Sunday, May 14, 2006

Signifying nothing, it seems

Everyone's favorite cultural reactionary, A.C. Douglas has seemingly been taken with the vapors over a new, (gasp!) pseudo-feminist production of Der Ring des Nibelungen. Were I nearer, I would have sent - gratis - Mr. Douglas a draught of brandy to revive him.

You can read the production synopsis, as I did, and I think that you'll find it interesting, as I did. Der Ring des Nibelungen is - like it or not - an extended meditation on power. The 20th Century has been a series of experiments in power. From the fall of the old-line European principalities in the aftermath of World War II, to the rise of totalitarian states like Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, to the democratization and collectivization of Europe, the story of the 20th Century has been one of power in all its forms. If Herr Holten wishes to explore that in the context of Wagner's Ring, then he is fulfilling the subtext of the music-dramas better than any silly, half-witted minimalist approach (pace, A.C.).

As to feminism, I can say only this: from Senta to Brünnhilde to Kundry, the power of women in Wagner's opera cannot be underestimated. Das Rheingold shows what happens when men make bargains, shutting out their female peers. Die Walküre shows that only women provide salvation from the corruption of the bourgeois men - through disobedience (i.e., self-empowerment). Sieglinde disobeys Hunding and "natural law" and Brünnhilde disobeys her father, or the traditional patriarchal power dichotomy. Siegfried makes it clear that a man can only be a man, i.e., know fear and overcome it, through the other - the female (as opposed to the effeminate, represented by Mime). Whether Götterdämmerung ends in an Immolation Scene or a birthing scene, it is a catharsis brought about by a woman. Now, we could explore the other operas, and even the other women in the Ring, but I think that I have made my point.

On one level, Wagner's Ring shows both what happens when women are disempowered and how empowered women can solve the problem. Brünnhilde, not Siegfried, cleanses the world. That should be all I need to say. However, I won't be starting my own car for a while now.


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