Epilogue Part 1: Critique Kitcher & Schacht 'Finding an Ending'

General Discussion about Wagner and The Ring of the Nibelung

Moderators: alberich00, Justin Jeffrey

Post Reply
alberich00
Site Admin
Posts: 486
Joined: Tue Apr 19, 2011 11:03 am

Epilogue Part 1: Critique Kitcher & Schacht 'Finding an Ending'

Post by alberich00 » Fri Aug 06, 2021 11:46 am

EPILOGUE

Critiques of Finding an Ending - Reflections on Wagner’s ‘Ring’ (2004), by Dr. Philip Kitcher and Dr. Richard Schacht, and The Ring of Truth - The Wisdom of Wagner’s ‘Ring of the Nibelung’ (2016), by Roger Scruton (including my rebuttal to critiques of my online interpretation of Wagner’s Ring of the Nibelung (at www.wagnerheim.com), The Wound That Will Never Heal, Volume One, by Dr. Kitcher and Scruton)

There are two recent and serious books on Wagner’s Ring written long after I’d completed virtually all of my own study of it, which I’d originally considered responding to in the Prologue to my published book. These are Finding an Ending - Reflections on Wagner’s 'Ring' (Oxford Univ. Press, 2004) by Dr. Philip Kitcher and Dr. Richard Schacht, and The Ring of Truth - The Wisdom of Wagner’s ‘Ring of the Nibelung’ (Allen Lane, an imprint of Penguin Books, 2016) by Roger Scruton. However, both because Kitcher and Scruton wrote critical responses to my online Ring book (posted online at www.wagnerheim.com since 2011, and the basis of my published Ring study), and because my critical responses to their books, and their critical responses to mine, can only be grasped by someone already familiar with either my online Ring book or its published version, I’ve saved my critical responses to both their books, and to their critiques of mine, for this online Epilogue, assuming readers’ familiarity with my allegorical interpretation.

Note: In each instance in which I reference one of the Ring’s musical motifs as numbered in my revised list of 193 motifs which I employ in my newly published (Academica Press) version of my allegorical Ring interpretation, indicated by an “H” representing “Heise,” followed by the motif’s identifying number, such as H50 (Ring Motif), I provide its equivalent in Dr. Allen Dunning’s original list of 178 motifs employed at www.wagnerheim.com in this way: H50 = #51. Hashtags (#) are followed by Dunning’s numbers from his original list.

The following excerpts highlighted in boldface are drawn from Finding an Ending - Reflections on Wagner’s ‘Ring’ (Oxford Univ. Press, 2004) by Dr. Richard Schacht and Dr. Philip Kitcher:

I offer kudos to Dr. Philip Kitcher and Dr. Richard Schacht for taking Wagner’s Ring seriously as a work of art with substantial philosophic implications. However, their study of Wagner’s Ring, Finding an Ending, viewed from a critical standpoint, is a target rich environment (for a much more detailed critical response to their book than that which follows, please consult my extensive, 20-part, numbered, critical review posted on 7/21/2016 and 8/6/2016 in the discussion forum archive of my website www.wagnerheim.com, currently on pages 5-6). I limit my following critique to essential points which illustrate where I believe they're in error, what their study lacks, and how my study of Wagner’s Ring makes up the difference.

Their entire enterprise is fatally flawed from the start because they pride themselves on attempting to parse the Ring in only a piecemeal and partial way, by interrogating it with a few questions of interest to them, rather than striving for a comprehensive approach which, as I’ve demonstrated, is necessary to grasp the Ring in both its totality and its innermost depth:

“Philosophers coming to the Ring can strive for an interpretation of it, endeavoring to capture in discursive prose what Wagner somehow managed to suggest and convey in his music drama. Or, more modestly, they can try to bring into focus some key concepts and relate them to aspects of the tetralogy. We think of our efforts here in the latter way … .” [P. 7]

“Our approach will be somewhat different from those usually encountered in discussions of the Ring. Our principal reason for approaching it differently stems from a conviction that broad-brush treatments illuminate very little of the substance, complexity, and subtlety of some of the most interesting issues dealt with in the course of its 15 or so hours … . (…) Instead of staking out a general claim about the overarching meaning of the work, we shall try to focus on some of its most puzzling facets, using these as clues to finding a path through it.” [P. 8-9]

Because they hadn’t the fortitude to tackle the Ring, music and drama, as a whole, and in any real detail, and therefore ignored large swaths of its words and music, and evidently regard this vice as if it’s a virtue, they couldn’t make sense of Wagner’s key character Siegfried, in spite of Wagner’s having conceived of his Ring in the first place as an explanation of Siegfried’s death (as they themselves acknowledge in our first of two extracts below). For this reason they denigrated the last two of the Ring’s four parts, those in which Siegfried plays a role, namely, Siegfried and Twilight of the Gods, as being of lesser value than its first two parts, The Rhinegold and The Valkyrie. In the following passages from their book they rationalized their incapacity on the specious argument that Siegfried is a character whom Wagner outgrew as the Ring expanded from its original music-drama Siegfried’s Death into the musico-dramatic tetralogy we know today, in which, according to them, Wotan and his daughter Brünnhilde have supplanted Siegfried’s original pride of place, demoting him to a comparatively minor role:

“But what about Siegfried? Our excursion through the Ring has consistently downplayed his significance; and much of what we have said about him is dismissive … . Yet we are well aware that the entire Ring grew out of Wagner’s original intention and effort to write and compose a single music drama that was to be entitled Siegfrieds Tod [Siegfried’s Death]; and it is undeniable that large chunks of the Ring seem to be devoted to his anticipation, his youth, his adventures, his fearlessness, his ardor, and the events surrounding his demise. How, then, can we say so much about other characters and so little about the apparent star of the whole show?” [P. 185]

“He is immensely important to the action in the second half of the Ring .… . Yet it is a strain to analyze him psychologically, or even semiotically, at anything like the same level as Wotan or Brünnhilde (or Loge, or Erda, or Alberich, or Hagen, or even Siegmund or Sieglinde) - except in terms of the inadequacies and shortcomings of what he paradigmatically represents, and of what he fatally and devastatingly lacks.” [P. 186]

As those familiar with my interpretation know, Siegfried lacks self-conscious awareness, doesn’t know who he is, because Siegfried is, in Wagner’s allegory, the reincarnation of Wotan, as Wagner himself suggested, minus conscious knowledge of who he is:

"... [Wotan] calls out to the earth's primeval wisdom, to Erda, the mother of nature, who had once taught him to fear for his end, telling her that dismay can no longer hold him in thrall since he now wills his own end ... . His end? He knows what Erda's primeval wisdom does not know: that he lives on in Siegfried. Wotan lives on in Siegfried as the artist lives on in his work of art: the freer and the more autonomous the latter's spontaneous existence and the less trace it bears of the creative artist - so that through it (the work of art), the artist himself is forgotten, - the more perfectly satisfied does the artist himself feel: and so, in a certain higher sense, his being forgotten, his disappearance, his death is - the life of the work of art." [693W - {11/6/64} Letter to King Ludwig II of Bavaria, SLRW, p. 626-627].

Siegfried is Wotan reborn minus conscious knowledge of who he is and his own prehistory, which Brünnhilde, having heard Wotan’s confession of his hoard of forbidden self-knowledge in The Valkyrie Act Two Scene Two, knows for Siegfried. Siegfried the secular artist-hero is the reincarnation of Wotan because, in Wagner’s allegorical scheme, inspired secular art (particularly Wagner’s art of the future, the revolutionary music-drama) falls heir to religious man’s longing for transcendent value when religion as a belief in gods (Wotan and the other gods of Valhalla), or in the one God of monotheists, can no longer be sustained in the face of increasing scientific knowledge. In other words, thanks to Brünnhilde, Siegfried is conscious of Wotan’s confession, which Brünnhilde knows for him as repressed thought, only as sublimated feeling, rather than conscious thought. Since, in this allegory, Brünnhilde knows for Siegfried what Wotan knew, and is in fact the other half of Siegfried, his unconscious mind and artistic muse, it’s not “… a strain to analyze him psychologically, or even semiotically, at anything like the same level as Wotan or Brünnhilde … .” Siegfried’s unconsciousness of who he is, in my interpretation, is the gift offered him by his unconscious mind Brünnhilde, the source of his fearlessness and thus of his heroic stature and of Wotan’s hope for redemption through him, since Brünnhilde’s magic or “Wonder” protects Siegfried from suffering Wotan’s fearful foresight of his tragic fate, the twilight of the gods, that Brünnhilde’s mother Erda told Wotan was predestined by Alberich’s Ring Curse. Kitcher and Schacht have little to say in their book about Alberich’s Ring Curse, being so single-minded in their quest to pursue a few questions at the expense of others which would have granted them a fuller picture of the whole.

Because Kitcher and Schacht are oblivious to the allegorically enhanced mythology Wagner has created in his Ring, their naïve, clumsy efforts to interpret Siegfried’s character, words and actions as if he’s a realistically conceived protagonist in a play instead of a mythic, allegorical being, sometimes reaches ludicrous proportions, as in the following:

“… it is hard to conceive of a youth more ridiculously obtuse than the one who goes charging off on a quest for a beautiful woman - at the merest suggestion by a Woodbird, seconded by a Wanderer who is a complete stranger to him - and who then reacts with such laughably silly surprise when he cuts away the armor of the slumbering figure [Brünnhilde] he discovers on the mountaintop.” [P. 187]

It ought to be self-evident to anyone with an authentic experience of the Ring that it’s patently absurd to dismiss the Woodbird’s metaphysical, fateful advice that Siegfried should seek out Brünnhilde, whom he was fated to wake and win, as a “… merest suggestion … ,” and to fault Siegfried as “… ridiculously obtuse … “ for following the Woodbird’s advice. This advice he could only obtain, after all, through his greatest heroic feat performed unwittingly in Wotan’s behalf, the killing of Fafner, the taste of whose blood grants Siegfried clairvoyance in understanding the Woodbird’s song. Kitcher and Schacht neglect the crucial facts that the Woodbird also instructed Siegfried to take possession of Alberich’s Hoard, Tarnhelm, and Ring (precisely what Wotan intended for Siegfried), and warned him against Mime’s treachery. By the same token it requires considerable ignorance of what’s at stake in the Ring to suggest that the Wanderer’s (Wotan’s) confrontation with Siegfried lacks persuasive cogency because Wotan “… is a complete stranger to him …,” or to describe Siegfried’s shock and fear in the presence of the sleeping Brünnhilde when he’s about to wake and win her as reacting with “… laughably silly surprise … .” In flat contradiction to their claim, the Wanderer Wotan doesn't second the Woodbird's advice that Siegfried should seek out Brünnhilde, but tries instead to stop Siegfried from doing so, though it’s Wotan’s hidden intention that Siegfried should wake and win her. And as I explained in my online Ring book, and as strongly suggested by a key musical motif associated with it (H147A = #137a), Siegfried’s fear of waking Brünnhilde is his premonition that in winning her love he’s about to take possession of the dangerous, forbidden hoard of knowledge which Wotan confessed to her, which was so frightful that Wotan feared to say it aloud to himself, a confession in which Wotan expressed his hope that in Brünnhilde’s safekeeping his secret hoard of unbearable knowledge of the truth would remain forever unspoken in words.

Is it any wonder that authors so wholly out of touch with the Ring’s deepest strains of meaning could say:

“To view him [Siegfried] as the centerpiece of the drama in its final form is to distort it … .” [P. 191]

Kitcher and Schacht attempt to justify their confusion respecting Siegfried’s true, essential importance to the Ring by repeating the old canard that Wagner outgrew his original raison d’être for creating the Ring, his attempt to dramatize the death of Siegfried the hero, suggesting instead that as Wagner realized the deeper implications of the Ring plot (which grew from one music-drama to four in reverse order, but for which he then composed the music in chronological order) he acknowledged that Siegfried’s original heroic destiny was no longer central, that instead all focus should be on what they suggest Wagner came to regard as the far more substantial characters of Wotan and his daughter Brünnhilde, and their relationship:

“The Siegfried we see on the stage is, in a sense, a fossil, remaining from an earlier version of Wagner’s project in a final version in which he and his life and death are no longer central.” [P. 190]

It’s a strange thing, indeed, in light of Kitcher’s and Schacht’s glib demotion of Siegfried, that Brünnhilde says the following of Siegfried in the Ring’s finale in Twilight of the Gods Act Three Scene Three: complaining to the assembled Gibichungs that they haven’t risen to the cosmic occasion of Siegfried’s death to properly mourn him, she says “I heard children whimpering for their mother since they’d spilt some fresh milk: but no sound I heard of a lament befitting the greatest of heroes.” And in her final testimonial to Siegfried moments later, as she’s preparing to ride her horse Grane into the flames of Siegfried’s funeral pyre to rejoin him in death, she proclaims: “Heavy logs heap up for me here in a pile at the edge of the Rhine: high and bright let the flames flare up and consume the noble limbs of the most exalted hero! (…) … for my own body yearns to share in the hero’s holiest honour … !” Wagner had well over 20 years to meditate on precisely what he wished Brünnhilde to say in her last moments in which she rises to a height of tragic grandeur and wisdom which Kitcher and Schacht are glad to celebrate in their book as eclipsing not only Siegfried’s gravitas but that of Wotan as well, but for some bizarre reason failed to register Kitcher’s and Schacht’s demotion of Siegfried into a caricature of a hero, who, according to them, we're supposed to deplore, in her final encomium on Siegfried’s greatness.

Kitcher and Schacht can only propose their thesis by not only ignoring Brünnhilde’s own highest estimation of Siegfried, her final words on the subject, but also by ignoring something of profound import to Wagner that he outlined in his article ‘Epilogue to The Nibelung’s Ring’ in 1871 [811W - {12/71} 'Epilogue to The Nibelung's Ring,' PW Vol. III, p. 268-269]. Here, he stated that the plots of Twilight of the Gods (originally Siegfried’s Death, the first part of the Ring tetralogy Wagner authored) and Tristan and Isolde are virtually identical, for "... their intrinsic parity consists in this: both Tristan and Siegfried, in bondage to an illusion which makes this deed of theirs unfree, woo for another their own eternally-predestined bride, and in the false relation hence-arising find their doom." But Wagner goes further: "What in the one work [Twilight of the Gods] could only come to rapid utterance at the climax, in the other [Tristan and Isolde] becomes an entire Content, of infinite variety; and this it was, that attracted me to treat the stuff at just that time [i.e., after having completed the musical composition of the Ring up through Siegfried Act Two, Wagner broke off composing the music for the Ring to both author and compose Tristan and Isolde], namely, as a supplementary Act of the great Nibelungen-myth, a mythos compassing the whole relations of a world."

So Wagner regarded Siegfried and Tristan as conceptually, dramatically, mythologically variations of the same character. Since Wagner authored and composed Tristan long after he’d allegedly demoted Siegfried from his prior position of significance (thanks presumably to Wagner’s increasing identification with Schopenhauer’s pessimistic philosophy and renunciation of Feuerbach’s optimistic materialist philosophy, of which Siegfried is supposedly the exemplar, after first reading Schopenhauer’s World as Will and Representation in 1854) to a mere fossil from a prior, now outdated conception of the Ring which Kitcher and Schacht say Wagner had outgrown, giving Wotan and Brünnhilde pride of place, it’s curious that Wagner would choose to resurrect Siegfried and his tragic destiny in a variation of his persona, Tristan, in a music-drama written entirely under Wagner’s presumably new philosophic dispensation, the one under whose influence he also completed composition of the Ring’s music.

But, thanks to my allegorical reading of Wagner’s music-dramas, we can carry this argument further, because I’ve demonstrated that Wagner doesn’t only resurrect Siegfried in Tristan, but also in the artist-hero Walther von Stolzing from The Mastersingers of Nuremberg, and in the pure fool Parsifal in Wagner’s final music-drama Parsifal. I placed considerable emphasis in my Ring interpretation on the fact that thanks to having been the beneficiary of Wotan’s confession, Siegfried’s muse Brünnhilde knows for Siegfried what he doesn’t know, his true identity and pre-history, and the hidden source of his heroic inspiration in Wotan’s longing for a free hero who could redeem the gods from Alberich’s Ring Curse. Hans Sachs’s confession to Eva in his cobbling song from Mastersingers Act Two, a confession she grasps but whose meaning is entirely lost on her lover, the artist-hero Walther, is modeled on Wotan’s confession of forbidden knowledge to Brünnhilde, to which Siegfried remains consciously oblivious while Brünnhilde holds this knowledge for Siegfried, so it can inspire him subliminally, through feeling (music) rather than thought. Similarly, Sachs’s confession to Walther’s muse Eva is the true but hidden, unconscious source of Walther’s inspiration which ultimately gives birth to his master-song, in which his art offers the Folk of Nuremberg a secular redemption clearly modeled on Christ’s original offer of supernatural redemption, in which the Folk feel as if Paradise has been regained.

This concept that the Wagnerian heroine-muse in Wagner’s mature music-dramas knows for the hero his true but hidden source of inspiration (his true identity) is no mere figment of my imagination. Elsa offers to Lohengrin the opportunity to share with her the secret of his true but hidden identity, knowledge he’s forbidden to share, to help protect him from the harm she believes would ensue if this forbidden knowledge was revealed to the world at large. I’ve written an extended essay (based on a shorter article entitled ‘How Elsa Showed Wagner the Way to Siegfried’ published by Stewart Spencer in the May, 1995 issue of the now defunct scholarly journal of The Wagner Society - London, UK, Wagner) in which I explained that Elsa’s offer to Lohengrin inspired Wagner’s conception of Brünnhilde as Siegfried’s unconscious mind, who doesn’t merely possess like Siegfried true but secret knowledge of who he is, but keeps this a secret even from Siegfried, so he doesn’t know who he is. Siegfried told Fafner, “I don’t yet know who I am,” but Brünnhilde told Siegfried, “what you don’t know I know for you.” Similarly, Isolde holds the secret of Tristan’s true but hidden identity in silence, to protect Tristan from the consequences of making it known. Tristan doesn’t fully grasp his true, tragic identity until Act Three, after he’s betrayed Isolde (and thus her secret) by giving her, his true love, away to another man, King Marke, just as Siegfried betrayed Brünnhilde by giving her to Gunther. In light of this recurring allegorical trope it’s no accident that Kundry knows for Parsifal what he doesn’t know, his true identity, which Parsifal can’t remember. Parsifal, like Siegfried, is a sort of pure fool who doesn’t know who he is. I’ll go further: his muse of inspiration Venus knows for the artist-hero Tannhäuser something he evidently forgets each time he’s drawn inspiration from her to author and compose a song, that she’s his true but hidden, i.e., unconscious, muse of artistic inspiration, a fact which, once known publicly (i.e., consciously), can destroy Tannhäuser’s life.

If Wagner did indeed reconstitute Siegfried in differing ways in Tristan, Walther, and Parsifal, and reconstitute Siegfried's relationship with Brünnhilde in their relations with their actual (or potential) lovers Isolde, Eva, and Kundry, respectively, and if, moreover, Siegfried’s relationship with his predestined lover Brünnhilde is modeled on that of Lohengrin with Elsa, and/or that of Tannhäuser with Venus, then what possible merit can we find in the tired argument that Wagner lost interest in and outgrew Siegfried? It seems, instead, that in several of Wagner’s canonical romantic operas which preceded his creation of his Ring, and in those three music-dramas which followed it, he was developing, with ever greater sophistication and subtlety, a highly distinctive allegorical, dramatic trope, which continued to inspire him until the end, and of which Siegfried and his fate was a singular exemplar.

Having committed their book to perpetuating this catastrophic error (while evidently remaining wholly unaware and therefore innocent of their exegetical character assassination of Siegfried), it’s no wonder Kitcher and Schacht also innocently committed the following atrocities, atrocities owing to their ignorance of the allegorical role Siegfried and Wagner’s other heroes from his mature music-dramas, and even in some of his earlier operas, played in his developing Weltanschauung. Their following remarks demonstrate that they simply don’t know what they’re talking about:

“… 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.” [P. 192]

“… we have given dramatic precedence to the earlier parts of the tetralogy, spending considerable time on Rheingold and Walküre. (…) We recognize that our approach might seem to give insufficient attention and weight to what transpires in much of its last two parts.” [P. 192]

In other words, thanks to their obliviousness to the essential and persistent part the archetypal artist-hero Siegfried and his variations Tristan, Walther, and Parsifal play in Wagner’s revolutionary, mature music-dramas, they’ve largely resigned themselves to only being able to make sense of the first two parts of the four-part Ring. Significant portions of the last two parts they regard as expendable. Such is the virtue of their vaunted piecemeal approach. In my allegorical reading, by contrast, Siegfried, and the last two of the four parts of the Ring in which he plays a leading role, are fully integrated into my comprehensive, conceptually, dramatically, and musically unified reading of the Ring, which also has the virtue of demonstrating crucial conceptual links to all of Wagner’s other canonical operas and music-dramas.

But Kitcher and Schacht, to their credit, seem in the end to have suspected something is amiss, to have had some reservations in having too readily demoted Siegfried. Here, for instance, they note that in Siegfried’s final moments he reaches for the kind of “self-awareness” that might have redeemed him in their eyes:

“… it is only in his final moments that he starts to become humanly interesting as a character. After the hunt, after he has drunk from the cup prepared by Hagen, after he sings of his youth, and at last is able to recall his discovery of Brünnhilde and the beginning of their love, he seems to be on the verge of a self-awareness hitherto lacking.” [P. 188]

As I explained in my online Ring book, Siegfried in his last lucid moment becomes aware of who he really is, Wotan reincarnate, and it’s this remembrance of things past, the rise to consciousness in Siegfried of the fatal knowledge which Wotan had repressed into his own unconscious mind by confessing it to his daughter, his “Will” Brünnhilde, which destroys Siegfried, because his virtue, his creative fearlessness as an artist-hero, required that his true source of inspiration remain hidden from him. The secret of his artistic inspiration had been kept for him by his muse of unconscious inspiration Brünnhilde, who protected him from this fatal self-knowledge until he betrayed her by giving her away to Gunther (metaphorically, to Wagner’s audience), and thus became too self-conscious to be able to draw on unconscious inspiration any longer. This, I’ve demonstrated, is essentially the plot not only of Tristan and Isolde, but also of Tannhäuser (in which the artist-hero, as if under a spell, reveals to his audience what should have remained concealed from them, and from him, his true, but formerly unconscious source of artistic inspiration by Venus, i.e., by earthly rather than divine inspiration).

Kitcher and Schacht also register their fear that they might be missing something very important in Siegfried, in quite a different way, in another passage in which they suggest, thanks to Wagner’s hints in the Ring libretto, that Siegfried might after all be a sort of savior, a Christ-like figure predestined to be sacrificed for man’s sake:

“The fourth opera is more than Götterdämmerung; it is also Heldendämmerung. Indeed, there seems to us to be an interesting connection between the two; for it may be no accident that Siegfried echoes the words of Christ on the Cross (‘Mich durstet’) or that his drinking-horn spills over, to ‘bring refreshment’ to ‘Mother Earth.’ Moreover, Siegfried does not merely die. He is a sacrificial victim … .” [P. 188-189]

It would be odd, indeed, if such a silly and deplorable pretext for a hero, an impression of Siegfried Kitcher and Schacht are at such pains to establish, also had credentials as man’s redeemer! What their struggle to make sense of Siegfried’s obvious links not only to pagan German and Norse, but also to Christian, mythology, is missing, is an awareness that Wagner incorporated his Feuerbachian notion that man’s age-old, universal religious longing for transcendent value and meaning is satisfied by inspired secular art (particularly Wagner’s own art of the future, the revolutionary music-drama) when religion as a faith, a set of beliefs (claims on the truth), can no longer be sustained in the face of the rise of objective scientific knowledge, into the Ring’s plot. Wagner grants Siegfried (and also, obviously, Walther and Parsifal, and more covertly, Tristan) echoes of Christ because in his Feuerbach-influenced Ring allegory the secular artist-hero is conflated with Christ the redeemer, as a secular substitute for him who, in a sense, redeems Christ the redeemer from the error of religious faith.

Since for Wagner the gods, including the monotheistic God of Christianity, are human inventions, the product of self-deception, but the deep human longing for transcendent value formerly institutionalized in organized religions survives our loss of faith in the gods, it’s the unconsciously inspired secular artist-hero who replaces Christ’s original offer of redemption in a transcendent, spiritual heaven, with the earthly paradise of art. The symbolism of a lost paradise restored is the key to Walther’s redemptive mastersong in Mastersingers, in which Walther’s muse of unconscious artistic inspiration Eva is modeled on that mythological Eve whose sin, of sharing forbidden, divine knowledge with our progenitor Adam, expelled us from paradise, since Walther in his mastersong points man’s way back to the Tree of Life in Eden. According to Hans Sachs’s private confession to Eva in Act II, it’s Eva’s duty to compensate the world for Eve’s original sin which expelled us from paradise, by inspiring the secular artist-hero Walther to produce a redemptive mastersong in which we can feel that lost paradise has been regained.

But in the Ring allegory Siegfried is sacrificed to pay for man’s original sin just at the moment he’s become so self-conscious he can no longer draw on his unconscious artistic inspiration by his former muse Brünnhilde, because as an artist he'd unwittingly perpetuated Wotan’s (religious man’s) original sin against the world, the truth, Erda’s knowledge of all that was, is, and will be, by proffering art (artificial or surrogate reality) instead of objective reality as our source of value. Man’s original sin, understood in its Feuerbachian sense, was religious man’s world-renunciation, renunciation of Mother Nature, which Feuerbach described as figurative matricide. This is why Siegfried, like Wotan before him, succumbed to Alberich’s Ring Curse, the curse of consciousness: both Wotan (religious faith) and Siegfried (lost faith’s heir, redemptive secular art) were equally guilty of the sin against truth of which Alberich accused Wotan when he told Wotan he’d be sinning against all that was, is, and will be if Wotan coopted Alberich’s Ring power. As I'll demonstrate in Volume Two of The Wound That Will Never Heal, Wagner devoted his final musicdrama Parsifal to dramatizing this scenario, in which the formerly unconsciously inspired secular artist Parsifal, whose former muse Kundry knows for him what he doesn’t know, finally attains full consciousness of how he's unwittingly perpetuated this sin when he recognizes Kundry’s proffer of redemption through loving union with her as this sin itself, and refuses to seek temporary redemption through loving union with his muse Kundry. He ultimately renounces seeking redemption through either religious belief or secular art anymore, and embraces Mother Nature’s truth. In this way Parsifal redeems himself and all men retroactively from having committed and perpetuated the sin of religious faith in repudiating Mother Nature and replacing her with an illusory alternative in religion and art. Parsifal’s greatest guilt was in having killed his mother Herzeleide (Wagner’s figure for Mother Nature, Erda) through neglect, and now he’s atoned for this, restoring Mother Nature’s rights. Parsifal’s former muse of unconscious artistic inspiration Kundry, having forever lost her function, dies redeemed from perpetuating this sin against truth. In light of Parsifal's feeling of guilt towards his mother, it’s of course no accident that both Siegfried and Tristan become aware that their mother died giving them birth, and die after having betrayed their love for their muses of inspiration by giving them and the secrets they kept away to another man (Wagner’s audience, represented by Gunther and Marke).

Kitcher’s and Schacht’s inability to grasp Siegfried and all parts of the Ring tetralogy that relate to him, or in which he plays a role, carries over into their neglect of crucial cross-references between the music and libretto Wagner creates by associating specific musical motifs of reminiscence and foreboding with specific elements in the drama. For this reason they offer faulty interpretations of the motives behind some of the key characters’ actions and words, especially Siegfried and Brünnhilde. Though acknowledging their book isn’t a musicological study of Wagner’s Ring, nevertheless Kitcher and Schacht promised to be attentive to Wagner’s employment of music, and musical motifs in particular, in relation to the text:

“Often it is the suggestions of the music, rather than the words, that carry most weight. … we take our claims to rest not on a mere reading of words but on careful listening to Wagner’s extraordinary melding of text and music. Those claims should be evaluated by their fit with the combined textual, musical, and dramatic resonances of the passages to which we point.” [P. 10-11]

But their attentiveness to such musical/motival details failed them in the following instances which have a bearing on how we should interpret the relationship between Siegfried, Brünnhilde, and Wotan. I offer a few examples below in which, because they ignored the musical motifs in play (whether through being merely inattentive to the motifs, or through inability to grasp their conceptual/referential significance, only they can say) that could otherwise have tipped them off to the ultimate source of the motives behind Siegfried’s and Brünnhilde’s words and actions at a couple of crucial moments in Siegfried Act Three Scene Three, they entirely misconstrued the meaning of Siegfried’s and Brünnhilde’s initial anxious confrontation with each other.
Post Reply