Friday, July 21, 2006

Misread mythos.

A.C. Douglas links to this article in Harper's.

Kevin Baker wrote, perhaps, one of the more-incomprehensible analyses of Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen. Here is a quick quote:

The Siegfried legend in particular, though, has nuances that would mesh perfectly with right-wing mythology in the twentieth century, both in Germany and in the United States. At the end of Wagner’s Ring Cycle, the downfall of the gods is followed by the rise of the Germanic people. The mythological hero has been transformed into the volk, just as heroic stature is granted to the modern state. Siegfried is killed just after revealing an unwelcome truth—much as the right, when pressed for evidence about its conspiracy theories, will often claim that these are hidden truths their enemies have a vested interest in concealing. Hagen, as a half-breed, an outsider posing as a friend, stands in for something worse yet—the assimilated Jew, able to betray the great warrior of the volk by posing as his boon companion.

Give me a break. Please. As "benighted" as some of my comments about Wagner and his Ring cycle can be (i.e., postmodern interpretation), I would probably not hold these thoughts. As much as I enjoy interpreting Wagner, I can honestly say this is a candidate for "dumbest thing I've ever heard."

While I am happy to discuss Wagner's intent - based on my reading (among others) of his text and score - I am inclined to say that Mr. Baker's interpretation is so wildly errant that it should never have seen the light of day. One can get out of Wagner's work a meditation on power, the will-to-power, love, or (in a particularly Marxist bent) a discussion on class struggle. Not that I am now endorsing any of those interpretations. However, this sort of "Deutschland erwache" nonsense is so far-removed from Wagner's text that it's ludicrous. Almost offensively so. No production of any dramatic merit, from Harry Kupfer's 1992 Bayreuth staging to Wagner's own in 1876, has bothered to assume Mr. Baker's point. That should say something.

Had Mr. Baker bothered to do any cursory research, he would have learned that Hitler and his National Socialist arts commissars banned complete performances of Parsifal (edit: this sentence originally referenced the Ring and I made the correction), which Mr. Baker also referenced - as I recall, though I might be wrong - during the war. Allied forces broadcasted Götterdämmerung to the Wehrmacht and SS forces to demoralize them. One should not assume in Hitler's enthusiasm for Wagner (a monumental misfortune for Wagnerians since) that there is any real consonance between Wagner's vision and NSDAP policies. Far from it, really.

I can understand his desire to tie Wagner to rightist elements, gravely mistaken as it is, but if you're going to do that, you're going to have to take both Wagner and the rightists at their own face value. Those face values are not equivalent, and Wagner most assuredly would not have appreciated Mr. Baker's nonsensical-to-the-point-of-destructive approach.

Here is Mr. Douglas' post.


At 3:05 PM, Blogger A.C. Douglas said...

You wrote: Had Mr. Baker bothered to do any cursory research, he would have learned that Hitler and his National Socialist arts commissars banned complete performances of the Ring during the war.

I think you're confusing this with the ban on performances of Parsifal during the war years, not the Ring.


At 5:23 PM, Blogger Patrick J. Smith said...

Right-O, I will make the correction. Thanks.


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