November 2020 News

November 2020 newsletter with links on TODO
2019-12-262020-11-26 notes certainty: log importance: 0

This is the edi­tion of the newslet­ter; pre­vi­ous, (). This is a sum­mary of the revi­sion-his­tory RSS feed, over­lap­ping with my & ; brought to you by my donors on Patreon.







  • (Wag­n­er; of ) (Met, )

  • Siegfried, we learn, is con­gen­i­tally immune to fear and unable to under­stand even what it is. Such dis­abil­i­ties are not unheard of, and are typ­i­cally due to brain dam­age, such as genetic muta­tions or pre­na­tal trau­ma. In Siegfried’s case, while his pre­na­tal care was shock­ingly lack­ing and his deliv­ery cir­cum­stances in a dark for­est were prim­i­tive at best, a genetic eti­ol­ogy from a homozy­gous muta­tion appears more likely given his sta­tus as an of an Æsir/human cross and then a sib­ling mat­ing—a sit­u­a­tion prac­ti­cally cal­cu­lated to simul­ta­ne­ously max­i­mize & .

    Mime is unable to teach Siegfried fear with his crude behav­ioral inter­ven­tions (although we can note that in such cas­es, the sep­a­rate fear reflex , so Siegfried likely could have been able to learn fear by stran­gling rather slay­ing). Unsur­pris­ing­ly, like most such cas­es, Siegfried is poorly equipped for the real world, and not long after leav­ing the high­ly-con­trolled envi­ron­ment & over­sight of his legal guardian, Siegfried dies with a net inclu­sive fit­ness of 0, hav­ing been unable to pru­dently nav­i­gate human social dynam­ics.

    The death of Siegfried may seem trag­ic, but we should note that this is how nat­ural selec­tion removes such severely dis­abling muta­tions from the gene pool, and in lieu of mod­ern med­ical inter­ven­tions & any under­stand­ing of genet­ics, this was per­haps the best that could be done under the medieval cir­cum­stances. I applaud Wag­ner for illus­trat­ing the sub­tle mech­a­nisms through which selec­tion oper­ates and how even appar­ent banes like fear & cow­ardice are in fact boons.

  • The end­ing is eas­ier to describe who sur­vives than who dies1; some of the humans sur­vive, the Rhine Maid­ens receive their gold back, and pretty much every­one else is dead or implied to die when Loki, at Brünnhilde’s charge, pre­sum­ably sets Val­halla on fire (Odin hav­ing heaped up fire­wood around it). Fur­ther, the flood­ing of the Rhine wipes the slate clean, the hoard of the Nibelungs is lost in the drag­on’s cave, Val­halla is rub­ble, Odin’s treaties are all abro­gat­ed. It is a Göt­ter­däm­merung, but curi­ous­ly, it is not the one described at all in the Eddas (there is no hint of res­ur­rec­tion, or the gods wak­ing up and dis­cov­er­ing, mys­te­ri­ous­ly, their old chess set lay­ing on the ground). For all his tex­tual research to cre­ate a palimpsest, Wag­ner resorts to this as an end­ing. There is no nar­ra­tion; no char­ac­ter like Erda tells us what to think; nei­ther Siegfried nor Brünnhilde ascend to heaven in a redeem­ing Chris­tian­iz­ing gloss as we might expect of the cre­ator of Par­si­fal, The Fly­ing Dutch­man, Tannhäuser, or Lohen­grin. Despite the many hours we have now invested lis­ten­ing to char­ac­ter explain things at often enor­mous length, we are left alone. Every­thing fades out to mean­der­ing, quiet music that passes away.

    What does it mean? What does all this music amount to? Surely Wag­ner did not mean his mag­num opus to be merely a show­case for his music and opera singers (or a stand­ing chal­lenge to opera houses to be able to per­form the cycle). The Bayreuth Fes­ti­val was sup­posed to be a sec­u­lar sacra­ment for the mod­ern Ger­man man, annu­ally com­bin­ing his national her­itage with all the arts to trans­form him. So what does it mean?

    I’m com­forted to that Wag­ner appears to have been just as uncer­tain as I was, going through : Odin’s plan suc­ceeds as the Ring is returned, the Nibelungs lib­er­at­ed, and the happy pair ascend to Val­hal­la, redeem­ing the gods’ sin and end­ing the cycle of theft/inheritance. Or, they ascend, but the gods now depart, pow­er­less and replaced by their moral supe­ri­or, Siegfried. Or, all must per­ish in fire, and humans rule thence­forth. Or, the ver­sion has Brünnhilde is enlight­ened by her suffer­ings, and lib­er­ated from the wheel of rein­car­na­tion, leav­ing behind the old order, which has been erased. Or, final­ly, her speech is dropped, and there is just the music. If we trust Wikipedia, the end­ing would seem to have a quite defin­i­tive mean­ing:

    Although Wag­ner never set either the Schopen­hauer­ian or the Feuer­bachian lines, he did include them as foot­notes in the final printed edi­tion of the text, together with a note to the effect that while he pre­ferred the Schopen­hauer­ian lines, he declined to set them because their mean­ing was bet­ter expressed by the music alone.

    Her part of the tale is ele­vated from, as Tolkien remarked of , “only in the back­ground of the tale, a brief and ter­ri­ble storm begin­ning in fire and end­ing in it”2, to the skele­ton key for the cycle: she lit­er­ally ends the cycle (of cor­rup­tion, strug­gle, and betray­al) with her enlight­en­ment.

    Like Taka­hata’s final anime The Tale of the Princess Kaguya, the Ring warns us of the self­-de­feat­ing nature of desire: taken too far, what is virtue becomes vice; what should be a bless­ing, is a bane. Gold is beau­ti­ful, and Das Rhein­gold opens with rhap­sodies about its beau­ty, but this beauty causes far greater ugli­ness. Wag­n­er’s Odin worked for the sake of pow­er, for build­ing Val­halla and bind­ing the world with his treaties and imped­ing poten­tial rivals who might use the Rhi­negeld’s pow­er; it is admirable to strive for great­ness, to defend one­self and one’s own, and to build things for the ages, but what did Odin sac­ri­fice to do so? Odin did­n’t sac­ri­fice quite like Albrecht, but he sac­ri­ficed his hon­or, then his good rela­tion­ship with his wife, then his chil­dren & grand­chil­dren. The result of all his work was futil­i­ty: betray­al, incest, mis­ery, fire, destruc­tion of his works, and death for all. Lesser char­ac­ters like­wise throw away what they had by lust­ing for more, to receive, in the end, the noth­ing of death. Only Brünnhilde—who acts out of com­pas­sion by tak­ing pity on the suffer­ing, refus­ing com­plic­ity in cru­el­ty—escapes the lure of the Ring, and the (seem­ing­ly) end­less cycle of schemes and revenge, vengeance, greed, betray­al, etc. The Ring cycle illus­trates the harm­ful con­se­quences of crav­ing (par­tic­u­larly for pow­er), the need for com­pas­sion in the face of the imper­ma­nence of all things, and how to escape suffer­ing through accep­tance.

    An apoc­a­lypse puts every­thing in per­spec­tive. The thun­der rages and the light­ning burns, but the mut­ter­ing storm too shall fade and pass away: all things, even the gods, come to an end. The earth is cleansed, a new day begins, the gods dis­cover their old chess pieces lay­ing in the fresh green grass, and the viewer walks out of the the­ater in the sud­den­ly-bright sun­light, feel­ing, some­how, wiser and younger.

  • (1968)

  • (2014)









  1. Odd­ly, appar­ently Alberich sur­vives. I find this untidy, and I pre­fer to imag­ine (given his gen­eral absence from the phys­i­cal action & spec­tral appear­ance dur­ing his lec­ture to his son, in “Hagen’s Watch”) that he died of old age or long­ing some­time before.↩︎

  2. As quoted by Christo­pher Tolkien, pg 55, The Leg­end of Sig­urd and Gudrún, J.R.R. Tolkien 2012. Christo­pher sources it to “Oxford lec­tures”; all Inter­net quotes of it seem to post­date 2012 and stem from it, so those lec­tures appear unpub­lished.↩︎