Tuesday, June 26, 2007

From Der Fall Wagner

A brief excerpt from Der Fall Wagner, Nietzsche's 1888 critique (though that's too mild a word) of Wagner. I "like" Nietzsche Contra Wagner more, but when you're in terra incognita, you can make such judgments. You don't know enough to be wrong. I also don't know the text well enough to correct the errors I "see" in The Nietzsche Channel's translation, here's section 4, though:
I shall relate the story of the "Ring." It belongs here. It, too, is a story of redemption: only this time it is Wagner who is redeemed.— Half his life, Wagner believed in the Revolution as much as ever a Frenchman believed in it. He searched for it in the runic writing of myth, he believed that in Siegfried he had found the typical revolutionary.— "Whence comes all misfortune in the world?" Wagner asked himself. From "old contracts," he answered, like all revolutionary ideologists. In plain language: from customs, laws, moralities, institutions, from everything on which the old world, the old society rests. "How can one rid the world of misfortune? How can one abolish the old society?" Only by declaring war against "contracts" (tradition, morality). This is what Siegfried does. He starts early, very early: his very genesis is a declaration of war against morality—he comes into this world through adultery, through incest ... It is not the saga but Wagner who invented this radical trait; at this point he revised the saga ... Siegfried continues as he has begun: he merely follows his first impulse, he overthrows everything traditional, all reverence, all fear. Whatever displeases him he stabs to death. Without the least respect, he tackles old deities. But his main enterprise aims to emancipate woman—"to redeem Brünnhilde" ... Siegfried and Brünnhilde; the sacrament of free love; the rise of the golden age; the twilight of the gods for the old morality—all ill has been abolished ... For a long time, Wagner's ship followed this course merrily. No doubt, this was where Wagner sought his highest goal.— What happened? A misfortune. The ship struck a reef; Wagner was stuck. The reef was Schopenhauer's philosophy; Wagner was stranded on a contrary world view. What had he transposed into music? Optimism. Wagner was ashamed. Even an optimism for which Schopenhauer had coined an evil epithet—infamous optimism. He was ashamed a second time. He reflected for a long while, his situation seemed desperate ... Finally, a way out dawned on him: the reef on which he was shipwrecked, what if he interpreted it as the goal, as the secret intent, as the true significance of his voyage? To be shipwrecked here—that was a goal, too. Bene navigavi, cum naufragium feci ... So he translated the "Ring" into Schopenhauer's terms. Everything goes wrong, everything perishes, the new world is as bad as the old:the nothing, the Indian Circe beckons ... Brünnhilde was initially supposed to take her farewell with a song in honor of free love, putting off the world with the hope for a socialist utopia in which "all turns out well," but now gets something else to do. She has to study Schopenhauer first; she has to transpose the fourth book of "The World as Will and Representation" into verse. Wagner was redeemed ... In all seriousness, this was a redemption. The benefit Schopenhauer conferred on Wagner is immeasurable. Only the philosopher of décadence gave to the artist of décadence himself
[N.B. Some of the errors I "see," I leave as they stand, seeing them in the German text as presented. Some, like a misspelling of "Brünnhilde," I corrected as it wasn't present in the German] (See, kids? Being most of the way to an A.B. in Classics pays off - you can do fun stuff like that.)

Here's the German original, and if you "do" German, then it might be a little easier for you to slog through it. Kaufmann, though, was always readable - even when Nietzsche was flirting with being incomprehensible.

There it is, if you want it. I just put it up here to give you a better idea of Nietzsche's criticism of Wagner.


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