Monday, March 31, 2014

288. The Case of Wagner, Nietzsche Contra Wagner, and Selected Aphorisms by Friedrich Nietzsche

The Case of Wagner, Nietzsche Contra Wagner, and Selected Aphorisms by Friedrich  Wilhelm Nietzsche is a collection of two essays and a selection of aphorisms on the Nietzsche's views on the music of Wagner in particular and the problem of degeneracy and the dangers of accepting it as the main culture. I read this e-book only because I wanted to read something by Nietzsche not because I truly understand high-culture or Classical Music, to which Wagner's music belongs. Though I enjoy this music genre. Yet, I do agree with Nietzsche on the need to guard against the tendency of misconstruing degeneracy for the norm at any epoch. As has happened today. Reading this essay, I shivered to think of what the author's response would have been to today's compositions, if there are any. Especially since Wagner, whom he critiqued caustically, is considered a virtuoso today by all standards and for whom a whole festival was organised to mark his two hundredth year last year. However, culturally it looks we might have truly slid down a very gentle but very long slope and have suddenly woken up to realise how deep we have fallen.

Not that Nietzsche considered himself above all else. His argument was that, Wagner was not a philosopher. If he were he would have recognised this decadence and struggled against it. But he did not. He basked in it and contributed to it. And this was what he considered as the difference between himself and Wagner.
I am just as much a child of my age as Wagner - i.e., I am decadent. The only difference is that I recognise the fact, that I struggled against it. The philosopher in me struggled against it.
Nietzsche considered this realisation of Wagner's music as pandering to degeneracy and his realisation of this as akin to recoverying from a disease that was Wagner.
The greatest event of my life took the form of a recovery. Wagner belongs only to my diseases.
Whilst dismissing the music of Wagner, in this technical discourse, Nietzsche praised Bizet, a musician who might today not be as famous as Wagner. However, during the time of Nietzsche's criticisms, it was Wagner that was all the craze. He bemoaned how people are not able to spot quality but will move like a herd and follow the one person who had been chosen to be good without truly assessing the others or allowing them to prove their worth.
May I be allowed to say that Bizet's orchestration is the only one that I can endure? That other orchestration which is all the rage at present - the Wagnerian - is brutal, artificial and "unsophisticated" withal, hence its appeal to all the three senses of the modern soul at once. How terribly Wagnerian orchestration affects me! I call it the Sirocco. A disagreeable sweat breaks out all over me. All fine weather vanishes.
Nietzsche accused Wagner of being an actor and not a musician and that his greatness stems from the fact that it is the mob that favours him. In a manner similar to Ibsen, he disregards the mob and attributed to them a sort of blindness to excellence and blandness to quality.
It is glaringly obvious: great success, mob success is no longer the achievement of the genuine - in order to get it a man must be an actor! - Victor Hugo and Richard Wagner - they both prove one and the same thing: that in declining civilisations, wherever the mob is allowed to decide, genuineness becomes superfluous, prejudicial, unfavourable. The actor, alone, can still kindle great enthusiasm. 
And yet today's world is no different. Once the industry, the academy, accepts you as their poster child, whatever you do - good, bad, worst - is not the issue. You write garbage and it receives rave reviews and made into a movie. You spews unintelligible lyrics and it becomes the new style. Today's marketing and personal branding have put talent beneath fame. In music, it does not matter what one is saying or what one is carrying across. What matters most is how much nudity one can show. Nudity without creativity. The more sex, the more popular; the more famous, the more the awards and the greater the acceptability. The arena of talent has been infested with the capitalist's financial vial. This has drained out talent and has put art in a way that is stranger to talent. Commercialisation has created the blueprint of success that entails no genuineness or talent, but of things that could hardly be attributed to talent: expletives, nudity, considered to be postmodernist. Intellectualism pandering to baseness and stupidity. Some aspect of post-modernism is characterised by one's ability to breakdown societal barriers even if it is at the expense of one's life, or at the death of creativity. Mere rebellion has been confused with talent. If in Nietzsche's days it was acting, and therefore pretentious, today it is much worse. There is no art in a work of art, for the decadent mob are in the majority and their tastes are sour and stale. In defining what Wagner had become, Nietzsche, who was Wagner's friend and a disciple before his what he considered as his recovery, wrote that
[T]he musician is now becoming an actor, his art is developing ever more and more into a talent for telling lies.
He questions - rhetorically though - whether Wagner was a musician at all. However, in all these he does not hide his admiration for certain aspects of Wagner's talent.
Was Wagner a musician at all? In any case he was something else to a much greater degree - that is to say, an incomparable histrio, the greatest mime, the most astounding theatrical genius that the Germans have ever had, our scenic artist par excellence. He belongs to some other sphere than the history of music, with whose really great and genuine figure he must not be confounded. Wagner and Beethoven - this is blasphemy - and above all it does not do justice even to Wagner.... As a musician, he became a poet, because the tyrant in him, his actor's genius, drove him to be both. Nothing is known concerning Wagner, so long as his dominating instinct has not been divined. [Note: all emphases are the author's]
Nietzsche answers the question he asked in the previous paragraph with 'Wagner was not instinctively a musician' in the succeeding paragraph. According to him this is proven by Wagner's abandonment of 'all the laws and rules, or, in more precise terms, all style in music, in order to make what he wanted with it, i.e., a rhetorical medium for the stage, a medium of expression, a means of accentuating an attitude, a vehicle of suggestion and of the psychologically picturesque'. And it is here that Wagner receives the most praise, albeit sarcastically when considered in the broader discourse on music. Nietzsche continues: 'In this department Wagner may well stand as an inventor and an innovator of the first order - he increased the powers of speech of music to an incalculable degree - he is the Victor Hugo of music as language, provided always we allow that under certain circumstances music may be something which is not music, but speech-instrument - ancilla'. In effect, Nietzsche might not necessarily be arguing against the creativity, but that creativity if it goes beyond the boundary and produces something different should as a matter of necessity bear a different name, just as Wagner's 'experimentation' went beyond the requirements of music. Nietzsche put his critique of Wagner into three requisitions:
  • That the stage should not become master of the arts;
  • That the actor should not become the corrupter of the genuine;
  • That music should not become an art of lying.
In all these, Nietzsche is moaning the replacement of art with something else. Just as today's crave for nudity has allowed talentless individuals with reflexive tendencies to go nude at the least opportunity to become the leading lights around whom some gather and to define what art should be, Nietzsche identified the results of confounding virtuosity in acting with virtuosity in music. He writes
Whom did this movement [the worship of Wagner upon culture] press to the front? What did it make every more and more preeminent? - In the first place the layman's arrogance, the arrogance of the art-maniac. Now these people are organising societies, they wish to make their taste prevail, they even wish to pose as judges in rebus musicis et musicantibus. Secondly: an ever increasing indifference towards severe, noble and conscientious schooling in the service of art, and in its place the belief in genius, or in plain English, cheeky dilettantism (- the formula for this is to be found in the Mastersingers). Thirdly, and this is worst of all: Theocracy - , the craziness of a belief in the preeminence of the theatre, in the right of the theatre to rule supreme over the arts, over Art in general...
To Nietzsche, anyone who engages in art or any field of it must subject himself to learning of that field; of what makes it what it is. Perhaps it is in knowing the rules that one could break it. Breaking it without knowing it is ignorance. In today's world, our affinity for sensualism and its imposition on art or its use as the mark of freedom and emancipation has led to the redirection of almost all music genres to profanity. Hip Pop, which began as a means of communicating and seeking kinship in suffering, has moved from that to debauchery; and so too has other forms of music.

But Nietzsche provides no hope. And post-Nietzsche has proven him right. He moans that 'Nowadays all things that can be done well and even with a master hand are small'. To have a sense of how much smaller this has become, reflect on the major music and things of art today. For this he blames the rule that seeks to make corruption paramount.
From the rule that corruption is paramount, that corruption is a fatality, - not even a God can save music.
In the second essay, Nietzsche continues his discussions on Wagner in a more technical way. One thing that is clear is that he sees music as an end not as an instrument for dramatic effects that Wagner turned it into. Some of the sections in this section includes: Wherein I Admire Wagner; Wherein I Raise Objections; Wagner is Dangerous; A Music Without A Future; How I Got Rid Of Wagner; and The Psychologist Speaks.

Though the subject under discussion will appeal mostly to those whose interest in Music and its philosophy is keen, it can also work for those who do not enjoy these but have the patience to read some of the more universal applications of Nietzsche's statements. Which is not an easy task. I cannot claim I understood half of what Nietzsche wrote; but the first step is the reading. And the second and third steps are the rereading. One needs them to understand the author. A difficult essay but worth the read all the same.

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