The 1963 film Its a Mad Mad Mad Mad World is one of Don’s favourites.
Starring Spencer Tracy, Phil Silvers, the incomparable Ethel Merman and a host of others, its a mad cap romp around San Diego in which a group of otherwise law abiding citizens get into all sorts of scrapes in a grasping frenzy for a pot of gold. The madness rears with two heads. Firstly the notion that extra money will improve their lives and secondly; that every man for him or her self will be better than cooperating as a group.
Wagner and his mentor Arthur Schopenhauer would have approved Stanley Kramer’s central critique.
Linguists tell me there is no direct translation for the German word “wahn”. Ernest Newman: Wagner Nights in a footnote refers to “erroneous or false opinion”, “illusion”, “delusion”, “hallucination”, “error”, “folly”, “madness”. All of the above. Generally that mankind is propelled by an inner and irresistible compulsion to strive for something unseen and unknowable and that such striving is invariably at the expense of a fellow human who is striving with equally determined folly.
This resonates with West Ham’s ambition to improve itself by moving stadium. So far, not looking so good.
The anguish that there is no escape from such madness is a central, not to say overriding theme in several Wagnerian operas. Most obviously in the Wahn monologue in Die Meistersinger….to paraphrase..”everywhere people torment and flay each other until they draw blood in foolish anger…no-one has reward or thanks for it..he thinks he’s hunting, not realising its his cry of pain, as he tears his own flesh….”
Pure Schopenhauer and you don’t get that with Puccini.
In the Ring Cycle too. Paul Heise (via Roger Scrutton’s intro) in his leviathan analysis, Wagnerheim, identifies in the Ring Cycle, in response to wahn as mankind’s destiny, a yearning for transcendence. A need to escape the forever pointless striving and return to an age of innocence. So generally the gold and specifically the Ring may not be (or not only be) symbolic of capitalist greed (as GB Shaw and others saw it) but rather of religious consciousness and/or scientific knowledge. In either case, the means whereby man has leapfrogged all other species to rule the world.
Whether you get this, you will at some level feel it. Lets put it this way. We have the scientific knowledge and curiosity to develop technical “solutions” to all the world’s problems. So what if we rape the world of fossil fuels? We’ll just create a better technology. Once the world is dead, we’ll move on to another planet. Technologically, humans will find a way.
But to what end? We are constantly striving but where are we going and is it any better? Some of us, possibly Schopenhauer but maybe also Wagner and Stanley Kramer, may wish we had not left an age of innocence when we desired nothing more than to roam the fields in our battered VW camper-vans (running on compressed sheep droppings), parking up by the river bank and strumming Leonard Cohen on a lute.
To my simple and frackered mind, it is such sentiment that is at the heart of much of what Wagner had to say and which couldn’t be further from the common conception of what he is about. Such is the fascination.
But what has this got to do with West Ham? To which Don says: any discussion that isn’t Mike Dean or the performance against Man City has got to be an improvement.
But actually there are links. Don is not about to re-write his own history and say with hindsight, he was always against the move. He understood the rationale at the time and was excited by the prospect of us little Hammers becoming a footballing giant. Which could still happen and we must judge the project after 5 years not 5 months.
But after suffering for half a season we look back to our golden age at Upton Park with not a little regret. Lets not kid ourselves that life back then was not, like now, more heartache than anything else but its undeniable that we had something magical and that is now gone forever.
There was a window of opportunity, between bids, when the TV money had kicked in and the club was not dependant on the move for survival. We could have redeveloped Upton Park to 45,000 but no, by then we were riding the Wahn wave. Don included.
I am not trying to equate the rape of world’s resources and pointless wars to the exit from The Boleyn but there is something familiar (and slightly nauseating) about this feeling that if one stands still, if one is not constantly striving for something else and being seen to be striving for it, one is as dead as dodo. Schopenhauer probably thought (and almost definitely said) that the dodos had it right.
So here we are. Team bereft of confidence. Ground that sucks out the atmosphere. Players that don’t look committed. Crowd that thinks its at Disney World and realisation that there is more to a manger than being cool. I fear Concerned is the new Cool.
Don will try to find some silver linings:
- we are unlikely to go down
- we have a good crop of youngsters. A team (3-4-2-1) of Randolph, – Burke, Reid, Oxford – Byram, Obiang, Kouyate, Creswell – Lanzini, Samuelsen – Fletcher/Martinez; has potential with more plus experience on the bench.
- we have Payet; should he wish to play for us. If not, time to move on.
- Board may realise it cant pick the transfers.
- 10,000 day trippers may have had enough, allowing 10,000 waiting list fans that know what they are in for, to step up.
- At some point, team will realise its in their hands and they cant blame the ground.
- the manager is still a bit cool, for not being so cool.
- We are West Ham United.
So breath deeply, don’t panic and don’t let the Wahn grind you down.
If you have been, thanks for listening.