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Thread: I am a communist, very much on the left, but he's still a favourite composer of mine

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    Senior Member Baron Scarpia's Avatar
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    As a composer Wagner was a genius. His libretti, in my view, contained contain sufficiently compelling themes of loyalty and betrayal, love and hatred, honor and opportunism, to hang the music on. To find a political philosophy defined by Wagner's opera strikes me as a bit far out. I can also seek and find a political theory in "Thomas the Tank Engine" or blame Brexit on "Peppa Pig" with equal justification.
    There are two kinds of music, good music and the other kind. - Duke Ellington.

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    Senior Member Woodduck's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Baron Scarpia View Post
    As a composer Wagner was a genius. His libretti, in my view, contained contain sufficiently compelling themes of loyalty and betrayal, love and hatred, honor and opportunism, to hang the music on. To find a political philosophy defined by Wagner's opera strikes me as a bit far out. I can also seek and find a political theory in "Thomas the Tank Engine" or blame Brexit on "Peppa Pig" with equal justification.
    There's much truth to that. At some level most things can be viewed as political, depending on how you define your politics. But that doesn't amount to enunciating a political philosophy.

    When people talk about political themes in Wagner's operas, they're almost invariably talking about the Ring. Occasionally Die Meistersinger or Parsifal gets pulled into the conversation, but since the drama of the Ring revolves so explicitly around the acquisition and wielding of power - world-power at that - and since the work was hatched at a very political time in Wagner's life, it's natural to look for political themes in it, and easy to find them. What I think can't be done is to find advocacy of any specific political philosophy or system, and I think that's all to the good. The Ring is rich in universal human themes, as you've pointed out, and one needs to know nothing of politics to appreciate and be moved by them.
    Last edited by Woodduck; Jan-12-2020 at 06:44.

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    Senior Member DaveM's Avatar
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    Since the implementation of communism has long since been associated with repressive, often autocratic, governments/regimes rather than representing the original concept, the term ‘socialist’ would seem to be preferable. The use of the former term may be due to, shall we say, youth.
    Last edited by DaveM; Jan-13-2020 at 08:33.

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    Senior Member millionrainbows's Avatar
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    Marxism is a philosophy which is Utopian in nature. Later Soviet Communism diverged greatly from this, and is just as tainted as any other politic.
    I think Marxism's flaw is that it did not make allowances for human greed.

    In that sense Marxism has already been indirectly accommodated into the Wagnerian formulas of power and human greed.

  7. #65
    Senior Member Jacck's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by millionrainbows View Post
    Marxism is a philosophy which is Utopian in nature. Later Soviet Communism diverged greatly from this, and is just as tainted as any other politic.
    I think Marxism's flaw is that it did not make allowances for human greed.

    In that sense Marxism has already been indirectly accommodated into the Wagnerian formulas of power and human greed.
    I am no expert on the Ring and I have followed through the libretto just once, but I had the impression that the gold from the Rhein river (from which the ring was fashioned) was a symbol for money and power, and whomever it touches it corrupts. If that is so, it is a much more realistic concept than marxism, which somehow believes that the burgoisie is greedy and corrupt and the proletariat is full of virtue

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    Senior Member Woodduck's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jacck View Post
    I am no expert on the Ring and I have followed through the libretto just once, but I had the impression that the gold from the Rhein river (from which the ring was fashioned) was a symbol for money and power, and whomever it touches it corrupts. If that is so, it is a much more realistic concept than marxism, which somehow believes that the burgoisie is greedy and corrupt and the proletariat is full of virtue
    Greed and the desire for power are no respecters of class or political persuasion, which is why all utopias fail. Wagner's own youthful utopianism gradually faded, and if the Ring was born out of a heroic hopefulness that love would conquer all, the way it ends is pretty far from utopian. The best that can be said is that it sees the death of some illusions and the possibility of a better future. G. B. Shaw, in "The Perfect Wagnerite," tried to interpret the Ring as a socialist allegory, but the catastrophic intrigues of the final opera, Gotterdammerung, defeated him, and all he could say was that Wagner lost track of his own goals and ended up reverting to old-fashioned grand opera. Shaw illustrates well the dangers of looking at art through the lens of politics.
    Last edited by Woodduck; Jan-13-2020 at 10:30.

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    Senior Member Zhdanov's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by millionrainbows View Post
    I think Marxism's flaw is that it did not make allowances for human greed.
    as with Der Ring, it was that Marxism sought ways to avoid the disaster that greed drags the world to.

    the both contain ideas of how to find the means to prevent Götterdämmerung from taking place.

    Siegfried character may be seen as rather a Communist than a Nazi for he knows no tradition.

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    Senior Member Lilijana's Avatar
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    Firstly I would like to disagree with Millionrainbows in the assertion that Marxism is a philosophy which is utopian in nature. However, one aspect of left-wing philosophical and political studies is that there is far less clarity about the kind of society we wish to progress towards and how to do it in comparison to the more liberal or conservative ideologies. Despite dialectical materialism being a thing, and what Marx was doing generally in writing Das Kapital, utopianism does seem to be a thing that exists, superficially. And I would argue the reason for it being so is that Marx himself doesn't give any concrete outline for how economic change should be made, and history has shown that Marxist movements really must address the conditions differently depending upon the internal contradictions of the existing economy and the severity of the conditions of the working class. Rojava today is wildly different from the early days of the USSR, which again is different from pre-Pinochet Chile, which again is different from the growth and spread of the Mondragon Corporation. So, in effect, Marxism would probably be better seen as a philosophy which draws upon analysing the material conditions and needs of the working class, rather than a philosophy that has anything to do with the creation of a utopian society.

    Quote Originally Posted by Jacck View Post
    I am no expert on the Ring and I have followed through the libretto just once, but I had the impression that the gold from the Rhein river (from which the ring was fashioned) was a symbol for money and power, and whomever it touches it corrupts. If that is so, it is a much more realistic concept than marxism, which somehow believes that the burgoisie is greedy and corrupt and the proletariat is full of virtue
    I'm not sure if Marxism prescribes morality to the classes in such a way. With money and power come the ability to make decisions, realistically one would have a very very big say in how a business is run if you happen to be a shareholder, on the board of directors or whatever, and this kind of power to make decisions is not actually given to the employees. As far as I can tell, Marx was not at all about any kind of 'virtue' of the proletariat against the 'greed' of the bourgeoisie, but rather the fact that the proletariat actually happen to be larger in number and can use that to their advantage if decisions regarding their working conditions give them a poor quality of life. Strikes, unions and such things grow from that kind of analysis and address material causes and concerns.

    So if Gold becomes a symbol for money and power in the Ring, I guess one would be making parallels with the idea that corruption is far more likely to happen when the majority of the power is concentrated in just a few people. There is a greater likelihood for these few people to make decisions that help them to retain their own influential position, to own and invest in media that will publicly praise them for doing something like spending a small percentage of their money on rebuilding the Notre Dame, there is greater likelihood for them to invest in think tanks and lobby groups that influence policies to help retain the status quo, to help fund education systems that have a curriculum based on this status quo, advertising on products that keep us workers entertained and docile so that we don't demand changes to the status quo. The questions I begin to ask are: which characters can we meaningfully say wish to hold and retain this kind of power? In what ways do we see these characters corrupted? What characters or concepts are a threat to their power and status quo, and how are they a threat to that? Who immediately comes to mind for me is our bourgeois dwarf: Alberich. Marx, in Das Kapital praises the ingenuity and technological progress made possible from those who became the bourgeoisie, and we can almost see the same kind of determination from Alberich in the very first scene in how he [very sleazily] wishes to get his way with the Rhinemaidens, ultimately is rejected by them but grabs hold of the ring and by scene three we even get to see his little private enterprise of Nibelung workers.

    I'm quite sure Chéreau's famous production makes use of a similar reading anyway. It's far from utopian, but is certainly rooted in the same kind of class analysis that Marx was going for.
    Last edited by Lilijana; Jan-13-2020 at 12:34. Reason: trying to make my post make any kind of sense im tired, im working class and i want to watch netflix now goodnight

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    Senior Member MacLeod's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by DaveM View Post
    Since the implementation of communism has long since been associated with repressive, often autocratic, governments/regimes rather than representing the original concept, the term ‘socialist’ would seem to be preferable. The use of the former term may be due to, shall we say, youth.
    Well quite. And many of the criticisms of "Communism" might be due to, shall we say, old age?

    I'm sure that without needing to resort to critical analysis of the faults of Communism, someone here could outline any similarities there may have been between Marx's observations about the conditions of the working class, an explanation of the reasons behind the perpetuation of such conditions, and any that may have been made by Wagner on the same subject.
    Last edited by MacLeod; Jan-13-2020 at 12:49.
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    Senior Member Jacck's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by MacLeod View Post
    Well quite. And many of the criticisms of "Communism" might be due to, shall we say, old age?

    I'm sure that without needing to resort to critical analysis of the faults of Communism, someone here could outline any similarities there may have been between Marx's observations about the conditions of the working class, an explanation of the reasons behind the perpetuation of such conditions, and any that may have been made by Wagner on the same subject.
    4% of the world's population are psychopaths, and some 20-30% of the population are susceptible to come under the sway of the psychopaths. The psychopaths have only once motivation in life - to gain power and keep that power. And this basic structure exists in every society, being it capitalist, socialist, communist and whatever. So you can have nice ideas about a communist utopia and start a revolution, but every revolution needs leaders, and here the psychopaths come in to play and become the leaders (because of their drive to power). The actual truth of the matter is that the world is governed by psychopaths. I am not saying that all politicians are psychopaths, but a very disproportionate number of them are, not to mention the fact that the politicians are often times not the people with the actual power in the country.

    http://pathocracy.net/
    Last edited by Jacck; Jan-13-2020 at 13:07.

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    Senior Member MacLeod's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jacck View Post
    4% of the world's population are psychopaths, and some 20-30% of the population are susceptible to come under the sway of the psychopaths. The psychopaths have only once motivation in life - to gain power and keep that power. And this basic structure exists in every society, being it capitalist, socialist, communist and whatever. So you can have nice ideas about a communist utopia and start a revolution, but every revolution needs leaders, and here the psychopaths come in to play and become the leaders (because of their drive to power). The actual truth of the matter is that the world is governed by psychopaths. I am not saying that all politicians are psychopaths, but a very disproportionate number of them are, not to mention the fact that the politicians are often times not the people with the actual power in the country.

    http://pathocracy.net/
    And in what way is this a response to my post which you quote, and to an OP about Wagner?
    "I left TC for a hiatus, but since no-one noticed my absence, I came back again."

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    Senior Member Jacck's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by MacLeod View Post
    And in what way is this a response to my post which you quote, and to an OP about Wagner?
    I think I concentrated on this part of your post "Marx's observations about the conditions of the working class, an explanation of the reasons behind the perpetuation of such conditions". The explanation are the psychopaths and the inability of the majority of people to recognize them for they are.

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    Senior Member Poppin' Fresh's Avatar
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    I largely agree with Woodduck and others here. In my view, broad-brush interpretations of the Ring illuminate very little of the substance, complexity, and subtelty of some of the most interesting issues dealt with in the course of its 15 or so hours. As astute and entertaining as George Bernard Shaw's interpretation of the work as a political commentary is, the allegorical meaning he tries to graft onto the cycle becomes less relevent as the story progresses and turns into nothing more than an intellectual commentary which bears little relation to the dynamics of the characters or our emotional response to the drama. Even from the outset it is a vast diminuation of Wagner's creation to pin such a thin Marxist allegory to its extraordinary and believable characters. Perhaps this is why productions that attempt to present the opera in these terms, such as Chéreau's, have to resort to distorting characters, elements and symbols in order to make it fit their vision.

    Deryck Cooke provides an excellent critique of Shaw in his study I Saw the World End, and as he points out, to reduce Alberich to the factory-owning capitalist is to misrepresent entirely his sin against himself, a sin we all commit, and which leads us to symphathize with Alberich even in his extremes of helpless resentment. Despite Shaw's efforts to paint him as one, Alberich is no hypocrite or fake-Christian shareholder. Similarly, to see Wotan as "Godhead and Kingship" like Shaw suggests - i.e. as the leisured monarch in league with the priesthood in maintaing the church (Valhalla) on which both depend - is to ignore all the ideas about man's religious need and dependence on legal order embodied in this magnificent character.

    Wagner was too good of a dramatist to be taken in by the utopian politics that Shaw and others read into the final drama. Bernard Williams put the point well in an essay:

    "The problem...is not that the Ring, as it proceeds, simply avoids politics. It is rather that the hope for a politics of innocence is what it centrally rejects. If one wants transportable philosophical conclusions from The Ring - and Wagner himself insisted that one should not want any such thing - one of them will be that there is no politics of innocence, because nothing worth achieving can be achieved in innocence. Only in the depths, where nothing has been imposed on nature or wrested from it, is the trusty and true. Siegfried is as near to pure nature as any active human being can be, and he eventually achieves nothing but disaster. Wotan does achieve many things, but in deep lack of innocence. Forced back from doing (in Rheingold) to manipulating (in Walkure) to leaving Siegfried free, he chooses to accept his own end in the hope of achieving something by purely innocent means - that is to say, by leaving everything to a purely innocent agent. Gotterdammerung shows how this does not work, and, particularly through the incident of the Rhinemaiden's refusal of the ring, why it could not work. Human action is only significant if it expresses knowledge, and knowledgeable action is already distanced from pure innocence."

    As Williams says, there is no "transportable conclusion" - or at least, none that can be contained in a simple formula. The Ring does not argue for a thesis: it shows us what we are, and so helps us to understand, through sympathy, what is at stake in our moral choices.
    Last edited by Poppin' Fresh; Jan-13-2020 at 13:48.

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  21. #74
    Senior Member DaveM's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by MacLeod View Post
    Well quite. And many of the criticisms of "Communism" might be due to, shall we say, old age?

    I'm sure that without needing to resort to critical analysis of the faults of Communism, someone here could outline any similarities there may have been between Marx's observations about the conditions of the working class, an explanation of the reasons behind the perpetuation of such conditions, and any that may have been made by Wagner on the same subject.
    I was referring to the OP’s title of the thread, not other posts on Wagner, which I should have made more clear.

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    Quote Originally Posted by david johnson View Post
    Commies also enjoy being anti-semites. They're all in the same opera house, Nazis use one door and reds use the other. They are welcome to keep their Wager opinions to themselves
    As I'm so fond of recently saying, "the left is winning all the arguments and losing all the elections".

    Wagner lives on; long may he reign.

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