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Wagner, Nietzsche and the Clash of Ideals: Art, Philosophy and the Search for Meaning

As an “outsider” music major, my earliest connections with Wagner were purely literary. Wagner – as the villain – came to my attention when I first encountered Nietzsche some 27 years ago. The first thing I came into contact with was “Thus Spoke Zarathustra” in Chutunan’s translation. In order to know more about the author, I found all the translations of Nietzsche I could find in the library, from “The Birth of Tragedy” to “The Will to Power” “wait. It’s unfair – because the composer doesn’t have a chance to speak.

Wagner, too, remained an accused silencer until his graduate studies in literature and arts in the mid-1990s. I have always been on Nietzsche’s side – the biggest consequence here can be imagined, that is, there will be a rebellious psychology. In the past two decades, among my tutors and roommates, there are Nietzsche translators and critics, but just like me, they have always discussed (cut) Wagner from the perspective of language and literature, and have never studied music. Most of my colleagues who translated, criticized, and read “The Birth of Tragedy”, “Nietzsche Against Wagner”, “The Wagner Incident” and even “The Complete Works of Nietzsche” never discussed Nietzsche’s problems from Wagner’s orchestral music—one of the main reasons may be Western classical music is lacking in contemporary Chinese universities and postgraduate education, and students majoring in musicology seldom study German classical philosophy. Therefore, people who like Wagner (the minority) think that Nietzsche is irrelevant, and they are mostly jealous of Wagner; while people in the humanities (the majority) support Nietzsche, dismiss Wagner, and lack the ability and accomplishment to go deep into Wagner’s orchestral music .

Therefore, a comprehensive solution to the case has become an obligation-wagner must be listened to. After graduating from graduate school, I began to enter Wagner’s world. During this period, the power of Wagner’s music was gradually revealed through long articles and short essays on Wagner, and from time to time, he made indirect remarks, such as reflecting on the “Wagner Incident” through Nietzsche’s favorite composers—especially Bizet. This has started to center around the music, avoiding purely philosophical debates – Wagner’s philosophical concepts are considered to be rather confusing. But then I realized that Wagner himself also had a solid philosophical core, and that was Schopenhauer. All this time I have been a Wagnerian. Around 2010, I promised a national social science journal to write a “Critical Biography of Nietzsche” to connect my series of critical biographies on Freud, Husserl, Heidegger and others. But after more than a year of preparation, it still didn’t come to fruition—criticizing Nietzsche from the perspective of musicology is like criticizing Wagner from the perspective of philosophy, which is beyond the ability of an amateur philosophical researcher and music lover. It is a double debt which must be paid sooner or later. It is a relatively easy way to repay the loan through “Shuo Le” with a less strict style – Easter Holy Week in 2017 has become a rare opportunity. Listening to Wagner’s “Holy Friday Music” in “Parsifal” during this Holy Week is no longer Bach’s “Easter Oratorio” that I used to listen to in previous years. “Parsifal” is the final breaking point between Nietzsche and Wagner. Nietzsche had to vehemently object to Parsifal’s yearning for renunciation, its allegory of spiritual pity, disembodied “love,” and the allegory of a “complete fool” saving the world. At that time Nietzsche left the scene of “Parsifal” without a word, and never spoke to Wagner again in his whole life.

Regarding this break, Nietzsche said: “If a person lacks frankness and sincerity to himself, I will never think that he is great. Once I discover this lack, then this person’s achievements will no longer have any relationship with me.” Nietzsche students know that Nietzsche’s eternal crusade against Wagner is mainly aimed at Wagner “being an actor”. But what we need to ask is: what is an actor, in what sense does Wagner act as an actor, and how is Wagner an “actor” in “Parsifal”?

As far as this play is concerned, the fact that few people have said is that the “player Wagner” Nietzsche opposed mainly aimed at something that is neither Christian, Jewish, nor Buddhist, but is A mixture of these religious ideas, a kind of Indian philosophy reworked by Schopenhauer. This is the Buddhism that Wagner deeply understood from the heart and was developed and utilized by Germanic nihilism. With his genius, Wagner put on this kind of nihilism the double cloak of Christianity and Buddhism. The orchestral music at its peak in “Parsifal” is an extreme obsession with nihilism. Any spirit has a tendency to deteriorate. The Hebrew nationalist spirit of “a tooth for a tooth, an eye for an eye” is transformed into Christian universalism, and the same is true of the transformation of the original Christian universal spirit into grandmotherly compassion. The ultimate downfall must be nihilism. Nihilism is the fate of European civilization as well as Indian philosophy. Schopenhauer combined the misanthropy of Buddhist philosophy with Germanic mysticism to create a thoroughly pessimistic philosophy. This radical pessimism draws the strength of the pessimistic argument from the Buddha: “will” is the driving force of the world, and will is the blind impulse that rules everything. This kind of will is like an alien alien, which itself needs to reproduce. Through the irresistible sexual instinct and reproductive desire of human beings, it reproduces itself like a tapeworm. As the host of the will, it is impossible for the human beings who live like dogs to really know the noumenon of the will. (The proposition of fighting the will through art is Nietzsche’s revolutionary transformation of Schopenhauer’s philosophy). For Schopenhauer, only through art (music art) can human beings witness the true face of will, and the only way to escape is to actively and quietly die (out of “reincarnation”). In life, the desperate also commit suicide, but this is the unsatisfied deepest longing for existence itself, remaining in the cage of the will. “The only feasible way to fight against the will is to starve to death quietly and watch the will slowly starve to death.”Schopenhauer was pushed down on the cold floor by pessimism, and he also pushed his confidantes and believers on the cold floor. Schopenhauer’s thought is so full of real poison that it is impossible to refute it by logic. Just like the opposition in the university lectures, Schopenhauer firmly stood on the opposite side of Hegel’s historical idealism and completely denied objective rationalism. Schopenhauer explained it through philosophy (the “death instinct” emphasized by Freud in his later years-more ancient and stubborn than “sexual instinct”). Schopenhauer leaves a small emergency exit for the utterly powerless: geniuses, especially artistic geniuses (especially through the art of music), can experience unity with the will, and even peacefully “starve to death” with it, It is to create the suicidal experience in art.

The only philosopher who has soberly expressed nihilism is Schopenhauer. This is a philosophy that persuades people to die, and it is the reverse of “life to death”. Wagner was the only artist who grasped the essence of Schopenhauer’s philosophy. Parsifal conducts a hunger strike about giving up life. Wagner, with his incomparable artistic means—part pessimistic nature, part natural brilliance—expounded Schopenhauer’s reformed nihilism. This kind of philosophy is intolerable to Nietzsche because it is a comprehensive reaction from “Tannhauser” and “Nibelungen Ring” to “Tristan and Isolde”. In “Tannhauser”, Wagner’s obsession with sensual eroticism is invincible. The sensuality of the music makes the salvation preaching about the Holy See pale in comparison. Richard Strauss’ “Salome” “7 “The Veil Dance” is just an adolescent sexual fantasy; while in “The Ring of the Nibelung”, Siegfried’s recklessness and Brunhidell’s rebellion become a fire that burns down the kingdom of heaven; his greatest In the work “Tristan und Isolde”, the sexual instinct, the death instinct, and the artistic instinct merge into a torrent of “will to die”, but itself is extremely clear and noble. It can be said that in “Death of Love”, Tristan did not die from his wounds, but stared at the will clearly with Isolde and starved to death with him – a quiet and firm “I The will to “decide to die” is entirely self-fulfilling. This death music is full of clear power, life and will embrace each other and die together. In “Parsifal”, all this is abandoned – when the artistic means are perfect, Wagner’s answer is Nirvana.This is a reaction to “Tristan and Isolde” and “The Ring of the Nibelungen”: Parsifal the “fool” defeated Siegfried the fool, Kundry the old woman defeated Aesop De. All the characters here, and especially the music of these characters, are anemic and feverish from anemia (bloodletting excites). The only humanity of Amfortas is precisely the eternal wound left by his temptation – but he is “healed” by the fool; the only humanity of Kundry is precisely her mocking of the suffering of Christ, but she is also To be “saved” means to die. In the plot, Klingthor, a wizard who castrated himself to resist temptation, disappears, but isn’t this in exchange for everyone becoming Klingthor—we all gain immortality because of castration?

The main character kneels around the Holy Grail as the pale light of “Sacred Friday Music” descends from the sky, a scene that is the exact opposite of the burning of Valhalla at the end of “The Ring of the Nibelung.” In the music here, what we see is not a boundless fire, but the birth of a “Parsifal Dynasty”. The music here is so gorgeous and beautiful, it is as irresistible as hallucinogens. The legendary “black music” whose listeners are bound to commit suicide should be this piece of music! We know that music can make people have a direct physiological reaction, and the music of “Parsifal” not only makes people produce a physiological reaction, but also induces people to pursue the ultimate physiological reaction-experience the soul’s shelling (death).

Is the old woman Kundry who spans time and space Cosima, is the fool Parsifal the mad king Ludwig II, is Amfortas tortured by the eternal wound Wagner himself, and the self-castrated Klingthor is Bülow huh… none of this matters anymore. The music is marching, death is marching, the castration is done, the wounds are luscious—this music is bloodless and cold, the highest form of necrophilic art—Stravinsky said: “It is The music of the crematorium.” Hitler must have been intoxicated when he killed himself on the slide of his favorite “Music for Holy Friday.” Anyone in this music will only be intoxicated. The Wagnerian music in the Nazi concentration camps was actually a spiritual force that united the abuser and the abused. Wagner was not responsible for Nazism at all, he only revealed through the magic of music that in some dead corner of the common man’s heart, there was indeed a secret longing for death rather than life.

The greatness of Wagner lies in the fact that before him, music in the context of Western culture was essentially a celebration of existence and expression of life, and it was an affirmative public activity (from Athens to Jerusalem); after Wagner, music can praise Non-being, representation anti-life, as a negative private act. This not only greatly opened up the space for musical expression, but also reversed the music itself.

“Today, I discussed Buddhism and Christianity with him. It is conceivable that the world of Buddhism is much greater – although Buddhism lacks the Gospel that directly enters the historical time and space and reaches our conscience. The advantage of Buddhism is that it absorbs the tenets of Brahmanism , gives a symbolic system where science can’t help. And Christianity is derived from Judaism, which is embarrassing. The suffering of Christ moves us more than the suffering of Buddhists. We become Buddhists through meditation. Christ desires to suffer , Suffer more, and redeem us with blood. And the Buddha gazes at us with compassion, and teaches us the way to Nirvana.” – Cosima’s diary on October 28, 1873, is the period between her and Wagner Endless discussion of Parsifal’s records. I have said that Father Liszt and his daughter (their piety of the Catholic creed, their prejudice against the Jews) had an even fatal influence on the Saxon Protestant Wagner. Now it seems that it is not so fatal-the core of Wagner’s philosophical beliefs, Schopenhauer’s nihilism is indestructible-in the giant’s twilight years, the inner Schopenhauer came to the fore-it is the masquerading as Christ Buddha-Brahman. It is this exquisite and elegant Indian thought of inaction that seriously challenged Nietzsche, who believed in the Greek philosophy of life, challenged Nietzsche, who was increasingly Romanized in his later years, and also challenged Nietzsche himself, who was the son of a priest and trained as a priest. When the mad philosopher finally signs “Bacchanal or Jesus of Nazareth,” we get a glimpse of the contradiction of modernity that tore Nietzsche and all of Europa to pieces, the nihilism inherent in Western civilization.

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