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Thread: Parsifal vs The Matrix

  1. #16
    Senior Member Couchie's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Woodduck View Post
    I don't consider Parsifal a "Christian opera." But the reclaiming of religion from the institutional church is one of the interesting vantage points from which Parsifal can be viewed. I felt from the time I first read the story and heard the music that there was something not quite right about the "holy order" of the Grail. For all the reverence paid to Titurel by his knights, he is not presented as a pleasant character, and his voice emanating from what he calls his tomb is downright creepy, as if a dead Pope is issuing pronouncements from a gloomy crypt. He wants to survive, and will put his son though excruciating pain to maintain his moribund existence. And, true to their patriarch, the knights press Amfortas threateningly and draw their swords on him at his moment of greatest extremity. This is institutional religion, determined to survive at the cost of its own humanity. Titurel's rigid moral code, epitomized and symbolized by enforced sexual abstinence, is the flaw at the heart of the holy order; it's the ego's denial of nature, and that denial creates Titurel's evil id and shadow (in Jung's sense) Klingsor, who is thrown out by Titurel for making the latter's repressive policies too explicit, and who gains power over the knights' instinctive life precisely through their own attempt to deny it. The separation of the Spear (male symbol of ego and will) and Grail (female symbol nurturance and grace) is the symbolic representation of this theme of a rift in the human body/mind, and a "pure fool" whose instincts are unconstrained by artificial, legalistic, controlling, institutional dogmas and edicts is the only one who can heal the rift and reunite Spear and Grail in sacred marriage, the union of opposites, the integrated psyche. I don't think there's a more inspired stroke of dramatic genius in Wagner than to have that reunion occur at the funeral of Titurel.
    I think you're a bit hard on Titurel!

    I think it is notable that Titurel finds the cursed Kundry asleep while he first builds the grail castle. This is an omen that not all is going to be well in the Grail Kingdom. Kundry awaits prophesied redemption from a savior, and a savior... requires something to save. Hence the separation of spear and grail and subsequent fall of the grail order is foretold and sealed by fate even as he builds the castle to house and protect them.

    Klingsor doesn't arise due to Titurel's denial of nature, he arises naturally due to man's denial of the divine. This is inevitably man's condition, being caught between the material and the divine (but the material being much more readily perceptible than the divine, as the Hindus would say, a "distraction"). Titurel could not have avoided Klingsor with a looser moral code. The flaw was not Titurel's, it is systemic to a flawed creation itself. As Gurnemanz explains in the most glorious music in Act III, Parsifal does go on to also redeem creation itself:

    Thus all creation gives thanks,
    all that here blooms and soon fades,
    now that nature, absolved from sin,
    today gains its day of innocence!

    I believe compassion in abundance leads to antinatalism. If one has compassion for animals, they cannot bear to eat meat. But if one has compassion even for plants, they cannot bear to eat at all. They cannot survive; the living world is built upon the thriving of the few and the suffering of the many. It is intolerable. This compassionate antinatalist stance is what motivates successful sexual abstinence. Klingsor however lacked compassion, and lacked this insight. His self-mutilation in lieu of compassion was an admission that he was unworthy to be a grail knight. Titurel recognized this, and rightfully threw him out.

    Klingsor fashions himself then as the enemy of the grail kingdom. He creates his own parallel kingdom and castle, but inverted from the grail kingdom, is dedicated to materialism, sin and damnation. Titurel passes control to Amfortas; this is when things start to go badly for the Grail order, knights fall to Klingsor's traps, climaxing in Amfortas losing the spear itself. For this transgression, Amfortas cannot bear to be in the presence of the chalice which radiates with divine perfection, yet he must endure its pain in order to do his duty and preserve what is left of the grail order, as they await the coming of the prophesied savior. For the divine radiance which harms Amfortas grants lifeblood to the rest of the order. While there is a certain sickness associated with Titurel's commands from the tomb, he does what is necessary for a fallen society in preservation mode.
    Last edited by Couchie; Sep-27-2021 at 02:29.
    Doch dieses Wörtlein: und, -wär' es zerstört,
    wie anders als mit Isoldes eignem Leben wär' Tristan der Tod gegeben?

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  3. #17
    Senior Member Woodduck's Avatar
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    Did I say I wasn't going to jump into the deep end of this lake? Well, no fault in proving oneself wrong!

    Quote Originally Posted by Couchie View Post
    I think you're a bit hard on Titurel!

    I think it is notable that Titurel finds the cursed Kundry asleep while he first builds the grail castle. This is an omen that not all is going to be well in the Grail Kingdom. Kundry awaits prophesied redemption from a savior, and a savior... requires something to save. Hence the separation of spear and grail and subsequent fall of the grail order is foretold and sealed by fate even as he builds the castle to house and protect them.
    In the universe you're suggesting, Kundry is an enigma who embodies the fundamental contradiction in all such religious metaphysics. Titurel's finding Kundry asleep isn't the greatest mystery about her. She's the only woman we see in the whole Parsifal universe; we aren't told where and how she was born; and despite having no apparent origin she dies. But either she is eternal or she isn't, and the idea of "redemption" doesn't explain anything, unless we posit a universe in which a fundamental, cataclysmic change takes place when Parsifal rejects her seduction. Christianity does posit such a universe - Christ being the redeemer of all creation - but only at the cost of a profound contradiction: if the universe can be redeemed, why was it ever unredeemed? I think the same contradiction exists in other religions, but I don't want to get off on that tangent here.

    I've found no good way to account for Kundry except as a creation of the unintegrated male psyche. She is everything Woman is to Man when Man fears, fights or disowns his inner feminine (Jung's "anima"). She is present at Man's first encounter with Woman in the person of his mother (Kundry knows all about Parsifal's origins and presents herself as the mother he abandoned), the Grail knights say that she knows everything and never lies (women can make men very uncomfortable this way!), and she cannot stop being a problem for Man until his battle with his anima comes to an end. Titurel, the archetypal Man, might well find her asleep if she is a part of him with which he hasn't fully dealt, and when he builds his temple to masculinity in which the Grail, ultimate symbol and source of feminine energy, will be housed and employed in a ceremony under male control, Kundry - who is what the feminine becomes to unintegrated Man, both seductress and servant - awakens like a deadly cobra rising from a basket.

    Klingsor doesn't arise due to Titurel's denial of nature, he arises naturally due to man's denial of the divine. This is inevitably man's condition, being caught between the material and the divine (but the material being much more readily perceptible than the divine, as the Hindus would say, a "distraction"). Titurel could not have avoided Klingsor with a looser moral code.
    I see Klingsor as Titurel stripped of good intentions, and Titurel's rejection of him as a way of suppressing his own weak and dark side, which he has rationalized as a noble devotion to principle. Titurel IS nobly motivated at the outset, but that doesn't make him right, or his way of dealing with his anima healthy. The road to hell...

    The flaw was not Titurel's, it is systemic to a flawed creation itself. As Gurnemanz explains in the most glorious music in Act III, Parsifal does go on to also redeem creation itself:

    Thus all creation gives thanks,
    all that here blooms and soon fades,
    now that nature, absolved from sin,
    today gains its day of innocence!
    Taken as you interpret it, this passage describes that universal cataclysm, the final transformation, which is the self-contradictory notion at the heart of religious metaphysics and which is ultimately nonsense unless we view religious symbols from a psychological rather than a metaphysical perspective.

    I believe compassion in abundance leads to antinatalism. If one has compassion for animals, they cannot bear to eat meat. But if one has compassion even for plants, they cannot bear to eat at all. They cannot survive; the living world is built upon the thriving of the few and the suffering of the many. It is intolerable.
    Well, we do tolerate it. We have compassion and nevertheless we eat. You're being sentimental.

    This compassionate antinatalist stance is what motivates successful sexual abstinence.
    Abstaining from sex so that no more of us will be born into a suffering world might make some sense right now, in these awful times, but it's a perverse way of looking at reality in general, and I don't see such a motivation suggested anywhere in Parsifal.

    Klingsor however lacked compassion, and lacked this insight. His self-mutilation in lieu of compassion was an admission that he was unworthy to be a grail knight. Titurel recognized this, and rightfully threw him out. Klingsor fashions himself then as the enemy of the grail kingdom. He creates his own parallel kingdom and castle, but inverted from the grail kingdom, is dedicated to materialism, sin and damnation.
    The parallelism is telling. Klingsor wants the benefits of controlling the feminine Grail exactly as Titurel does. The only real difference is that he wants it purely, without explaining his desire as divinely appointed and without feeling the need to devote himself to noble deeds to justify his ambitions and his existence. There's a wonderful, typically Wagnerian parallel between this light/dark pair and the Ring's pairing of Wotan and Alberich - "Licht-Alberich" and "Schwarz-Alberich," as the Wanderer calls himself and his alter. Wagner himself once referred to Titurel as old Wotan living in his tomb. The death of Titurel is another Gotterdammerung - the passing away of a corrupt old order in which morality is less an expression of love than a rationalization of power - and it's just as necessary.

    Titurel passes control to Amfortas; this is when things start to go badly for the Grail order, knights fall to Klingsor's traps, climaxing in Amfortas losing the spear itself.
    Amfortas is Titurel's "left arm" - his weaker side. The Spear wasn't merely lost; it was torn from the company of the Grail by the male ego out of control. Parsifal knew that the spear should never be used in battle, but Amfortas wasn't strong enough to resist that temptation - or rather fancied himself macho enough to disregard it, which is the same thing - and so the Spear's loss to Klngsor was inevitable.

    For this transgression, Amfortas cannot bear to be in the presence of the chalice which radiates with divine perfection, yet he must endure its pain in order to do his duty and preserve what is left of the grail order, as they await the coming of the prophesied savior. For the divine radiance which harms Amfortas grants lifeblood to the rest of the order. While there is a certain sickness associated with Titurel's commands from the tomb, he does what is necessary for a fallen society in preservation mode.
    Yes, Titurel is indeed in preservation mode. Having lost control of his order by not seeing the internal flaw that made corruption inevitable, all he can do is issue commands from the threshold of death, in hopes that the same action repeated indefinitely will achieve a different outcome.

    I'm rather taken by the notion - I don't know who first advanced it - that Parsifal is the fifth opera in the Ring. But although I've sometimes called Parsifal a Siegfried who succeeds, I think it's more accurate simply to say that both works tell much the same basic story - a story of psychological and moral evolution - but through mythic symbols drawn from different sources. I'm not enchanted by metaphysical interpretations, for the same reasons that I find religious metaphysics of various stripes unconvincing as descriptions of reality and better understood as projections of psychological realities. I suppose this makes me a descendant of Feuerbach, and Wagner, who read Feuerbach as well, called him "“the proponent of the ruthlessly radical liberation of the individual from the bondage of conceptions associated with the belief in traditional authority.” That precisely describes both the Ring and Parsifal. Here's the brief essay in which I found that quote:

    https://boulezian.blogspot.com/2020/...feuerbach.html
    Last edited by Woodduck; Sep-27-2021 at 06:05.

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  5. #18
    Senior Member Couchie's Avatar
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    Your post is very interesting, certainly. I think the problem I have is that Parsifal was written by Wagner, not Carl Jung. Carl Jung's psychiatric work was based primarily around interviews with patients having poorly integrated egos, hence his philosophy is framed around finding the cure via the individuation process. Wagner's life seems instead to be that of a man troubled by metaphysical and spiritual matters. In particular, Schopenhauer's concept of the Will, the early life of Christ, Buddhism, the Upanishads, and Islamic mysticism were all researched and their essence funneled into Parsifal.

    If Wagner had a secular, psychological goal about explaining the healthy integration of the ego, I daresay it simply could have been a essay. That is academic knowledge, not experiential. Instead he chose to craft the experience of Parsifal, which is a very peculiar choice if his goal is to stabilize the ego, because Parsifal seems specifically designed to *destabilize* the ego: The way he built Bayreuth in a simple stadium-style to take the audience out of the auditorium, out of daily life itself, and immerse them into the scene. The way the music rises unseen from the depths and engulfs the listener. The way Parsifal is paced to distort and cause us to lose our sense of time. The result is ego-death. When it ends, and the lights come back on, and we a thrust back into our bodies, and we are shaken. We cannot put words to what we have just experienced, to even attempt to describe it in words would bring it diminishment. These indicate the intentions and effects of a mystic experience, and it is my full belief that triggering such an otherworldly experience in the audience was Wagner's primary intention. Certainly he produced a work which has caused many to change the trajectory of their lives. His purpose was not to distill religion into psychology, but a demonstration in the power of the spiritual, and how the mantle in expressing its fundamental truths can be passed from organized religion to art.
    Doch dieses Wörtlein: und, -wär' es zerstört,
    wie anders als mit Isoldes eignem Leben wär' Tristan der Tod gegeben?

  6. #19
    Senior Member Woodduck's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Couchie View Post
    Your post is very interesting, certainly. I think the problem I have is that Parsifal was written by Wagner, not Carl Jung. Carl Jung's psychiatric work was based primarily around interviews with patients having poorly integrated egos, hence his philosophy is framed around finding the cure via the individuation process. Wagner's life seems instead to be that of a man troubled by metaphysical and spiritual matters. In particular, Schopenhauer's concept of the Will, the early life of Christ, Buddhism, the Upanishads, and Islamic mysticism were all researched and their essence funneled into Parsifal.

    If Wagner had a secular, psychological goal about explaining the healthy integration of the ego, I daresay it simply could have been a essay. That is academic knowledge, not experiential. Instead he chose to craft the experience of Parsifal, which is a very peculiar choice if his goal is to stabilize the ego, because Parsifal seems specifically designed to *destabilize* the ego: The way he built Bayreuth in a simple stadium-style to take the audience out of the auditorium, out of daily life itself, and immerse them into the scene. The way the music rises unseen from the depths and engulfs the listener. The way Parsifal is paced to distort and cause us to lose our sense of time. The result is ego-death. When it ends, and the lights come back on, and we a thrust back into our bodies, and we are shaken. We cannot put words to what we have just experienced, to even attempt to describe it in words would bring it diminishment. These indicate the intentions and effects of a mystic experience, and it is my full belief that triggering such an otherworldly experience in the audience was Wagner's primary intention. Certainly he produced a work which has caused many to change the trajectory of their lives. His purpose was not to distill religion into psychology, but a demonstration in the power of the spiritual, and how the mantle in expressing its fundamental truths can be passed from organized religion to art.
    I have to say that I'm loving this conversation! I appreciate your description of the effect Parsifal has on you; I can identify with it. When I first heard the complete opera - I think I was about 16, it was a radio broadcast of the 1951 Bayreuth recording, the only one then available - I was left in a sort of trance state from which I only gradually returned to everyday reality. When I subsequently acquired the 1962 Bayreuth recording I couldn't get enough of it, much as you report being addicted to Tristan. I found the work both exalting and disturbing, but it's the latter effect that most intrigues me. The beautiful spirituality of the work's "religious" music, and the extraordinary blending of ecstasy and pain that's virtually unique to this work, were always easy for me to identify with (my churchy upbringing probably had much to do with it), but the strange, chromatic, insinuating music with which Kundry seduces Parsifal - music subtler and stranger than anything in Tristan - felt somehow threatening, even corrupting, to me as a young person. As I grew older, I came to understand that this sense of existential threat is just what Parsifal feels as Kundry draws him into a dangerous vortex of helplessness, a dark place that psychoanalysis would describe as an infantile state in which sexual desire merges with a return to the mother's breast, and a place where mature manhood is impossible to achieve. As a young person poised precariously on that fence that separates boyhood from manhood, I think I experienced in Wagner's uncanny music something of what Parsifal himself experiences, but I had then no way to conceptualize those very disturbing feelings.

    I know that Wagner was writing in the era before Freud and Jung, and that he didn't use their vocabulary or think in precisely their terms. I'm not trying to depict him as a psychoanalyst in any precise sense. But just as the concepts they developed are attempts to describe the dynamic processes of man's subjective life, so the concepts of religion represent earlier attempts to do the same thing. Jung, less hostile to religion than Freud, tried to represent the experience of transformation and spiritual maturation in psychological terms, and when I look at Wagner, an avowed atheist, I see him doing much the same thing, but in the concrete, sensuous form of musical drama rather than explanatory prose. He couldn't have had what you call a "secular, psychological goal about explaining the healthy integration of the ego," but he most certainly had a secular artistic goal of presenting the transformation of a naive, self-centered boy into a mature, responsible man. If I describe the process by which Parsifal attains that maturity in Jungian terms, it's because I find them useful, but not necessarily exclusive of other ways of conceptualizing what the opera is telling us. I don't intend to dismiss the Christian and Buddhist elements in the opera, but I don't think that in drawing from these traditions Wagner was shedding his modernity and adopting wholesale the metaphysical views of ancient religions. At a fundamental level I don't think Parsifal is any more - or less - "religious" a work than the Ring. It merely uses a different mythical vocabulary, one drawn from Christian and Buddhist legend, to convey what Wagner considered truths about human existence. That he may never have entirely settled in his own mind what those truths were probably served only to make Parsifal more ambiguous, suggestive and fascinating.

    As a modern man and a nonbeliever in gods and devils, heavens and hells, I find religion interesting, I've done a fair amount of reading in it, and I've sought to apply to my own life ideas from religious traditions, Buddhism in particular. But, like Feuerbach and Wagner, I see religious metaphysics and cosmologies as projections of man's inner life. When Gurnemanz sings about creation giving thanks for having been redeemed at last, I don't take any part of that literally. The "creation" or universe about which Wagner writes is not the universe in which we live - that unfathomable infinity of burning suns and colliding atoms - but rather the universe that lives within us. Wagner's mythical worlds, whatever their implications for human life in the social and natural realms, are above all embodiments of the internal drama played out by the forces that make up the human personality. This is increasingly the case as his work matures, and Parsifal epitomizes the genre of mythic psychodrama unique to him, with its strange characters who make no sense as individual people but profound sense as interdependent elements of a single, evolving human consciousness.

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