In Which Mayhem Abounds but Don takes the Philosophical View. Schopenhauer time.

Post 34

It’s hard to conceive that there could be any conceptual issues combining a blog on Wagner and West Ham United but take it from Don, there are one or two. Currently imposing like an anvil on his skull, is that its easy to be topical with West Ham (unpleasant but easy), whereas the Wagner stuff takes a little longer so that, what with holding down the day job etc., by the time the Wagner stuff is considered, the once hot from the oven West ham stuff has gone cold and soggy. Such is life and we’ll just have to disappoint the dozens of advertisers…anyway…

Don discovered Africa early. Aged 22 months, armed only with compass, parents and nappy cream, he foraged to Casablanca. So with decades of experience under his belt, he can safely say that Africans do not as a rule, cause mayhem. He’s pretty sure Africans are well represented in the Nutter stakes, at least if UN debates are the standard, but not disproportionately so. Yet not everyone subscribes to the first above view and it transpires dissenters lurk within that bastion of sanity, West Ham United.

The alleged (careful!) slur on the footballing mentality of an entire continent, was made by the club’s now ex-“Director of Transfers ” (we had one? – who knew?) as the January transfer window “slammed shut” and drew to a close a bit of a mad month down at the Stratford Sarcophagus.

For the most part, January, seemed quite benign. Results were pretty good, potential transfer targets sounded sensible and we even landed one, Joao Mario, whose pedigree was only slightly tarnished. But Janus is a fickle, two-faced god and by the time the moon got fat and blue, both of these had turned agin us so that the better half of the squad got injured, Wigan Athletic (of two divisions below) dumped us out of the Cup and we committed a whole host of PR calamities. Off the top of my head;

  • Wash Your Mouth Out. Arthur Masuaku, master dribbler, shows the world but more directly the poor guy from Wigan Athletic, that he can expectorate with equal competence. The footballing world saves a special place in hell for the spitter so with unity of disgust, Arthur is rightly banned for 6 games. One is grateful I suppose, that he didn’t masticate.
  • Never Saw That Coming. In same game, the club loses Pedro Obiang to a vicious tackle. No ban, no card of any description and not even a free kick. We are not expecting to see him again this season, whereas the Spitee, mentally scarred no doubt, was of course otherwise unharmed. Looking beyond that irony, the point of mentioning this is that Pedro is the only recognised defensive midfielder at the club. Having spotted this since Spring 2017, the club compound the Carvalho Cock Up with the Dendoncker Dick Around. Really appalling mismanagement particularly in the context of our dire need and his desire to join.
  • Nail Varnish of a Different Colour. The now defunct and disgraced President’s Club. Hundreds of delightful misogynists gather to donate to terribly worthy causes but with the expectation of handmaidens on tap. Unbelievable how many of the nations best and brightest claimed not to have had the foggiest about what was going on. The good news was, for once it was nothing to do with West Ham. And yet…..? We see Jack Sullivan, son of owner, august chairman of West Ham Ladies team (what else?) and barely old enough to drink, was on the guest list. No idea if he turned up and look, we all make occasional bad call, but this event has had a reputation for years and one wonders just who thought it was a great idea for the teenage son of the owner to be associated with it.
  • Mayhem. Repeat this word often and at sufficiently fast speed and it makes no sense whatsoever. The room starts spinning, you suck your thumb and for a little while, the world feels like its made of candy floss. Unfortunately, at normal speed, it only needs to be said once about African footballers to a Daily Mail journalist and things aint as cuddly. Especially when a healthy chunk of the home changing room is African. I mean FFS, you couldn’t make it up. The only plus is, we kicked ourselves in the nuts before Sakho did it to us, as surely he will….or (by the time of publication) has. Got to be rock bottom you say?
  • Oh Here’s the Story, Of a Lovely Lady… Dame Karren. She publicly (in her newspaper column), castigates Moyes for his sexist comments when at Sunderland. Fair enough she’s entitled to a view and who would have thought she’d have to sanction his employment in due course? An embarrassing but unfortunate coincidence; no problem. What is a problem is not learning from that and not realising that football is a terribly claustrophobic world and public criticism can come back to bite you. And that we hear, is why Slimani is not a West Ham player. Not saying he’s brilliant but what if he was? Why the hell can’t she be more professional?

And this brings Don to his essential point. Five years ago, we beat Spurs to the Olympic Stadium. They were always a bit bigger than us but not immeasurably so. Look at what’s happened in that time and the advantages we’ve had whereas they’ve had to finance a new stadium (please God it should still haunt them). Point is, everything about how Tottenham is run exudes professionalism, whereas all we do smacks of an amateurish hobby.  Of course that’s just appearance and no doubt lift the veil and they aren’t so brilliant and we maybe are not the nightmare we appear. But I only deduct a couple of marks for that. Generally, the allegation remains.

Still there’s always February…which got off to a fine start at Brighton, going down 3-1 with, we are informed, one of the most abject 45 mins in living memory. Are the calamitous affairs behind the scenes having an effect on the team? They shouldn’t but one doesn’t suppose that the lack of new faces and the general sense of chaos helped either manager or dressing room.  No discredit to Joao Mario who had a pretty presentable debut against Palace in the week. Also very best wishes to Jordan Hugill who seems an enthusiastic lad and whom from his You Tube moments, reminds the ancient Don a little of the youthful Geoffrey Charles Hurst.

Well, what’s a boy to do? Shrug shoulders and get on with life, that’s Don’s philosophy. Fortunes have hidden before and will do again. The joy of our wonderful club is that despite all and long after these owners and the next lot have gone, the fans will still love the team and had better get behind David and the boys this weekend (now today; how the week flies. – Ed.) 

Supporting West Ham spawns thousands of pub philosophers. Engage brain because Don is going to try to get his head around the 19th century Arthur Schopenhauer, a man convinced he had found the answer to lots of big questions. Maybe he had.

Why him? Well he profoundly influenced Wagner from his Ring Cycle onward, so including Die Meistersinger, Tristan, Götterdämmerung and Parsifal and when I say profoundly, hardly a day passed without him reading and writing about Schopenhauer or as Cosima referred to him in the diaries, Sch. and he never tired of telling anyone that would listen, how it changed his life and therefore his art, though that is a loaded statement as we shall see. Don has mentioned him several times in previous posts whilst nervously swerving what he was saying. I warn you now, its heady stuff, often counter intuitive, at first glance ridiculous and difficult to get one’s head around. And yet, and Don has really only scratched the surface, you feel old Arthur may have been onto something. I say old; he wrote his masterpiece, The World as Will and Representation in his twenties and spent the rest of his pretty long life refining it but not changing the essentials and was just as convinced he was right at his death in 1860 aged 72.

Sch. the Younger                                                                  Sch. the Elder

So here’s an initial stab at the gist but first what does this love, nay obsession, with a philosopher say about Wagner? I lot, I would say. Whilst other composers have the intellectual gravitas to understand Sch. (because no doubt there have been lots of clever composers) but to be sufficiently interested in what he had to say? And not alongside and separate to his world of composing but integral to his art and giving it life. That synthesis of music and philosophy seems pretty unique. Though lets not go overboard. Wagner was an intellectual but no philosopher. His life was driven by music and his philosophical interest was what is the role of music in society.

A couple of other initial points.

  • Don is no philosopher, indeed he and intellectualism of any kind are uneasy bedfellows. So Dear Reader is advised to consider commentary below, more Karl Pilkington than Karl Popper.
  • Following this, Don naturally, has not read the direct sources; primarily The World of Will and Representation but nor the essays etc. He is inspired to do so but for now is generally indebted to Bryan Magee’s The Philosophy of Schopenhauer. Sch. himself was scathing of people not going to the original source but I’m afraid its baby steps and meantime, I have found Magee enlightening and for the most part intelligible.

Wagner first came across The World of Will and Representation 1854. He had completed the “Romantics” – Der Fleigende Hollander, Tannhauser and Lohengrin. He had finished the colossal poem of the Ring Cycle (a huge work of art even had it never been set to music) and was embarking on its score, something that would take at least another 10 years to complete. What he absorbed caused him to not so much to make significant change (though one can make a decent case that it did), but Wagner would say, because Sch revealed to Wagner what Wagner had in his deep recesses felt all along but could not hitherto grasp.

So what in essence was Sch. saying? Here’s an ultra-simplified snippet.

  • everything we can perceive, the known universe and including time and space, he called the phenomena.
  • Whilst not necessarily the case that the phenomena only exists as our perceived experience, that is all we can know of it.
  • there is an underlying reality to everything which following Emanuel Kant, Sch. calls the Noumena. He also refers to it as “the Will” and the “thing in itself”. We may get an occasional whiff of it but as it is beyond time, space and human comprehension, we can never know it. But it is our only reality. Everything else is guess and presumption.
  • But while we are presuming, the types of whiffs we may get are gravity, the sex urge and sometimes, music. Which was music to Wagner’s ears.
  • we also know something of the Noumena by knowing ourselves; we do not make a conscious decision to itch a scratch; we do it because at a very deep level our bodies are running themselves. We know the inside of ourselves in a different way than we can know anything else. We feel hungry, sad, envious, pain. Our cells evolve, our hair grows. We do not “decide” to do these things, we just do them, in much the same way that a leopard does not “decide” to eat a gazelle. We sleep and when we do we are guided by an entirely different force; a century later Freud would pick up on the power of dreams.
  • All our everythings are driven by the noumena. It is a blind energy; a constant striving, present in all organic and non-organic matter, including animals and mammals and so also, us. The constant expansion/contraction of the universe.
  • It is our urge to exist, survive and so to multiply. Inevitably it means constant insatiable desire and so we are never truly happy. Not for nothing is he known as the pessimistic philosopher (though watch Die Meistersinger, replete with Sch. analogy and tell me you don’t come out happy). For someone dealing with an utterly impractical subject matter, Sch. is ever practical and full of examples. The rich are never rich enough, birthday gifts delight us little beyond disposing of the wrapper and we are thinking of the next one.
  • What we perceive as reality is simply our perception. The only corroboration that such exists, is that others seem to share that experience (a group of us can kick a tree) but that too is simply perception.
  • The phenomena is the perceived part of the noumena. It cannot be distinct, because the noumena is all. It is the tip of the iceberg that we can see
  • We are only different in the phenomena. By “we” I mean rocks, plants, animals, humans. In the Noumena there can be differentiation.
  • Therefore our reality, the phenomena, begins with our birth and ends on our death. Before and after these events we are all part of the noumena. Sch. gives an interesting analogy as the rainbow above the waterfall. It has a sense of permanence but actually is millions of water drops existing for a millisecond. The phenomena like the rainbow is intrinsically ephemeral, no matter how permanent it seems.
  • This includes time and space. Things in the phenomena can only exist because of them. I only exist because I inhabit a particular space (with a beginning and end) and do so for a given time. If space is discredited by its own definition – it cannot be limited because of the tautologous implication that there is nothing beyond the limit – then one can, with a somersault or two, see how our existence (beyond perception) is called into question.
  • The title to his magnum opus The World as Will and Representation can now be understood as The World as Noumena (the Will) and its representation in perceptible form, the Phenomena. If nothing else, we can understand the title.
  • Because the Will means our natural state is a constant striving for more. life is inherently unsatisfactory. What to do? Sch. suggests renunciation of the Will so far as possible [little old me renouncing the all-powerful Will? Not sure about that…Don], so trying not to be so grasping and striving in life. Put better perhaps, recognising that we are all one, there is no need to be competitive and our guiding force should be compassion for others.

A normal reaction to all of this is, how can he know? This tree is real, watch me kick it. Which is a compelling argument and one which Sch. as an eminently practical man, would have taken very seriously.

But by a process of elimination he shows, following Kant, how perceived reality deceives us; it is simply to what we have become accustomed and so we assume real. He makes an intelligent start in his analysis; namely that if one sets out to find answers to life, the universe and everything, one needs to recognise the answer when one sees it. And as answers may not be absolute, there ought to be parameters (Sufficient Reason) that one can say, ok that is an answer that I accept. It might not be 100% but otherwise we’ll be here all day. Ever practical, he gives two examples; firstly code breaking. It is logically “impossible” to crack a code. No matter how likely a solution may appear, at the next check the theory may fail. Nevertheless, if one has checked it 1000 times and it works, a reasonable person may consider that sufficient; just know there is theoretical fallibility. Number 2. Water is wet. we know this. Well we don’t. All we know is that it has felt wet the previous times we have touched it but who knows what will be next time?

By logic, he discredits both religion (pretty easy) and science as reliable modes of explanation of anything. Science he demonstrates, can take one so far but falls short when it comes to the big question of explaining what a given item actually is, which is where philosophy kicks in. In essence, science explains things by describing either the thing’s constituent elements or what is their function; as opposed to what it is. Either he or Magee describes a nice vignette whereby you walk into a room full of strangers to whom you are extensively introduced. Within time, you know every relationship between them and all that is possible to know about their connectivity. But beyond explaining this one is that one’s mother-in law etc. no-one can tell you who they actually are. That we are told, is science. Magee discusses that what Einstein discovered in the 20th century, Kant and Berkeley discussed  philosophically 200 years earlier.

So a brief Wagner recap. In 1854 when he first read Sch. he had written the poems for the four operas comprising the Ring Cycle and about half the music. He had obviously completed the earlier operas because they were in performance. Crucially, he also had a pretty good idea of the essence of the all his remaining operas, though the scores would yet take many years. 

Philosophically, dare one say politically, he was with Feuerbach with a dash of Bakunin. Man was capable of anything; of turning any given situation, righting wrongs and saving the day. The pre-socialism socialist, which dare one say it, is not a million miles from the pre-fascism fascist. Siegfried would grasp power from the tyranny of the Gods; the time of Man was now. This was Wagner’s intellectual thought process. His ideas of musical theory and performance were also highly considered and in his various essays, he set out the ideal and how to achieve it. That from an apex in classical Greece where the various arts synthesized in performance, modern art (and he blames Christianity and then commercialism), has separated music poetry dance etc into separate art forms. And in separation, each under achieved. It was opera, if done right and (with less vigour) in the right political context, that had the potential to re-unify the arts; music, poetry, drama, acting, spectacle into one supreme art-form. He despised Grand Opera. It was a commercially driven excuse for true art and had fallen as far as is possible to fall from the Greek Tragedy ideal.  Words and music bore little relation to each other, never mind an equal relationship.

And then he read Sch. To show how this affected him, one can do not better to look at a couple of excerpts from his letter to his friend Rockel, in prison 23rd August 1856.

“Now would you suppose it possible for an artist to be helped to a clear understanding of his own work by an intelligence other than his own?….I must confess to having arrived at a clear understanding of my own works of Art through the help of another, who has provided me with the reasoned conceptions corresponding to my intuitive principles.

…as an artist I felt….that all my creations took their colour from my feelings, as a philosopher I  sought to discover a totally opposed interpretation of the world…though to my surprise I found it had invariably to go to the wall when confronted by my spontaneous and purely objective artistic intuitions.

….I had built up an optimistic world, on Hellenic principles; believing that in order to realize such a world it was only necessary for men to wish it.  I ingeniously set aside the problem why they did not wish it. I remember that it was with this definitive creative purpose that I conceived the personality of Siegfried, with the intention of representing an existence free from pain. But I meant in the presentment of the whole Nibelung myth to express my meaning even more clearly, by showing how from the first wrong-doing a whole world of evil arose and consequently fell to pieces in order to teach us the lesson that we must recognise evil and tear it up by the roots and raise in its stead a righteous world. I was scarcely aware that ….I was being unconsciously guided by a wholly different, infinitely more profound intuition and that instead of conceiving a phase in the development of the world, I had grasped the very essence of the meaning of the world itself…and had realised its nothingness; the consequence of which was, that I was true to my living intuitions and not to my abstract ideas in my completed work…”

[he then goes into detail concerning Brunhilde and the conclusion of the Ring Cycle which is so important, Don will devote a separate post to it]

“My reason for imparting to you this mental process..is to make my own position clear to you. Once this problem of the difference between intellectual conceptions and intuitions had been solved for me by Schopenhauer’s profound and inspired penetration, I ceased to think of it as a mere abstract idea, for I realised it as truth.”

On the face of it, Feuerbach and Sch, are polar opposites. One being about the here and now; reality is what you see and if it (society) ain’t good, the ability to change it is in our hands all we have to do is grasp it. The other is that perceived reality is an illusion, we are capable of little or no independent thought because mankind, along with everything else, is a mere physical and very temporary representation of an infinitely greater but unknowable force. So changing society, even if possible, is pointless.

So far as art is concerned, Sch. consigned it to the same fate as everything else, it was a mere physical representation of the noumena. Yet not necessarily music. Music can be a glimpse, an His Dark Materials portal, into the world of the noumena. Music takes us where words cannot; our love for poetry and drama is true but cerebral. Music has the power to move us in ways beyond comprehension and intuitively, we have always known this. So contrary to Wagner’s musical theories, where words and music should be equally supportive of each other, Sch. was saying that there is a clear leader and it is music.

And yet from the letter to Rockel, we don’t see a man in despair, whose life’s work he now believes to be wrong.  On the contrary, we see a man who has been dissatisfied with his work but couldn’t figure out why. He was writing it to fit philosophical and musical theories that intellectually he wanted to be right and thought they were right but now sees that actually, despite the intellectualism, his gut intuition was the greater force and now that Sch, had shone light on it, he could see. He felt he was Shopenharian all along and was fighting it with intellectualism. This meant that not only were his future (and undoubtedly best) works obviously guided by Sch. but he could see the same in his previous works.

Another time, perhaps the next Post, Don will consider the implications of this for the Ring Cycle because they are profound.

For now, we can see and have discussed before, how Tristan, Die Meistersinger and Parsifal are subsumed by Sch.’s influence.

Tristan –

  • Day/Night. Day being our phenomenal reality which tricks us into believing it is real. Night being true reality.
  • Renunciation of personal life because we are united in “death”. Not in a religious sense of paradise but on a different plane altogether. As Magee points out, T&I cannot be personally united as they in the Noumena are at one with everything.
  • Music has power over words to the extent that much could be performed as a concert piece.

Die Meistersinger

  • the role of Art in society
  • pre-eminence of music
  • Sachs renunciation of self-interest (and the Will)
  • power of dreams
  • Wahn monologue
  • The crowd having a Will of its own.

Parsifal

  • Here time and space do not exist
  • Kundry time travels
  • Reincarnation
  • Buddhism
  • Salvation through compassion
  • Renunciation/asceticism, particularly of sex
  • The pain of anyone is all our pain.

So, a brief consideration of Sch. Maybe we know a bit more than we did before. Maybe Wagner’s works make a little more sense.

To continue the frivolity, number 42. Sch. had things to say about 42. Namely that man continues to form in all respects until that age. Beyond then, he can evolve, refine, re-interpret but not essentially change. Most religions have things to say about 42 and of course for Douglas Adams, it was the answer to life, the universe and everything. Wagner discovers Sch. aged 42. Just saying.

If you have been, thanks for listening.

COYI! ©DonnertheHammer.com 2018

In Which Twenty’s Plenty for the Travel Wear-y

Post 26

Wagner liked a Wanderer and travelled extensively himself. Not only the enforced exile that tends to follow picking the losing side in a revolution but he traversed Europe trying (usually failing) to put on commercially successful operas. He also regaled in Mein Leben many tales of hiking throughout the Alps. Of his main characters, Wotan often operated under the pseudonym “Wanderer” (and lived up to that) and several others, including  Tannhäuser, Parsifal, Siegfried, the Dutchman and Lohengrin all put in the mileage. I guess a good yarn is a journey in itself so travel is an oft used device.

Don and Little Don also like to travel. Harbouring thoughts of a European Tour, we (well Don anyway) envisaged this season, following Wagner’s footsteps and was thinking in terms of Zürich Grasshoppers, Dynamo Dresden and someone nice near Venice, say Verona or Udinese. Any would have fit the bill, though we drew the line at Riga. But no, typical West Ham, we depart the Euro scene with the ink barely dry on the Referendum Act, going out to that footballing giant Astra FC. Good God. I mean just give me strength.

Fortunes always hiding but still we blow bubbles and all that (Slav accent). We decide that this year we shall discover the green and pleasant land that is England (and Wales)! Unfortunately Cotswolds FC, North Cornwall United and Delights of Snowdonia Athletic are still building up to Premier League status. So it has been slightly less bucolic idylls  including Liverpool, Manchester, Swansea and last week, Sunderland.

1229px-Logo_Sunderland_svg

But pleasant sojourns nonetheless and hard to credit this season (as opposed to last) but I don’t think we’ve seen a defeat. Of course we lost at Chelsea, Spurs and Arsenal but those are mere stretching one’s legs rather than proper travel.

So after a very nice lunch and a pint in gloriously sunny Newcastle we arrive at the Stadium of Light. It has lost a little of the Roker Park soul, fondly remembered by Don in the early ’80’s but is a pretty impressive ground and the support deserves better than the rubbish they’ve been served the last few years. It afforded Don the opportunity to explain the Bob Stokoe statue to Little Don (with whom it barely registered) but folks, it is of such annoying and futile gestures that maketh a parent (or not). Don was optimistic. He’d predicted a 2-1 Hammers win earlier in the week on the fabulous Stop! Hammer Time podcast  Hammers Stumble in Relegation Push and he was sticking with that. Predict Sunderland to score? But they haven’t scored in over a million seconds of apparently active football! Only a madman would back them to score. Surely?

And it couldn’t have started better. After knocking the ball around with some fluency, Carroll nodded the ball back from beyond the far post to Ayew who with the time, space and a carefree attitude that only a sunny bank holiday weekend can provide, adjusted his footing, lurched, stumbled, scuffed something..and the ball rifled into the bottom corner some way below the legion of travelling Hammers fans. We sang, we laughed, Slav was declared to be Super, the boys were knocking the ball around with some assurance, even at speed and (blow me) in a forward direction!! And all was well for a while. The apex was a flowing move that ended with Snodders (to his friends) clipping the ball just wide with the goalie nowhere.

Then the rot seemed to set in.  Khazri, one of those annoyingly effective players began being annoyingly effective. But even he would not have expected to score as he did. With Sunderland settling comfortably into their second million of seconds without a goal, they innocently win a corner. Khazri swings in a decent ball, which Fernandes (of whom Don is otherwise a fan), ushered through, lest not to interrupt its flow and Randolph (more of whom anon) under substantial pressure from the substantial Anichebe flaps at nothing and the ball goes straight in. Who scores direct from a corner? I mean beyond the playground, who does this? Maybe we were unlucky not to get a foul. Maybe.

Slave is declared to be not quite so Super and we limp through to half time.

In what was becoming a battle of who could have the most laughable defence, we were 2-1 up shortly after the re-start. Ginger Pele nodding home. The only pressure he felt was the band of high pressure nestled somewhere way over the North Sea. Again Slaven was Super. And without too much trouble (relatively speaking), we were edging toward a correct score prediction and the moral high ground for Don. Step up Darren Randolph. Now don’t get me wrong I like Darren and Don remembers from his youth that being in-goal is a thankless task. Don also remembers Darren keeping us in a cup game at Anfield last year. However, this year’s Anfield was a different story; one that has had too many repeat readings and with a chapter added last Saturday. With the game drawing to a close, and under real pressure, he elects to catch not punch, at almost at 18 yards from goal. The ball falls to Borini and they are level.

Don recalls a similarity with Adrian. Both keepers are rightly criticized for hugging their line and not dominating the six yard box, never mind the penalty area. Bowed low with such criticism, every now and then, they decide they are coming for the ball. It may be around the half way line but they are coming for it. Just to shut people up.  It rarely ends well.

Don’s prediction in tatters, it ends 2-2. Oh well, survival will have to be guaranteed another time and its time to go. We leave the weary Wearsiders and head back to Newcastle, where Sunderland’s failure to take probably their final survival chance was greeted with widespread joy. We took a slightly later train which proved uneventful and home in Muswell Hill by eleven.

This is great improvement on Don’s last trip to Sunderland (Roker Park) after which night game, he had to hitch-hike through the night to get home, which was then Lancaster. Some travel even further. Take for example Scandinavian Hammers who have kindly let me re-produce their logo as it has more than a touch of Nordic Wagneritus around its gills. These hardy folk think nothing of several thousands of miles over the season which I could understand if we were decent.

scandihammer_logo_2016_ny.png

Now apparently the good folk at Virgin Media recognise the monotony of the long distance runner as they were offering a tenner back on every away ticket purchased for last weekend. Anyone hear about it? Don saw no publicity whatsoever at Sunderland and only after tickets had been disposed of did someone mention to him the  Twenty’s Plenty campaign. Forgive Don’s cynicism but he ponders if this is one of those publicity stunts aimed at everyone other than those that might take advantage. Cue Don and Little Don rooting through bins looking for grubby tickets because it seems other proof of purchase does not qualify for the refund. Why the hell not? Come on Virgin, be a sport. And if your ticket is not in the bin, claim your tenner!

Enough retrospective. lets look forward! A relaxing shluf on the tube tomorrow before a Rioja or three down Enrique Tomas at the Westfield (you can take the bloke out of Green Street…)..before a nice three points at home to Everton. If ever there was an easy team for us…Come on guys, send those Scandi Hammers back to Tromso happy; they’ve made a big effort.

This episode of this Wagner blog has been painfully short of Wagner. That’s the way it goes. Some days, the Swan glides along the river bearing the Knight, other days it falls dead from the sky. You got to roll with those punches. Last time was all Parsifal. Don’s heard whiff of a Götterdämmerung study day on Sunday at Fulham Opera which might be cool and on election night he’ll be watching Lohengrin at Longborough (one can do away days in the Cotswolds!), starring the fabulous Lee Bissett.

But a sad note on which to end. We hear today of the way too early death of Ugo Ehiogu. As nice a guy as his name was difficult to spell and with whom Don was lucky enough to play a couple of rounds of golf. RIP Ugo.

Ugo.jpg

 

If you have been, thanks for listening.

COYI!

©DonnertheHammer.com 2017

In Which there’s No Fool like a Pure Fool

Post 25

Ludwig Swan copy

© Copyright Peter Crawford 2015

 

A recent survey indicated that No Religion is now one of our most observed “religions”. Which goes to show that either the survey was rubbish or that we think of religion in  a broader sense. The phrase “Keep the Faith” is bandied about for all sorts of reasons and for many, including Don, his immediate family and Fan, supporting West Ham is a kind of religion. Usually the self-flagellation type but with very rare moments of spiritual rapture.

We like Slaven, we back Slaven, we keep the faith. But Lord, how you test us! After another defeat (at Arsenal) with Spurs, Everton, Liverpool etc all to come in short order, it was looking grim. As regards two of those; Spurs and Everton, this was the season (Don not unreasonably hoped) in which we would make great in-roads into the “stature” gap between them and us; even over-hauling Everton. Instead the gap has widened to a chasm (such pettiness is of interest to Don). Yet here we are. Are we foolish or what?

So what a relief to beat Swansea on Saturday. After weeks of abstinence, Don can again look at a league table and he has returned to the joys of Gary Lineker et al on Match of the Day. It wasn’t a superb display but it was a distinct improvement over the second half at Arsenal. There was passion, guts and we had a messianic Ginger Pele at the back to remind what playing for and supporting this club means to all of us. Don’s moment of the day was a dead ball moment. With 15 minutes to go, their captain Jack Cork (decent player) was down injured. The sound of “Super Slav” resounded around the ground at Jericho threatening volume. In the context of the pressure the gaffer’s been under, this was a stirring moment and showed, not that the recent dross is acceptable but that we are all in it together. It could have brought a tear to a Madonna statue (non-weeping variety).

Don and Little Don are up to Sunderland at the weekend, fools that we are but at least now a prospect of a decent day out (naturally the only day this week with rain forecast), as opposed to the day of judgement.

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A little sense of serendipity as the Swans bring relief and we move on to Parsifal..

Parsifal, der Reiner Tor, the Pure Fool, was Wagner’s final opera. He may have intended that because whilst he had over the years mused over other operatic projects, his tendencies in his final years, hinted at a more symphonic direction. It was also his only opera written specifically for his newly created Festspeilhaus at Bayreuth aka the Wagner Cathedral, which is fitting. Those coming to Parsifal for the first time may find the slow-paced, reverential feel quite challenging, or if in contemplative mood, quite wonderful and may be forgiven in thinking it is a religious piece, set as it is around the Grail, and Good Friday – a hint of Passion Play. Academics have long argued as to its religious credentials. As Ulrike Kienzle (1) comments : it is beyond doubt that it is a work of a sacred nature, “but what form of “sacred”are we dealing with here?” One may find it cleansing and cathartic; calming and strangely sensual without really knowing why.

Unlike his other operas, there is no obvious narrative that pushes proceedings towards a denouement; indeed the crux of the matter (Kundry’s kiss), takes place in the middle of Act 2. Acts 1 and 3 reflect each other in several ways so Act 1 builds to the kiss and Act 3 is in contemplation of its revelatory consequences. Time and history are of less significance than event. One may be forgiven at the end for thinking, “that was an amazing experience but I don’t know why and haven’t a clue what it was really about”. Don’s regular reader will understand that Don’s boundless ignorance does not preclude his mouthing off, so with Good Friday and Passover fast approaching, its time for some initial impressions on Parsifal.

To whet appetite; religious fanaticism, castration, lust, sex-slaves, re-incarnation,  androgyny, necrophilia and an over burdening Oedipal complex. Not to mention the nihilistic killing of an endangered species. So as “Swansongs” go, its your normal trip through Wagner’s neurosis. Yet, someone watching it fresh, may take it at face value,  love the beautiful experience and pick up on little of the above. That in Don’s view, is equally worthy.

Lets start with the briefest of over simplified synopsis. Then we will have a bit of a think as to its meaning..

Act 1.

In a remote and desolate part of Spain (Montsalvat), a group of committed believers guard the holy Grail, the vessel which, following the last supper, was used (in another vortex) to catch the blood of the dying Christ on the cross as he bled from a wound in his side; apparently inflicted by the Roman soldier Longinus piercing him with a spear. The guardians (Knights), live an ascetic existence of self-flagellation, celibacy and occasional glimpses of the Grail and also their other holy relic – the said spear (until they lost it). They derive succour from the relics’ other worldly qualities and the very ritual of bringing them out on a regular basis sustains them, spiritually and actually (which is helpful as god knows the place looks as though nothing would ever grow there). It brings to mind Freya’s apples from Das Rheingold. The Grail when brought forth glows blood-red and flows as Eucharist wine. The Grail King,  Amfortas, should preside over this ceremony, like his father Titurel before him. However, Amfortas suffers from a wound that will not heal and inflicts perpetual pain but which will not bring the longed for relief in death. Guess what? It’s a wound in the same place from the very same spear (significantly it still drips blood from its tip). So he has to be respectfully dragged out to perform the ceremony. With the King’s reluctant leadership, the community is fast falling into decline, the landscape into desolation and its all becoming a bit of a chore.

Enter Kundry. She flits in and out of the community, they don’t really know why or from where she comes. She ostensibly helps but always seems to be absent in times of trouble. So a target for mockery and suspicion but grudgingly respected by Guernemanz , the chief lieutenant Knight. In defending her from taunts, he provides the following little back story; to wit….

A former Knight, Klingsor, angered at being omitted from the community (he’s not thought to be of the right stuff, especially on the celibacy front), has established camp over the way and plans to capture the holy grail and spear. His tactic (a sure-fire winner), is a brothel (inhabited by the Flower Maidens) which tempts the weaker Knights which, after a quick knee trembler, are in Klingsor’s thrall.

Sad to report Dear Reader, but the king Amfortas himself, to his eternal shame and on a supposed trip to defeat Klingsor no less, succumbs to fleshy temptation and (though the Knights don’t know it) with none other than Mata Hari in chief, Kundry. While she is tempting him with a bit of how’s your father, Klingsor nabs the holy spear laying by Amfortas and stabs him in the side. He returns to Montsalvat.

Debit column: lost holy spear. Credit column: gained perpetual wound. Note to the Accounts: Klingsor, in futile attempt to convince the knights that he is serious about celibacy, has at some time before, castrated himself.

So back up to date (whenever that is because it’s all a bit fluid, time wise), the Knights are preparing for the ceremony. A commotion and a thud, as a dead swan hits the deck. A boy with suspicious bow and arrow is hauled by the Knights to Guernemanz. Who are you? Why did you kill an innocent swan? Further similar questions, all of which are greeted by a shrug of the shoulders by the boy who doesn’t even know his own name. Kundry has seen all and realises she knows the boy and his parents. She explains to Guernemanz how the boy was raised by his mother who after his father died in battle, was so over protective of her son, she insulated him from knowledge and life. But alas, the boy having left her, she has subsequently died of a broken heart. Devastating news to the boy. Guernemanz remembers a rumour that Amfortas would will only be healed by a pure fool and something about knowledge through compassion. So on a hunch he invites the boy to observe the grail ceremony.

Moving on. Reverential slow-paced ceremony at which Grail is revealed, still glows red, Eucharist etc. but with no Spear with which to couple, is then returned to its place of safety. Guernemanz in hope, asks the boy, “Weißt du was du sahst?” Do you know what you saw? The boy shrugs his innocent shoulders and Guernemanz guesses he’s a fool but not the fool. The choir resounds not with Super Slav but with knowledge through compassion, the pure fool. Suggesting Guernemanz may have missed a trick.

Act 2.

Klingsor’s camp over the way. He’s been observing goings-on down Montsalvat and he too has spotted the kid’s potential. Having secured the spear, he considers the time to be right to get the Grail but (rightly) perceives Parsifal as a threat. He awakes Kundry from her coma like death sleep in which he keeps her shackled until her sexual charms are needed. Her task; to seduce this Parsifal kid who is heading this way, mowing down several of Klingsor’s Knights en route and then amid coitus, he can go the same way as Amfortas. Lets not think of Klingsor as an out-and-out baddie; he wanted to join the gang and they wouldn’t let him or, he was one of them and they booted him out. Think Captain Black to Parsifal’s Captain Scarlet.

The lovely flower maidens in the walk-thru brothel try to tempt him but to no avail but then he sees Kundry at her sultry best and it looks like he’s a gonner. Amid telling him about his mother’s love (vague memories return to him), it becomes a little confusing; is Kundry mother or lover? Which is of course the point and see below for discussion. They embrace in a passionate kiss which probably stands for the Full Monte just short of penetration. When….at the last second he pulls away and exclaims “Amfortas, the Wound!!”  That is, he’s had an epiphany re what happened to Amfortas, what Kundry is up to and how he Parsifal can provide redemption. A whole raft of complex stuff ensues between them re faith, seduction, compassion and redemption which is beyond this short synopsis (but which is the key and peripherally considered below). Klingsor curses Parsifal and throws the sacred spear to kill him. As Parsifal catches it above his head, Klingsor, the Flower Maidens and the whole kit and caboodle (other than Kundry) turn to dust (sounds biblical).

Act 3

Having regained the spear, our boy is making his way back to Montsalvat. Considering its just over the way, he gets badly lost because it takes an unknown period of time and by the time he bumps into Guernemanz (who has just bumped into Kundry) in a lovely flower meadow (note contrast to desolation and to tawdry Flower Maidens),Guernemanz  is an old man.

Guernemanz sees Parsifal has the longed for Spear and realises that Parsifal is the pure fool who can redeem Amfortas from his sin, save the community and (Parsifal) can take his rightful place as Grail King. Much anointing and in best Saviour-like tradition, Parsifal washes Kundry’s feet (and vice versa) before the three of them follow the yellow brick road to Montsalvat.

Once there, a further grail ceremony is performed which also doubles as a funeral for the ancient Titurel. The Spear is re-united (by which we mean inserted into) with the Grail, Amfortas is healed, Kundry is forgiven and finds her longed for redemption in death and Parsifal is anointed the new Grail King. All is well.

The End.

So it’s not much of a story. Its carried (in Acts 1 and 3) by sublime, slow, transcendental music with the Dresden Amen much in evidence and one feels it intends to impart deep messages of a spiritual nature. Don would not pretend to be able to attempt to decipher but lets at least raise some notions and pose some questions.

It looks like a piece of Christian art. Without mentioning Jesus by name, we have a Saviour and a Eucharist; and baptisms of sorts are performed. This is an unnatural bedfellow with the agnostic Wagner of his Feuerbach and Schopenhauer decades (and he was influenced by Schopenhauer to the last).  But his essays in his latter years suggested a pivotal role for the established (non-Catholic) church in the new German society. Nietzsche was convinced the older Wagner had “fallen” into Christianity and for him, it was the last straw, though we know by this time, he was looking for any reason to criticise his erstwhile idol. One could look at it purely at this level but I think that would be superficial.

Nationalism and blood. Parsifal, perhaps more than any other Wagner piece has been interpreted differently over the years and generally there’s sufficient ammo to bolster any existing perspective if that’s the reviewer’s aim. To generalise for the sake of it; in the 1880’s and 1890’s, the Church supported its christian ethos. Pre-WW1 its purely artistic and aesthetic qualities were appreciated. In the increasingly antisemitic Weimar years, preservation of pure race/pure blood issues were emphasised and honed  with the rise of the Nazis. Interestingly while the Nazis banned a lot of overtly religious art, Parsifal was permitted. So what are the racist/nationalistic aspects?

We have a community trying to survive, it is based on principles of purity and to its mind, decency. It preserves the pure blood of its long-lost leader/god head, which has purifying qualities. It is exclusive, it has cast out those not of the right stuff (Klingsor) and is wary of the outsider (Kundry). Its headed by a leader who is not only not leading but has fallen short of the principles, due to his weakness. The community reveres two relics, the grail and spear. Both are linked to the blood of the mythical godhead. If the Grail community doesn’t remain strong in the face of outsider (other race) temptation, it’s very essence will be lost. Who will save them? Enter Parsifal, yes a fool but because he has been kept pure from the corrupting influences of the outside world he will gain wisdom to illuminate the path. Watch him gain in authority as the piece progresses. He is the outsider hero who can resist the temptation that befalls the incumbent leader, thereby save the community from unwanted outsiders and by end, all are prostrate before his absolute authority. Weißt du was du sahst? One can see what the Nazi’s saw.

Others look at it quite differently. There are few operas that have inspired Freudian literature like Parsifal. Conferences have been held on it is influence on psychoanalysis.

Tom Artin, in his book What Parsifal Saw considered this and it is worth brief consideration now (and a longer look another time).

Don knows about as little of psychoanalysis as he does musical technicalities but hey…

Artin makes 2 initial points re Freud.

  1. Human experience is like an iceberg with the conscious experience being the visible tenth and the unconscious being the great mass under water that is nevertheless the greater part of the whole and dictates everything.
  2. Freud says: The overwhelming unconscious human experience that dictates our thinking is the Primal Scene. This is, wait for it..and no West Ham blog would be complete without it..the child’s image of its parents having sexual intercourse. The played out “Mummy, where do I come from?” It is a disturbing image for the child and perceived as violent. To spell it out, Daddy is stabbing Mummy to create a wound. It goes on but you get the gist and we’ll leave it there.

Having set that scene, Artin sets out 6 principal themes in Parsifal:

  • Ignorance of the pure fool
  • Seeing. What Parsifal saw.
  • Maternal sacrifice.
  • Sex as parlous.
  • Seduction
  • Redemption through compassion.

 

Ignorance of the Pure Fool

Wagner has given us ignorant heroes before but more nuanced than Siegfried, Parsifal acquires the right knowledge. Initially he knows nothing; not his name, who is father is, that it is wrong to kill a swan. But he learns. Without knowing what he saw at the initial grail ceremony, he instinctively knew to make his way to Klingsor.

Seeing

So what does he see in the epiphany? He screams Amfortas! The wound! Artin says that having almost re-enacted the Primal Scene (Kundry/ his mother, Parsifal/ his father), that is what he sees; Kundry having sex with Amfortas, which leads directly to the wound.

Maternal Sacrifice

Kundry explains how his mother sacrificed herself for his protection and ultimately enacts her name, Herzeleide, by dying of a broken heart. In the seduction scene, Kundry almost becomes the mother (in Parsifal’s eyes). Freud’s Primal Scene moves inexorably in an Oedipul incestuous direction for the child’s protection which is a huge sacrifice on her part. Kundry certainly wants to sacrifice herself in repentance of historic sin. She is supposed to have seen Jesus being crucified and laughed at him. About as un-compassionate as can be. Her punishment; to re-incarnate over generations and be denied peace. She is awoken on two occasions in the opera and both times from a “death sleep”, so perhaps sacrificed many times over and simply used, in death, as a sexual vassal.

Sex as Parlous.

In most grail legends, the King (the Fisher King) is wounded in the thigh or groin and is somehow incapable of functioning. Sterile. Wagner moved it north to the side, in replication of Jesus and perhaps to spare 19th century blushes but the implications are clear. Have sex, get stabbed in the side, lose holy relic, lose power, destroy community. Freud would liken the wound to the vagina, bleeding as menstruation. The Spear penetrates the Wound etc. etc. Yet at the end the Spear penetrating the Grail is the climactical coupling that saves the community, so who knows? Klingsor considered it sufficiently parlous to castrate himself.

Lets add to the mix that Schopenhauer considered the sex drive the most obvious and most powerful example of the Will (see Don’s various Meistersinger posts and others), which is irresistible and by nature, destructive.

Seduction

Kundry’s seduction and then her kiss, is the crux of the piece. It is this that brings knowledge. She tells him his name, she reminds him about (and of) his mother. One feels she has deep knowledge spanning lifetimes and has witnessed (and partaken in) a lot of evil as well as good. Something of an active but flawed Erda. Her role is to teach Parsifal, to bring him to maturity and to Redeem the Redeemer. The mutual washing of feet and mutual baptism suggests she and Parsifal almost merge into one and several commentators comment on the androgyny. See for instance the Syberberg film.

Redemption through Compassion

In the epiphany he feels Amfortas’ pain, admittedly in the heart (where his mother died) rather than the side and sees his role to forgive Amfortas and Kundry and redeem them both as well as the community. He also needs redeeming (contrast with Jesus). At the end the choir (and we know for Wagner the significance of the choir) sings Redeem the Redeemer. Why does he need redeeming? Ok he killed the swan but he pulled back from sex, if sex is bad. On that note, if that’s what Wagner thought, he certainly didn’t practise what he preached. But Parsifal sinned, he broke his mother’s heart and after all she did for him and what greater sin than that?

So that’s it folks and all Don can say is Gosh. Lots to ponder, hope it wasn’t too x-rated for some sensibilities.

It’s a lovely opera but can stir strange emotions, especially if one is open to it.

Suddenly West Ham v Sunderland has a charming simplicity and here’s hoping for redemption for Slav and all of us. We’re all in it together.

If you have been, thanks for listening.

COYI!

©DonnertheHammer.com 2017

  1. Ulrike Kienzle. “Parsifal and Religion: A Christian Music Drama?”