Book Of The Month:Treacherous Bonds and Laughing Fire

Written By The Wagnerian on Thursday, 23 October 2014 | 9:04:00 am

Update: Sadly, it seems that Amazon has now "sold out" and are awaiting new stock. It has, however,  been bought to our attention that it can still be bought directly from the publisher, Ashgate. It is also a little cheaper there too. More details by clicking here

We have left this book far to long to review. So,  one shall follow shortly, But in the mean time we have decided to make this our book of the month. Yes, it is horrendously expensive but that surely is what libraries are for - should you not want to make the investment.  Full details below and a more than generous sample also. 

Treacherous Bonds and Laughing Fire: Politics and Religion in Wagner's Ring.

Mark Berry, Royal Holloway, University of London, UK

Mark Berry explores the political and religious ideas expounded in Wagner's Ring through close attention to the text and drama, the multifarious intellectual influences upon the composer during the work's lengthy gestation and composition, and the wealth of Wagner source material. Many of his writings are explicitly political in their concerns, for Wagner was emphatically not a revolutionary solely for the sake of art. Yet it would be misleading to see even the most 'political' tracts as somehow divorced from the aesthetic realm; Wagner's radical challenge to liberal-democratic politics makes no such distinction. This book considers Wagner's treatment of various worlds: nature, politics, economics, and metaphysics, in order to explain just how radical that challenge is.


Classical interpretations have tended to opt either for an 'optimistic' view of the Ring, centred upon the influence of Young Hegelian thought – in particular the philosophy of Ludwig Feuerbach - and Wagner's concomitant revolutionary politics, or for the 'pessimistic' option, removing the disillusioned Wagner-in-Swiss-exile from the political sphere and stressing the undoubtedly important role of Arthur Schopenhauer. Such an 'either-or' approach seriously misrepresents not only Wagner's compositional method but also his intellectual method. It also sidelines inconvenient aspects of the dramas that fail to 'fit' whichever interpretation is selected. Wagner's tendency is not progressively to recant previous 'errors' in his oeuvre. Radical ideas are not completely replaced by a Schopenhauerian world-view, however loudly the composer might come to trumpet his apparent 'conversion'. Nor is Wagner's truly an Hegelian method, although Hegelian dialectic plays an important role. In fact, Wagner is in many ways not really a systematic thinker at all (which is not to portray him as self-consciously unsystematic in a Nietzschean, let alone 'post-modernist' fashion). His tendency, rather, is agglomerative, with ideas and influences overlapping.

Indeed, the claim made sometimes that the Ring does not make sense touches upon an important truth in pointing towards the complexity of process. The claim errs, however, in failing to see Wagner's progression as one of self-criticism rather than incompetence. Questions and tentative solutions are tried and found wanting, leading to yet further attempts to reconcile political commitment, and the pessimistic religion seen in recognition of the nullity of the phenomenal world. The Ring, then, affords an extraordinary opportunity to grasp the richness and complexity of nineteenth-century thought and its underlying historical forces.


About the Author: Dr Mark Berry is a Lecturer at The Royal Holloway, University of London, UK.
Reviews:

 "Wagner's Ring emerges from this book as the great sceptical work of the nineteenth century in the sense that it deliberately raised more profound questions about the human condition than it could answer. In greater detail than anyone before him, Mark Berry uncovers the intellectual roots of Wagner's radical ideas about the role of music and drama in the world of early and mid-nineteenth century Europe, where religious belief and the politics of revolution had already reached an impasse. He also shows how, at every stage of its vast structure, the Ring continues vividly to confront other conundrums of human behaviour that exist to this day, among them our increasingly opaque horizons of genuine freedom and incomprehensible despoliation of the natural world. For anyone wanting to understand more exactly why Wagner's summum opus still holds the fascination it does for modern audiences, this book is indispensible.' John Deathridge, King Edward Professor of Music, King's College London and co-author with Carl Dahlhaus of The New Grove Wagner.

'... Berry's exploration of the philosophical and political ideas that inspired the drama marks a step forward... Berry is an academic historian, a specialist in the history of ideas. But he has read widely in philosophy and literature, and is musically literate, able to illustrate his argument from the score... Berry's account is detailed and scholarly, and it is impossible to do justice to its subtleties in a short review.' Literary Review

'... [an] absorbing and challenging study. It deserves a prominent place in Wagner literature.' Music and Letters

‘The thoroughness of this investigation is impressive. Not only is it new to Wagner studies; it is doubtful whether any standard work on the Vormärz goes further in its range of erudition or uses its sources to better effect… one of the book's greatest assets is the prodigious array of documentation cited in its footnotes… [a] remarkable new book…'’The Wagner Journal

‘This book is indispensable for those who want a deeper, more nuanced understanding of Wagner's engagement with the issues of his day and of the human condition… Berry's work deserves more than a little credit.’ European History Quarterly

‘… this magnificent student… Berry's work is highly rewarding when given the serious reading that it deserves. One learns not just about Wagner's intellectual development and how it is reflected in the Ring Cycle but much more about swirling currents of thought in 19th century Germany and Europe.’ Wagner Notes