The Ring and Me
Terry went a long way to getting his blog back on my links bar with this post.
Not because it's better than anything I could have said, but because Terry is - by training - a psychologist and a theologian. I, in contrast, am a classicist and a mathematician (shades of Boulez, I know). My work in the classics, such as I have any work, has been in philology and textual analysis. Terry, then, brings an unique and intelligent perspective to things that I lack. I am less-acquainted with Jung and the rest of the structuralists like Lévi-Strauss. I come to the Ring with a big bag of textual and analytical tricks, and I'll admit a tendency to seek to break Wagner's mythology over my knee like a text to be translated and analyzed. As though Wagner's mythology is as simple as a passage of Caesar or Cicero. Of course, that implies that I, firstly, have any business presuming to be intelligent-enough to break Wagner's work "over my knee" (I know I most assuredly don't); and, secondly, whether I am committing sacrilege by presuming to analyze Wagner's literature (I likely am). So, that's my handicap - irrelevant as it may be to the rest of this post.
I am going to deal with Terry's incisive analysis of Tankred Dorst's supremely confusing production of the Ring this season at Bayreuth. The part I find interesting begins thus:
And so, it would seem Herr Dorst believes there is. Of course, at the same time, one can't help but notice the Jungian/Campbellian aspect to the staging. The characters are archetypes of our collective unconscious (i.e. two worlds cohabitating, unseen), forever enacting the Eternal Return. Kupfer's [Ring] at Bayreuth also suggested this, in his own weird sci-fi mythic way. For Dorst, placing the action (seemingly) in the subconscious human world does the same.
The point with archetypes is that they don't need a frame-of-reference. The characters are so universal and recognizable that they are entities sui generis. The universal drama of the Ring, such as it is, must - necessarily - be beyond the vagaries of humanity and human life. The action happens on the mythological scale, which can involve humans, but has to be bigger than humans. That's the point. This much I know from my own work.
Now, as to the Eternal Return, where is it in Wagner's text? Kupfer introduced it, Everding (in Chicago) made it obvious, but I don't think Wagner wrote it in to the score. The sacrifice of the Immolation Scene works - it is drama as Wagner intended - only if it really does purify everything. Now, I understand that Wagner lost control, so to speak, of Wotan and Siegfried - allowing them to become something else wrecking the original framework of the cycle. However, assuming the Ring makes dramatic sense, there can be no Eternal Return. The end has to be the end. The sin has to be cleansed in a Messianic act of self-sacrifice. The archetype has to fulfill its duty.
Then, he writes:
In this way, Dorst gives some sense of hope back to humanity. I'm just as much of a fan of Kultur [Terry means, I think, Regietheater, which some would be loath to call Kultur - pjs] as anyone else, especially of the Chereau [Ring,] but not unlike liberation or feminist theology, when you take something that strives for or encompasses the divine, and reduce it to the purely socio-economic level, you loose something of the transcendence of the work. By placing the work back into the subconscious (or collective unconscious), a concept of transcendence returns, perhaps not in a divine way, but metaphysically. The story and the themes do not encompass just one culture, but all of them, transcending time. In a way, it takes our mediocre and mundane existence, and through participation (unseen or not), redeems it. We are no longer just lost shells scattered throughout time.
Fair enough. However, that seems to want it both ways. The Ring is mythic, archetypal, and transcendent. But: our participation - thanks to Herr Dorst - redeems us. I'm sorry, but the drama of the Ring, as Wagner wrote it, redeems us. In Wagner's mythology, the twilight of the gods purged the earth of their sin. We were left, for better or worse, with a clean slate and the message of their fall. What has happened since then, that is our doing alone. And, Wagner seems to warn with archetypes: if we make their mistakes, we become liable to their end.
Wagner wrote a world-encompassing and world-shattering cycle with the Ring. He put it beyond the realm of human events, into the realm of mythology and the truly monumental, for a reason. The idea is that it serves, like all mythology, as an explanation for how "we" got "here." Wagner seems to be offering us both a rationale and an example. To profane this sacred drama by putting it in the realm of humanity, as though it is just happening "beyond" the visible realm is silly (to me). Wagner built, destroyed, and showed us an entire world. It should be left in the universe he designed - the one of archetype and myth.