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CLASSICAL  August 2000

CLASSICAL August 2000

Subject:

Re: Why is Wagner Problematic?

From:

Satoshi Akima <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Tue, 29 Aug 2000 22:29:01 +1000

Content-Type:

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Parts/Attachments:

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Robert Peters wrote in response to me:

>What Mann is saying is that Romanticism (in contrary to Goethe
>and Schiller, who are - Mats, attention!  - have nothing to do with
>Romanticism) always has a tendency towards the TOTAL and ABSOLUTE and
>so leave the social and human limits.

No that is NOT what Mann is saying at all.  I recommend reading his essays.
Mann never uses the expression 'total' or 'absolute' anywhere in his
attacks on Wagner.  What he does explicitly state is that:

   National Socialism means: I do not care for the social issue at all.
   What I want is the folk-tale.

He also states that this is ALSO the aesthetic of German 'Romanticism',
and especially of Wagner.  His argument is that Wagner's art represents a
'romantic' escapism into 'folk tales' away from the social realities of his
time.  He accuses the German Spirit of a resultant political naivety which
sowed the seeds for the rise of totalitarianism in Germany.

>>If so then Goethe too is National Socialist through and through.
>>His is the same Romantic escapism from socio-political reality.
>
>That is simply not true, Satoshi.  Goethe was minister in Weimar, his duty
>was to care for socio-political reality.  His whole life he distinguished
>carefully between art and reality.

Mann's accusation is that unlike say Dickens, Wagner failed to address
the immediate socio-political concerns of his time THROUGH HIS ART.  My
point is that Goethe does not exactly do this either, any more than Mozart,
Weber, or Mahler.  My argument is that an artist cannot be accused of
advocating totalitarian ideologies merely because his art does not address
immediate socio-political concerns.  You cannot accuse an artist of Nazism
because he wrote an opera about fairies (Die Feen!), ancient folk-legends
(the Ring), or EVEN about wagering your soul to the devil (Faust).

Of course it I have already argued once at length that Wagner does raise
socio-political issues in his works not addressed to immediate political
issues but to broader issues, addressed more philosophically that it is in
my opinion simply not possible to convert into the ideology of a political
party.

Goethe said:

>"If you want to reach the unlimited you have to fully explore
>the limited." The Romanticists do not buy that.

I think Wagner would not have disagreed with Goethe here.  As you can see
Goethe did not say 'I agree with Kant' that the 'unlimited' (das An-sich,
the itself or, das Absolut, the Absolute etc) is unreachable.  He is saying
that it IS reachable but by way of the 'limited', rather than by bypassing
it.  This is the same sort of distortion of the greatest 19th century
German writers which leads to the notorious mistranslation of Hegel's (the
thinker par excellence of the Absolute) words from "The Foundation of the
Philosophy of Right":  "die Staat ist des ganges Gottes in der Welt" (the
state is the way of God in the world) into "the state is the march of God
through the world".  The suggestion is that some sort of 'Absolute'
totalitarian state ignores the 'human and social limits' and tramples it
brutally underfoot.

>They deliberately leave the human limits, they even, what Nietzsche
>so clear-sightedly criticized, prefer death to life - and fall prey
>to totalitarian movements who also do not tolerate any limits.

Nietzsche too is being grossly misquoted here:  his is a critique of the
Wagnerian/Schopenhauerian pessimism about the human condition, and it's
dominion by the Blind Will.  Hans Sach in Die Meistersinger realising this
says:

   Madness! Madness!
   Everywhere madness!
   Thereby I searchingly look,
   into chronicles of cities and worlds,
   to seek the reason
   why, to the point of drawing blood,
   people torment and ill-treat each other
   in pointless rabid rage!
   (Act III Die Meistersinger von Nuernberg)

>There are similarities between Wagner's priestly pose and
>Hitler's priestly pose and Mann was so astute to see that.

The madness of the 'blind quest for power' (Machtwahn) is what Mann
astutely points out is what the Ring is all about back in 1937.  If this
is what Wagner 'preaches', then I fail to see what is so Hitlerian about
this.  In fact this involves a direct questioning of the essence of the
human condition.  It has nothing to do with trampling it underfoot.

>Goethe has nothing, NOTHING to do with the Romanticist movement.  In fact
>he did everything to get the Romanticists (who admired Goethe) off his
>back.  Every literary history of German literature will tell you that.

I thought this issue would come up!  This really depends entirely on
how one defines 'Romanticism.' The problem then is that neither Goethe
nor Wagner formulated anything aesthetic position regarding this term
'Romantic,' any more than Mozart or Haydn wrote about 'Classicism'.  If
you rigidly define Romanticism as a complete belief in the Absolute then
Weber, Brahms, Schumann, R Strauss amongst many others for example would
no longer be Romantics.  Also if the literary 'Sturm und Drang' movement
were Romantic then this goes back to the days of CPE Bach:  that is it
would pre-date Goethe.  I have repeatedly argued that these terms such as
Romantic, Classicist really are just pigeon holes of convenience.  I have
heard it argued that Wagner is not a Romantic but a neo-Romantic which
really does highlight the hollow meaninglessness of these terms.  And I
could easily come up with an eloquent argument as to why Wagner is not a
Romantic but a 'Modernist'.  I have also heard Hegel pigeon holed as a
German Romantic Idealist thinker - yet chronologically he was an exact
contemporary of Beethoven.  And again one can then enter into endless
meaningless debate as to whether Beethoven is a 'Romantic' or not.  I
should also say that Goethe was influenced by thinkers such as Schelling
who is often grouped together with Hegel as a 'Romantic' thinker.
Goethe also became friends with Schopenhauer, another supposed 'Romantic
Idealist.' MY POINT IS THIS:  it is not possible to conveniently separate
out Wagner and Goethe by artificially forcing them into different pigeon
holes.

In contrast Mann says "there is but one Germany, not two, not a good and
an evil," while at the same time having previously said "Denn dies beides
sind ja wir, - Goethe und Wagner, beides ist Deutschland/ Then both are us,
Goethe and Wagner, both are Germany." So even if he will not say so, if
one really does follow Mann it really can only be a damnation not of just
Wagner but of Goethe, Beethoven, Hegel, Mahler, Schopenhauer or any other
representative of the 'German spirit' one may care to name.

It is true that Hegel did use the term das Absolut (the absolute) in his
philosophy.  That does not mean that all 'Romanticism' is by definition
Hegelian.  Far from it.  Nor does that make Hegel a thinker of the
totalitarian state.  Hegel was in my opinion a profound thinker of the
human social condition.  He saw no opposition but rather harmonious union
between the human social condition and das Absolut.  Similarly I have shown
that Wagner too is a deep thinker about the human social and psychological
condition.  I have repeatedly rejected the perverse National Socialist
interpretation of Wagner which again and again is accorded a deep reverence
it does not deserve.  Thus Michael Rose wrote:

>So, perhaps the reason people are "hysterical" about Wagner is
>that his music promotes anti-Semitism.

No the real problem is that we pay excessive homage to the sort of
hysterical propagandist nonsense expounded by the National Socialists
about him.  I will repeat that I have no respect for them and utterly
reject their anti-Semitic '(Rassentheorie') interpretations of his art.
It worries me that people are still not able to see through the nonsense
that they came up about Wagner and uncritically swallow everything they
say.  I agree with Mann that the idea behind the Ring is not that all
Jews should be murdered, or Germany purged of them etc.  For all the vigour
of his attacks on Wagner Mann thankfully never degenerates to that sort
of mindless ranting - in fact he never ONCE even vaguely suggests that
Wagner's music-dramas contain anti-Semitic ideas!  It is because they don't
contain any worth ranting about.  No, Mann was right in previously saying
back in 1937 that the madness of the blind quest for power (Machtwahn) is
what the essence of the Ring is.  What could be more anti-Hilterian than
that.

>You are polemical, Satoshi, and you know it.

No it is not I who indulges in polemic or blind hero worship.  I am merely
trying to clear up a terrible misunderstanding which I feel was born of the
appalling misuse of Wagner for the purpose of political propaganda.  I have
never even regarded Wagner as my favourite composer.  But when you see such
terrible distortions of Wagner being spread I just feel obliged to speak
out in protest.

Satoshi Akima

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