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Thread: Parsifal vs The Matrix

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    Default Parsifal vs The Matrix

    http://www.andrew-may.com/parsifal.htm

    I found this comparison very interesting. Especially since Wagner lays down the foundations for cinema, and The Matrix is probably the pinnacle of late 1990's/early 2000's cinema, culturally. Did the Wachowskis steal from Wagner, or did they draw inspiration from the same waters?
    Last edited by Couchie; Sep-24-2021 at 06:28.
    Doch dieses Wörtlein: und, -wär' es zerstört,
    wie anders als mit Isoldes eignem Leben wär' Tristan der Tod gegeben?

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    Senior Member Woodduck's Avatar
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    I haven't seen The Matrix, but enjoyed this article nonetheless. My favorite part:

    I can see Richard Wagner standing at the gates of heaven: "You have to let me in," he says. "I wrote Parsifal. It has to do with the Grail, Christ, suffering, pity and healing. Right?"

    And they answer, "Well, we read it and it makes no sense." SLAM.

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    The authors is not very well read in history of ideas.
    "time and space are merely our way of perceiving things, but otherwise have no reality." To me, that seems an amazing insight for a mid-19th century European.
    The phrase in quotes is taken from a text by Wagner. This is almost literally what Kant writes not in the mid 19th century but already in the 1780s: time and space are forms of intuition, "Anschauungsformen" but "things in themselves" are not in space and time. This was the *baseline* from which all later generations of 19th century idealist philosophers started, including of course Schopenhauer.
    (Note that this does not include the idea that time could *turn* into space (as in Parsifal Act I "zum Raume wird hier die Zeit"), and it doesn't in relativity theory either, at least not in special RT and not in principle)).
    I am not quite sure if late 18th/early 19th philosophers were explicitly aware that classical physics had already "spatialized" time by treating it almost like space in the formalism but I suspect so, certainly Bergson was and I don't think he was the first.)

    I don't know much about Parsifal; it is a very peculiar mix as the sources listed in the article indicate (to me it seems overall still more pseudo-christian than pseudo-buddhist) and I have seen only the first Matrix movie once in 1999 when it came out. I have read some other PK Dick but not Valis.
    But I think the article misses the main point and takes a minor point, namely the dissolution of Klingsor's illusion as far more important than it is to make the parallel with the Matrix. The main point seems obviously redemption and this concerns almost everyone in the opera: Amfortas, Parsifal, Kundry, also the rest of the Grail knights (as they are bound up with Amfortas) and arguably the traitor Klingsor as well (in any case he is an example how NOT to try to achieve redemption). The sense illusion is local to trap the knights, it is not a universal illusion like in gnosticism or some schools of buddhism. Neither is the redemption achieved by merely realizing that something is illusory (otherwise there would not be a time gap between Acts 2 and 3 with Parsifal doing all kinds of stuff instead of directly returning with the spear), the guilt of the characters in need of redemption is real, most explicitly shown in the wound that does not heal but also Kundry's wandering and "enslavement" to Klingsor etc.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Kreisler jr View Post
    The authors is not very well read in history of ideas.

    The phrase in quotes is taken from a text by Wagner. This is almost literally what Kant writes not in the mid 19th century but already in the 1780s: time and space are forms of intuition, "Anschauungsformen" but "things in themselves" are not in space and time. This was the *baseline* from which all later generations of 19th century idealist philosophers started, including of course Schopenhauer.
    (Note that this does not include the idea that time could *turn* into space (as in Parsifal Act I "zum Raume wird hier die Zeit"), and it doesn't in relativity theory either, at least not in special RT and not in principle)).
    I am not quite sure if late 18th/early 19th philosophers were explicitly aware that classical physics had already "spatialized" time by treating it almost like space in the formalism but I suspect so, certainly Bergson was and I don't think he was the first.)
    I agree the time/space thing was lifted from Schopenhauer/Kant, Wagner was intimately familiar with both.

    You could regard the "edge" of the expanding universe as time turning into space. From this periphery, we leave the material universe and enter the ideal realm of mind, where the kingdom of the grail resides. Or else "here time turns to space" is really just a nonsensical statement, and we are leaving the rational realm and entering the intuitive.

    Quote Originally Posted by Kreisler jr View Post
    I don't know much about Parsifal; it is a very peculiar mix as the sources listed in the article indicate (to me it seems overall still more pseudo-christian than pseudo-buddhist) and I have seen only the first Matrix movie once in 1999 when it came out. I have read some other PK Dick but not Valis.
    But I think the article misses the main point and takes a minor point, namely the dissolution of Klingsor's illusion as far more important than it is to make the parallel with the Matrix. The main point seems obviously redemption and this concerns almost everyone in the opera: Amfortas, Parsifal, Kundry, also the rest of the Grail knights (as they are bound up with Amfortas) and arguably the traitor Klingsor as well (in any case he is an example how NOT to try to achieve redemption). The sense illusion is local to trap the knights, it is not a universal illusion like in gnosticism or some schools of buddhism. Neither is the redemption achieved by merely realizing that something is illusory (otherwise there would not be a time gap between Acts 2 and 3 with Parsifal doing all kinds of stuff instead of directly returning with the spear), the guilt of the characters in need of redemption is real, most explicitly shown in the wound that does not heal but also Kundry's wandering and "enslavement" to Klingsor etc.
    I think you are just a "people person", or taking the opera a bit literally.

    Not that it isn't nice for everybody to get redemption, but Parsifal (Jesus, Buddha) seeing through Klingsor's (the Devil, Demiurge, demon Mara) materialistic illusion (maya) and overcoming base instinct is how he reclaims the spear (the human soul), which manifests in mystical union when combined with the Grail (God).

    The gap between Act II and III is because Parsifal first becomes Disciple/Bodhisattva, one who has tasted enlightenment, but works to further the well-being and enlightenment of others before attaining full Christ-like or Buddhahood status themselves.

    Act III is Parsifal doling out redemption; this entire act is denouement. Act II is the climax and main thrust of the opera.
    Last edited by Couchie; Sep-24-2021 at 20:42.
    Doch dieses Wörtlein: und, -wär' es zerstört,
    wie anders als mit Isoldes eignem Leben wär' Tristan der Tod gegeben?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Couchie View Post
    http://www.andrew-may.com/parsifal.htm

    I found this comparison very interesting. Especially since Wagner lays down the foundations for cinema, and The Matrix is probably the pinnacle of late 1990's/early 2000's cinema, culturally. Did the Wachowskis steal from Wagner, or did they draw inspiration from the same waters?
    An interesting comparison, yes. Thanks for the article. Whilst the Wachowskis (then brothers, now sisters - I wonder how that compares with the mythology?) might well have drawn certain specifics from Parsifal, I suspect it was more to do with the same waters. There are similarities to Lord of the Rings as well, though I'll not set them out here - if you're familair with the story, you can probably spot them.

    "Pinnacle of 1990s/2000 cinema, culturally"? Sounds like a grand claim - I'm not sure what it means though.

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    Again, the "illusion" concerns only Klingsor's magic trap that is laid with a particular purpose.
    To make a strong point for lifting a universal veil of maya, it would have been much stronger to make the Grail castle an illusion.

    It's also not knowledge in the gnostic sense nor mere renunciation but "durch Mitleid wissend", i.e. it is Parsifal's *compassion*, and Kundry's with him and his remembering of the motherly love trumping the seductive illusion. So far more than renunciation or esoteric Gnowledge it is love and compassion that achieve the redemption.
    This completely missed in the Matrix analogy. The latter is not wrong but superficial and not very interesting, IMO. The Matrix is much closer to any number of "brain in the vat" etc. philosophical scenarios and SciFi elements than to Parsifal and Buddhism.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Kreisler jr View Post
    Again, the "illusion" concerns only Klingsor's magic trap that is laid with a particular purpose.
    To make a strong point for lifting a universal veil of maya, it would have been much stronger to make the Grail castle an illusion.
    Wrong. It's not merely the flower-maiden trap, Klingsor's entire kingdom and castle vanish. And the grail castle is already hidden from those unworthy, ie, those too trapped by maya. It makes no sense to make it part of maya.

    Quote Originally Posted by Kreisler jr View Post
    It's also not knowledge in the gnostic sense nor mere renunciation but "durch Mitleid wissend", i.e. it is Parsifal's *compassion*, and Kundry's with him and his remembering of the motherly love trumping the seductive illusion. So far more than renunciation or esoteric Gnowledge it is love and compassion that achieve the redemption.
    Wagner makes it clear it is "an enlightenment through compassion". The sufficiently compassioned are granted a realization about reality's true nature that sets them down the path to enlightenment. This personal realization is also what the Gnostics meant by "gnosis", it is experiential knowledge, not academic.

    Quote Originally Posted by Kreisler jr View Post
    This completely missed in the Matrix analogy. The latter is not wrong but superficial and not very interesting, IMO. The Matrix is much closer to any number of "brain in the vat" etc. philosophical scenarios and SciFi elements than to Parsifal and Buddhism.
    In the Matrix, it is love that transcends the illusion of the Matrix, when Trinity kisses Neo in Movie 1 and Neo restarts Trinity's heart in Movie 2. And do you think Neo's desire to save the human race is not driven by compassion?
    Last edited by Couchie; Sep-25-2021 at 19:14.
    Doch dieses Wörtlein: und, -wär' es zerstört,
    wie anders als mit Isoldes eignem Leben wär' Tristan der Tod gegeben?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Forster View Post
    "Pinnacle of 1990s/2000 cinema, culturally"? Sounds like a grand claim - I'm not sure what it means though.
    Probably the most influential film series of that period, next to Lord of the Rings.
    Doch dieses Wörtlein: und, -wär' es zerstört,
    wie anders als mit Isoldes eignem Leben wär' Tristan der Tod gegeben?

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    I'm presently too lazy and tired to jump into this debate with both feet, but I'll stick a toe in and suggest that neither a Christian nor a Buddhist reading of the opera's symbolism can be carried through consistently. That's what we would expect based on Wagner's personal, idiosyncratic philosophical views, synthesized out of whatever notions he gleaned from both of those traditions and from other writers' commentaries on them. I weight the Christian elements in Parsifal a little heavier than the Buddhist, and Wagner himself called it "this most Christian of works."

    As for Parsifal's moment of "enlightenment," which lies at the work's center, I think it has more to do with a Jungian conception of psychological growth than with gnostic insight, Buddhist satori or Christian salvation. Parsifal dresses in traditional religious symbols the same fundamental story which is at the heart of the Ring; both are are stories of man's inner development, of psychological maturation, the growth of consciousness, and particularly of moral consciousness. No religious symbolism - Buddhist, Christian or otherwise - is needed to tell this story, but Wagner's keen insight into the resonances of mythical archetypes and his ability to pare his material down to just those elements that convey his meaning most forcefully make Parsifal, I believe, his most extraordinary dramatic achievement. But "forcefully" doesn't mean "unambiguously," and the very fact that the work synthesizes the incomplete visions of reality embodied in several not entirely compatible religious traditions, and thus gives rise to conflicting views of which of its aspects are most significant, makes it all the more true to life and profound.

    Maybe I've stuck in more than a toe. Parsifal is a vortex I find hard to avoid.
    Last edited by Woodduck; Sep-26-2021 at 07:21.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Couchie View Post
    Probably the most influential film series of that period, next to Lord of the Rings.
    I wouldn't want to digress unnecessarily from the comparison with Parsifal, but I would suggest that while both The Matrix and Lord of the Rings were hugely successful, and generated any number of pop culture memes, both were cinematically derivative (The Matrix more than the LOTR I think) and both derived story concepts from earlier sources - including the same sources that Parsifal came from.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Woodduck View Post
    As for Parsifal's moment of "enlightenment," which lies at the work's center, I think it has more to do with a Jungian conception of psychological growth than with gnostic insight, Buddhist satori or Christian salvation.
    Well Jung was highly influenced by Gnosticism and his much of his psychology is pretty much re-interpreting it into a psychological framework. Jung however would argue that attempts to merge one's ego beyond merely integration with the unconscious, but beyond oneself and into the divine, would result in psychosis. But of course psychiatrists would regard mystic experiences as psychosis.

    I'm not sure how familiar Wagner was with Gnosticism, seeing the Nag Hammadi library was not yet discovered, but by blending eastern and western spirituality he seemingly just so happened upon reconstruction of some of its ideas. The legend of Parzival might also be based in part on the Gnostic Cathars, who resided in castles in the south of France and were rumored to be in possession of the Grail (there was even a Nazi grail hunt raiding these castles).

    Wagner called Parsifal "Christian", but he was of the belief that contemporary Christians mispracticed their faith, and he had particular disdain for Catholicism. It's clear he had no time for dogma, and wished to re-establish the centrality of compassion to the faith. Hence I think calling Parsifal "Christian" is going to throw people off and be a disservice to most people wanting to become acquainted with the work.

    Quote Originally Posted by Woodduck View Post
    Maybe I've stuck in more than a toe. Parsifal is a vortex I find hard to avoid.
    It's a very fun rabbit hole to go down, that's for sure!
    Last edited by Couchie; Sep-26-2021 at 21:43.
    Doch dieses Wörtlein: und, -wär' es zerstört,
    wie anders als mit Isoldes eignem Leben wär' Tristan der Tod gegeben?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Couchie View Post
    Probably the most influential film series of that period, next to Lord of the Rings.
    Really? I couldn’t make head nor tail of it! Mind you, I have have the same problem with Parsifal!
    Last edited by JTS; Sep-26-2021 at 21:34.

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    Quote Originally Posted by JTS View Post
    Really? I couldn’t make head nor tail of it!
    Like Parsifal, The Matrix rewards repeated watches. The first watch you mostly just marvel at the action sequences (like your first time with Parsifal, you are mostly spellbound by the music), while having little idea of what is going on. Getting into the plot requires a bit more work.
    Doch dieses Wörtlein: und, -wär' es zerstört,
    wie anders als mit Isoldes eignem Leben wär' Tristan der Tod gegeben?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Couchie View Post
    Like Parsifal, The Matrix rewards repeated watches. The first watch you mostly just marvel at the action sequences (like your first time with Parsifal, you are mostly spellbound by the music), while having little idea of what is going on. Getting into the plot requires a bit more work.
    Please! I’ve watched the thing once! Not again! Have mercy!
    Last edited by JTS; Sep-26-2021 at 21:43.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Couchie View Post
    Wagner called Parsifal "Christian", but he was of the belief that contemporary Christians mispracticed their faith, and he had particular disdain for Catholicism. It's clear he had no time for dogma, and wished to re-establish the centrality of compassion to the faith. Hence I think calling Parsifal "Christian" is going to throw people off and be a disservice to most people wanting to become acquainted with the work.
    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.

    Parsifal, from this viewpoint, is a rebuke, not only to Christianity but to all religious systems and institutions that impose artificial constraints on human nature by reifying and rigidifying universal human spiritual processes in the form of myths: fantastic and exclusivist cosmologies which are taken literally and granted power over the individual and society. Wagner stated as his explicit goal the restoration of the inner meaning, the full, nonparochial humanity, of the religious symbols he employed.

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