Friday, September 28, 2012

One more in a long list that will go on and on


Richard Wagner, his life, his art and his legacy are fraught with ironies. And the collection is ever expanding. The latest addition to it is the anti-Obama video ad created by the Emergency Comitee for Israel, a pro-Republican organization seen above which features excepts from the "Siegfried funeral march" from "Götterdämmerung". For those not aware, the irony is in the fact that in Israel public performances are under am informal ban because of unfortunate associations of Wagner's music with the Nazi regime.

There are numerous ways in which one can interpret the add, as Alex Ross from "The New Yorker" puts it:

The choice serves various purposes. First, it creates a palpable chill, endowing President Obama with a demonic aura. Second, viewers who are aware of Wagner’s anti-Semitism may instinctively associate the shouting crowd at the Democratic National Convention with anti-Jewish mobs. Finally, the ad seems designed to trigger memories of the Wagnerian iconography of Hitler’s Germany. Siegfried’s Funeral Music was the chief anthem of Nazi mourning, and was heard alongside the slow movement of Bruckner’s Seventh Symphony after Hitler’s death. On some subliminal level, the ad might actually be equating Obama with Hitler.

All these make a valid point. Ross, however, misses one important possibility, one deriving directly from the libretto and the synopsis: Israel, the heroic Siegfried being stabbed in the back by the scheming Obama-Hagen. It is also the one that has a foundation in some of the classic interpretations of the "Ring of the Nibelungs", most notably, Geroge Bernard Shaw's. Shaw claimed that Siegfried's smashing of Wotan's spear in Act 3 of "Siegfried" represents the destruction of the norms of the old order, including the 10 Commandments. If we accept this as a valid allegory, the only logical conclusion that can come out of it is that the character of Wotan is in fact an allegory of the Jewish God of the Bible. And since Siegfried is Wotan's grandson he too is of Jewish descent. A turn of events that makes a mockery not only of nazi pseudo-interpretations of Wagner but also of those Wagner "scholars" whose malevolent constructions actually give credibility to the formers' ramblings.

And this problem of legitimising, in a certain way at least,  nazi views on art by painting not only Wagner's works but Wagner as well in a distorted, caricatural manner is not lost on Ross:

Hitler was one of a million youths infatuated with Wagner at the turn of the last century. Some were anti-Semitic extremists; others were socialists, communists, democrats, feminists, apostles of free love, early gay-rights advocates, Rosicrucian mystics, Theosophists, and members of every other imaginable group. There were even some African-American Wagnerians;...We have forgotten that glorious interpretive confusion; in an unsettling way, we now listen to Wagner through Hitler’s ears.

The author's case, made in the title of his article, is presented in a compelling manner,likely made even stronger by the fact that he admitted in it that some time ago he supported the Wagner ban in Israel. And he gives a reason for his change of heart that could hardly be more logical:"I know more about Wagner now than I did then, and would no longer resort to such a pat formula." Many should follow his lead and learn the facts that contradict the vicious narrative that has been indoctrinating people against some of the finest work of art in the history of mankind.

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