The Classical Nihilist

David Goldman captures something well in modern society, within the setting of Richard Wagner’s operas:

Unlike Flaubert or Tolstoy, Wagner flatters his audience with the conceit that their libidinous impulses resonate with the Will of the World, and that their petty passions have the same cosmic significance as Isolde’s or Kundry’s.
That was the debut of the culture of death. What made Wagner his century’s most influential artist was not merely that he portrayed as inevitable and even desirable the fall of the old order but that through his music he turned the plunge into the abyss into an intimate, existential experience—a moment of unbounded bliss, a redemptive sacrifice that restores meaning to the alienated lives of the orphans of traditional society. On the ruins of the old religion of throne and altar he built a new religion of impulse: Brunnhilde becomes Siegfried’s co-redemptrix in Wagner’s heretical Christianity.

Music also provides an excellent context in which to discuss a fundamental problem with the attitude:

In other words, Wagner’s aesthetic purpose is at war with his methods. Once we are conditioned to hear music as a succession of moments rather than as a journey to a goal, we lose the capacity for retrospective reinterpretation, for such reinterpretation presumes a set of expectations conditioned by classical form in the first place. Despite his dependence on classical methods, Wagner’s new temporal aesthetic weakened the capacity of later musical audiences to hear classical music.

In other words, not only is the work internally incoherent, philosophically, but it spurs regression and squanders the blessings that cultural progress have secured.

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bella
bella
11 years ago

Kill the wabbit, kill the wabbit…

Warrington Faust
Warrington Faust
11 years ago

I suspect that someone has too much tme on their hands and decided to use it for “thinking”.
Is he making much of Wagner’s connection between Siegfried and Brunnhilde’s deaths and gotterdammerung?
Although German has been called “the language of philosophy”, I am not sure what pressing temporal problems Wagner hoped to address in Der Fliegende Holländer.
I think I will go take a ride with the Valkyries, perhaps that will clear my head. (I have sat through the entire Ring cycle).
Interestingly, Wagner was recently performed, for the first time, in Israel.

Warrington Faust
Warrington Faust
11 years ago

Perhaps Mr. Goldman might arrange to speak before the Wagner groupies, sometimes known as “Ring Nuts”. They travel around the world to sit through 15 hour productions of Der Ring des Nibelungen (The Ring of the Nibelung).
If Mr. Goldman could convince them of his thesis, he might save them a lot of money.
“That was the debut of the culture of death. What made Wagner his century’s most influential artist was not merely that he portrayed as inevitable and even desirable the fall of the old order but that through his music he turned the plunge into the abyss into an intimate, existential experience—a moment of unbounded bliss, a redemptive sacrifice that restores meaning to the alienated lives of the orphans of traditional society”
Does Mr. Goldman refer to gotterdammerung, the “Twilight of the Gods”?
All of this on the day that Jim Morrison was pardoned for “indecent exposure”?

Sammy
Sammy
11 years ago

David Goldman captures something well in modern “”society””
“There is no such thing as society
There are individual men and women, and there are families”
Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, October 31 1987
Merry Christmas to all
Sammy

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