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Wagner Scholar Takes Exception

Posted by acdtest on September 21, 2003

A Wagner Scholar Takes Exception

t seems my brief criticism of the principles underlying the planned productions of The Millennium Wagner Opera Company have raised the ire of Wagner scholar Derrick Everett. Writes Derrick (in a posting on the Usenet Wagner newsgroup):

Your “brief comments” are less than charitable. They also help to confirm that you have a defective understanding of Wagner’s dramas, the intentions that lie behind them and the intellectual context in which they were written.

There is a sense in which works of art take on a life of their own, once the artist has delivered them into the world. This does not mean, in my considered view, that the art-work can be or should be detached from the artist. I also reject the view that the artist is merely the channel of divine inspiration. Wagner’s works are his works, and those works are inseparable from the man.

My response:

I of course expected your disagreement with my view as your posts here [on the Wagner newsgroup] make clear just how much importance to the music-dramas you assign things biographical and intellectual in Wagner’s life. To my way of thinking that “…help[s] to confirm that you have a defective understanding of Wagner’s [music-]dramas,” as by such a view you are led into all sorts of false byways and intellectual maunderings regarding them.

As I’ve stated here [on the Wagner newsgroup] more than once, the music-dramas are *totally* self-contained works, and require no scholarly biographical or intellectual overlays or insinuations for their complete comprehension. And this is not to mention that where creative genius is concerned, especially creative genius of the transcendent sort which was Wagner’s, the ordinary and intellectual life of the creator counts for nothing in itself in the final products of that creative genius, all of the core of those products the result of mostly unconscious transformations, which transformations cannot possibly be “reverse engineered”; not even by the creator himself, much less ordinary folk, no matter how deep or probing their scholarship, or how convinced they are that the results of that scholarship lead to a deeper understanding of the genius’s creative output. Such a conviction on the part of the scholar is nothing more or other than a pathetic self-serving justification of the research time and labor expended; a justification wholly unnecessary as the scholarly work has its own rewards outside the artworks, and is its own justification.

I might have added, if somewhat ungenerously, that such scholarly researches are too often used by scholars, especially if they’re critics or reviewers as well, to make their discourse on the music-dramas seem wonderfully erudite and objectively verifiable; that last a great (if false) comfort to both scholar and audience alike. Such erudition, however, is wholly misplaced in such discourse, and as I noted, leads into all sorts of false byways (i.e., false to the music-dramas) which impede rather than promote real understanding. And while I can sympathize with the comfort afforded by objective verifiability, that comfort, as I above parenthetically noted, is false as well. As with all genuine works of art, once one goes beyond questions of craft and matters technical, there is no objectively verifiable anything. One might even say that’s a hallmark and necessary condition of all genuine art, and the very source of its resonant nature.


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