Wednesday 15 August 2012

What Jonathan Meese's Bayreuth Parsifal might look like.

Perhaps not that well known but Jonathan Meese has already presented a version of Parsifal in 2005. Admittedly not an opera production but one of his "performance" pieces it lasted over 6 hours and consisted of Parsifal in its entirety. Entitled "Mother Parsifal," We present links to two reviews below which may give some indication of what  Bayreuth might expect in 2016 . However, perhaps of more use is an interview that he gave at the time in which he discuses  his ideas about Parsifal in some detail - especially the theme of "redemption".

"Whoever considers Richard Wagner an anathema would best avoid this production. Because to see Jonathan Meese’s performance, one would have to sit through the full length of Parsifal – six hours, plus intermissions. After the first act, the second theater of the Berliner Staatsoper was only half full. Those who remained were either dyed-in-the-wool Meese fans or knew Wagner’s work well enough to recognize through all the monstrosities, the endlessly drawn swords, the bronze penises and skeletons, the many hollow gestures, the well-known Meese arsenal of German myths, cult-of-genius bombast and expressive layers of paint just how intelligently the artist was dealing with the onstage consecration after all." Review: Mother Parsifal

"The degree to which his pathos-laden artistic activity is existential to him could be seen in the exercise in endurance in Berlin to the endless sounds of Wagner. The stage is a wild convocation from Meese’s studio. At its center is a huge, moveable sculpture; Wagner’s face can be made out in its engraved furrows. A second sculpture is made of bronze: a hermaphrodite human-animal-creature with long phalli extending from its body. As the performance begins Meese happily fondles the beast’s main penis."Review: Mother Parsifal

 Majestic in the center stood the enormous stone head from Zardoz, transformed into a Janus-faced portrait of Wagner--on one side Meese's rough version and on the other a souvenir-shop likeness, embellished with a great phallic chin. A blowup of a small sculpture, it bore oversize traces of the artist's thumbprints. On the back wall was a painted caption: DR. SAINT PROPAGANDADDY SPOKE. Homemade Meesiana littered the stage: weapons and helmets; large photos of Klaus Kinski with hand-painted captions like THANK YOU and FRIEND; and, down some stairs. The Propagandist, a bronze humanoid sporting five huge dicks. A rickety ladder led down to a pit, where four blank canvases stood ready. With rows of plastic skeletons flanking a throne at center stage, the set seemed as much goth bar as Valhalla."Review: Mother Parsifal

"I also don’t think Parsifal is finished—first I’m going to rewrite the text. I want to write a new version. It keeps on going!" JM - Interviewed 2005

Mother Parsifal and interview with Jonathan Meese
(1) Recorded by András Siebold on January 16, 2005.
Translated by Erik Smith.

Slavoj Žižek: So what’s going on with the redemption? What’s the meaning of “Our Redeemer redeemed” from the third act of Parsifal?

Jonathan Meese: I think it’s about neutrality. It’s just a matter of symbolizing neutrality, of stating it like this, so that it can be laid to rest. And then comes the next wound that’s inflicted.

S.Z.: That’s problematic. I like the idea of a new wound, but how can I interpret that as someone with a Western point of view without getting caught up in an Eastern logic that contends the universe is a cosmos where everything gets repeated? I prefer this radical assessment: before the revolution and after the revolution. What kind of wound will that be? Will it be the same type of wound? What’s going on with Parsifal at the end, when he changes the rules by saying: “No more shall it be hidden: uncover the Grail”? I’ve always read this as if, with the ritualistic unveiling of the Grail, opium is being given to the people. My notion of the Grail community was always that of an opium community, with Titurel as the opium dealer, who’s tried too much opium himself. Thus the community has landed in a coma. But the question still remains: what kind of wound does Amfortas have?

J.M.: The wound is the cover of innocence. It will be inflicted in order to end the terror of innocence. That’s the worst kind of terror there is: existential terrorism and exposing its innocent face. It’s also not about redeeming the world but about the redemption of a secret society, not about something that affects the outside. The next secret society is targeted. That’s no religion…

S.Z.: No, no, no, I totally agree.

J.M.: It’s also not religious, what’s debated here, it’s about something totally different.

S.Z.: But I still have a simple reading as well. I think the wound just represents eternal life. I always enjoy these parallels—I think the wound is like in Kafka’s tale with the country doctor. A wound that doesn’t heal, a paradoxical wound that makes one immortal, immortal in exactly a Stephen King sense: undead…Wagner’s problem with the wound is always so defined that being freed from the wound means: now I can finally die in peace. What troubles me therefore is not the wound but a horrible eternal life, an obscene, eternal life something like the metaphor in Don Siegel’s horror-classic from 1956 Invasion of the Body Snatchers: the wound is the object that penetrates me as a parasite.
On this point I also agree with Hans-Jürgen Syberberg’s film Parsifal (1982), where the wound is brought out into the open like an object. To say it like Deleuze: not a body without organs, rather an organ without a body. It’s interesting to read Wagner with a Stephen King take on the undead. With Wagner you find precisely this terrible side of the wound.

J.M.: I also don’t think Parsifal is finished—first I’m going to rewrite the text. I want to write a new version. It keeps on going!

S.Z.: How does your version go? It’s interesting, the only active thing that Parsifal does takes place offstage: at the beginning of the second act Parsifal and the knights from Klingsor duel, but you don’t see it! Klingsor only mentions it. Everything that Parsifal does is a negative gesture: he comes, stops and does absolutely nothing!! But my old idea is that the only truly evil figure is Titurel. Klingsor is like a small southern Italian smuggler, he’s nothing compared to Titurel, the true evil, the obscene père jouisseur. Incidentally, Lohengrin is Parsifal’s son and, by deduction, there must also be a woman with whom he conceives Lohengrin! But if you’re dealing with the problem of the Grail, maybe you’ve seen this really awful Ring film by Harald Reinl with Karin Dor from the sixties that was shot in Yugoslavia?

J.M.: Yes, where I really liked the figure of Hagen of Tronje.

S.Z.: Ah, Hagen, have you read this beautiful novel about Hagen by this East German author?

J.M.: By Wolgang Hohlbein! I’ve got it at home.

S.Z.: An extremely interesting novel! It’s a complete rehabilitation of Hagen, who, I think, was always the only good character. He’s the only one who says: there are more than just idiotic private interests! There are state interests etc.

J.M.: Absolutely! We have to talk about this, that’s great! I always hated Siegfried! He only ever bought himself everything! Hagen stands for the defense of the state no matter what! Actually one should have Hagen of Tronje and Parsifal fight to see who wins. And the collateral stories would also have to be told.

S.Z.: I’ve already said, I think the true hero of the opera is the boring party functionary who files the report: Gurnemanz who, like during a communist congress, gives a presentation lasting more than four hours.

J.M.: Yes of course, and Gurnemanz is also Hagen of Tronje.

S.Z.: Yes, Gurnemanz is a nice idea. We’ve got our Hagen in Gurnemanz. But what does Mother Parzival mean?

J.M.: That would be my mother of course. Certainly I have to justify to her what I’m doing. I have to pay off my debts somehow and that’s best done before one’s mother. But not before Parsifal’s mother Herzeloyde, rather in front of my actual mother. I also have to be able to explain everything to her. Just this morning I had another long talk with my mother. We were discussing the year 1944. My mother was born in 1929 and was in Danzig in 1945, which was pretty terrible. Before that my mother went to boarding school in Salem, which, through 1944, was still anti-National Socialist. There’s a school in Scotland, Gordon’s School, where all the princes are now educated. It was founded by Kurt Hahn, who also founded Salem, after he had to leave Germany. The Nazi instructors didn’t make it to Salem until 1944, and before then the boarding school had occupied an outsider role, over which the Nazi’s only had marginal influence. My mother told me about how her classmates used to shoot arrows in the woods at Hitler’s portrait, something that was of course completely dangerous. And then in 1945 the family went from Stuttgart to Danzig where my great-grandmother had come from and still had a family house located there. She thought the family would be safer there, which was of course a big mistake. My mother’s mother then killed herself as the Russians moved in.

S.Z.: Directly killed? Or because of rape?

J.M.: Because of rape too, but she didn’t want to cause my mother any more trouble. She was done with living. And then my mother explained how she packed her mother in a sack and buried her somewhere in the center of Danzig. So my grandmother had made it through everything up to the end of the war, and then it was over for her, and my mother and my aunt had to pack her into a sack. Then my mother took one of the last trains leaving Danzig for the west and went back to boarding school to finish her education. But there are still a lot of questions to ask my mother about the Third Reich.

S.Z.: Speaking of which, there’s also an interesting book on Wagner from the Third Reich, which I read in English, where it’s shown that Wagner was Hitler’s personal obsession but that it just wasn’t popular in the Nazi movement. It’s also an interesting detail that during Nazi rule there were noticeably fewer presentations of Wagner’s operas in the years following 1933. The winners of the Nazi regime were Puccini and Verdi. There were even crazy Nazi musicologists who tried to prove that Verdi was German. His name was even changed to Josef Grün. Nabucco by Joseph Grün! In 1933 there was a huge scandal when, during an obligatory Meistersinger performance, the entire Nazi leadership wasn’t interested in it and choose not to go, and Hitler, for the following year, gave an order that all Nazi functionaries had to attend the premiere. During the premiere they all fell asleep and began to snore. Wagner wasn’t popular in the actual Nazi movement, for them Bayreuth was like a homosexual, decadent art temple, a symbol for a decadent, bourgeois artistic society—totally unpopular. It’s also interesting that Hitler’s favorite opera wasn’t Lohengrin or Meistersinger but Tristan! Even as a boy Hitler had seen in a season almost all the performances of Tristan. When he got out of jail, where he had written Mein Kampf, the first thing he asked once home, was for a friend to act the Liebestod. Parsifal was, by the way, just not performed. There are two theories as to why. The first comes from the influential English thinker and Wagnerian John Deathridge, who says that Parsifal was too pacifist. The second comes from the assumption that Hitler wanted to save Parsifal in reserve for a super-Parsifal after the great victory. I see right now in your books that you use terms from this era…

J.M.: Yes, I use words like ‘erz’ and ‘rune’ (ore and rune) because I behave humbly toward these terms. They should be what they are, not want we want them to be. That’s crucial. It’s not about what I want. It’s about what these terms want. For they want something. Of course a swastika is ideologically loaded, but that’s not in the thing itself. The swastika will tell us itself what it wants. We’ve only lost that. We’ve only forgotten that. That this can also be conceded to these things, to be exactly that, what they want and not what I want—that’s critical.

S.Z.: Very nice, not: what does the woman want, but: what does the swastika want!

J.M.: We just have to listen a little more closely to that.

S.Z.: Aha, so you hear something…

J.M.: I only hear white noise, white noise. I want to hear exactly what it has to say, but here you have to be humble. Here you also just have to leave it alone and just let it be as it is. For me it’s not about an existential orientation that I’d like to speak about. Just leave it alone. And then it will certainly tell us something. You just have to listen more carefully.

S.Z.: Ok. What do you think the Grail is then? It’s a brutal, idiotic question like from an interrogation: what is the objective, communal significance of the Grail?

J.M.: Papa, father.

S.Z.: Father?

J.M.: Propagandadaddy.

S.Z.: You think the Grail is bound up with the father? Not the female?

J.M.: No. But the propaganda from the father too. It’s about the link between the two words: propaganda – daddy. It concerns, self-referentially, the propaganda of propaganda, not the use of propaganda to achieve a goal. The propaganda that propaganda leaves be. We always want to read something into this.

S.Z.: Here’s a totally naïve, idiotic counter question: should one leave such a man as Hitler just be?

J.M.: Yes. One should.

S.Z.: What does this mean in practical terms?

J.M.: One should come up with a counter-Hitler. And it should grow out of the thing itself. It was a failure that no book more radical than Mein Kampf was written. It could have been done then, but certain people would have had to take it over. And that wasn’t done, because people were perhaps too dignified.

S.Z.: Have you read it? I read it: it’s a boring book!

J.M.: Yes, very boring. And a much more radical book could have been written. Something to set it against, but it wasn’t done. People were too dignified, as I see it. Otherwise it could have been done and thereby it could have been canceled out, Adolf Hitler could have been awarded the 1922 Nobel science fiction prize for literature, so that everything would have been done and over.

S.Z.: There’s a science fiction book—an alternative history—that a Danish student gave to me as a gift. It’s about what would have happened, if, in the middle of the twenties, Hitler had made it as a successful science-fiction-space-opera-author who had made enough money for him not to become involved in politics.

J.M.: I’m working on such counter notions and have written almost fifteen thousand pages of text. Wagner is a recurring theme, also Nero, Caligula or Saint Just…

S.Z.: Saint Just! I’m absolutely a Saint Just fan! Saint Just was far more radical than Robespierre. The night after Thermidor, Robespierre felt a tinge of despair, a crisis. Not so with Saint Just, he held it perfectly together to the end with almost super human resolve. Of course Saint Just has been ideologically rehabilitated for a long time already. Interesting with him is this nihilistic gesture: first the king is replaced by parliament and then the parliament is disbanded. Saint Just is already familiar with socialist democracy. Following Lenin’s logic: first give all the power to the Soviet, and when the majority is lost there: disband the Soviet.

J.M.: Saint Just is Richard Wagner and Richard Wagner and Rasputin.

Mother Meese, Mother Parsifal - Review 2005