication of her moral perspective, so too it is nonsensical to assimilate the complex evolution of the thoughts and feelings of Wotan and Bruennhilde - even Siegmund and Sieglinde - to the kind of rash and ignorant heroism of which Siegfried is the exemplar.”

PH: Yes, Siegfried is a special kind of hero. He is an unconsciously inspired artist-hero, who differs in this respect both from his father Siegmund, the moral hero, and Wotan, the embodiment of mankind’s religious impulse, the impulse to posit man’s transcendent value in a set of conceptual beliefs about the existence and power over man of gods. Thus I can’t help finding K&S’s following judgment of Siegfried as not being on a par with the other characters in the "Ring" rather amusing:

K&S: “Siegfried thus pales not because he is at odds with bourgeois values or with post-Enlightenment liberal sympathies, but rather because he is so clearly a far less interesting human possibility than others whom Wagner brings before us. To view him as the centerpiece of the drama in its final form is to distort it, and risks mistaking it for an anticipation of a vulgar version of what is sometimes (wrongly) taken to be a Nietzschean perspective, featuring the glorification of the type Nietzsche refers to as the ‘blond beast of prey,’ brutal, rapacious, unthinking, and unfeeling. The upshot then would be to repel us, and so perhaps to return us to the basic options apparently on offer in "Don Giovanni" - the sheepish adoption of conventional pieties, on the one hand, and on the other the hedonistic alternative exemplified by the Don. On the approach we have taken, Wagner can be understood as attempting to go much further in the exploration of problems and possibilities relating to human meaning - and it is the burden of our discussion that his explorations are of very great interest indeed.”

PH: There is no such risk in my interpretation. K&S are misconstruing Siegfried the artist-hero here in much the same way that critics of Mastersingers’s alleged xenophobia, nationalism, and anti-Semitism misconstrue Hans Sachs’s call for a truly German national art (not for German military conquest of the world and annihilation of races) in the finale. Because K&S have limited their understanding of Siegfried to a very primal sort of heroism which has nothing to do with his actual status as a metaphor for Wagner’s archetypal prelapsarian artist-hero, they have concluded that to grant Siegfried and his destiny the full weight that Wagner obviously does in the "Ring" as a whole, is to risk drawing a link to the Nazi’s ideal of a superman. It is odd, is it not, that if Bruennhilde has truly surpassed in her exalted love all that Siegfried is alleged by K&S to have represented throughout almost all of his time in the "Ring," that he should be suddenly rehabilitated and revealed to us as a truly profound character eminently worthy of the music which Wagner has composed for him, that Bruennhilde now, suddenly, after Siegfried betrayed their love due to his corruption (thanks to his naivety) by modern society, wishes to be reunited with this paragon of idiocy in death! They frankly can’t make head or tail of Siegfried and are embarrassed that they are not able to admit it, so rather than admitting this failure on their own part, they emulate George Bernard Shaw by denigrating a large proportion of Wagner’s characterization and plot in order to accommodate their own limitations in interpretation. What they don’t grasp, thanks to the limits of their interpretation, and artificial attempt to make a distinction Wagner didn’t make, between Siegfried’s heroism and Bruennhilde’s love (which, in my interpretaton, makes Siegfried’s heroism possible), is that Bruennhilde’s profundity as a character, and her wise acknowledgment in the end of the inevitability of all that has occurred in the "Ring," good and bad, is actually Siegfried’s profundity and wisdom, because she is Siegfried’s unconscious mind, and what is more, Siegfried and Bruennhilde are Wotan’s heirs because Wotan is figuratively reincarnate in Siegfried, thanks to Wotan’s confession to Bruennhilde, his unconscious mind. I have noted previously that in the logic of this allegory Wotan can be construed not only as godhead but as collective, historical man, whose daughter Bruennhilde can therefore be described as mankind's collective unconscious, into which (whom) Siegfried the unconsciously inspired artist-hero can tap, because he has unique access to it (her).

P. 192: PH: And here, below, the truth finally comes out. Out of their own mouths K&S unwittingly condemn their own interpretation, or, if not, they reveal that the keystone of Wagner’s life was so woefully incoherent as to be dramatically and conceptually incomprehensible:

K&S: “While celebrating the richness and significance of the "Ring" as a music drama revolving around Wotan and Bruennhilde, however, we certainly do not want to claim that it is flawless. Wagner’s handling of Siegfried is a case in point; and it must be admitted that a good deal of the first two acts of "Siegfried" could be condensed (if not simply dispensed with) without great loss. There also are places, to our own way of thinking, at which his attempt to convey grandeur degenerates into bombast. The exclamations of the Valkyries are tedious (when not comical); and their celebrated ‘ride’ is a gratingly raucous but shallow introduction to a splendidly dramatic act, better suited to its many popular-cultural uses than to its original setting. Similarly, as we have noted, the plot mechanics of "Goetterdaemmerung" are creaky and cumbersome. The treatment of the Gibichungs, and of Gunther in particular, fails to animate medieval trappings with any psychology of dramatic power. We have tried to make sense of the world of this final installment of the "Ring"; but it would be possible to combine our general perspective with a more impressionistic treatment, simply giving up on the details of the action and characterizing the work solely in the abstract terms of Siegfried’s betrayal of love and the transformation that it produces in Bruennhilde.”

PH: Well, K&S have certainly given up on the details of the action of the first two acts of "Siegfried" and the entirety of "Twilight of the Gods," but only because they have also given up on the details of the action, and of the music, and of the other documentary evidence from Wagner’s writings and recorded remarks, and from Feuerbach’s relevant writings, in their consideration of the "Ring" as a whole. It astonishes me that anyone who has devoted as much time to experiencing the "Ring," feeling it, and thinking about it, as they have, and then willingly sharing their views, which purport to offer us a new perspective on the "Ring" which takes its significance as a drama of philosophical import seriously, could suggest that the "Ring" could be improved by condensing or even eliminating the first two acts of "Siegfried," not to mention their wholesale inability to parse the drama and allegorical import of "Twilight of the Gods." I have, since the age of 18, never failed to be on the edge of my seat when experiencing the entire "Ring," including "Siegfried" Acts One and Two, which for me have always been urgently meaningful. These two acts concern the archetypal artist-hero’s development, his gradual awareness of his difference in rank in respect to the majority of his fellow men and women, his eventual recognition that he takes his place as an original force within a great tradition of other inspired moral heroes and artist-heroes, and how he historically had to emancipate himself from the prior religious beliefs and social traditions out of which he sprang, among other things. It conveys his gradual awakening to his unique destiny as an artist-hero.

PH: Yes, I can agree that here, and there, Wagner perhaps ought to have tightened things up by not going on quite so long about such things as Mime’s descriptions for Siegfried of the nature of fear, etc., but these are only reservations concerning an excessive half-minute or so, here and there. However, in experiencing different productions I can say that I have often been surprised to learn that a passage in the "Ring" which I thought was rather slack in one production, became urgent because wholly integrated into the musico-dramatic pressure of the whole in another production. These two acts also require singer-actors of astonishing skill, and the Mime must be capable of a high order of physical comedy. I can’t concur with their denigration of the so-called “Ride of the Valkyries” as a prelude to "Valkyrie" Act Three, but that is a matter of personal taste. As for the plot and dramaturgy of "Twilight of the Gods," that has never seemed creaky to me, but that is because I have the advantage of having drawn conclusions from my study of the "Ring" which fully justify Siegfried in every aspect, and wholly integrate his history and character into the "Ring" as a whole, not to mention the fact that "Twilight of the Gods" was already wholly convincing to me as a drama long before I began to parse it in detail. And of course, Wagner recapitulated its essential plot in his iconic "Tristan and Isolde."

K&S: “Partly for such reasons, we have given dramatic precedence to the earlier parts of the tetralogy, spending considerable time on "Rheingold" and "Walkuere." Yet we and our ears are well aware that Wagner’s compositional powers underwent an enormous advance subsequent to them, and that Act III of "Siegfried" and the whole of "Goetterdaemmerung" benefited greatly from the famous interval in which he shelved the "Ring" project to write "Tristan" and "Meistersinger." We recognize that our approach might seem to give insufficient attention and weight to what transpires in much of its last two parts. But here too, we have had our reasons.

P. 192-193: K&S: Once again we shall draw some distinctions. In Wagner’s mature works, although not by any means in all operas, one can distinguish those parts of the drama that are rich in psychological or philosophical content from those whose purpose is to bring about situations in which psychological or philosophical issues can be explored. Further, one can obviously separate the musical complexity of a work from its dramatic complexity (despite Wagner’s suggestion that mismatch in these respects is the hallmark of failure). We do not dispute the intensification of musical complexity in the parts of the "Ring" that postdate the "Tristan"-"Meistersinger" interval. But we do suppose that whatever dramatic complexity these parts possess is largely a matter of working out issues and mining philosophical and psychological riches that have been put before us earlier. So, for example, we have already been given a clear sense of all the main protagonists in the parts predating the interval. Indeed, apart from the closing of "Goetterdaemmerung," there is nothing in the later parts of the "Ring" to match Wagner’s treatment of Wotan’s extended reflections in Act II, scene 2 of "Walkuere," or of the exchange between Wotan and Bruennhilde in the final scene of that work.”

PH: K&S seem to be appealing here to the sort of argument Michael Tanner once made, that whatever apparent dramatic unity there is in the last third or so of the "Ring" is granted it, perhaps gratuitously, by Wagner’s music, and especially his web of recurrent musical motifs. They also argue for the independence of the musical complexity from the libretto text. They are wrong on both counts. Wagner had to trace the cause for Siegfried’s death back to not only Siegfried’s personal origins (remembering, however, that Siegfried is Wagner’s metaphor for the archetypal secular artist-hero), as he did in "Siegfried" (formerly called "The Young Siegfried"), but all the way back to the beginnings of humanity, back to the origin of uniquely human thought (Alberich) and its earliest expression in religious belief (Wotan). Wagner had to do this in order to show how Siegfried the artist-hero (Wagner himself) was predestined for a fall by being the heir to mankind’s religious longing for transcendent value, a metaphysical longing which, though ineradicable (as Kant said), predisposed man to outstrip the truth and his own ability to obtain satisfaction, which made man dependent on self-delusion for his happiness. This is the very essence of Alberich’s curse on his Ring, that those who co-opted Alberich’s Ring power will strive forever for that which they can not only never attain (redemption), but will actually destroy this hope in their very effort to achieve it, and thus destroy themselves. This is mankind’s existential dilemma, and the origin of Wagner’s concept of the wound which can never heal, which is the back story of all of Wagner’s canonical operas and music-dramas, from "Dutchman" onward to "Parsifal."

PH: I have already explained in my online book on the "Ring" at how in the "Ring" Wagner made conscious what perhaps was only implicit in his three prior romantic operas, "Dutchman," "Tannhaeuser," and "Lohengrin," that in the "Ring" Wagner creates a master myth which subsumes in a sense all myth, all religion, and in fact all the primary categories of human endeavor and the essential conflict between man’s religious impulse and his quest for objective knowledge of the truth, that man’s soul is split between the quest for transcendent value (as expressed in religious faith, an altruistic morality of self-sacrificial compassion, and secular art, especially music), and the quest for the objective power that only objective knowledge of man and nature can provide, which brings forth technology, science, and power-politics. In other words, Wagner began to construct the "Ring," in a sense, once he embarked on the first of his operas which he regarded as true to his inner self, "Dutchman," whose hero Wagner himself said was a model for his Wotan. So, when Wagner traced Siegfried’s fate back to man’s origins in nature, in his libretto, he was already subliminally writing this text for its music, and the act of composing the music in the proper chronological order, rather than backwards as he had the libretto, was what gave that compositional process its astonishing unity, for Wagner saw all of its music, in spite of Schopenhauer’s subsequent influence on Wagner’s developing notion that the music was independent of any text for which it could be written, as also the mother of the libretto text, saw his music for the "Ring," in other words, as inextricably bound up with, a natural efflorescence from, his libretto text, as well as its source in feeling. As Wagner said, what you see on the stage is music made visible. Therefore the increasing sophistication and complexity of the music Wagner composed for the "Ring" over a long period was a natural outgrowth of Wagner’s comprehensive knowledge of all of his libretto in all of its parts. He knew where he was going, and where he was coming from, and he composed this score over a long enough period to get it right.

PH: It goes without saying that as the "Ring" drama progresses from "Rhinegold" onward an ever larger body of motival referential material becomes available to Wagner, motival material which, as Wagner himself said, allowed him to look forward and backward throughout the entire story at all moments in it. But because it begins, according to his own plan, with the simplest elements, Wagner is able to compound interest and build upon this simple material as he progresses, somewhat like Feuerbach’s notion of mankind’s historical accumulation of an ever-growing hoard of knowledge which not only increases but grows denser in meaning because it is self-referential. My point is that because Wagner had this entirely distinct and separate musical thread available for generating meaning and commenting subliminally upon his conceptual libretto text, he could grant any libretto text, whether dense with conceptual meaning or sparing in meaning (because, as K&S suggest, parts of the "Ring" are more philosophical, and other parts dramatize the consequences of that philosophy), a much greater depth of resonance through the music he composed for it. But Wagner knew from the beginning, from the first words he wrote of "Siegfried’s Death" ["Twilight of the Gods"] where he was going. Of course, in the specifics, in the details, Wagner could alter his overall plan at will, and that is why from time to time he was stumped on how to proceed, because his master plan was general and not specific.

PH: In sum, then, I argue throughout my own interpretation at that the musical unity and the conceptual/dramatic unity of the "Ring" as a whole is one unity, that the one reflects the other. K&S, on the other hand, almost seem to be arguing that we should pay real close attention to the musico-dramatic meaning only in the first two of the four parts in the "Ring," and that in the second two parts we can kick back and take it all in in general without concerning ourselves too much with what’s going on on stage, since Wagner didn’t quite know what he was doing in this respect anyway. This view is a total farce, easily proved to be so, and unworthy of serious attention.

PH: I might add that there are many extended passages of libretto in the last two of the four parts of Wagner’s "Ring" which are the equal of earlier parts in density of conceptual and dramatic meaning, including Wotan’s contest of knowledge with Mime, Siegfried’s meditation on his mother, who died giving him birth, which culminates in the forest murmurs and the Woodbird’s song, Wotan’s second confrontation with Erda, the entirety of Siegfried’s two love duets with Bruennhilde, the Norns’ ruminations, Waltraute’s dialogue with Bruennhilde, Bruennhilde’s dialogue with Hagen and Gunther in Act II, Scene 5, of "Twilight of the Gods," Siegfried’s interview with the Rhinedaughters, and obviously Bruennhilde’s final judgment of herself, her hero Siegfried, gods, and world, in the finale of "Twilight of the Gods" (which Kitcher and Schacht agree is on a par with what they admire in the first two parts of the "Ring") But one only knows this if one has read (and heard) deeply, and thoroughly.

P. 193: K&S: “We believe that Wagner himself may have sensed the difference between the parts of his libretto. His decision to set the "Ring" aside after finishing the second act of "Siegfried" can be understood in several different ways. One prominent reason may have been that a version of Wotan’s problem was also Wagner’s: he too yearned for an ending he could not see how to achieve.”

P. 193-194: PH: K&S go on to describe the various endings for the "Ring" which Wagner contrived over the years, including the so-called Feuerbach ending and Schopenhauer ending (which in fact Wagner retained in the published version of his "Ring" libretto but did not retain in the performing version of his "Ring" which we know today, in which he, as he once said, let the music explain the ultimate meaning of the "Ring"). I might add that one of the reasons Wagner broke off is surely, as he said, that he was growing panicky at the sheer length of time it was taking to complete the "Ring," text and music, and he was going to have to create some other works, not quite so ambitious, which he could more easily produce and from which he could draw an income. In the event, as we know, by this time he was incapable of contriving anything purely for profit or popular taste, so that "Tristan" and "Mastersingers" were both of the same dimensions and complexity (though for both of them he created entirely original styles of music) as any two of the four "Ring" music-dramas. Wagner also stated that Schopenhauer’s writings had created a world-renunciatory mood in him which required another outlet, namely, "Tristan," in which Wagner could grant love (which Wagner said he could never enjoy in his own life) full sway, which is another way of saying that in it, because it was so inward and subjective, and not inextricably linked with a highly detailed, action-and-idea-packed libretto text like the "Ring," he could give his music a freedom which he could not do in the "Ring." Another reason Wagner didn’t give but I do, was that Wagner needed a further artistic and musical revolution before he would have the courage to compose the music for Siegfried’s waking of Bruennhilde, which was to be Wagner’s metaphor for his own unconscious artistic inspiration, his private holy of holies. However, I suspect K&S believe that the primary reason for breaking the composition of the "Ring" off is that they assume that Wagner no longer felt Siegfried’s destiny to be compelling artistically, that he’d outgrown his brash, naive youth who doesn’t know fear. As I have explained repeatedly, however, Wagner recapitulated the plot of "Siegfried’s Death," or "Twilight of the Gods," in "Tristan," and he placed on the stage another pure fool, Parsifal, in his last artistic will and testament. Wagner had by no stretch of the imagination outgrown Siegfried. Siegfried, or at least what he represents, was at the heart of Wagner’s entire oeuvre of canonic operas and music-dramas, from beginning to end.

PH: In my interpretation, the primary reason Wagner had difficulty finding an ending for the "Ring" is that, in trying to grasp the necessity for Siegfried the artist-hero’s death by tracing him and his influences all the way back to the beginning of human life, Wagner was forced to acknowledge what he conceived to be the ugliness and self-deceit at the root of what we are. But, like Wotan, Wagner was so disturbed at what he found that he in some sense repressed this terrible knowledge (terrible self-knowledge). Wagner, astonishingly, dramatized the fact of his own involuntary and unwitting and unconscious repression of knowledge in Wotan’s confession to Bruennhilde, which is to say, Wagner’s unconscious confession of the truth to his innermost self, his music. However, in trying to find an ending to the "Ring" which would both acknowledge the bitter truth that Wagner had discovered, which Wotan had repressed into his unconscious mind Bruennhilde, and also sustain Wagner’s (and Wotan’s) hope for redemption from this bitter truth, ultimately he could not get down to cases, because Wagner (Wotan) could neither truly face the bitter truth (which would be the ending of everything, even any hope for redemption), nor sustain the consoling illusion of man’s transcendent value which Wagner had hoped that he had salvaged for man by creating his "Ring" in the first place, in the face of this knowledge. This is the cause for Wotan’s paralysis, his impasse, his inability to act, a characterization suggested to Wagner partly by Shakespeare’s Hamlet, who, according to Wagner, can’t act, because he has seen too deeply into the corruption inherent in all human thought, feeling, and action, including his own. Perhaps the "Ring" can therefore be said to have two endings reflecting these contradictory positions. Wotan’s gloomy end offers us Wagner’s conception, unconscious though it may be, of the bitter truth, and Bruennhilde’s ecstatic/tragic ending offers us the hope of some kind of redemption. When K&S state that in spite of all, in spite of the horrors of the world and failure of our hopes, all is still redeemed in the end and worth fighting for because we have known privileged moments of love and courage and hopes sometimes fulfilled, I can concur with this (it is certainly part of what we get from Bruennhilde’s attitude at the end, as both they, and I in my own interpretation, have said), yet Wotan’s gloom (and he represents the sum total of human experience in the "Ring") also throws doubt on this. Clearly, Wagner didn’t come to a final conclusion, but he expressed both his doubts and his hopes simultaneously in the finale of the "Ring." However, his last feelings and thoughts were realized in "Parsifal," in which man’s formerly unhealing wound, man’s futile bid for transcendent value, is finally healed by renouncing this bid for transcendent value, renouncing man’s age-old quest for redemption, and taking nature and man for what they are, transient beings.

P. 193-194: PH: Here is K&S’s description of some of Wagner’s options for ending the "Ring":

K&S: “There are several extant versions of drafts of text for the end of the "Ring." At early stages, when he was writing "Siegfrieds Tod," Wagner began with a triumphant final scene. The gods continue to hold sway, and Bruennhilde brings the great hero to Valhalla; the funeral pyre consumes the lovers and simultaneously cleanses the Ring of its curse (so that it can be returned, purified, to the Rhinemaidens), while Valhalla itself survives. When Wagner came to conceive of the possibility that the conflagration would end the rule of the gods, he composed an ending in which Siegfried seems to ascend to a new position of power, as his - human and heroic - order is to replace that of Wotan, his creator. But neither of these endings offered a satisfactory resolution of the dramatic exploration of the themes his increasingly complex drama was introducing. The major candidates for the conclusion were apparently written with the whole four-park work clearly in mind.

P. 194: K&S; First among these is the so-called ‘Feuerbach ending,’ in which the blaze consumes Valhalla as well as the lovers, but in which a note of triumph is preserved. Bruennhilde was to sing of the replacement of the divine order by a ‘world without rulers,’ one in which pomp and treaties give way to the sway of love. If Wagner had been content to stop at this point, then the familiar idea that the Ring is ‘all about’ the tragedy of denying love in the search for power would be far more adequate than we have supposed. Love would be conceived as triumphing in the end, and to the extent that the resultant work made room for Wotan’s complex concerns about the creation of significance, love (presumably the erotic love exemplified by the relationship between Bruennhilde and Siegfried) would be seen as the answer. From our perspective, if Wagner had decided on this ending, Wotan’s predicament would be less moving, and Bruennhilde’s dilemma about reconciling the forms of her love would disappear. The drama, we believe, would have been far shallower, reduced almost to cliche (and a very dubious cliche at that).

P. 194-195: K&S: In any event, Wagner was dissatisfied. His famous ‘turn to Schopenhauer’ led him to reconceive the ending, recognizing that the idea of ‘love triumphant’ belies what has actually occurred. So around 1856, he began to compose the ‘Schopenhauer ending,’ in which Bruennhilde declares herself to have passed beyond ‘desire and delusion.’ Through ‘grieving love’s profoundest suffering - as the lines, probably penned considerably later, put it - she attains a condition of enlightenment in which she can ‘see the world end.’ But this too did not solve Wagner’s problem, for it cannot be reconciled with the actions that her words are meant to accompany. Moreover, the resolution that would be displayed here was one that was almost available two operas earlier: Wotan himself might have willed the ending, willed it without bitterness, and reconciled himself to whatever comes, whether it should be the triumph of Alberich and Hagen, or something else entirely. His punishment of Bruennhilde, his valediction, his hopes for Siegfried, his actions as the Wanderer, and his final anxiety that the Ring be returned to the Rhinemaidens - all these are consequences of a failure to achieve the state of abnegation to which he comes so close. Nor would there have been any need for Bruennhilde, in her new enlightenment, to celebrate the hero, or to bring about the end of the gods, or to cast the Ring into the Rhine. Seeing through the delusion would have been enough.

PH: I had explained earlier (and also obviously in my online book on Wagner’s Ring posted at that Wotan, in his confession to Bruennhilde, acknowledges unconsciously that Alberich and his son Hagen, and therefore Alberich’s curse on his Ring, are destined to bring about the end of the gods, and that Wotan’s hope that he could somehow create or find a hero freed from the gods’ protection, influence, and laws, who would perform that deed that the gods need but which they can’t (consciously) acknowledge, that in order to save the gods from Alberich’s threat this hero must break Wotan’s divine law by taking the Ring back from Fafner (which Wotan paid the giants as an alternative to his original agreement to pay them the goddess Freia in exchange for building Valhalla) and keeping Alberich from regaining possession of it, is a futile hope. But Wotan’s conscious mind must sustain belief in the gods, which according to Fricka is under threat if Wotan encourages the mortal Waelsungs to break the gods’ laws, specifically against adultery and incest. So Wotan consciously prepares, against his innermost, heartfelt desire, to punish and even destroy the Waelsungs to sustain the divine world-order he has put in place, at Fricka’s (his religious faith’s conscience’s) behest. It is because Wotan is unconsciously aware of this, but this terrible truth is threatening to break out into full consciousness, that Wotan discerns a need for the free hero to actually breach religious faith, in order that something can be salvaged of man’s religious impulse, man’s longing for transcendent value, in the face of the certainty of religious belief’s failure under the onslaught of man's inevitable advancement in scientific knowledge (Wotan’s gradual accumulation of a hoard of treasure in his wanderings over the earth, which is Wagner’s metaphor for mankind’s historical experience of the world). Wotan unconsciously knows the gods are going down to destruction, but his conscious mind still sees the need to preserve religious faith, religion as a conceptual claim to the power of truth, against doubt, in the old way exemplified by Fricka. That is why Wotan’s repressed, inner doubts are sublimated by his unconscious mind into a new form of religious longing predicated on feeling rather than thought, which gives birth, in the "Ring," to secular art (the loving union of Siegfried the artist-hero with his muse of inspiration and unconscious repository for Wotan’s confession, Bruennhilde).

PH: However, in "Twilight of the Gods," Wotan now seeks redemption not in Siegfried’s and Bruennhilde’s love, or secular art, which Wotan acknowledges will be subject to Alberich’s Ring curse just as the gods (religious faith) were, but in a restoration of Alberich’s Ring to the Rhinedaughters, so that the Ring curse, the curse of human consciousness, can end. In other words, he would rather effectively commit suicide, bringing all human consciousness to an end (and this is where Schopenhauer’s nihilistic sentiment that the world is inherently evil and ought not to have existed, and that the will to life helps to sustain this evil existence, seemed resonant to Wagner), than remain conscious (i.e., remain in possession of the Ring as Alberich possesses it) of the objective knowledge which Alberich, if he possesses the Ring, will force all humankind to acknowledge. Wotan’s longing to, if you will, jump into the Rhine of preconscious nature, rather than live on having to accept Alberich’s objective, cynical view of the world, is what is at stake once his formerly unconscious knowledge is brought from the silent depths to the light of day by Siegfried, who betrays his muse Bruennhilde and the forbidden knowledge she kept safe, now incarnate in Alberich’s Ring, to the light of day. Therefore Wotan’s hope to throw the Ring into the Rhine and escape the weight of Alberich’s curse is distinct from Wotan’s acknowledgment in his confession to his unconscious mind Bruennhilde that he might as well resign himself to making Alberich’s son Hagen heir to the world. The wish to throw the Ring into the Rhine is the last, nihilistic refuge of man’s futile longing to affirm his transcendent value.

PH: Wotan’s dilemma is somewhat akin in spirit to what Senator John McCain said about his captivity and torture in Vietnam, i.e., that once Senator McCain realized he couldn’t stand any more torture without compromising his patriotism in some terrible fashion, he contemplated suicide as an alternative to doing this. Had Wotan actually gone ahead and acted on his terrible wish to end it all, end his legacy in shame, by handing that legacy over to Hagen, who would completely discredit all the ideals and hopes for which Wotan lived, it would have been as if John McCain had agreed to collaborate with his captors and betray America. When all else fails, one contemplates suicide. But what if one can’t even commit suicide! K&S have failed to make this distinction in their analysis of Wotan’s choices. By making this distinction, and also by grasping that Wotan’s confession to Bruennhilde of the inevitability of Alberich’s victory over the gods was unconscious, not conscious, this explains Wotan’s agreement to act on Fricka’s fears and still strive to sustain the rule of the gods, after he had already confessed to Bruennhilde that Alberich’s victory over the gods is inevitable. Meanwhile, Bruennhilde, Wotan’s unconscious mind, conceives a third way, a new lease on life for Wotan’s original hope to salvage the essence of the gods, man’s longing for transcendent value, in art, i.e., love. This is something, however, that is felt, not thought. There is also no distinction here between Siegfried’s heroism and the love Siegfried and Bruennhilde will share, as Siegfried is to be the artist-hero, Wotan’s next bid, after his failed bid with his moral hero Siegmund, to salvage the essence of man’s religious impulse.

P. 195: K&S: “Wagner appreciated this. The words he set and the extraordinary orchestral music he composed negate both the ‘Feuerbach’ and ‘Schopenhauer’ endings, while drawing on elements from them in a new synthesis. As we suggested earlier … , Wagner embodied in artistic form a philosophical conception that goes beyond anything to be found in the two philosophers who most influenced him. Love cannot overcome, but love must be given its due; there is no solution to the problem Wotan posed, but there is a way of acting that can profoundly affect the significance of the agent’s life, and the lives of others with whose strivings the agent’s life is bound up. We have repeatedly observed that Bruennhilde acts; and her action does not express abnegation of will but the transformation of her will into a new form of love. Wotan’s failure, the passing of the gods, and Siegfried’s and her own death all notwithstanding, it affirms and manifests that life can - as it here does - attain profoundly vindicating meaning.”

PH: It would be wrong to confuse my interpretation, including my interpretation of the ending of Wagner’s "Ring," with the so-called Feuerbach ending which K&S speak of here, or with the Schopenhauer ending. K&S say here that Wagner’s finale, in their view, transcends both Feuerbach and Schopenhauer, and this is also what I have been saying in copyrighted versions of my interpretation for quite some time. My interpretation shows that Wagner transcended Feuerbach in the following way. Wagner did follow Feuerbach in depicting a vision of world-history in the allegorical plot of the "Ring," in which religious belief (Wotan’s world-rule) gradually dies out, and as this happens it is replaced by art (Siegfried) and science (Hagen), which have emancipated themselves from their origins in religious belief. Art originally served religion, but according to Feuerbach it gradually emancipates itself from religious belief and dogma, to become a free form of human expression of value. However, it carries on religious feeling even while religious thought as a belief-system is being undermined, and secularization of society is taking hold. As Feuerbach put it, God (religion) as feeling lives on in art. Thus we have Wotan making Siegfried the artist-hero, and Siegfried’s muse of unconscious artistic inspiration Bruennhilde (who tells Siegfried that what the god Wotan, her father, thought, she feels) his heirs. At the same time, Alberich passes on the torch of his objective human thought (the Ring) and its quest for power through acquisition of knowledge (accumulation of a hoard of that knowledge which will ultimately overthrow man’s consoling illusions in religious belief, morality, and art), to Hagen, the embodiment of the scientific, skeptical spirit of the modern, secular age, which explodes all myths and replaces them with objective knowledge. Thus Hagen tries to discredit Siegfried with Gunther and Gutrune and make them instead seek the power of Alberich’s Ring as the only alternative source of value.

PH: Where Wagner differed from Feuerbach radically was in the following: Feuerbach construed the emancipation of science and art from their former servitude to religious belief in gods, as a coming golden age, and for some reason hard to grasp conceived of secular art as collaborating with science to celebrate nature and human nature as they really are, not as misunderstood in religious belief. But Wagner saw art as carrying on the same war with science that religion had, since art for Wagner is the religious impulse to affirm transcendent human value, and science’s ultimate byproduct (if not necessarily its goal, though clearly, the scientist can only freely and objectively disseminate knowledge if he/she is not under the constraint of man’s - likely illusory - impulse to affirm his transcendent value, which would be placing the heart before the head) is the discrediting of all false claims to the truth, including man’s affirmation of his transcendent value. It is precisely because the religiously faithful so fear such objective knowledge that the heliocentric understanding of the solar system, and Darwin’s notions of natural selection and the evolutionary descent of man, were, or even now are, threatening to them. Now, of course, with science’s newfound ability to penetrate, perhaps, the very secrets of the brain, consciousness, behavior, etc., the greatest threat is upon us. Wagner foresaw that science might someday explode all that we once thought of as the mysteries of being, and he was particularly concerned that science would ultimately make man’s mind, his motives, and the artist himself, subject to reduction to natural laws. Therefore, Wagner was a pessimist about Feuerbach’s optimistic reading of man’s post-religious future before he read Schopenhauer in 1854, as Wagner wrote this pessimism into Wotan’s character, and into the fate of Wotan’s Waelsung heroes Siegmund and Siegfried and their lovers Sieglinde and Bruennhilde. So, another original contribution Wagner made in his "Ring" libretto, which appears nowhere (to my knowledge) in Feuerbach’s writings, was Wagner’s prediction, which he dramatized in the "Ring," that science (Hagen) would ultimately make the mysteries of art (Siegfried’s loving relationship with his muse of unconscious artistic inspiration, Bruennhilde) an object of knowledge, and thereby destroy its capacity to offer us redemption. This is the whole subject of "Twilight of the Gods," and was foreseen earlier in the "Ring" in Wotan’s confession to Bruennhilde, and in predictions Alberich and Erda made in "Rhinegold."

P. 195: K&S: “Deciding on the text was not the whole of Wagner’s problem of finding an ending for his drama. Quite apart from the close of "Goetterdaemmerung," he faced a serious difficulty in matching his musical inclinations to the libretto he had crafted. With the resources of the motifs already introduced, and with an increasing facility in combining, condensing and varying an amazing array of thematic material, his musical language was developing in density and complexity even as the psychological and philosophical drama was becoming ever more diluted. One might have expected the theorist of "Opera and Drama" to have adjusted the music to the simple requirements of the action and to the replacement of the profoundly thoughtful Wotan with the terminally naive Siegfried. But he quite evidently did not.

P. 195-196: K&S: We suggest that Wagner eventually resolved the difficulty by sacrificing the theory, and by using the rich musical language of the latter part of the drama to give philosophical and psychological weight first to relatively straightforward actions, and ultimately to a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. The musical language goes far beyond matching the protagonists’ thoughts and feelings, serving rather to express the background of emotion and idea against which their doings could take on new meaning - and then to transcend them, with an authority higher than any of them have, and that only Bruennhilde even approaches. Authority shifts from the various characters to the Gesamptkunstwerk itself; and it is used in the final minutes to express the essence of what is offered as its final, definitive judgment.”
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