Classical Music Forum banner
Status
Not open for further replies.
1 - 20 of 29 Posts

· Registered
Joined
·
21,792 Posts
Thank you for this thread.

It's been Wagner's burden, and the burden of any of us who have more than a superficial appreciation of his works, to live in the seemingly permanent dark shadow cast over them and their composer by Hitler and Nazism. The assumption that Wagner's well-known antisemitism and Hitler's passion for his operas make those operas antisemitic prologues to the Third Reich has become a popular meme that people who know absoluetely nothing of the operas themselves are amazingly eager to perpetuate. The article you're offering - I've just read it with pleasure - seems to me accurate, insightful, and succinct, and could be a terrific introduction to a different and truer way of understanding Wagner's works from the standpoint of their political overtones and implications.

I see no intellectual obstacle to claiming Wagner for the left. The composer was never easy to categorize politically, but in his younger years, the years when his Ring cycle was being born, he could be characterized as an anarchistic democratic socialist, and at the very least an anti-authoritarian. He wished above all for the freedom of the individual to express his true nature, unconstrained by false and oppressive moral and legal codes, political systems, and traditions, and regardless of the changes in his specific political positions throughout his life, the struggle of the individual against the world's oppressive powers - social, political, or religious - remained a basic theme in his operas. The author of the article explains very succinctly, if necessarily summarily, that this is a fundamental theme of the Ring, which is ultimately as anti-fascistic as a dramatic work could be (Shaw saw it as strictly a socialist allegory, which I think is too limited a view). Most interesting to me is the author's mention of Wagner's interest in Feuerbach, whose philosophy of religion posits that the gods are the projections of human qualities and values onto the natural universe. With this in mind we can see the Gotterdammerung - the end of the gods - as the advent of a stage in human cultural evolution which we might identify with the Enlightenment, the end of mythic consciousness and man's confrontation of the existential reality of a mortal existence for which he, unaided by divine intervention and unencumbered by authoritarian codes, must take full responsibility. (It may seem contradictory that after the final cataclysm of the Ring, in which the gods are destroyed, Wagner's final work would appear to be an embrace of religion - Nietzsche had a real problem with that! - but an exploration of the paradoxical magic show of Parsifal would be way too much to go into here.)

I hope that when you see further discussions of Wagner on the forum, and discover how easily they slide into the familiar tired cliches about Hitler and Nazism, you'll cite this particular article again. It could at least provide a springboard for a more objective discussion of what Wagner's works are all about.

(When it isn't so late at night and I'm more awake, I will reread the article and consider some of its ideas more thoroughly.)
 

· Registered
Joined
·
21,792 Posts
As someone from a working class background I get sick of middle-class lefties spouting their middle-class leftie views which generally have nothing to do with the people they claim to represent. Wagner enjoyed luxury, he enjoyed a fetish for silks, he enjoyed the sponsorship of a mad king and had no scruples about taking his money. He wrote operas, the attendance of which is the domain of the middle class rich. You cannot get a more elitist art entertainment than opera. Lefties who go on about claiming Wagner just delude themselves. Opera by nature is the domain of the middle classes.
:eek:

I'm thinking someone got up on the wrong side of the bed this morning.

If opera is the domain of the middle classes, should a working-class boy like yourself be telling us what to think of it? (I'm in the working class, by the way - just a poor old Wagner lover, collecting my meager social security and surviving on oatmeal and beans, and no silk fetishes or any of that lefty sissy stuff! Maybe I'm a working class elitist, then?)

Try getting up on the "left" side next time.

;)
 

· Registered
Joined
·
21,792 Posts
Tying Wagner to Marxism (which is utopian and idealist, unlike later Soviet Communism & Mao) is now being embraced by Woodduck, who in the past saw Wagner strictly in terms of an individual artist, and not reflective of any social or political tendencies. How convenient! Why would he support this idea?
I haven't "tied" Wagner to anything. I've said that in his younger years he was an anarchist-socialist.

I do not see him as "strictly" anything. I have never said that his work is not reflective of any social or political tendencies.

This is the same argument Woodduck has always posited: that of Wagner as the ultimate individualist, the High Art definition of "genius" which rejects any notion of greatness in art as a refection of cumulative cultural evolution.
That is your misperception of my views.

Don't bother; get some sleep. We know that you're not really interested in any of the ideas connecting Wagner to Marxism, except as they present a convenient alternative to the "Hitler and Nazism" camp.
You (the royal "we" again?) know nothing of the sort.

You've been back - what, two days? And you're already making toxic attacks? Are you incapable of learning from your mistakes? Or of simple civility?

This doesn't bode well, rainbows.
 

· Registered
Joined
·
21,792 Posts
I know this is quite long, but it's also a fascinating talk that provides an example of how left-wing thinkers have built upon Wagner's work. Say what you will about Žižek (and I am certainly not the biggest fan of his) but even for anyone who is pre-occupied with the fascist appropriation of culture in the 30s and 40s, he illustrates some interesting performance history at the start.


I do wish to bring up Žižek as well because he is not only a Wagner fan but he brings up (in various places) about how Wagner transcends the period his works were first written and performed in, but survives different eras and can be made relevant and rejuvenated for audiences of different times and political and social situations (he cites Walter Benjamin as an earlier philosopher who brought this up too, on art in general, but I can't recall which interview I remember that from).

EDIT: I do wish to have this following discussion btw... Walter Benjamin was a Frankfurt School philosopher who said interesting things about art, and I mentioned the Frankfurt School at the start of the thread, also asking about Adorno. I'm curious to learn more about the perspectives on Wagner that Adorno had, as well as what ideas from the Frankfurt School can quite meaningfully be applied to interpreting Wagner's life and works and staging his works in the 20th and 21st centuries.
This was rather interesting. I don't know Zizek, and I found his effort to speak English very difficult to listen to. I thought the talk started out promisingly but was a bit of a ramble that could have been made in half the time. I'm not sure that his summation helped, and when he went off on how great love will be under communism he lost me (I'm not a communist, a socialist, a fascist, a capitalist, or any other -ist, and this struck me as some sort of adolescent Marxist fantasy).

That said, Zizek does make a case that Wagner's works can't be identified with the sort of proto-fascism that current PC thought attributes to them. I appreciate the point that if there are any representations of supposed Jewish stereotypes in Wagner's characters (a very big IF, despite attempts to find them there), they can be found in the "good" characters as well as the bad ones, and that the villains might actually be read more easily as caricatures of Wagner himself. I enjoyed his discussion of the updating of Wagner's Tristan story by director Ponnelle, who had Tristan die alone with only a hallucination of Isolde, thus intensifying the tragic illusoriness of romantic love. It's correct to say that Wagner in successive works wrestles with the idea of love and what it should be, with each opera proffering a different solution, but I think Zizek quite fails to come to terms with the complexity and ambiguity of Parsifal, mostly in failing to see that in it Wagner takes symbolism to a level surpassing even the Ring. That final creation, of all Wagner's visionary worlds, is a dream in which things are not always what they seem to be.

What I don't get out of Zizek's talk is any clear picture of how he relates Wagner's works to communism. Since, I gather, he was addressing some sort of communist organization, his audience might have seen some political implications I did not. I don't think Wagner's works are political in any specific way, not even the most politically suggestive of them, the Ring. In fact, I'd describe the Ring's message as anti-political or, in its final outlook, post-political. Perhaps this is consistent with the Marxist doctrine of the ultimate withering away of the state once a communist paradise is achieved. But I don't believe in paradise, and neither did Wagner once he was exiled and had time to get over his early revolutionary fervor. Zizek does expain nicely the way the evolution of Wagner's thinking resulted in successive endings for Gotterdammerung; what the final ending leaves us with is no explicit moral or program, but only the emptying out of heaven and man's inheritance of an earth he must make the best of, as the orchestra sings out a hymn to Brunnhilde, who alone could end the gods' rule of law because she was able to follow love unto death. This is not something any would-be dictator, of the right or the left, could be expected to understand.
 

· Registered
Joined
·
21,792 Posts
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.
 

· Registered
Joined
·
21,792 Posts
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.
 

· Registered
Joined
·
21,792 Posts
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.
This post (a description of the world with which I must largely, and sadly, agree) might seem at first peripheral to Wagner's Ring. But it raises a question: does it make sense to ask whether Wagner, in representing the desire for power as the "original sin" (Alberich's theft of the primeval gold to make the ring, paralleling Wotan's destruction of the World Ash Tree to make his spear), is presenting a form of psychopathology?

The interestingly motivated and sometimes even strangely sympathetic villains we find throughout Wagner's works do at least suggest that evil is a product of a psychological distortion and not merely some incomprehensible primary force of nature (as it seems to be, more or less, in Lady Macbeth or Iago). Wagner doesn't traffic in angels and devils. In the Ring, by means of an origin myth akin to the Judeo-Christian myth of the Fall, we're led to look beyond political notions, moral platitudes, and even psychoanalytic explanations to understand the will to power as a necessary stage in the growth of consciousness itself.

The Ring begins with what is essentially a portrait of the primeval state of nature, showing us first the innocence of pre-human life and then the loss of innocence that comes with the awakening of human consciousness in the experience of pain and the act of rebellion. The prelude to Das Rheingold situates us in primeval darkness, and over the music's hypnotic course we feel the rising energy which climaxes in the emergence of the living forms and voices of the Rhine daughters, spirits of water who guard the mysterious Rhinegold, their "father." The gold, like some great glowing eye, cycles between sleeping and waking, is apparently eternal, and will remain unperturbed and untouchable until and unless some being capable of performing the most unthinkable act - renouncing love - gains by that evil resolve the power to steal the gold and forge it into a ring which will make him master of the world. It's noteworthy that when this rebellious being makes his appearance he comes not as someone large and threatening, but as a gnarled dwarf seeking not power but love, and love in the basest form. Alberich clambers up out of the depths below the waters; he is born like an infant out of the earth's womb, and his interests and behavior are entirely infantile. He wants the feminine spirits of the water to "love" him, knowing nothing more about what love is than an infant knows: love as the embrace of a woman, the mother, nature herself. But when woman refuses him and mocks him, forcing him to know the pain of rejection and separateness, he feels rage and throws the first tantrum: he curses love - curses nature herself - and so gains the strength to wrest the gold from its rocky niche. Laughing in triumph, he carries his treasure back down into the depths of Nibelheim, the womb of earth whose inhabitants never grow up, remaining stunted in body and spirit. There he will force his fellow Nibelungs to forge the all-powerful ring and fill his grim vaults with glittering treasures, substitutes for the love he cannot hope to have.

Looking at this story from a political standpoint, it's possible to see Alberich, lording it over his horde of Nibelung slaves and compelling them to produce for him limitless wealth, as a symbol of capitalism (Shaw was of this persuasion). It's also possible, for those with a taste for it, to tie in the stereotype of the Jew who rules the world through money and is therefore the quintessential capitalist, thus making Alberich not merely a capitalist but a Jewish capitalist. Wagner himself, conceiving the Ring when his ideology of socialist anarchism was at its highest pitch, certainly saw the first connection, and it's possible that at some point he saw the second, although he left us no evidence of that. But I find that such ideological interpretations miss the point, and are perhaps more likely to lead us away than to lead us toward an understanding of the universal messages about human nature that rose from the deeper, even the subconscious, layers of Wagner's creative imagination. The cruel capitalist overlord is a reality of life, but it's also a cultural cliche and a temptation to ideogical narrowness. Alberich is no cliche, and in his precise and vividly drawn humanity he can inspire our affection in a way that no caricature of the heartless businessman ever could. Alberich is us, frozen at that never-quite-forgotten stage in life when we realized that we were separate beings, that we couldn't remain at the breast forever, and that we could either accept the responsibilty of moral agency or rebel in hatred of the parent who set us adrift in a world that doesn't exist for our sakes.

From the moment Alberich chooses rebellion and hate, the Ring traces through its characters and events mankind's tragic struggle to achieve the redemption of its moral nature. This struggle isn't a class struggle, but the essential struggle of civilization and of every individual who wants to achieve it. It's the struggle, not to become gods, who like all illusory ideals are doomed, but to become, in a phrase Wagner used to describe his artistic aims, "fully human."
 

· Registered
Joined
·
21,792 Posts
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.
My last post is essentially my response to this way of looking at Alberich. Much more could be said about the depiction of power as the story of the Ring unfolds. The other primary locus of power is Wotan, a character much more complex than Alberich and ultimately its tragic hero, or antihero.
 

· Registered
Joined
·
21,792 Posts
Wagner failed in every way if that was his intention.

The subject of The Ring is indeed capitalism, but Wagner never reaches the correct resolution, he just points out the flaws. Anyway, now it's different, we have learned from the past, the world is connected and synchronized like never before, and the proper conclusion will be made this time.
Another naysayer. How delightful.

The Ring is not about capitalism, or any other ism. There is no "correct resolution," and Wagner was under no obligation to "resolve" anything, particularly not anything that you may have in mind. The work is a tragedy, in the classical sense. That genre is not concerned with "resolving" things. I said that Wagner depicts the struggle to be fully human. I didn't say that he succeeded in showing all that humanity could be, or that it was even his purpose to do that.

If you want to discuss this, you'll need to be a little humble and take Wagner on his terms, not yours. And do your homework. Listen. Study. Read. Think.

The rest of your post is gobbledegook.
 

· Registered
Joined
·
21,792 Posts
Because he didn't resolve it he let the door open for Hitler to make his own conclusion, but you're in love with Wagner, you won't listen to reason on the matter.
Hitler's "conclusion" didn't depend on any "door left open" by anyone.

I'd listen to reason if you offered any.
 

· Registered
Joined
·
21,792 Posts
It's all there, you answer all your questions, it was beyond philosophy what Wagner gave him, it was that, plus the unresolved music. Hitler seeing it as holy shows us how flawed and tyrannical he already was but the music pushed him further into it.

The real question is: If Wagner had made the music reach the correct resolution of balance and reason, would Hitler still have been such a poor leader?
Those determined to blame Wagner for Nazism will find any excuse. Here it's Wagner's failure to "make the music reach the correct resolution of balance and reason."

It seems that Wagner's art is too much for your poor constitution. Surely you realize that most of us handle it very well, and are not prompted (as Woody Allen said) to invade Poland?
 

· Registered
Joined
·
21,792 Posts
You told me you weren't at all competitive so you're the farthest thing away from a tyrant, you simply cannot comprehend Wagner's music to it's full potential, you haven't the competition and rage in you.

Hitler saw it as holy, that's how extreme he was, I hear narcissism and rage, farthest from what is holy. But again that was Wagner's intention, he wanted a revolution to break away from a world he hated, and he succeeded.
What you hear is what you hear. Quit pretending that you're "right" and that you know what Wagner's work means to others and should mean to the universe.

Arrogant opinionizers like you are the bane of the internet. Go back to composing that supposedly great music you claim will "change society." When that happens you'll have some credibility, and not until.
 

· Registered
Joined
·
21,792 Posts
If anything Hitler not talking about it only confirms how important it was to him, so much as to keep it a secret.
Yeah, some things are just too precious for words...:rolleyes:

What "secret" do you think Hitler was unwilling to reveal? That he was inspired by Wagner's music has never been a secret. It was even just described in OperaChic's post #91. You responded to that post. Did you respond without reading it? Or are you just fishing? Or trying to gaslight us?

By the way, do you have any actual interest in this thread, or does it just provide an opportunity to pontificate and drop koans?
 

· Registered
Joined
·
21,792 Posts
Wagner has into the occult and the mystical, the whole Nazi movement was. You can rest assured that he didn't write or say everything he thought.
[Deep sigh...] "Rest assured" that Wagner was not "into" the "occult" and the "mystical." Some of his opera plots contain magic and myth, if that's what you're trying to say. Nor was "the whole Nazi movement" into whatever it is you mean by what you're saying. Most of the Nazi movement consisted of power-hungry thugs who may have entertained, or felt obligated to give lip service to, a few vague, quasi-religious notions justifying their nationalist and supremacist goals. Attributions of true occultism are products of the postwar literature, and belong to the modern fascination with Nazism that romanticizes the subject, whether approvingly or not.
 

· Registered
Joined
·
21,792 Posts
I think I've made a breakthrough, finally, these exchanges are always beneficial.

Thanks to all who participated, especially Woodduck, it seems like it's been months he's helped me.
You did seem to need a good deal of help. I hope that the cure was complete and that we are all now free.

:wave:
 
1 - 20 of 29 Posts
Status
Not open for further replies.
Top