30 December 2008

A Ring of Fools

Picture of Odin, the wanderer
It must be the cold weather - or certainly the poor offerings on telly these evenings - but I'm tackling another long long work by a dead anti-Semite. In this case, Wagner's Ring, about 14 hours of music. I'm now about 66% through it, with the longest work, Gotterdammerung, to come tomorrow. I'm listening to the CDs and reading the librettos online, the first time I've paid such close attention to the text, rather than simply enjoying the music.

What strikes me most is how stupid almost everyone involved is. In this, it reminds me of Corneille. There is an 'official' reading of the work, according to which the leading characters represent the best of humanity, and there's the reading that someone like me can't help creating, where the so-called virtues of these people are madness.

Take Wotan, assumed to be the chief god. He's crap. And I think Wagner knows it. Partly because he's one god among many, Wotan can't command, but has to negotiate, bargain and wheedle to get what he wants. At the start, he has the builders (Fasolt and Fafner) in, and they're slightly worse than super Mario. To settle the bill, they kidnap his sister, and to get her back he has to give them The Ring, Der Ring, the ring which can give anyone total power, as well as a huge heap of treasure. Once that's gone, the game is really up for Wotan, but he potters about for the next few decades. Fafner kills Fasolt, so gets all the treasure and the ring, but does he enjoy it? Does he go on a nice cruise? Nah, he changes himself into a dragon and just guards the treasure in a cave, and sleeps a lot.

And so on. Of course, as with Corneille, the strength of the work is in the conflict between the 'official' and the subversive reading. Currently, my view is that the 'message' of the work is that the concept of god is illogical, therefore collapses under any 14 hour period of scrutiny. But I would think that.

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