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Siegfried: Page 588
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dragon’s cave to remove the hoard … .” [744W-{2/24/69} Letter to King Ludwig II of Bavaria: SLRW, p. 739-740]

Thanks to the Woodbird’s music, in other words, Siegfried enters an altered, dreamlike state which blinds him to the outer, objective world, but in which he can access his own unconscious mind, and therefore woo his muse of artistic inspiration, Bruennhilde:

“So wakes the child from the night of the mother-womb, and answer it the mother’s crooning kisses; so understands the yearning youth the woodbird’s mate-call, so speaks to the musing man the moan of beasts, the whistling wind, the howling hurricane, till over him there comes the dreamlike state in which the ear reveals to him the inmost essence of all his eye had held suspended in the cheat of scattered show, and tells him that his inmost being is one therewith, that only in this wise can the Essence of things without be learnt in truth.

The dreamlike nature of the state into which we thus are plunged through sympathetic hearing – and wherein there dawns on us that other world, that world from whence the musician speaks to us – we recognise at once from an experience at the door of every man: namely, that our eyesight is paralyzed to such a degree by the effect of music upon us, that with eyes wide open we no longer intensively see.” [773W-{9-12/70} Beethoven: PW Vol. V, p. 74]

Siegfried, in other words, at the behest of his own musical inspiration, represented by the Woodbird’s songs, has taken “aesthetic” possession of Wotan’s knowledge of the terrible world, has taken artistic possession of Alberich’s imagination and the power of conscious thought, in order to redeem man from the bitter truth through art’s illusion. Just as Wotan did in making confession to Bruennhilde of thoughts so abhorrent that he could not bear to be conscious of them, Siegfried also has the power to repress terrible truths and sublimate them into the beautiful, to transform woe into bliss.

Wagner, by the way, said on several occasions that Siegfried effectively becomes a Nibelung himself by virtue of taking possession of these Nibelung treasures, the source of Alberich’s power:

“… when Siegfried slew the Nibelungen-dragon, he further won as victor’s spoil the Nibelungen-hoard it guarded. But the possession of this Hoard – whose properties increase his might beyond all measure, since he thereby rules the Nibelungen – is also reason of his death: for the dragon’s heir now plots to win it back. This heir despatches him by stealth, as night the day, and drags him down into the gloomy realm of Death: Siegfried thus becomes himself a Nibelung.” [369W-{6-8/48} The Wibelungen – Revised summer of 1849: PW Vol. VII, p. 276]

One must keep in mind that taking artistic possession of the entire world, re-interpreting the entire world in one’s own image through artistic manipulation, is itself an expression of what Nietzsche would have called the will-to-power, even the will to world power. But Siegfried will not use this newly won power in Alberich’s practical sense, but rather, will see the outer world only subjectively, through music’s eye.

The appropriate capstone of our discussion of this scene, in which Siegfried takes artistic possession of Alberich’s sources of power, and thereby inherits Alberich’s curse on the Ring from Wotan, is one of Wagner’s most telling observations about the relationship of his art to religion.

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