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Richard Wagner

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Author Topic: Richard Wagner  (Read 1911 times)
Thor, God of Thunder
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« Reply #30 on: July 26, 2007, 10:09:30 pm »

Wagner, Gobineau and Parsifal
Gobineau as the Inspiration of Parsifal
  a result of Gutman's claims about the influence of Count Gobineau on Wagner in general and on the libretto of Parsifal in particular, it now seems obligatory to refer to Gobineau at least once in the program book for any production of Parsifal. So why did Gutman think that Wagner had come under the influence of Gobineau -- and why did he suggest that this influence had affected the libretto of Parsifal?

utman knew that Wagner had met the self-styled "Count" Gobineau -- a diplomat, writer and racial theorist -- briefly in Rome in November 1876 and again in Venice in October 1880. Also that he had been a guest of the Wagner family in Bayreuth in the spring of 1881. Ignoring all considerations of logic, evidence and chronology, Gutman assumed that Gobineau had influenced the libretto of Parsifal which Wagner completed in the spring of 1877. From this assumption -- it was never anything more than an assumption -- ignoring the evidence that documents the development of the Parsifal scenario from 1857 to 1865, and failing to understand the uneasy relationship that developed between Gobineau and Wagner in 1881 and 1882, Gutman developed an elaborate theory of the genesis of Parsifal. The closer one examines respectively Wagner's prose writings, the Gobineau correspondence 3, the many brief references to Gobineau in the last volume of Cosima's Diaries (seen in relation to the Gobineau correspondence) and not least the libretto of Parsifal, the more absurd Gutman's theory appears.

ot only Gutman but also the school of "lunatic fringe" writers who have accepted and built upon his interpretations, assumed that the inspiration for Parsifal was found in a conversation that Wagner had with Gobineau on their first meeting in 1876; ignoring Wagner's own account of the genesis of Parsifal as given in his autobiography and disregarding the detailed Prose Draft that Wagner had sent to his patron King Ludwig in 1865. Gutman and his disciples further assumed that Gobineau's racial theories, as set out in his book On the Inequality of Human Races, influenced the libretto of Parsifal, completed in the spring of 1877. Marc Weiner for example, in Richard Wagner and the anti-Semitic Imagination, wrote that Wagner's final music-drama was infused with the purportedly scientific theories of racial difference of Count Gobineau. These writers ignore the inconvenient facts that Wagner had not read any of Gobineau's writings until 1880 1 and that he had scarcely exchanged a few words (written or spoken) with Gobineau before 1881. They also choose to ignore the fact that Wagner (according to Cosima's Diaries) did not begin his study of Gobineau's writings with the treatise on race -- a curious decision if, as Gutman et al. would have us believe, Wagner was obsessed with this subject -- but with Gobineau's travel writings and fiction. We can partially excuse Gutman -- although not Weiner -- because he did not have access to Cosima's Diaries, from which it is clear that Wagner was in vigorous disagreement with Gobineau's racist ideas. Only partially, however, because Gutman presumed to develop an elaborate theory without a foundation in evidence. Some of that evidence -- such as the Gobineau correspondence -- would have been available to him had he taken the trouble to find it.

n case any reader does not see the difficulty here, it is this: Robert Gutman claimed that a libretto that Wagner completed in 1877 -- which closely follows a draft made in 1865 -- was influenced by ideas that Wagner first encountered in the spring of 1881. Later writers, whose view of Wagner is largely derived from Gutman's book, have taken on board this logical impossibility because it suits them better than the facts.

Wagner and Gobineau 1876-1882
utman failed to mention, in his account of the short-lived relationship between Gobineau and Wagner, that during the visit of Gobineau to Bayreuth in 1881 there were heated arguments between the two men in which Wagner refused to accept Gobineau's opinions, which were consistently based on racist principles. When Gobineau condemned the Irish (as a Celtic race) for opposing their English masters (as a Germanic race), Wagner took the side of the oppressed. When Gobineau supported slavery (of those he regarded as inferior races), Wagner argued for its abolition. These facts are ignored, as inconvenient, by those who want to see Wagner as a disciple of Gobineau.

fter reading Gobineau's Essay, Wagner returned to an article he had begun writing earlier that year, Herodom and Christendom. Although the article had not been inspired by Gobineau's writings, it was now, in June 1881, reworked to begin with an examination of Gobineau's ideas as presented in the Essay. The article is one of the so-called "regeneration writings" that were, according to Gutman, closely related to the ideas underlying Parsifal 2. (Those who are familiar with one or more of the many biographies of Richard Wagner will know that everything in his life is related, directly or indirectly, to everything else; so the real question to be answered is not whether his last music-drama is related to the "regeneration writings" but how it is related to them). In an attempt to repair his relationship with Gobineau, Wagner now began his article, in a conciliatory tone, with a summary of Gobineau's theories. It is unfortunate that an entire school of writers, inspired by Gutman and blinded by hatred, have chosen to take quotations from this first part of the article -- a summary of theories which Wagner rejected in the second part of the article -- and to misrepresent them as being Wagner's own ideas and as evidence of Wagner's alleged racism!

ven in the clumsy translation by Wm. Ashton Ellis, any intelligent reader of Herodom and Christendom should be able to distinguish Wagner's own views from his summary of Gobineau's views. It is remarkable that Gutman failed to grasp this distinction. It must be admitted that the obscure language (even in the original) and the associative nature of Wagner's thought does not help the reader in this article or in any of his later writings. None of this excuses Gutman's fundamental misreading of the article, nor can it be excused by his failure to investigate the circumstances under which it was written.

agner did agree with Gobineau on one point: that there had been a degeneration of the human race. It is an idea that dates back at least to Plato. Gobineau held that this degeneration was the result of miscegenation, that is, the mixing of the blood (i.e. genetic material) of nobler races with that of less noble races. There is nothing to indicate that Wagner accepted this idea, although it is clear from his notebooks that it intrigued him 4, in the context of Darwin's theories. Gutman made the mistake (one that his imitators have taken on board) of seeing Wagner's interest as acceptance; and he went entirely off the rails with the suggestion that Amfortas' sickness (an element of the scenario since 1859 or earlier) was the result of miscegenation, the mixing of his blood with that of the supposedly inferior Kundry in an ill-advised sexual encounter. (Why Kundry should be an inferior is not clear; after all, in her incarnation as Herodias she was a princess). Once again, there is nothing in Wagner's libretto to support such an idea: Amfortas' incurable wound is a representation of the suffering which, according to Schopenhauer, is an inevitable part of life; the cause of this suffering is desire.

n summary, Gutman was rash enough to launch an extended and vitriolic attack on Wagner on the basis of a superficial reading of Herodom and Christendom, which had been written in a context that Gutman did not understand. He failed to understand it because he had not done the necessary research. In short, the last chapter of Gutman's book is the result of the author's misguided fantasy combined with his stupidity and incompetence.

A Race of Saints
obineau, not Wagner, was the racist. Gobineau believed that there had been a superior race, which he labelled as "Germanic" but not as "German"; he thought the English were "Germanic" while the Germans were a bastard mixture of Celtic and other supposedly inferior racial elements. Although in agreement with Gobineau's negative assessment of the Germans, Wagner explained in Herodom and Christendom that he did not agree that there was, or had ever been, a superior race, a race of heroes; one that had fallen out of the sky, perhaps, or descended from gods. On the other hand he believed in a "race" of saints or sages, of which Christ was the noblest example. The saints or sages were beings motivated by compassion and by a sense of universal suffering which made them aware of the essential unity of the human race. It was by finding this unity that mankind could be regenerated. It is clear that the ideas expressed by Wagner -- his own ideas -- in this essay have nothing in common with Gobineau's Essay or with racism of any kind and that Wagner's own ideas are consistent with the libretto of Parsifal completed four years earlier.

t is also clear that Wagner was not using the word "race" (or any of the words that might be translated as "race") in the same sense in which "race" had been used by Gobineau. This has not prevented various followers of Gutman from taking Wagner's statements out of context and interpreting his references to "race" in the most literal sense. There is a general difficulty with Wagner's writings that is repeatedly exploited by the anti-Wagnerian lunatic fringe: it is that Wagner sometimes used words with a meaning that was not the most obvious one. As a result it is easy to take sentences or phrases out of context and present them as meaning something quite different from what Wagner intended. It is possible, however -- except perhaps for those who are blinded by their hatred for Wagner and his works -- to discern what Wagner intended, if one reads enough context around the passage whose meaning is sought. Wagner did not express himself concisely; in many cases it is necessary to read many paragraphs, or even an entire article, to understand what Wagner meant. His often unconventional usage does not help the reader, even if it does help those who wish to misrepresent him by quoting a few words out of context. To speak of a race of saints does not constitute racism.

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