Wotan Envy, (or why Rossini isn’t good enough.)
This essay begins in 1958, as far as I know; for I have no evidence other than the inaccuracies of memory and other pieces of circumstance that I can piece together. It begins listening to a broadcast of 1958 Bayreuth performance of Richard Wagner’s Ring cycle. Much later I came to know that I had in all probability shared the experience with Edward Said. In his memoirs he tells us that it was in 1958 that he went to the Bayreuth for the first time and listened to the operas there; so it is possible that, as I lay by the family `radiogram for hours and days on end, we did so together. It’s an appealing idea, a high-bourgeois Christian Palestinian installed in the aloofly fetid discomfort of the Festspielhaus and, some ten years his junior, a half-Alexandrian, English born Jew, sharing this sound and language, a cross-grain of the Levantine and western civilisations that had nourished us in French or Arabic or English.
To think about this now is to confound the Wagnerian leitmotif with enigma of deferred action, an in(de)terminable anaphora (sounding new on each listening) of something that I can never prove to have happened. For many years after 1958 I had a recurrent dream that I was going onto a vast and empty stage to sing Wotan, without either the words or the music committed to my memory, and without ever having been able to sing in tune. Somehow I muddled through against the surge of orchestral sound and seemed to let no one down too badly – a life allegory perhaps; and the dream has stopped since my first visit to Bayreuth. So it lasted until 2001, and I do not know what else might have ended with it.
The sounds were exotic and other, in the non-exotic meaning of this word; or Other as we were to come to put it, though at that age, then, it was a not a concept to come to mind, and does so now only only as a perversion or purification of the memory: as if it had felt like something other to oneself. A sound so far away and physically present, already like an old recording with its burden of nostalgia and period style, but built out of the boxy sonorities of reproduction, with its gloss and boominess and the slight buzz of the plastic gilt-trimmed veneers and sliding doors of the radiogram, a sound itself soon to become period with the diffusion of stereophony and my eventual purchase of more sophisticated equipment. It is radically unlike Theodor Adorno’s fantasmagorie concept, in his Versuch uber Wagner, but also its impossibly identical twin; perhaps exactly because if, as Adorno argues, ‘[L]e temps s’arrête fantasmagoriquement par l’absence de véritable progression harmonique’(p.117) – then, in its stopping of time, the sounding of my experience itself was Elsa’s Knight: ‘In lichter Waffen Scheine ein Ritter nahte da...’, and I was Elsa. Hearing all of that saved me, from something (provincial?), and for an interest in the world beyond the `radiogram.
This sets a distance between my hearing and Adorno’s Versuch … the figuring of which is must scar what is to follow, even as I share with Adorno his repulsion from and attraction to the object. But like the operas themselves Adorno’s writings on Wagner (as well as some other subjects) repel me as well as attract. There is something obstinate and obdurate about them, a sense of immense critical clarity in the making of a proper theoretical complexity and also a sense of some deep repression or bad faith concerning pleasure and the figure of the musical expert; something that is very clear too in his pages on Colette in Aesthetic Theory.(pop up Colette) In cultural studies or critical theory the writings of Nietzsche or an Adorno, a Lacoue-Labarthe, a Huyssen, a Badiou or a Zizek –to name just the men, and then a Lydia Goehr to begin the shorter list, come to stand in for the music itself, or rather for listening to it. It is these texts that import, and Wagner on acccount of their status in the instantiation of a set of critical paradigms that are rendered autonomous – by and large – of the perfomance or of the score, or of any other kind of music for that matter, unless it is Beethoven. Yet even if in Wagner(or Beethoven) studies they are a drop in the ocean, they are the drops in which we have chosen to swim or drown ourselves. I add this late in the making of my essay because, in what has become its grim and obsessional course, I have come to want something else. Not to plea for a humble priority of experience or uneducated pleasure, but for an altogether other ground of criticism. Oddly a figure for this might just be Schoenberg’s transcriptions of Strauss waltzes made for the Vienna Concert Society, and Peter Szendi has shown the significance of rewriting in the history of audition from the interior of Mozart’s operas to Liszt’s transcriptions and the contemporary DJ.
Yet to return to what should have come next: there is, of course, very little ‘real harmonic progression’ in the third movement of Beethoven’s opus 135 and, if anything, Beethoven’s glory for Adorno resides in just how little this interests him here in the unfolding of music at its limits of its materiality, any more than it does in the rather sickly Missa Solemnis. The same kind of insight will go for Mahler, who may also be ahead of his time in his compulsion to a ‘regressive’ symphonic form; or not quite of his time; or rather of his time in modes which do not quite correspond to Wagner’s but that are closer to Beethoven’s. Unlike Wagner, neither Mahler nor Beethoven appeal to a meretricious concept of musical progression or drama, and here it is hard not to converge with Adorno - though one should argue that the material and social conditions for their music exist in the same way as they do for Wagner, and that his music can hardly be shown to be either more more or less appropriate to them; rather they are on the right side of the appropriate, while Wagner, despite his immense achievement, for much of the time is not. Beethoven is a Balzac of musical form, Wagner its Ponson du Terrail or even its Jackie Collins?
Pierre Boulez, on the contrary, thinks of Wagner’s work on the motifs as an exploration of the late Beethoven’s work on variation, that, in their theatrical purpose, are very far from the original, while nonetheless ‘relying on the extreme individuality of the model’.(p.224) What Adorno sees as separate Boulez sees as inseperable, and this arises from a particular practice (of performance) that itself is autonomous of any explication of a specific historical adequacy. Boulez’ interepretation or exection, we might say, is anyway a rough equivalent to what the work of art should be for Adorno. His 1976 Ring directed by Patrice Chéreau is usually taken as starting point for a contemporary rethinking of the Tetralogy in the way that some artists’ work is taken as being the begining of a movement or a tendency of which iot was anyway a symptom. Seen today on DVD it looks strikingly respectful of Wagnerian history as a possible social history, perhaps more so that Wieland Wagner’s post-war abstractions, even though it would seem to fulfill Adorno’s own desire for a radical restaging of our time. And in some way Boulez’ essays are its most significant remainder.
So consider this in the meanwhile: that the historical conditions of listening, then and since, in their evolution and my tracking of them in different places and conditions of a life, are odder and more open to random rearragnement than Adorno’s structures might allow for. As is well enough known one of the motifs in the Ring occurs only twice, the erlösung phrase. Once when Sieglinde thanks Brunnhilde in Act 2 of Walküre, for sending her off to the east, and once just before the Cycle closes as Brunnhilde sings her last phrases. The last part of Walkure, the whole of Siegfried and all but a few minutes of Gotterdammerung go by before its second sounding, a sounding that Carolyn Abbate sees as key to Brunnhilde’s understanding of her own participation in the drama, the key to her final understanding of its endless repetitions and resumés. That is that in this protracted beat, and I am saying that the motifs as a whole set constitute a rythmic structure, open, fluid, variable and accoustic rather than metric, which is not a beat: or it is one protracted bar in 2:2 time; and to hear it one has to listen at least twice to the whole Cycle, even to be sure that it it does not occur even once before Sieglinde sings it, in order to understand that, as a beat, it suspends the self of the listener much as the unconscious does, in an uncanny moment. It is a supension of the breath (or to borrow a phrase from Boulez in his Penser la musique aujourd’hui , the cutting of a space), whose holding is only realised when it is at last released. Debussy puts it into one short phrase in Pelléas when the hero sings: ‘ah je respire enfin’ as he emerges from his nightmarish journey through the ancestral caves with Golaud. Here singing and listening are at once an oxymoron and a catachresis in the absolute and abusive identification of the enunciation with an in-breath.
Mahler, in Adorno’s account of the Scherzo of the Seventh Symphony, briefly achieves something simliar in the haunting, magical phrase that is extinguished by the orchestration in two bare occurences – the composer’s most beautiful melody, Adorno calls it, and it’s hard not agree. It suspends the self much as the 136 beats per minute of a techno track, with its internal confounding of the relation between melody and the instruments of rhythm, that holds the subject of the club dancer or the cruiser in a gay bar for example, in the time of waiting for the rupture of an ending, or a finding. While, in the light of Hegel’s discussion of measure and repetition I have some doubts about this argument, I do want to sustain that the extreme rapidity of the one matches not so much the slowness of the other as its radical absence of speed. And between the two is the Handelian chorus or a Rossini sextet which, in the very physicality of their demand and tremulous presence in mezzo and basso voices try, marvellously, to pretend that breath(tremolo, vibrato) is the suture of the sound, the unbroken thread which holds the drives as if they were melodic. In returning to Hegel again, and his belief in the superiority of the human voice to any other sound, my grouping of these five beats and breaths is outside the remit of Adorno’s dialectic; but it is also a history, perfectly materialist if you wish, of listening as an embodied practice or as a perfomance. It’s(my choice) being so alien to Adorno is not just a regression to Hegel, but also suggests how much the ground has shifted since he wrote, but the persistent historicity of its fragments also shows how that ground was never quite solid.
In the end, then, if the affect of my 1958 turns out to be like one of the many moments Adorno seizes upon in Wagner’s work to establish the complete tautology of the myth that forms the music that hides its own production, then it is already too late, always too late to be saved from some affective ‘error’. Too late because the radioapparat is ineluctably the bringer of an already ambivalent experience, of the bitter pleasure of knowing the very worst, as the exiled Eisler so eloquently set it on one of his Brecht settings of 1932. And it’s too late because, as Adorno tightens the noose around Wagner’s submission to the commodity in the Fantasmagorie and Drama chapters, he pre-invents a Debordian forclosure on the random affect of the text, and we live after that knowing that it does not efface the development or actions of the unconscious. (And, again, it’s always too late in matters of the heart.)
(Even though Wagner himself can only end, or stop, an opera because he seems to believe that an ending might always be in time or at least be timely! [For Adorno the ending of the Ring is out of time, because Wagner’s project has run beyond the value of his earlier musical inventions(the leitmoven), which now impede its resolution. This is why for him Siegfried remains the best, the most difficult and the least loved of the Cycle. Its architecture and its details most correspond to each other in their radicalness.] Boulez confirms this differently in his own discussion of Götterdämmerung, quoting a letter of Wagner to Cosima, ‘[t]here is no end to music, it is like the genesis of things, it can always start again at the beginning, pass to the other side, but finished, it never is’.(p.219) Boulez goes on to conclude his exploration of the Walhalla motif by showing that ‘[l]’ultime conclusion aura lieu après son anéantissment.’, the whole Cycle concluding with a dreamy memory of a dream with which in almost began, if we take the necessity for Walhalla as a kind of extra-musical and extra-diegetic starting point. This, is, of course, to do with the structure of myth as well as with the character of the trope of anaphora as a form of deferred action.)
And the remaining litany of performers’ names, German, Nordic … Varnay, Windgassen, Hotter, Modl, and the gods and heroes they represented on the stage those afternoons and nights, it’s a mnemonic of imprecision.
But more than this, it is not just the effect of these voices that sounds around the Adornian critique, but other voices too that place Wagner’s sound in the fields of our knowledge, and position it, other music. It has never appeared viable to me to think of Wagner as a writer of the sexual. Of the erotic, yes, and here in a quasi-Adornian sense of the erotic as a form of bourgeois kitsch, the decorative order of representation that not so much hides or sublimates the materials of the drives, but pretends rather that they can be seen. In both Tristan and Isolde’s and Siegfried and Brunnhilde’s love duets the music fakes this delusion and this is one reason why – for me – it seems always to drag and to fall into a descriptive fallacy. The passages are interesting, deeply fascinating, at their best in their apostrophic rather than dialogic moments. But engrossing in their failure to make the sound and the neurosis properly adhere, with the one emphatically and in turn denying the other in a grotesque mismatching, as if wating for mediation; the mediation of a sexual counsellor perhaps. Wagner has a problem with sex, in that it is never hypercathected for him: that is to say it is a literal problem of expression and as such part of the artist’s rather conventional challenge to morality(twaWA). And so, in Julia Kristeva’s sense, it never finds a colour(music) that stands outside either the bourgeois or radical diegetics of overwhelming passion and sexual arousal. This is one reason why a commentator like Roger Scruton can make moralistic hay out of the Tistan-Isolde relation. As I remarked, It is when I listen to Rossini or to Handel – in certain performances, at least - that I hear the form that can be given to the drives in art, ‘[cet] au delà linguistique...’(Baricco, p. 79). In Messiah, for example in William Christie’s shaping of the famous chorus rather than Malcolm Sergent’s, or in Abbado’s Cenerentola (Act 1, ‘Signor, Altezza, è in tavola’). Here we might have to look at timing again, a way of performing that allows form to act out the unspoken; or we could return to the pre-deconstructive, Hegelian model of the voice, found, as we have seen, in Hegel’s own idealising of Rossini and tied to a quality of the bel canto’s grain, of an intense belonging of the virtuoso to the instrument.
Moreover, but in the register of imitation, in Wagner the two chord phrase that immediately precedes Brunnhilde’s awareness of Waltraute’s arriving at in act three of Gotterdammerung is the same as that just after the first bars of the overture and immediately preceding and announcing the arrival of Moses in Act 1 of Rossini’s 1819 version of his eponymous opera. The juxtaposition of these two sounds is an event that is heard only in a strange discrepancy of the time of listening – it might never happen to a listener; while on the printed scores it is banally ever-present. In short the relation
of hearings and listenings is in itself the potential form of a critique, and leads to and from critique in its more conventional sense as a logos. Between them and the music they make a setting.
stuttgart 2002, Gunther returns with Brunnhilde. Luana Devol and Roland Bracht
Despite the allure of the mythic names, and a teenage subjection to Tolkien, I have never had the patience properly to read the Sagas and the Eddas; nor wish that I had, though William Morris’s versions of them at one point seemed politically important. Even the Greek theatre, as crucial to Wagner’s conception of the art-work as to be in Freud’s finding of the unconscious, long left me relatively cool in the face of this marvellous reinvention as I heard it. Yet standing in those haunting, ill-lit libraries of Richard Wagner at Wahnfried or Aby Warbug in Hamburg and Sigmund Freud in London, we will recognise that this is something that links these men; this reading and seeing of myth in distance and uncanny presence; seen in an order on shelves as volumes of comparative mythology and national epics, books of magic or kabbalah or buddhism, embodied in objects photographed, arranged on desks, gathered in albums and maps; simultaneously available and enigmatic, a space of finding and shaping the spaces between ‘self’ and ‘subject’. A configuration in which the undoable imbrication of the words ‘german’ and ‘jew’ is repeatedly contingent and also foundational. (Though here I will evade the question of Germania and its Jewishness and Adorno’s own essay on the matter. )
syberberg parsifal act 3, with poster for his Winifred Wagner, the aporia of critique and fascination linked in the inescapable figure of the operas’ ambivialence and the horror of Haus Wahnfried curated by Winifred.
If making myth present or disclosing its presentness allegorically, symbolically or as procedure, is a work shared by these three and, for example, Thomas Mann in his Joseph and his Brothers, then the eventual emergence of a metacritical elaboration of such a form of knowledge in Lévi-Strauss should remind us that this culture predates deconstruction and differently articulates deferral; or rather I should say that all of these men are conscious of their own para-critique, either in or around their writing or because that this what their writing anyway or in the ambivalence of musical scoring, …whatever. With Lévi-Strauss this famously condenses around the writing of Wagner as a model for his own. So that haunting, here and now, and reoccurence as a distant immediacy, are, in the wider field as text, both palimpsest and anaphora.
That is to say that presence is important, however blissfully deluded for post-Heideggerian philosophy; the potential for presence, in the infinitesimal time of the sound or the appearance of a mytheme, this potential that allows for a structure to be made, even though it is open to Derrida’s critique of having no centre, is at centre of desiring as of making. And so here is a reason why, throughout this piece, I will pay scant attention to its foes, either Lacoue-Labarthe or Zizek, though both stand in the tradition of Wagner philosophising and poetics that extends from Baudelaire into critical theory of culture and politics. I won’t even enter into dialogue with Nietzsche on the weakness of Wagner’s endings, though I will think about where and if the Ring begins (starts) and ends (stops). Yet, as Alain Badiou has recently put it in a useful discussion of the Lacoue-Labarthe, ‘[Donc] Wagner a créé une situation nouvelle quant aux rapports de la philosophie et la musique...’ , though I now want to cast the shadow of excessive particularity over this assertion that I have hinted at above. Nonetheless, the centrality of his work for a field of philosophical reflections on the aesthetic and the social was unprecedented and remains unique, both because of the power of the work and its implication of the crucial concepts of romantic and post romantic thinking. It’s hard to imagine a form of cultural studies and philosophy turning on an axis around Mahler about whom Adorno did write, and even less around Rossini about whom he had nothing much to say!
For all that this does not make the Princesse Metternich, in her ardent defence of Wagner in Paris, into either a poet or a philosopher, nor the nerdy adherents of the Bayreuth pilgrimage into anything more than ordinary opera lovers and snobs. But the princesses and the snobs and nerds have as much right to Wagner as the philosophers and have done
(why not, then, have the courage to do a little semiology of the gay couple at Bayreuth, especially when they arrive with one mother and but two tickets, and observe the intricate rituals of acts sat in and out? It is something I have observed with a devoted fascination, that has consumed me in the overlong intervals when I have downed my dose of bratwurst. I am sure that, at Wahnfried, I caught sight of a yellow-flowered wreath from the Mothers of the Florida Society of Jewish Gay Wagnerians. Identitiy politics are terribly infectious in the workings of an affect as complex as the conjoined one of gaynes and (anti)semitism.To resolve this, I will follow the current essay with a new one entitled Bayreuth, World City?, though this will not engage in any quantitative explorations of these phenomena, but rather with the world inside Margrave Wilhelmina and Wagner himself as forms for a city which is in the world and of the world at different times and in radically different but superposed rhetorical modes.)
as much to sustain his importance and relay his affect, and I will try to remember that I belong to both persuasions; as, I believe, does Badiou himself, and make it visible in my essay.
And while Badiou usefully comments of Zizek,
[Il] existe à ce sujet un texte de Zizek, [...] « La mort de l’opéra ». Je trouve ses considérations sur Wagner, de type herméneutique lacanienne, très intéressantes. Il est remarquable qu’à propos de l’antisémitisme wagnérien, il pose cette question : « Qui est le Juif dans l’œuvre de Wagner ? Qui est le Juif errant en somme ? » et non pas seulement « Qui est le Juif ? » à l’aune des proclamations souvent stupides et tout à fait désastreuses de Wagner sur le rôle social des Juifs. Le Juif errant est un personnage auquel Wagner c’est profondément identifié en réalité : c’est finalement Tannhäuser, c’est Wotan lui-même…,
the push of his approval is towards the rather literal identification of figures at the leve lof the biographically rather than the symptomatically possible. Adorno also writes, apropos of the Song of the Earth, of the Jewishness in Mahler, that it is everywhere and nothing, not this or that melody, but an attitude.
And I think this would work well for Wagner too, to think of his music as Jewish music as much as Mahler’s. But like this: I want to say, along with Lawrence D Mass, for example, that the Jew is here, and now, conducting more often than not; Daniel Brenboim remarks – also Richter; and listening – and also before and alongside Wagner and in the diffuse and grounding structures of his composition. The Jewishness of the music will thus far depend on the identification of the listener. But also I imagine that, in his horrible figuring of what he thought of as the sibilant slobbering of Jewish speech Wagner somehow choked himself, on the idea of the Jew, on the Jew who was Offenbach or Meyerbeer and all the other Jews to whom he was beholden for his sense of self, who stuck in his throat and, like the Jew Alberich, set it all in motion; and that coughing up this Jew, in the oxymoron of exhalation and choking, Wagner found both the leitmotif and the form of the Ring -, which I think of as an over extended exhalation sustained by echoed memories of its own impossiblity. At the same time, this must be why I presume I suffered no abuse in 1958: some kind of auto-immunity?
At the same time I regret this:some desire to have been politically correct and to have hated properly and deeply remains with me as a form of fidelity to those who suffered so terribly from Wagner. An old family friend,for example, now in his 90’s who cannot bear me to go to Bayreuth because as a young doctor in Germany, cultivated, assimilated and lay Jew, he was required to attend a performance of Meistersinger before he could take his higher qualifications. He refused and went into exile, of course. This suddenly becomes more urgent as, while writing this, I have been reading Vikram Seth’s extraordinary work, Two Lives. At one point as he investigates records of deportations in the Yad Vashem archive he becomes incapable, in the face of his own deep pride, of supporting his speaking German, and rejects every sound of a language that could be so perverted as an instrument of destruction. It is a moment of absolute hatred. When I first went to Hamburg, in 1982, to lecture there in the art history seminar, Helena Rosenau asked me to give a message to the (then) younger art historians teaching there, who had written often to ask her to return as a true exile of the Warburg school. Indeed they did ask me if I knew why she never replied to their invitations and I gave them her message: that she would never return; that what she had become and what she had taken with her could never belong to Germany. Eventually she succumbed and did go, giving herself the excuse that she needed to see an architectural drawing in the Kunstverein;
but on arrival she injured herself on a plant pot in the Hauptbahnhof and only saw the inside of the hospital, after which she obeyed her unconscious and returned direct to London. As it happens I detest Meistersinger and do not even have a recording of it. I saw it once at Covent Garden in the ‘70s horribly sung by Fritz Uhl and if the very last line had come at the end of the first act I would have left there and then. Instead, I ran out without applauding with the holy german art resonating in my head. So there was a wound, waiting to be revealed, healed: homeopathically in the event, only by coming back to the music time and time again - as the wounding spear re-appears at the end of Parsifal, (‘nur eine waffen’ etc) And there is still a betrayal. To this day I share Rosenau’s attitude to the remaking of the Warburg house in Hamburg and felt deeply uneasy when I set foot in it quite recently; more uneasy than at Wahnfried which remains what it was and frankly haunted by Winifrid’s fascism. I felt nothing at the Warburg of my other experience of Germany, which is that, so many affective generations after the war, younger German people are often better adapted to their history than the equivalent young English people to the loss of an empire that they never knew. Rather Warburg’s library was and is the monument to the bitter melancholy of unrequited guilt. More important than this wretched attempt to synthesise a lost object is the sequence of Hans Jurgen Syberberg’s films from Hitler, a film for Germany and Winifred Wagner and Wahnfried,
to his deeply conflicted and critical and beautiful Parsifal. After this, with his frenzy to reconstruct his father’s domains at Nossenburg Syberberg falls into the same trap, as the Warburg phantasm, the pretence that it might have been OK after all;
and this too unexpectedly elaborates the trap: ‘His(Justi’s) judgement combined an acute awareness of El Greco’s quality as a painter with a carefully considered rejection of his artistic character. There are many persons, including myself, who react precisely in this way to Wagner’s music and Rilke’s poetry, acknowledging the power of a supreme genius but recognizing as the kind of power to which one should not surrender’. .(Edgar Wind, Art and Anarchy, [p. 29]) What Edgar Wind pulls out of his experience of exile and resistance goes for Wagner, Rilke, Kokoschka and Rouault and regards above all the fake, not so much as an antinomy of the authentic, as the abuse of means – something that bugs Adorno above all else in his Versuch...
Pierre Boulez, on the contrary, writing of the third act of Walküre, the fury when Wotan catches up with his errant daughter, registers an utterly different tension ‘qui … fait de ce debut du troisième de
And Wagner never comes closer to the Jew, in the form of his enemy Jacques Offenbach than he does in the more strophic elements of Siegfried; – Mime’s laments, as well as its almost comic dialogues between Mime and Alberich, in both of which which his work also most sounds like Alban Berg in some of his spiky vocal lines. But more of this later, and even less of Zizek, whose work on Wagner at its best is not much more than a genre of psychoanalytical gloss to operatic story lines without the elegance of Lamb’s Tales from Shakespeare. He has little else to say …
yet he has the courage to dispense with Adorno in one brief sentence at the beginning of his essay in Opera’s Second Death when he writes of Tristan that ‘[its] greatness resides in the very tension between its official ideological project and the distance toward it inscribed in its texture – as Althusser would have put it, Wagner’s writing undermines its own ex-plicit ideological project …’ This notion of a denial or a negation, of an artwork’s lying on its own very edge of sense, is something that Adorno could not face in Wagner, or at least not as a consequence of many of his own analyses, and Zizek accomplishes this clarification without any mention of his name – Versuch, oddly enough, does not even figure in his bibliography. At the same time it is difficult to reject the idea that Zizek is routinely trapped in or embodied through the old question of form and/as content, which is separate neither from Adorno and Lucaks and the différend that historically binds them to each other. Peculiary enough, in Art and Anarchy again Edgar Wind puts it another way in his now (even then) old fashioned discussion of didactic art: ‘I myself once saw a didactic ballet, an American piece composed by Martha Graham on the Declaration of Idepen-dence, in which the text, recited by a chorus, supplied the rythnic foundation for the dance: “We hold these truths to be self-evident,” and so forth. It was a good ballet, and I must say in its defence that the huge leaps of the dancers, their heroic gestures and rythmic contortions dispelled any thought that all men are created equal.’ (p.54)
Neither Zizek nor Roger Scruton mention one another at all (nor either of them Adorno, though since I wrote this Zizek has prefaced Versuch…), and yet they deserve to do so. If Zizek’s discovery that Tristan is essentially a male fantasy, something of an advance in his perception of the social, stands at an apparent distance from Scruton’s tight-lipped little homily on Christian marriage and the sacrifice of what, of course, he calls normal sexuality, the absolute misrecognition of the one (Tristan and Isolde never see each other) flows as glibly from his hypostatized lacanianism as does the absolute recognition of Scruton (T & I see only each other) flow from his equally fetishised religious beliefs. The advantage to Zizek is that he derives his insight from a production – Ponelle’s at Bayreuth in 1983, but that does not mean that a production might not make Scruton’s argument as well. Scruton’s advantage is in his attention to musical detail that brings him methodologically closer to Adorno whom he here rejects as elliptically as does Zizek. Yet more acutely, perhaps, as in his evaluation of the Tristan prelude he is concerned set out a contrary understing of the musical progession. In which the mystery is the positive in a neo-Platonic mode (p. 197) But what conjoins them, (S&Z), perhaps more in Zizek’s mode than Scruton’s, is that they are wedded in non-recognition through the sacrifice made neither of man nor Christ, but to a rather seedy and faded, hetero-normativity. (You could pencil in here the later Irigaray as a thoeretical compagnon) Ironically, for a right-wing thinker, in Scruton’s case this leads to a Christian version of a radical, politically correct attitude to sexual purity on the side of an Andrea Dworkin, but also to the statement of Christian fidelity as a quasi Kantian judgement of the listener – ‘if we allow religious symbolism of Tristan und Islode to work its undeniable enchantment, we must associate it with a species of sincere commitment and a way of life that could inspire us to adopt it.’(p.188). This does not mean that these two have so much failed to read the opera as a queer kind of text, - I would myself hesitate to do so – but they are unable to disabuse themselves of the story line and the lure of its sometimes astonishing revelations (such as those in Tristan’s final monologue, when he at last becomes a Tannhauser who gets to be the first to die).
A queer reading for me now might run like this and stand as a deep critical irony for queer theory itself, particularly as it engages in performance(it will have nothing to do with a homoeroticism of the knights in Parsifal, that never strikes me as interesting). Wagner’s sexual realism or commitment to a pathetic fallacy of representation in relation to the sexual - to eroticism –, forestalls avant-garde and dissident trends in the last century that manifest themselves in the wake of the disaster of Wagnerian Germany or Austria: a model of this should be the pathologically heterosexual work of the Viennese Actionists, Muhl and Nitsch in particular(I exclude the saintly Brus), with their demand of the absolute presence of an alien or ‘subversive’ act and of their own flesh as the vector of the act; and, of course, the tight coding of a grand emotional response appropriate to the delusion of the subversive. In effect this becomes something peculiarly apt to gay performance after the elimination of gay mores that was the AIDS epidemic in the ‘80s. With artists like Franko B or Ron Athey the insistance on the absolute presence of an authentically impossible subject through the spilling of their own body fluids into the space between themselves and the public, a form of sacramental communication, repeats Wagner’s musical rhetoric of eroticism. In this sense there is nothing specifically gay or queer about them, it is a contingency of a gay subject or self with a moment that demands a politics of presence, here and now usually theorised via a philosophy of absence – the loss of the truth of mythos in Wagner. We can identify or classify Muhl or Athey with the over exposed musical forms of erotic address between the lovers in Tristan or Siegfred, or with Amfortas’s raging in pain in Parsifal as a limit case of the fallacy. The queer strategy for me, rather, is to show unqueer is Wagner and his heritage.(See my Sexual Anaphora and my Apart from sex for a discussion of these ideas in a rather different register)
Zizek speculates on possible endings to Tristan, proposing three in the style of an interactive soap opera. Each is a conventional narrative outcome and none regards any questions of musical definition.
I will think rather about where the Ring might be thought to stop, as well as where it might have started. So now I will put Zizek down and insist that a starting point for a cultural
musicology of Wagner today must rather be the remarkable work of Carolyn Abbate, whose regard for the internal sound space and listening of the Ring and Parsifal marks a new moment of a wider cultural attention and a special phenomenom in cultural studies as a mode of analytic work. Her detailed account of how the final moments of Parsifal wind down so that Kundry’s lifespan effectively conflicts with and eventually undoes the brotherhood’s perpetuation requires a more complex attention than that usually paid to these operas other than by conductors or certain directors. Anyway it is
from the imprinting of those singers’ names that I think I can piece together1958 as the first Ring I heard, a proper mythic object, perhaps a talisman against some other loss of a beginning that was yet to come. Without even knowing what it was, the far-awayness - then as well as
now, -, is something
that I value as a knowing embedded in an affect, which is a risky borderline of knowledge and idiot belief. It is the keeping or cherishing of this distance, as a concept, that is one conscious motive for writing on Wagner now and that immunises me from Adorno’s critique in his Versuch uber Wagner, from which I tried hard to learn how to hate the operas after my own extensive reading of the musician’s vile writing on Jews and Music, the Art-Work of the Future and so forth! As I said, I can’t trace any harm that I suffered fro hearing Alberich and Mime, nor any critique that was not better voiced by Rossini.
But as a bulwark or an insurance against the fragility of this archive and its survival of critique, I have most of the live recordings from the Bayreuth of this period, though I continue to pin my hopes on 1958 - without necessarily enjoying it the most – 1953 really is the best. Just now I begin to think that the ’54 is pretty good after all, even though Keilberth made a pig’s ear of the Lohengrin in ’55, nothing like the Cluytens of a decade later and so forth. I have never knowingly bought a track recorded in Germany between 1937 and 1946, and nothing from Karajan, the highest master of kitsch and the nazi dream of a Wagner that might have been. For that matter nothing either by his successor in kitsch, James Levine or the Anglo-Teutonic tedium and measurement of Goodall. One thing you have to keep doing is juggling Mime’s for the one most evidently devoted to realsing the music rather than the caricature of mean, subaltern speech.
However all this is something of a cliché, for as usual with Wagner there are too many books, too many nerds, whether gay, straight, Jewish, fascist, or whatever, in almost any combination, a magnificent funeral pyre built out of the connoisseurial consumerism of the record collection, histories of aesthetic pleasure and different forms of guilt. Yet even this, all of it adds up to a critical history or a history of counter criticism, for hearing no less than performance changes from night to night as well as from decade to decade, or even hour to hour in the effortless time of contemporary listening.
It’s worth insisting again that this is something that Adorno misses completely and perversely. Whereas a contemporary philosophical critique of musicology such as Bernard Sève’s L’altération musicale understands the inevitable passage netween score, performance and audition as part of what music is. Thus it was as much seeing the Boulez-Chereau production at Bayreuth, all those years ago, (as distinct from all the other years ago), on the TV, that gave a permission to roll back the Adornian critique. This,as much as any new theoretical work on the operas; the experience of a performance that projected them into field of a different political affect for which they were as if destined in the post-Gramscian critique of social history and culture that had flourished at that time. These performances already made Lacoue-Labarthe’s subsequent essays seem out of date, beside the point, long before they had been penned. But the ground of Chéreau’s density was always, already Wieland Wagner’s tabula rasa … drawn across the loss of Appia and Klemperer, redirected through Boulez’ more than common sense.
Boulez, as I have indicated, writes from so entirely a differentiated viewpoint of his practice of what we might call conductorly reconstruction of the score, that the loving subject re-invests the music with desires that are both blind and driven by critique: ONE TELLING QUOTE HERE
But in his 1964 essay ‘Wagners Aktualität’ Adorno himself had already withdrawn from almost everything that appeared to matter to him in Versuch uber Wagner, though this does not appear to have much to do with changing performance – at least not in the dynamic or innovative sense of the new Bayreuth for example. Twenty five years before he had engaged in a subtle and complex critique of the mystification of bourgeois social relations in Wagner’s music that nonetheless valorised the composer’s work in the emergence of a music of a modern(ist) negation of those relations, the articulation of a space between late Beethoven and Schoenberg. In his seminars on Wagner Badiou sees this book as an advance plan for the Negative Dialektik of 1966.
Although music is rarely even mentioned in the latter, Badiou understands ND and as developing the theoretical insights of the earlier work and as turning them into a broader and more general social critque. While this is a seductive and even transparent thesis, given the well-known centrality of musical analysis to the whole of Adorno’s writing, I am rather tempted to understand Versuch as an anomalous and prior negation of ND, and oddly distant from, let us say, The Philosophy of Modern Music. Some of the elements of Wagner’s musical writing that most enrage Adorno, that he sees as the most mystificatory, such as the veiled, distant and as-if from far-away effects of his orchestration or Wotan’s destructive and sickly relationship with the figure of the bourgeois revolution, could already have been differently understood in 1937, as Adorno well knew from his readings of and discussions with Thomas Mann, and anyway belong to a field of tropes or figures of musical or political experience that are by no means singularities of the Wagnerian oeuvre. Is there even an involuntary Lucacksian ring to the Adornian critique of Wotan, bearer of a failure of criticality comparable to that of Zola as author of an inadequately revolutionary engagement with the world?
That said it’s a disturbing move for any reader of that work who, as I have suggested, had at one point used it to train himself, albeit with minmal success, to hate Wagner – to hate him properly that is to say, at a deeper level than that of commonplace biography. Adorno’s book too is a compelling execution or performance of the scores as much as a critical reading, and should be thought of as part of Wagner’s perfomance history. It was a performance that both entered into and elaborated a specific series of musical and political values while rendering their bearer, the operas themselves, radically unpleasant and inevitably opened a space for Boulez/Chereau to realise the profound historical value of this unpleaseantness as a parable of our days. As such it draws the reader into Wagner’s musical world as endowed with powerful and deeply conflicted affect, alluring and therefore something worse than disagreeable. In that way, as part of a performance history, it guards its value.
Or, differently in the Stuttgart performance of 1993. Devol, the in and out of the critique, the perfect timing that refers to itself and to the music ruins and teaches, obeying and disobeying stage directions and eventually overvaluing them as word, finding the hyperchatected thing that is the word music relation as if it were the missing colour or the excess.
My purpose in writing this is critically ironic in so far as Adorno’s own critical procedures are concerned. And it imitates them in that the interleaving of the music-lover’s chat with a ‘higher’ order of discourse reaffirms mahler’s own aporetic of what is serious?
In Mahler’s music ‘[its] banality is parody and seriousness at one and the same time.’ (Leppart, p. 615)
To understand Adorno’s work as a performance of the scores is to approach it at a level that it is all to anxious to repress – that is to say from the conception of a score as existing first and foremost through the histories of its performances and their modes of acting out social and technological relations and so forth the essay ‘On the Problem of Musical Analysis’ (Leppart, pp 162 -180) is severe in its professional warning to the amateur of little understanding, ‘[all] criticism which is of any value is founded in analysis; to the extent that this is not the case, criticism remains stuck with disconnected impressions, and thus, if for no other reason than this, deserves to be regarded with the utmost suspicion.’ (ibid, p.168) And so in his Mahler book, which to my mind remains one of the finest performances of the nine symphonies, as well as being an exemplification of a philosophical discourse that proceeds from outside itself and its professional prejudices to interrogate its own practices, he only mentions the name of one conductor. If recording histories or performances are missing, together with their mythic accretions and fetishised moments (Bruno Walter’s 1938 Ninth, live in Vienna, for example), then the issue of how Mahler might be performed is restricted to the polemical discussion of the order of the inner two movements of the the Sixth Symphony. Adorno takes the side of Mahler’s original ordering and violently rejects justifications of some later second thoughts, for the sound of how one movement finishes and another begins is philosophically crucial. It’s interesting, then, to think about how this apparently technical question might, in the end, be of significance for a form of cultural studies and critical theory that is taught as if Adorno’s interests could hardly be ones shared with a modern student. I have never come across a course on critical theory in which a student might be expected to listen to this symphony as an approach to Adorno’s thinking, and yet it may be more important than his often enough clumsy critiques of Jazz that so often enter into discussions of cultural studies. And it is certain for me, who agrees with him about the movement order, that I would never purchase a recording in which the conductor had actually thought the second order to be the proper one, even though I could re-order it on my player. It is, after all, crucial for the philosophical concept of a performance.
Anyway this displacement of performance from Adorno’s belief in the irreducible philosophical reality of the score into the idea that he was himself, in his writing, a performer of scores, is intended to accomplish a number of tactical moves in the unfolding of this piece.
Above all, my permission to myself to write: by seeing and hearing, by syncretic listening, hearing and seeing as an ensemble of critical-affective activities to be assimilated to both performing and setting: performing, perhaps in a late Foucauldian sense of knowing how and preparing one’s self to attend, and setting as a refiguring of the music in one’s own discourse, and of that discourse to the performance of the music in an opening series of directions for attention. (tracing affect/anaphora as a differential realising of the leitmotif as always different to itself) It’s easy to see how far Adorno is before the theory of the text and the textual in the way that it developed with Bakhtin and Kristeva and that, at the same time, his own writing is text. In his discussion of the gramphone as form and the LP as a form for the performance of opera he does indeed come nearer to a thinking of music as a live text, yet…
Yet, in 1964, Adorno is at pains to dissallow any fundamental critique of Versuch, writing that
‘I do not distance myself from the book, or disown the conception underlying it. Our perception of Wagner has now changed fundamentally. This is why I wish to deviate from the book, not so as to revise what I said then but to take into account what we can now see in Wagner for the first time.’
The situation has changed then, war, destruction, Auschwitz and all Adorno’s radical reflections upon them that, at first sight, seem to be a gloomy completion of those on Wagner’s anti-semitism in Versuch. The world changes so much and in such a way that there is a new ‘first time’ of seeing Wagner, who has anyway been one of the most visible musicians in Europe since his earliest successes and scandals. Library shelves groan under the weight of accounts of the Pilgrimage to Bayreuth and in travel literature as in academe and musicology and politcs, everyone wants a say. One effect of these changes, in ‘Aktualitat’ is that Wagner can now be thrust somehow further away into a past, that he is, in effect less than ever actual, and glows with something of the far-awayness with which Adorno once reproached his compositional effects, the way in which the music ‘hides its production…’.
In his unexpected historicism Adorno fatally permits himself a little access of nostalgia. For one of the conditions that has shifted Wagner in our understanding is the slippage of generational experience, to the rather obvious effect that Wagner ‘no longer represents, as he did in my youth, the world of the parental generation, but that of our grandparents.’ He goes on to cite his mother’s complaint about the decline in Italian singing that she attributed to Wagnerian style, yet today, he says ‘Wagnerian singing style itself is on the point of extinction.’ That this assertion should coincide with the almost
miraculous flow of great singers through the new Bayreuth, as well as some awful ones(Hopf), but especially heldentenors like Windgassen, Vickers, Konya, as well as mezzo and soprano voices as extraordinary as those of Varnay, Nilsson, Rysanek or Gorr, not to mention bass-baritones Hotter, London, Waechter and tutti quanti…, all of whom worked out of a deep understanding of a tradition of german singing…
again suggests an inapposite element in Adorno’s approach to Wagner. He is juggling too many equivocations to make perfect sense of his desires or of the world.
It’s possible to guess more or less how this might arise around a conflict between pleasure and duty; how the politics of critique and the ascetic art of reading a score could have set up a barrier to the actuality of performance and how performance might have come to inform a philosophy of music. Such conflicts worked out over three decades of effort in sustaining their dynamic and set against a devastating and almost self-humiliating critique of Schoenberg’s Moses have in themselves become desirable: so loving Wagner on account of something of him that is now lost is an alibi for loving him as such. The critique of the fantasmagorie founds a repressed that will return as an unlimited love that can only find words as if it were indeed subject to limits already imposed.
Of course in writing this I am open also to an accusation of nostalgia, and I may as well own up to this. The question of long ago and far away is central to my argument at this point and it resumes an important relation of cultural levels and the levelling of culture. The great voices of post-war Bayreuth singing that I have listed as would any opera-nerd of my generation – though few would claim that Windgassen was such a great singer as I would – are my own first hearings, my first Bayreuth Ring on that fifties radiogram. These things can matter terribly and something that comes theoretically between me and Badiou is his expemplification of Tannahuser’s ‘Rome narration’ through René Kollo who, as I listen to Windgassen, could never enter my canon of really good singers. Nonetheless as a relation with Badious and his argument I will give him another hearing.
In his best performances, Bayreuth 53 or 58, Windgassen finishes his roles like a lieder singer in the middle of a cycle, nearer to Tauber even than a struggling overparted Siegfried of then or today, as I have heard all too often, English National opera last year and Covent garden this year.(Good singing is so often in the past) His capacity for brutality to Mime in Siegfried is hardly undermined by this lyrical quality, other than in the case of an over characterised Mime, who, in his parodic exaggerations, renders the role a fascist’s Jew and therefore any address to him sounds racist. A conductor like Clemens Krauss, (Bayreuth ’53 Ring and some marvellous recordings of Strauss waltzes in ’32 – ’33 that reveal why Schoenberg was so attached to these pieces), who was deeply implicated in Nazi cultural politics seems hardly aware of this grim potential in his light, swift, elegant work that forestalls Boulez’s deconstruction. Whereas for the emigré Solti this domineering is imperative, arising out of a relation with his work and orchestra as overdetermining the effect other than through a politics. Listening to Solti’s conducting one feels closer to what Hitler might have liked that one does with Krauss, Knappertsbusch or Furtwangler, of whom the latter is endlessly reinventing the score as a musical concept. It would be ridiculous to argue this is as Hitler would have liked it, I am thinking rather of a set of hackneyed expectations of Wagner that might derive of a knowedge of Hitler’s love for Die Meistersinger, a version of something that Huyssen, after Kracauer could describe as a feminised mass culture, a spectacle for a complicit, victim public.
‘Long ago and far away …‘now the clouds are passed you’re here at last…dreary days are over, life’s a four leaf clover and every hope I hoped for long ago comes true’ … the voice of Richard Tauber carries with it all the promise of the gramophone, the as-if endless recuperation of a more or less authentic singing style, a nostalgia that is quite out and proud in the instantaneity of its appeal: but which is now an appeal now for something less commercial than contemporary style, - the artificiality, the almost synthesised head notes, - though in its time it was as commercial as it could be. In this way good singing is always far away, something of its own distraction, and the memory of it has an immense and formless presence in the presence of which any fault in the present can seem immense.
Recently I attended a performance of Gotterdammerung at the English National Opera, of which I had already heard the final act in concert. I was pretty much shocked then by the totally inappropriate phrasing of the new translation that produced a vowel almost everywhere that Wagner has a consonant, so, to mention only one of a hundred solecisms, ‘waecker kam’ became a drawn out vowel phrase around the word ‘awoke’. This is crazy, it’s as bad as reversing the movement orders of the Mahler 6, and on the stage, with a production geared to please the notion of a post-computer-game spectacle, the effect was overwhelming. It really sounded like Lloyd-Webber, Twighlight Express and the singing style was unrecognisable in relation to any historical model even from the worst moments of Wagnerian performance. I want to emphasise this, in a nerdy kind of way, because indeed it does make something available about Wagner’s historical fate. Just as changes in dramatic soprano styles, I think, have made it possible to hear Carolyn Abbate’s ‘version’ of Brunnhilde in her Unsung Voices. The association that Abbate makes between Brunnhilde and Sieglinde as a unique hearing of the latter by the former in the erlosungs motif in its two ocurrences, through the singular concept of on listening on and within the stage, is something that that I feel becomes possible with a more inner quality of performance, sometimes a smallish voice or one a little raw from the effort, and quite different from the Flagstad – Nilsson tradition. If it is a more recent mode of interpretation, Evans, Behrens, Devol or even Modl’s innerness amongst the post-war school. Thus the performance itself is not only a realising, a transformation of narrative or interpretative perspective, but an alteration that occurs in a separate space from the musicology of the score as such and transforms it. Again it is interesting to think of this process a something akin to setting, or to a series of settings.
Settings in which scores are resung in words, reorchestrated, timed in in the unfolding of speculation and the logic of a politics?
And theory or poetry’s words are set not so much to as through a music, whose importance they will tend always to miss, always to main through a partial image or by an over imperious explication.
Were we to think of the dialectical procedure of Versuch… as Adorno’s symptom rather than as his method, we might want to imagine that it is ‘Wagner’ especially ‘that’ provokes this symptom, which is quite distinct from the method, the writerly strategies, contestatory politics and the aesthetics of Negative Dialectics or Minima Moralia. And it is in this that I need to take a distance from Alain Badiou’s seminar in insisting that the Wagner-thing in philosophy may have both general and singular manifestations which can lie outside philosophy itself. My own position derives neither from Musicology, no more than does that of either Lacoue-Labarthe or Zizek, neither of whom seem to have listened to anything at all, nor does it derive from philosophy.
Rather it is that of the amateur, more Princess Metternich than Nietzsche, and is certainly that of one who hears and listens than one who necessarily understands through a precept of musicology.
Thus, though Jameson in Marxism and Form long ago drew attention to the peculiar tensions and infoldings of Adorno’s method of argument and exposition and of the inherently textual qualities of Adorno’s writing, then the same insights suggest how we can read Adorno’s work, or some aspects of that work, as ineffective, or even inconsequential – in the sense that sequence of consequences in his argument do not always make good sense – not at the level of the enigmatic and conundrum-like character of Minima Moralia, but at the more banal level of not following. I want to say to begin with that this is on account both of a specificity of A’s writing and the effect of a historical limit within which critical theory itself works. We might even want to conclude that, in some ways, what the Jew is to Wagner, Wagner is to Adorno, something to be coughed out: – but that would in sufficiently account for the tone of his relaxed and effectively bewitched writing of his beautiful essay The Score of Parsifal , which Wieland Wagner recognised and (re)published in a collection of essays Richard Wagner und das neue Bayreuth in 1962.
Here Adorno appears really at ease with the Wagnerian object, though his admiration for Siegfried announced in Aktualitat both makes sense of the opera’s difficulty as well as of Adorno’s own non-conformity with canonical judgement. The most intractable opera of the Ring Cycle rises to Adorno’s expectations of music, literally in the architecture of its sonic elevations as he describes the soaring curves that peak in the great, late romantic urgency of the last act. Adorno, true to his general phislosphy of art, is now content to think of this work as the most achieved and that which the public will only listen to on sufference, because they have to hear the cycle as a whole.
His rather neutral but disingenuous reference to the situation of 1939 is revealing, for though it might have been as much as he could do at that time, other conceptions of Wagner were already in circulation that conjugate with the dramatic revisions of the later essay, allowed to himself only after the change in history and – in consequence - his thinking. Thomas Mann, for example, did something different and dissonant with Adorno’s notion of a ‘first time. And yet he wrote through a political and moral alienation from German culture and the role that Wagner had come to play in it that he shared with Adorno – and which is mapped with Adorno in his Doktor Faustus and The Novel of the Novel. So while ‘our attitude to Wagner’ has undergone a fundamental shift what can or could have been said about him stands in a relation of uneven development to the perception of different individuals. It is Adorno’s insistence on not seeing this that undescores the persistance of his symptom from the book to the essay with its uneasy denial of change.
If nothing else Mann had recognised the world of the German children’s fairy tale haunts the comic simplicity of Siegfried, a click clack heroism that, in turn, reminds me of the Ballad of Kleinsack in Offenbach’s Contes d’Hoffman . For Siegfried is a figure to belie any convincing representation of the master race, however disagreeable a bully he may be in his relations with anything Jewish, monstrous or proletarian – and his impatience is pretty generalised -, as disagreeable with his grandfather father as with Mime when the power of unresolved Oedipal conflict comes to overwhelm that of ethnic preference. After all it is the Rhinemaidens themselves, the most pure vicitms of the plot, who, in Gotterdammerung, rise to the limits of a precocious and discordant musical modernity in their repeated wails of Siegfried, Siegfried, to deride him for his refusal to return their gold to them and to warn him of his impending fate. From their watery feminine they enjoy a more complex knowledge than he, who has still not learned fear, or who has done almost without learning altogether rather than aknowledge Mime’s teaching, and who will acquire short-term memory only as an effect of the immanent structures of the cycle and Hagen’s manipulations…
Siegfried’s successor in the twentieth century is not in the SS or anywhere in Klaus Thewelheit’s workor in Viconti’s Damned , but he is Walt Disney’s Bambi , whose acquisition of language also proceeds by a denoting-technique that by-passes memory and that is always inadeqaute to the moment – ‘das ist kein mann’, in the case of Siegfied and muddle-up with the skunk for Bambi; but the relation between these two and, say, Ang Lee’s Hulk, is too complex a problem of semiology to dwell on here. When I tried to open it out it proved too large a distraction from this essay, even while it offered it a centre of some kind, perhaps linked to that other study of the Bayreuth gays. Suffice it to say that Bambi and Siegfried, at least in Siegfired’s imagination, have the same doe-eyed mother, and it is this closeness that underlines the negative relation of the musical energies of the two scores as the counterpoint to Wagner’s dreadful and sentimental banality, all too often, as a poet.
If there is a future threat of Hollywoodian musical kitsch as Wagner’s imminent undoing and to the understanding of his accoustic, and clearly I mean Disney and not Now Voyager, it is effective precisely at the level of the manifest diegetics of the adventure story and in its repetitive sexual clumsiness, for example. That is to say that it is this that makes it possible to think of the operas as a ‘forerunner’ of Cinema rather than the music, it is the texture of a belief in the presence of nature in our world(s)… and that, despite all the odds, it can be represented. Bambi and Siegfried(as well as Hulk) enter the symbolic as if it were the real, and so their language never quite adheres to the utterance of others. (though in the case of Hulk it is arguable that his subject-hood is interpellated by a feminine disabusal.) So even Siegfried and Brunnhilde’s love duet is a series of misunderstandings although she has saved them for only one another. After she had announced his name in Walküre, before sending Sieglinde on her way the orchestra plays the Siegfried motif once, followed a few bars later by the erlösungs motif, a repetition that can only re-occur after his death. The ‘progressiveness’ of the Ring is that it forces this seperation as a disaster that negates all the elements that would constitute it as a resolution.
Siegfried, Siegfried! her ‘seliger held’, certainly no one else’s: the Rhinemaidens know that what Brunnhilde finally knows, is, after all, not all; and this unknowable is the anaphoric quality of the leitmotif, not so much a musical structure or a characterology or a thematic substance as the anechoic moment of the echo, the forward projection of deferred action to the point where it might all come to an end. When does the Ring start? This question is more interesting than Nietzsche’s accusation that Wagner did not know how to end. Is it when Wotan tells the story to Brunnhilde in act 2 of Walkure and when, as Abbate so astutely argues, his narrative brings the letmotifs into presence, on what I would call a cusp of configuration and constellation? Or is it by inferral from this moment, the moment when Wotan first breathes out? The least convincing beginning is the beginning, which too expressly \articulates itself as a primordial origin on the model of Haydn’s Creation: just as the actual end is a is a supplement to everything that might have been the substance in the ultimate re-hearsal of the musical materials. Were it not, that is, for the erlösung motif… which is the sudden presence of a suspense of which we had no idea; we were not waiting for it to occur again!
A better ending to the Ring is in Siegfried, the point where Wotan quits Siegfried to allow him on his way … ‘I can do nothing to stop you!’ That is, the moment when Wotan stops breathing the end of the breath which starts in Rheingold as he dreamily awakes. It works better than Siegfried’s recapitulation as he dies, which adds little to the opera other than a sublimated failure of romantic love in its repression of the anxiety invested in its origins, and a fresh knowledge of Wagner’s incapacity to resist beauty in the renewal of the woodbird’s music. More important in this scene is the way in which Siegfried drifts off into a strange space of musical rapture that identifies anaphora with sublimation. The self is suspended, or sublimated, in a ‘pure’ anamnesis.
Indeed Hoffman and Siegfried have more in common than the click-clack idiocy of the failed poet or hero, because when the former evokes Kleinsack, whose comic puppetry mirrors the Wälsung’s factitious and poetic brutality, he falls into a trance in mid-aria, drifts into an allotopic vision of lost love, rather as Siegfried does in this death scene, when he recovers his memory of Brunnhilde as a musical/affective residue from the audience’s experience of his life. And a radical difference persists in that Hoffman introduces the listener to what they do not already know, and in this sense his narration is closer to that of Wotan’s in the second act of Walkure. What the audience learn from Hoffman is that his love has always limped, whereas Siegfried’s has simply stumbled. His confrontation with the sleeping Brunnhilde is fraught with anxiety, not with fear.
Offenbach and Wagner both invent a musical vision on the edge of anamnesis and involuntary memory as the flooding back of the distraction of forgetfulness and loss suddenly unveiled as a structure of operatic narrative that is also the anaphoric working of the (leit)motive. Siegfried’s first experience of memory, as distinct from the neurotic imagination of his mother as a roe deer, his Bambi episode, - for example – coincides then with his ultimate failure to learn fear and the wisdom it might entail as the anxiety of sexuality is itself no talisman against Hagen’s drug. So too Offenbach’s three terrible stories leave Hoffman with nothing but an involuntary hope of ongoing poesis that is finally addressed by the muse to his drunken unconcsciousness, and resolved only for the listener as an affective incompletion, in the guise of an ending. Insofar as this is open, and Siegfried’s case is is closed it is oddly possible that it is Hoffmann who is the art work of the future, and the it was the Hoffman on whom he is based who will turn out to have been its artist, with Offenbach as his intermediary. Ironically too: as one of the things that neither can forget is one another and his music. In the conflict between the two musicians, philosophical, national, racial and so forth, Wagner is moved to interpolate the ‘something more than just remembering’ that is Siegfried’s recovery from the potion into the strophic account of his heroic deeds. As both Abbate and Nattiez have differently argued as if he were here compelled both to ingest and abject the Jew as the very substance of the heroic at its culminating moment.
Anyway, this fall into reverie is a structure of kinds, of the memories and denials of the Offenbach/Wagner relation and their creative outcome as a cultural field, a space for hostility to emerge as a force of overdetermined performance of the hostility as music in Adorno’s sense – both meeting the requirement he makes of Schoenberg? Adorno’s little essay on Offenbach, which might just be an apology to Kracauer…?
In this event, the theoretical field will shift so that thinkers or students in cultural theory and criticism will read Kracauer’s Jacques Offenbach as carefully as they now read the Passagenwerk or ND, and will also have to learn how to listen to operetta. Offenbach, Léhar, Gilbert and Sullivan(with Mike Leigh’s Topsy Turvy) and modernity itself will crumple as a concept and as a name. Indeed I am drifting towards the idea that it, modernity, only makes sense rather like Siegfried does, in denial of its own being symptom. And maybe this is why Adorno admired that opera, as a masterpeice of negation.
Critical note by a friend as a form of ending:
No dont “End here”. The part about the condition of art as forms ( as means, horizons...) as symptom was wonderful.. adds yet another thought-provoking layer to your wanderings in the essay. I like to think of it circling back to the beginning again, to the act of listening, and to memory and the question of the gap you bring up.. I thought it might be nice to do that. You open with a revisiting ( after the fact)..of realizing you listened to Wagner when Said did, in diff. Circumstances. That circular return with a difference might be nicely referred to, at an angle as you would say (smile) by coming back to that opening. What might doing this say about the form of your own text, its sectioning...
Sounds pedantic, but underlining here the actual act of listening , and the performance, and how that colours all those parallels ( Jew in Wagner’s text; Wagner in Adorno’s throat - relates here also to the earlier comment u made about performance as essential to a philosophy of music – I read Adorno here) would be a nice touch. It would tie in nicely with preceding passage where taking off from Abbate you make that ( which I like a lot) topographical ( or is it acoustopic? ) argument about the performance outside the space of music score making an alteration.
You mention it a few times in your text but I would love to hear more about the temporal gap
( suspension – release: holding one’s breath – exhalation ). This is partly because unlike the reader of the musicology journal, I dont know much about some of the musical references you make. So I dont mean more examples but some conceptual stuff about this. I like this very much but hungry for more as it were. I think of it also in relation to the form of Adorno’s writing as some kind of miming of the musical score, a connection you make. The question of timing and gaps, of where to section a score/text.... I wonder about reading too, and also reading your text. Does one listen to your text? Could one say something about how these structuring of form might say something about hearing and writing, in relation to the form of scores/text ? i.e. listening and reading?