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Did Socrates say "Know Thyself", or was he misunderstood, as all are. Show Thyself is all we can do. The knowing is unknowable.  

I am filled with joy.  It can't be helped.  

Became a Farmer, Builder, Musician, Tank Commander, Librarian, Lawyer and Minister. I have failed at many things. And now retired.  Filled, just filled, with Joy. 

Monday, February 08, 2010

Theodor Herzl and Wagner - add to collection of Ironies

In 1895, a modest but highly educated German journalist was sent to Paris by his Editors to report on the "trial of the century". Theodor Herzl duly reported the details of the trial, of which he was an eye-witness. The French Army had imprisoned and then tried the highest ranking Jew in its ranks, convicting him on the facially implausible charge of being a spy for Germany. These legal proceedings were the culmination of the notorious event known as the Dreyfus Affair. The conviction of the Jewish officer was confirmed by the Supreme Court of France, even though there was not a scintilla of "evidence" supporting the charge, and in fact, another man admitted to having served as a spy.

Herzl walked away from the trial with the CERTAINTY that Jews, without a homeland, would not be treated with justice in Europe at that time. Where Captain Dreyfus, a fine officer, with undeniable competence and accomplishment, unsullied by any taint or corruption of any kind, could be blamed for losses in a military campaign in which he was not even involved, and where it was shown to the Supreme Court of France that there was no evidence in support of the charges, which were brought by incompetents who needed a scapegoat, his conviction was upheld on the single ground that he was a Jew. Blaming Jews, a largely unarmed people, had become a successful method for avoiding responsibility on the part of authorities across Europe. Here, it reached an apex.

After filing his reports during the day, Herzl would attend the Opera in the evenings in Paris. By coincidence, the Ring Cycle composed by the German composer, Richard Wagner, was being performed. Herzl was well-aware of the ugly anti-semitism of Wagner, who was a prolific essayist as well as composer. Yet, to his credit, he was able to appreciate the artistry and sublimely beautiful compositions. Even more extraordinary, he was able to take inspiration from the libretto itself.

The operas are loosely drawn from the bardic saga mythology of a Norse people. Wagner obtained copies and outlines and translations of the Poetic Edda, the Volsunga Saga, and the German Nibelungenlied. Like many intellectuals in this period of relative peace (late 1800's), Wagner found "Romantic" inspiration -- profound feelings -- in the epic literature of pagan gods.

Contrasted with his other compositions, Wagner's Ring Cycle is positively sunny and refreshing. Wagner invented most of the plot of the first music drama, the Rhinegold, by combining three unrelated Edda stories, developing a theme of Love versus Greed and Power. In the Valkyrie, the theme is Lover versus Law. In Siegfried, he practically defines Love as Freedom (from law and greed), and in Twilight of the Gods, he develops Love as a redeemer for those who resign themselves to it.

Virtually all of the sagas available to Wagner came out of Iceland, centuries after the isolated island had become Christianized by force. Transmitted with both apologist and euhemerist views, Wagner took the Myths as proto-science (explaining the mysteries) and proto-psychology (explaining ourselves).

Wagner was dead before Hitler was even born. However, Wagner's anti-Semitic views had been published, and he stooped to inventing a character in the Cycle who mimics the public caricature of greedy Jews -- although the character is in fact, a Germanic divinity. The Nazis did not invent anti-Semitism, or much of anything else. Nor do anti-semites, even talented ones, bother with logical consistency or decency. And to be "fair", Wagner did not express any great love for Germans or "Deutschland" -- which was not yet an independent united State, but from its various communities he had to flee on several occasions, and in which his music was banned until 1861.

So, what did Herzl draw from the musical dramas which had been drawn from ancient pagan poetry by a talented "Romantic" German exile?

Herzl was inspired to create Zionism. It was the only, the ONLY, remedy for anti-semitism. His fellow-German's artistry and the bardic ideas about community-building helped shape the concept of a Jewish homeland. Recovery of what was lost. Herzl, the Founding Father of Israel, was a devoted, lifelong Wagnerian.
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